The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army used new methods and technology, Dec. 16-18, for collecting, analyzing and sharing information in real time to identify and defeat a simulated cruise missile threat to the United States.
A three-day-long exercise of the Advanced Battle Management System tested technology being developed to enable the military’s developing concept called Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will be the backbone of operations and deterrence, allowing U.S. forces from all services, as well as allies, to orchestrate military operations across all domains, such as 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 this fiscal year 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,” said Preston Dunlap, the Air Force chief architect, who is kick-starting ABMS.
This initial exercise focused on defending the homeland.
“Peer competitors are rapidly advancing their capabilities, seeking to hold our homeland at risk,” said Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, which designed and managed this exercise’s 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,” he said.
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 this week when aircraft from the Air Force and Navy, a Navy destroyer, an Army air defense sensor and firing unit, a special operations unit, as well as commercial space and ground sensors came together to confront – and defeat – a simulated threat to the U.S. homeland.
Upon detection of a potential cruise missile threatening the United States, simulated by QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target aircraft, in quick succession using new software, communications equipment and a “mesh network,” the information was relayed to USS Thomas Hudner, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. The same information was passed to a pair of Air Force F-35 Lightning IIs and another pair of F-22 Raptors. Also receiving the information were commanders at Eglin Air Force Base, a pair of Navy F-35s, an Army unit equipped with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and special forces on the ground.
Events culminated Dec. 18, when senior leaders from across the Defense Department arrived at the test’s command and control hub for an ABMS overview and abbreviated exercise. All at once, in a well-secured room, they watched 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 that provided shared situational updates as events occurred whether the information originated from jets or passing satellites or from sea and ground forces on the move. Then, the group transitioned to outdoor tents to continue the exercise in a rugged environment, where senior leaders could also inspect firsthand and learn about high-speed Air Force and industry equipment and software that enabled the week’s test.
“Today’s demo is our very first time seeing the idea of joint interconnectivity come to life by linking so many platforms, warfighters and data at commercial internet speed,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “We’re steadily moving the needle toward rapid acquisition and changing the culture to move and connect faster than ever.”
He also spoke to the necessity of using industry tools and technology instead of starting from scratch each time the Air Force needs something new.
“To outpace our adversaries we must expand our partnership with industry to capitalize on, and learn from, their existing tools,” he said. “This entire test would not have been possible without our industry partners.”
The demonstration was the first of its kind in a series of exercises scheduled to occur roughly every four months. Each new exercise will build on the one before and include responses to problems and lessons learned.
Dunlap said the intent is to move much faster than before to conceive, build and test new technologies and strategies despite complexity or technical challenges.
“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,” Dunlap said.
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 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 service members 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 Fighting Falcon pilots 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.
By Capt. Cara Bousie and Charles Pope, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs