How the U.S. Army and Air Force Want To Link Their Weapons of War
Improved sensor and communications connectivity will mean that fighter jets and soldiers can better share real-time targeting information.
The Army and the Air Force are planning a series of upcoming joint-service talks for the specific purpose of charting a collaborative, mutually beneficial attack network to better connect air and ground domains to one another in war.
“We have a concept called Multi-Domain Operation which is our contribution, but it is really a contribution to the Joint All Domain Command and Control fight. What we want to do is come together as a team and take some of the things we are working on and some of the things they are working on and see to make sure that we converge together,” Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, told reporters during the service’s Project Convergence 2020 live fire experiment at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.
Simply put, McConville explained that he wanted the Army to join and align with the Air Force’s ongoing JADC2 effort, explaining that some of their service’s transformational technology can bring great tactical benefit to the Air Force, and vice versa.
“They have a great program going with Joint All Domain Command and Control and we want to be part of that. When you think about the things we provide to the joint fight, such as Long-Range Precision Fires which will enable us to penetrate Anti-Access/Area-Denial capabilities which the Air Force is concerned about,” he said.
The mention of Long-Range Precision Fires, and its relevance to the Air Force is quite significant, as the Army is now testing Extended Range Cannon Artillery weapons able to reach 70km and a new Precision Strike Missile that can attack from 500km. The massive distances enabled by these weapons offer Army ground forces new tactical opportunities to attack and destroy enemy air defenses from land. This new ability obviously helps the Air Force as their planes try to close in on hostile areas.
The Air Force’s JADC2 program, and multi-service connectivity, is specifically cited in a recent essay written by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown. His “Change or Lose” document calls for greater air-land-sea combat connectivity and challenges the service to fully embrace and execute key changes needed to outpace major power rivals.
McConville and Brown will have a lot to talk about, because Senior Air Force developers are also moving quickly to facilitate Joint All Domain Command and Control program to better connect sensors and weapons between the services and decrease “sensor to shooter” time. Part of this involves Air Force work on a next-generation battle command technology called Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), a networking-focused effort to link platforms, weapons and sensors to one another across a vast array of “meshed” or interwoven combat nodes. The concept is to connect unmanned systems, platform-mounted sensors, large weapons systems and IT-databases to one another in real-time with increasing speed. This kind of interoperability is, according to Air Force leaders, intended to serve as the foundation for the Air Force’s contribution to JADC2.
At the moment, some ground, sea and air sensors are what could be called more “stovepiped,” meaning they are separate and less able to share combat-sensitive data in real-time. Addressing this challenge is exactly the kind of “change” the Air Force document is calling for, given that much greater levels of multi-domain networking will be necessary should there be a major-power warfare scenario. Current long-range enemy sensors are increasingly able to span across domains with extended ranges, requiring a need for America to improve its own multi-domain defenses.
Some of the Army’s emerging programs, McConville said, are specifically engineered to better support the joint fight and enable cross-domain operations between the services.
“We are going to have Air and Missile Defense Capabilities that they will be very concerned about because it is how they protect their bases. We will combine sensors and shooters together to all be part of the same team,” he added.
These comments bring the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) network of missile defense radar and weapons nodes. The program, which recently completed several successful tests, is intended to network an entire sphere of otherwise disconnected sensor nodes to establish a continuous target track on incoming enemy weapons. This means sharing data between otherwise disconnected forward-positioned radar systems and massively decreasing the sensor-to-shooter window. With more complete information quickly at their fingertips, commanders will have more time with which to defend against attacks. Drawing upon IBCS-generated connectivity, the Army recently shot down two incoming maneuvering cruise missile targets by connecting its PATRIOT missile radar to a forward operating Sentinel radar to share data. Commanders had more time with which to make key defensive decisions and succeeded in destroying the fast-moving threats with interceptors.
In fact, the IBCS system has successfully connected with an Air Force F-35 stealth fighter jet, a level of interoperability which was further demonstrated recently during Project Convergence 2020 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.
McConville mentioned expressing enthusiasm about this recent experiment in Yuma through which Army ground soldiers were able to exchange targeting specifics with overhead Marine Corps F-35B jet fighters.
“The fact that the F-35 can speak to the soldiers on the ground and the fact that we have a system that will determine what the best shooter is from multiple sensors is going to make the joint force much more capable,” McConville said.
Interestingly, McConville finished his remarks with somewhat of a philosophical point, explaining that the entire thrust of the Army’s massive modernization transformation, which of course includes the massive acceleration of attack, is intended to prevent war.
“It all gets back to deterrence and it all gets back to really peace through strength,” he said.
Kris Osborn is Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.