The Air Force is preparing for a variety of scenarios it might encounter in a future war.
These range from fighting without usual lines of communication, confronting enemy electronic attacks or attempted cyber intrusions and calling upon more enterprising ways to quickly exchange time-sensitive intelligence data.
“We can expect the lights to go out and that GPS [navigation] will be degraded. We will need to get airplanes airborne and get them networking. We have to be prepared to not have all the data right when we take off,” Air Force General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Commander, Air Mobility Command, told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in a special video interview.
Enabling in-flight intelligence updates is something of increasing importance to Air Force preparations for great power conflict, as it provides the conceptual inspiration for the service’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) The program, now having evolved through several experimental “on-ramps” wherein new networking innovations were put to the test, represents a paradigm-changing approach to networked multi-node, multi-domain information-driven warfare connectivity.
“We need to be more agile and more maneuverable moving across strategically relevant distances. We are working our way from the Middle East to a maneuver force for the Joint Force,” Ovost explained.
Here Ovost seems to refer to the often-discussed reality that any kind of future warfare air-engagement will require a much broader, and less congested, operational envelope. This is the premise of ABMS, meaning its grounded in the clear recognition that new combat capabilities can emerge by virtue of secure networking in real time at what service leaders refer to as the “speed of relevance.”
The program, which has for instance enabled key breakthroughs such as demonstrating the ability of an armored artillery vehicle to track, fire upon and destroy an incoming enemy cruise missile, is fundamentally intended to quickly pair any “sensor” with any “shooter” in war. This kind of warfare contingency, wherein 155mm ground-fired artillery rounds intercepts high-speed attacking cruise missiles, represents the intent and ultimate application of ABMS’ data-sharing ISR network. ABMS is informing the Pentagon’s ongoing Joint All Domain Command and Control effort.
There are a lot of emerging technologies now informing efforts to operate with success in a GPS or communications-denied environment, including experimentation with new inertial measurement technology and other Precision, Navigation and Timing innovations. These GSP-backups or replacements could prove crucial in a future fight. During the Air Force’s recent Red Flag wargame combat preparations exercise, the service specifically tested the ability of a networked force to attempt operations in a GPS denied environment.
“If we don’t continue to experiment, we will not be valuable to the Joint Force and will not be relevant into the future,” Van Ovost told Mitchell.
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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.