A report on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s (SAC) fiscal 2021 defense appropriations bill asks the U.S. Air Force to submit an acquisition strategy early next year for the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).
While the Air Force fiscal 2021 budget requested $302.3 million for ABMS, Senate appropriators recommended about $208.8 million–$93.5 million less than the request, but an increase of nearly $51 million from the fiscal 2020 appropriated amount.
“While the committee continues to support the Air Force’s new approach to command and control, the committee notes that the ABMS requirements and acquisition strategy remain unclear,” the SAC report says.
The committee’s report directs Air Force acquistion chief Will Roper to submit an ABMS acquisition strategy with the president’s fiscal 2022 budget request. In addition, Air Force Comptroller John Roth “is directed to certify that the fiscal year 2022 President’s budget fully funds said acquisition strategy.”
“Further, with the submission of the fiscal year 2022 budget request, the committee directs the secretary of the Air Force to submit a report summarizing all related programs in communications, battle management command and control, and sensors that fall within the ABMS umbrella across the Future Years Defense Program,” per the SAC report. “The report should reference program element funding lines and clearly link all activities with funding lines in the fiscal year 2022 budget justification documents. It should also clearly articulate all phase one efforts, including initial operational capability timelines, the status of related legacy activities, and linkages to classified activities.”
The Air Force, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Space Command held the second test “onramp” of ABMS on Aug. 31-Sept. 3, and Roper said after the test that some of the capabilities tested, such as cloud computing, are ready for the field.
The test featured 70 industry teams, 65 government teams from all six military services, 35 military platforms, 30 geographic locations and four national test ranges, as the Air Force moves to conduct war “at internet speeds” in Roper’s words, through features, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) (Defense Daily, Aug. 25).
Roper has said that one day AI-enabled drones may be the first wave employed by the military to gain situational awareness and avoid casualties and that the Air Force will need “software-defined systems, cloud, containerized software” to move data from the cloud to the edge.
During the Aug. 31-Sept. 3 exercise, “operators used ABMS to detect and defeat efforts to disrupt U.S. operations in space in addition to countering attacks against the U.S. homeland, including shooting down a cruise missile ‘surrogate’ with a hypervelocity weapon,” the Air Force said.
The U.S. Air Force planned to integrate Project Maven into the test (Defense Daily, Aug. 12), but the Air Force did not provide an evaluation of that integration or Project Maven’s performance in the service’s summation of the exercise in early September.
Cloud One/Platform One were to be a hosting environment for Project Maven to transform it from a developmental system into a warfighting system for the onramp.
In addition to ABMS, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense bill nicks other Air Force priorities, such as Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD).
While the Air Force requested more than $1 billion in research and development for NGAD in fiscal 2021, SAC recommends about $974 million–$70 million less than the request. A report justification for the proposed cut notes, “Improving funds management: forward financing of development efforts.”
SAC’s proposed seven percent cut to NGAD in fiscal 2021 is “interesting, given the Air Force’s revelation earlier this fall that the program was very much on track,” Byron Callan, the managing director of Capital Alpha Partners LLC, wrote in a Nov. 11 analysis of the SAC bill.
The Air Force acquisition office finished its acquisition strategy for NGAD in late July, and Roper told the Air Force Association virtual Air, Space, and Cyber conference in September that the service has already flown a full-scale NGAD demonstrator (Defense Daily, Sept. 24).
NGAD is part of the service’s Digital Century Services, named for the service’s 1950s Century Series model of building aircraft. The Digital Century Series is to encompass digital engineering, modular open systems architecture and agile software development.
Digital engineering uses simulations and 3D models to shorten design times and manage platform life cycles.
The Air Force recently finished its NGAD acquisition strategy, and the service is trying to build support for the program in the Pentagon for inclusion in the service’s FY ’22 budget plan (Defense Daily, Aug. 11).
NGAD would likely have multiple companies simultaneously developing new fighter aircraft using what current technologies are available. The Air Force would then downselect to a single vendor and procure a small number of fighter jets before going back to the drawing board in as little as five years.