An acquisition technique for the Air Force’s next-gen battle administration system

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System effort is a program like no different: a sophisticated and typically complicated net of communications, IT and synthetic intelligence techniques that the service plans to repeatedly check and develop with the aim of connecting sensors and shooters throughout the joint pressure.

But over the subsequent few weeks, Air Force leaders are aiming to lastly reply looming questions on ABMS and transition it into extra of a conventional protection program, all within the hopes that each Congress and the Biden administration carry it ahead.

In an unique Jan. eight interview with Defense News, Air Force acquisition government Will Roper mentioned considered one of his important objectives earlier than President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20 is to make sure Air Force leaders log out on an ABMS acquisition technique. Once accredited, the service can start shopping for the primary wave of cloud-based applied sciences that can permit stovepiped fighter jets to commerce knowledge throughout fight.

“I believe, based on my last review with the Rapid Capabilities Office, that we’ll get the [acquisition strategy] done before I timeout, and that’s something I think it’s important for me to hand off,” he mentioned. “I owe [the next administration] a program that is baselined with a schedule, a master test plan, everything that a normal program would have so that they can evaluate it like every other program has been handled.”

The Air Force plans to step by step purchase items of the ABMS system after experimenting with off-the-shelf and developmental merchandise in “on-ramp” demonstrations held a number of occasions all year long. The first launch will comprise a set of applied sciences permitting fighter jets and different tactical plane to share knowledge with one another in fight, even when these planes use low-probability-of-intercept waveforms — just like the F-35′s Multifunctional Advanced Data Link and the F-22′s Intra-Flight Data Link — which can be incompatible with Link 16 and different knowledge hyperlinks generally utilized by the navy.

The first applied sciences to be procured will embody interim variations of CloudONE, a safe cloud; PlatformONE, a cloud-based software program improvement setting; EdgeONE, an expeditionary cloud; GatewayONE, an information translator; and different merchandise, Roper mentioned.

Aerial refueling tankers will play a essential function within the idea, internet hosting a podded payload that can make it a “flying cellphone tower and data processor” able to relaying communications knowledge amongst plane, he mentioned. The tanker could be positioned simply outdoors an adversary’s anti-access/space denial bubble — inside line of sight of the fighter however far sufficient from most surface-to-air threats — and would have the ability to obtain and transmit knowledge by way of stealthy knowledge hyperlinks even when adversaries are jamming the Air Force’s communications techniques, Roper mentioned.

“If for whatever reason there’s a new threat that popped up and a fighter was not in line of sight of a tanker — just like a fighter has to think, ‘All right, do I need to go back and get more gas before I take on this new mission?’ — the fighter could decide to fly back to within line of sight of the tanker [to get more data],” he mentioned. “And line of sight is a long way away; it’s not like you’re close to the tanker, you’re just close enough to get that directional beam onto the airplane to which you’re talking.”

Air Mobility Command will select which tanker will first get the ABMS pod, however the command is veering towards its latest refueling plane, the Boeing KC-46A.

“There is a lot of potential on the wings currently where the aerial refueling pods go to put a data relay pod so that the tanker doesn’t just act as a fuel tanker [but] it acts as a data tanker as well,” Roper mentioned. “And the KC-46 has some wonderful capabilities that it brings that the other mobility platforms don’t — good radar warning, connectivity with the broader force that other tankers don’t have.”

Then the query shall be: How many pods does Air Mobility Command need to purchase?

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which was tapped in November to steer procurement efforts for ABMS, will carry improvement of the pods and different new ABMS capabilities by way of low-rate manufacturing. The first applied sciences could possibly be acquired as early as this 12 months, Roper mentioned in November.

Once full-rate manufacturing is accredited, the RCO will transition procurement authority over to different Air Force entities.

For the tanker pods, the Air Force’s program government workplace for mobility and coaching will ultimately buy pods for the service’s aerial refueling planes the identical manner it buys different tanker upgrades.

An AT&T civilian contractor monitors the status interface of a
An AT&T civilian contractor screens the standing interface of a “Cell on Wings” drone to supply 5G connectivity to individuals of the Advanced Battle Management Systems Onramp 2 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., on Aug. 27, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Charlye Alonso/U.S. Air Force)

Roper mentioned the ABMS on-ramps performed a essential function in maturing most of the applied sciences that might roll into the primary product launch, proving that these objects may plug into legacy platforms and join with different merchandise being examined.

“It’s just time for the program to move into its next phase. And I think once it does, that ABMS will become very boring from an acquisition strategy standpoint. It will seem very normal, although the capability demonstrations will continue to be very often.”

Not ‘Future Combat Systems, Part Two’

Despite having the help of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, the ABMS program has not discovered stable footing with Congress and oversight organizations.

Last spring, the Government Accountability Office mentioned of this system that the service’s lack of an acquisition technique may lead to schedule and value delays.

“The Air Force has not established a plan or business case for ABMS that identifies its requirements, a plan to attain mature technologies when needed, a cost estimate, and an affordability analysis. … To date, the Air Force has not identified a development schedule for ABMS, and it has not formally documented requirements,” the GAO said in an April report.

Congress lower spending for this system nearly in half for fiscal 2021, citing unjustified program progress. In the top, it opted to fund about $159 million of the Air Force’s $302 million request.

Asked about what meaning for this system, Roper expressed confidence that Air Force help for ABMS would proceed, however he acknowledged this system nonetheless should reply excellent questions from Congress.

“We’re during a transition phase — between one administration to the next — which creates uncertainty,” he mentioned. “I think it’s also a gut check for the Air Force. Are we really going to stick with this nontraditional program across an administration change? It’s a good time to change your mind if you want to. Chief Brown and Chief Raymond have been strong advocates in every public engagement they’ve made that this is something the Air Force and Space Force have to do. So I’m very confident that the Air Force and Space Force will stick with this as one of their highest priorities.”

Although Congress nonetheless has questions on this system, Roper mentioned he has seen enchancment in how lawmakers view this system. Lawmakers are now not involved that ABMS may turn out to be a “Future Combat Systems, Part Two,” he mentioned, referencing a disastrous Army program within the mid-2000s for a household of techniques that would come with a high-speed community and a group of recent manned and unmanned autos.

Instead, Congress desires solutions about what applied sciences the Air Force will purchase within the ABMS program, and the schedule for improvement, check and procurement — all questions that the acquisition technique will reply, Roper mentioned.

“I think Congress has given us a lot of latitude to get started, and I think they’re wanting to see: OK, are we really going to stick with it?” he mentioned. “And as long as they’ll let the funding grow in our next budget submission, then I think we’ll be able to keep the program on track.”

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