The U.S. Air Force plans to forego a planned sixth “on-ramp” demonstration this summer of the service’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), due to congressional cuts to the program.
“Due to budget constraints we had to pull the plug on on-ramp 6,” Preston Dunlap, chief architect for Air and Space Forces, told reporters on March 17. That sixth on-ramp was to involve U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and allies, including Australia.
The Air Force conducted its fourth demonstration in late February with allied and joint forces in the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operation. A fifth demonstration is planned for this summer.
While the Air Force requested $302.3 million for ABMS in fiscal 2021, Congress provided $158.8 million.
The Air Force has requested $3.3 billion for ABMS over five years, but Congress has had concerns about the lack of requirements, a well-defined ABMS acquisition strategy and program cost estimates.
The Air Force acquisition office is to provide an ABMS acquisition strategy with the fiscal 2022 budget request, and the Air Force comptroller is “to certify that the fiscal year 2022 President’s budget fully funds this acquisition strategy,” congressional appropriators said in their fiscal 2021 appropriations language. “Further, with the submission of the fiscal year 2022 budget request, the secretary of the Air Force is directed 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. The report should reference program element funding lines and clearly link all activities with funding lines in the fiscal year 2022 budget justification documents.”
Last November, former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper signed a memorandum designating the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office as the program executive office (PEO) for ABMS–a designation that moved ABMS from research and development to an acquisition program of record (Defense Daily, Nov. 24, 2020).
ABMS is the planned Air Force component of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), a DoD effort to build a cross-service digital architecture for multi-domain operations–in effect, a military Internet of Things with machine-to-machine interfaces.
Dunlap said on March 17 that the late February ABMS on-ramp had three mission thrusts: dynamic targeting and rapid kill chains; base defense and agile operations in areas such as counter-unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and counter cruise missile capabilities; and the demonstration of new enabling technologies, such as Edge computing.
“We integrated artificial intelligence and machine learning into the kill chain,” Dunlap said of ABMS’ fourth on-ramp late last month.
During the February exercise, “about 10 new sensor data feeds were added into our unified data library so that’s available to a wide audience,” he said.
Partner nation intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms contributed to those 10 new sensor data feeds. In addition, as in last September’s third ABMS on-ramp, the Air Force employed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-developed System-of-systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogeneous Electronic Systems (STITCHES), which allowed U.S. forces to take in Link 16 and other intelligence collaboration tool kit capabilities from allied nations.
STITCHES “allows us to reformulate very quickly information in one language into another language so that it can be understood across the board in a common standard,” he said. “Those will be enduring capabilities in that data environment that’s available on the cloud, and then we’re pushing, as we develop the edge compute capabilities to make it available on the edge. That’s work to be done.”
“The piece that we didn’t get to here [in the February on-ramp], even though the data is available, we’ve got to mature the applications on the user interface side to be able to actually leverage the power now available as we continue in this open architecture approach with unlocking data,” Dunlap said. “We’ve got to change our applications, so regardless of what position you have, you’ve got to be able to pull in that data and use it and exploit it, whether that’s for decision making or a picture or an actual machine-to-machine C2 track…The power is now there to do what the commercial world does all the time when you leverage the ability to do the data work.”
For counter-UAS, last month’s ABMS on-ramp featured systems, such as Anduril Industries‘ Sentry Towers and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Ninja.