In the first field test of a novel approach to warfighting, communicating and decision-making, the US armed forces used new methods and technology in a 16-18 December exercise for collecting, analyzing and sharing information in real time to identify and defeat a simulated cruise missile threat to the United States.
The exercise of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) tested technology being developed to enable the military’s developing concept called Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will be the backbone of operations and deterrence, allowing US forces and allies to orchestrate military operations across all domains, including sea, land, air, space and cyber operations. The technology under development via ABMS enables this concept by simultaneously receiving, fusing and acting upon a vast array of data and information from each of these domains – all in an instant. The Air Force expects to receive around $185 million (€166 million) in FY20 for this effort and intends to bolster these resources over the next five years, underscoring both its importance and potential.
“In order to develop the right capability that the operator needs at speed, we partner with Combatant Commanders every four months to ensure that what we are building addresses the array of challenges presented by the National Defense Strategy across the globe,” explained Preston Dunlap, the Chief Architect of the Air Force, who is kick-starting ABMS.
"Peer competitors are rapidly advancing their capabilities, seeking to hold our homeland at risk,” added Gen Terrence J O'Shaughnessy, Commander of US Northern Command, which designed and managed the exercise scenario. “Working across all of the services and with industry toward solutions to complex problems ensures we meet defense challenges as well as maintain our strategic advantage in an increasingly competitive global environment."
Yet, while JADC2 has been embraced for three years as a critical tool by senior leaders, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David L Goldfein, until recently it was an idea confined largely to PowerPoint slides and a slick animated demonstration of the concept.
But that changed in mid-December when Air Force and Navy aircraft, a Navy destroyer, an Army air defence sensor and firing unit, a special operations unit and commercial space and ground sensors came together to confront – and defeat – a simulated threat to the United States.
On detection of a potential cruise missile attack, simulated by QF-16s, new software, communications equipment and a ‘mesh network’ were used in rapid succession to relay the information to the USS THOMAS HUDNER destroyer deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. The same information was passed to a pair of Air Force F-35s and another pair of F-22s, plus commanders at Eglin AFB, a pair of Navy F-35s, an Army unit equipped with a mobile missile launcher known as HIMARS and special forces on the ground.
On 18 December senior leaders received an ABMS overview and abbreviated exercise at the test’s command and control hub, watching real-time data pour in, and out of, the command cell. They observed information from platforms and people flowing instantly and simultaneously across air, land, sea and space to provide shared situational updates as events occurred, whether the information originated from aircraft, satellites, or from sea and ground forces on the move.
“Today’s demo is our first time demonstrating internet-of-things connectivity across the joint force,” Air Force acquisitions lead Dr Will Roper asserted. “Cloud, mesh networking and software-defined systems were the stars of the show, all developed at commercial internet speeds […] Our four-month ‘connect-a-thon’ cycle unlocks industry’s ability to iterate with testers, acquirer, and warfighters. For example, the insights from connecting the F-22 and F-35 for the first time will help our industry partners take the next leap.”
“The goal is to move quickly and deliver quickly. We want to show it can be done and then we want to push ourselves to continually enhance and expand our capability in roughly four-month cycles partnering with Combatant Commanders and operators,” added Preston Dunlap.
An equally important goal is to demonstrate the real-world value of the hard-to-describe effort in tangible, understandable ways. JADC2, previously named multi-domain operations command and control, relies on ABMS to develop software and algorithms so that artificial intelligence and machine learning can compute and connect vast amounts of data from sensors and other sources at a speed and accuracy far beyond what is currently attainable. ABMS also includes hardware updates, including radios, antenna and more robust networks, that enable unimpeded data flow to operators. Aside from tools and tech, JADC2 also demands a cultural change among operators that embraces and responds to multi-faceted battlespaces driven by information shared across the joint force.
The critical difference going forward is to create a failsafe system that gets – and shares – real-time information across multiple spaces and platforms simultaneously. Achieving this will remove barriers that can keep information from personnel and units that need it. For example, once in place, the new command and control ability will allow F-16 and F-35 pilots to see the same information at the same time in the same way along with a submarine commander, a space officer controlling satellites and an Army Special Forces unit on the ground.