WASHINGTON: The Air Force has kicked into high gear its campaign to convince the Army and the Navy to put the joy stick for multi-domain operations in its hands via the emerging Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).
The Air Force held a highly classified MDO summit last week, expanding their annual command and control summit to include many senior Army officials. The Navy had a tiny presence. Also, the service has completed the first true multi-domain exercise and is expected to brief its results later today.
Air Force leaders for more than a year have been touting ABMS as the primary locus for multi-domain warfare — linking every sensor to every shooter at every level, from the individual soldier on the ground up to the Joint Chiefs.
Senior service leaders have consistently referred to ABMS — a concept which emerged out of the service’s 2018 efforts to figure out how to replace its aging airborne C2 systems –– as the “tech engine” for Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). JADC2 is the concept agreed to in November by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to underpin MDO.
The Joint Staff leads a Joint Cross-Functional Team to thrash out the rapidly evolving concept. It includes representatives from the offices of DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, Undersecretary for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin, and Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment Ellen Lord.
“ABMS is a critical building block of MDO,” Jacob Johnson, Lockheed Martin’s director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and unmanned aerial systems, told me Jan. 16. That said, he conceded that ABMS remains a bit of “an abstract concept” that is more difficult to explain than a platform, such as an F-35 jet. “How to show an ABMS ‘kill web’ is more challenging,” he said.
Lockheed Martin has been working closely with both the Air Force and the Army as they pursue MDO concepts and capabilities. As part of that effort, the company set up an integrated product team across its business segments to coordinate and integrate all work on multi-domain operations more than a year ago and has held several war games to test concepts and technologies.
The Air Force’s top ABMS thinkers — Preston Dunlap, whose actual title is “Air Force Chief Architect”; and Brig. Gen. David “Kumo” Kumashiro, deputy chief of staff for planning, integration and requirements, — are hoping to sharpen the focus and definition of ABMS this year.
“We’ll unveil it more as we move into the rolling out from 2021,” Dunlap told me in an exclusive interview I did with him and Kumashiro on Dec. 13. Critical to their campaign are demonstrations, such as the first live exercise of ABMS technologies, known as the “ABMS On-Ramp,” held in Florida on Dec. 16-18. Dunlap and Kumashiro said that as subsequent demonstrations play out, it will become easier for outsiders to grasp what ABMS is attempting to accomplish, and to convince Congress and the other services that ‘there’s a there there’ with ABMS that makes sense.
Indeed, the demonstration was a central agenda item at the Air Force’s C2 summit last week at Nellis AFB in Nevada, as Sydney reported Jan. 10. It is important to note that, as part of the JADC2 agreement among the joint chiefs, the Air Force’s Shadow Ops Center at Nellis has been identified as the JADC2 experimentation battle lab for all four services and the Joint Staff.
“The significance of this conference is that we are able to highlight the imperative of JADC2 and the ABMS Family of Systems,” Brig. Gen. Kumashiro told Sydney. “This senior leader summit emphasizes and underscores the inherent jointness of our operating concept, as well our continuing efforts to strengthen our alignment and synchronization with the other Services (special shout out to the Space Force).”
Further, Roper is expected to brief reporters later today to discuss the outcomes of the ABMS OnRamp exercise, which involved aircraft from the Air Force and Navy, a Navy destroyer, an Army air defense sensor and fire unit, and a special operations unit, as well as commercial space and ground sensors in a scenario that simulated a cruise missile threat to the US homeland.
ABMS “Family of Systems”
Dunlap and Kumashiro explain that ABMS is a “family of systems,” including both hardware and software, comprises the technologies needed for the Air Force to both contribute to, and link with, the JADC2 network. The ABMS systems are broken down into what the service refers to as “product categories” a la high-tech jargon:, i.e. types of technologies and capabilities that — like the ABMS concept itself — are now being developed via an iterative process every four months, as Roper explained to me in September at the 2019 Air Force Association meeting. These “product categories” include:
sensor integration, including satellites, aircraft, ground-based radar, etc. both from military and commercial networks;
data generated by the sensors;
secure processing, which involves both cybersecurity and the ability to keep secret data separate from non-secret data and yet allow everyone access to data products;
connectivity, including machine-to-machine links that are not now possible between many weapons platforms, as Breaking D readers know, even between Air Force F-22 and F-35 fighter jets;
applications, for example a map that shows where all US forces are on the battlefield; and,
effects, in other words, shooters and their weapon systems.
At the moment, Dunlap said, “we think there’s roughly these six product categories and about 28 product lines.”
