Of the U.S. Air Force’s nearly $204 million requested funding in fiscal 2022 for the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), $147 million is for development of the ABMS Airborne Edge Node for the Boeing [BA] KC-46 Pegasus tanker under ABMS Capability Release 1.
At a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on June 16 on the Air Force and U.S. Space Force fiscal 2022 budgets, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) questioned that investment.
“The Air Force’s written [HASC] testimony states that it is prioritizing ABMS resources for investment in digital network environment and infrastructure,” Langevin said. “How is devoting two-thirds of the Advanced Battle Management System budget to a single communications pod prioritizing network infrastructure?”
Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown replied that the Airborne Edge Node “is the first major step of us putting ABMS on our aircraft, and it goes onto the KC-46,” Brown said. “It’s not just the KC-46, but it actually starts the process for us to be able to continue to develop that capability to put it on other airplanes and other communications nodes to drive the aspect of ABMS to create a network of capability to be able to use and push information because ABMS is really about pushing information to drive decision making for the joint force and the Air Force.”
The U.S. Air Force plans to field ABMS on the first KC-46s by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022 and would like to make all the desired 179 KC46s ABMS communications nodes (Defense Daily, June 9). The initial operational capability for ABMS on the KC-46 would thus come before the KC-46 is able to refuel planes operationally without limitation–a capability that is unlikely until 2024.
Air Mobility Command has said that it wants to make its aircraft, including the KC-46, KC-135 tanker and the C-17 transport, nodes in ABMS and the larger DoD Joint All Domain Command and Control, called JADC2, network.
Under ABMS Capability Release 1, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is to design, buy, and install communications pods for ABMS on a limited number of KC-46s to allow Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighters to receive and transmit information rapidly.
Such communications pods will act as translators between the F-22 and F-35, as both aircraft have had problems with incompatible data links–the Multifunction Advanced Data Link for the F-35 and the Intra-Flight Data Link for the F-22.
The Airborne Edge Node “will allow for secure, resilient communications between the F-22 and F-35 and will extend the sharing of situational awareness across the globe in near-real time through satellite communications to and from command and control nodes such as Air Operations Centers (AOC) and Common Mission Control Center (CMCC),” per the Air Force’s fiscal 2022 budget request. “In addition to serving the tactical customers (fighter aircraft), the KC-46 C2 node will also provide data and information to operational and strategic customers while providing improved strategic awareness to the KC-46 crew. CR#1 [Capability Release 1] constitutes a first edge node on the ABMS network and provides the example for other platforms to connect.”
AMC has said that the decision to make KC-46s central ABMS communications nodes was unrelated to limitations on KC-46 refueling of other aircraft due to Category 1 deficiencies, including the Remote Vision System (RVS), which has undergone a re-design to RVS 2.0.