The Technology Behind How the Air Force and Army Are Preparing for the Next War
New connectivity, faster networks, and better sensor-to-shooter times will all help the entire military fighter quicker and better than ever before.
The U.S. military has big, high-tech plans to network its forces so that they can win any war. The Air Force calls this program the “Advanced Battle Management System” and the Army calls it “Project Convergence.” Both of those systems are now defining terms that refer to the U.S. military’s massive and high-speed warzone transformation to real-time, multi-node connectivity, data sharing, sensor-to-shooter pairing, manned-unmanned teaming, air-sea-ground-undersea networking and artificial intelligence-enabled computer processing. All of these upgrades and changes are in service of one objective: speed.
Attacking faster than the enemy by exponentially reducing sensor-to-shooter timelines and optimizing methods of attack in real-time, are objectives each of the respective military services hopes to achieve.
It might not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. military is now beginning to achieve, actualize and bring to life a decades-long vision of highly-networked, multi-domain, joint warfare operations, given the pace of emerging technical leaps forward in the areas of AI, sensing and communications technologies. Integrated joint-warfare operations enabled by inter-service air-land-sea information sharing and secure connectivity, has for years been on the Pentagon’s radar as essential for winning a future war. However, while there was great progress in many areas, the vision has never really come to life—arguably—until now.
The Army’s Project Convergence effort, first underway last Fall, achieved a visible breakthrough in sensor-to-shooter pairing by reducing the time needed for targets to be found, recognized, identified, transmitted and then engaged by an attack from twenty minutes down to a matter of seconds. The experiment, still deliberately referred to by Army leaders as a “learning” exercise, integrated mini surveillance drones with larger drones, helicopters and satellite networks to find potential targets, quickly send the data to an AI-capable database called Firestorm and then, in a matter of seconds, connect the properly identified and contextualized target details with the optimal “shooter” or “method of attack.”
This process, which involves target detection, confirmation, data organization and measured analysis of which weapon, system or method of attack might be best suited for that particular target, has historically taken as long as twenty minutes in many cases. The Army’s Project Convergence shortened this process to twenty seconds. One can only imagine the impact that kind of decisionmaking speed might have in a great power warfare scenario characterized by long-range, highly networked precision-guided attacks. It is potentially transformative.
The Air Force program, termed Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), is quite similar in concept and application to the Army’s Project Convergence in that it seeks to not only operate air war platforms as attack systems but also “nodes” connected within a broad interconnected “mesh” network of war systems. Called “on-ramps,” various Air Force exercises have brought this ABMS vision to reality, linking drone targeting cameras with fighter jets, ground commander centers and even ground-based artillery able to destroy high-speed cruise missiles. In a manner analogous to the Army’s Project Convergence, the ABMS “on-ramps” massively truncated sensor-to-shooter time and succeeded in merging otherwise disparate methods of attack and target recognition. For example, during one “on-ramp,” aerial surveillance nodes were able to detect a high-speed, maneuvering incoming cruise missile and cue a land-based Howitzer cannon able to destroy it by firing a high-speed projectile. This introduced highly impactful new variables in the realm of multi-domain warfare.
The relative promise of each of these efforts is part of why the Air Force and Army have worked together to form a collaborative alliance when it comes to bringing multi-domain warfare to new levels of operational efficiency. Both the Army and Air Force efforts represent contributions to the Pentagon’s overarching Joint All Domain Command and Control project.
Kris Osborn is the 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.