Those “product lines,” Dunlap and Kumashiro explained, include: cloudONE , the specialized Internet for MDO that Roper spoke with me about at AFA; the latest iteration of the Air Force’s experimental Unified Data Library (initially designed for space object data), called “dataONE,” that the service hopes will eventually include data from all Air Force and other service sensors; “crossDomainONE” to “seamlessly and securely move data up and down security classification boundaries;” and “OmiaONE,” which Dunlap explained is a newly enabled “common operating picture” across domains (rather than limited to, say, the air domain) something like the traffic mapping system Waze or the original intent of the Army’s Blue Force tracking system.
While the above are software systems, there is also will be hardware involved, such a new radio called “radioONE,” and a new radio frequency antenna for receiving satellite communications data called “apertureONE,” Dunlap added.
To the Air Force, ABMS is more or less the essence of JADC2.
“If you’re only interested in the technology, and if you’re talking to the Air Force, and you say, “What’s the difference between JADC2 and ABMS for technology?” The answer is — it’s the same,” Dunlap said.
Now, they have to sell it to the other services — who remain not necessarily convinced that ABMS is the key to the MDO kingdom.
Kumashiro explained that from a technology standpoint, the central method the Air Force is using to ensure that ABMS can be used by other services, and that the developing ABMS technology will support JADC2, is the service’s use of an “open systems approach” in developing its software and hardware. Noting that the Air Force is using industry standards, he explained that “in terms of the coding, it’s much, much easier to connect.”
Dunlap added that the Air Force is getting buy-in already for some of its nascent products. For example, he said, other services, the Joint Staff and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) all are beginning to provide data and applications for fleshing out cloudOne. They also are starting to provide data to dataONE.
Brig. Gen. David “Kumo” Kumashiro
“I think it’s fair to say that our approach — the Air Force approach to JADC2 via the ABMS family of systems — has caught a lot of interest, because it is in part about how these various kind of product areas kind of fit together,” added Kumashiro.
Dunlap is visibly proud of what the ABMS program has accomplished over the past year. “So, we’ve developed this — the architecture to be able to make JADC2 work within the Air Force and we think collaboratively across the other services in tandem with them and our allies and partners as well,” he said. “We’ve got an architecture. We have identified the product categories and product lines that need to get developed with hardware and software to be able to make the vision work, and the talking points about where all of us want to go in terms of realizing the multi-domain vision.”
“And within the technology piece,” he added, “we’ve got a new approach set up to be able to develop and acquire the system through the four-month cycles that didn’t exist before,” Dunlap added.
Still, both Dunlap and Kumashiro know that Congress is casting a skeptical eye on the effort. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires a raft of reports and documentation from the Air Force about the program, which currently is dispersed throughout the budget. Along with the 2021 budget request, lawmakers want to see a “list that identifies each program, project, and activity that contributes to the architecture of the Advanced Battle Management System.” They also want the Air Force to provide the “requirements for the networked data architecture” to underpin ABMS.
While congressional authorizers cut the main ABMS budget line request of $35.6 million, congressional appropriators boosted the funding to $43.6 million — but the extra funds are tagged for extra work to better define the requirements.
All totaled, a service spokesperson said, the Air Force will be able to spend about $185 million in ABMS-related funding from the 2020 budget. The 2021 budget will be the first request to consolidate all the ABMS activity under one program budget line, Roper told me back in September. And he said at the Center for a New American Security on Nov. 26 that the 2021 request will will include “sizeable dollars” for ABMS.
Rear Adm. William Chase
He stressed that JADC2 is not only about technology. It also involves developing concepts of operations (CONOPS) for how command and control relationships would work across domains.
“When we talk JADC2, we are talking not just about the Advanced Battle Management System and the technology,” he said. “That is a pillar, a leg of JADC2. We are also talking about the accompanying operating concepts. And when we talk operating concepts, we’re talking tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs). We’re talking the concept of operations, and concepts of employment. We are talking about the doctrine that has been established through tabletop exercises; war games that have then been validated through the assessment process and go through the warfighter analytical process.”
This will include answering messy questions such as that raised by Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, deputy commander of Army Futures Command, at several recent panel discussions about MDO and JADC2 — who will have the power to decide who can task imaging satellites to surveil or pinpoint a target?
Further, Kumashiro said, there will need to develop training schemes and readiness metrics to implement JADC2.
“The last piece is the readiness of the force … that we can take these operating concepts and these technologies and then actually field them, get them into the warfighter’s hands,” he said. This is being done through the Shadow Ops Center, he said, “and our 13 Oscar career field, which are those multi-domain airmen that can actually conduct those types of operations.” (The 13 Oscar career track was created for C2 operators back in 2018 to support MDO.) THERESA HITCHENS