“What I hope industry will see in ABMS is a pot of money for connecting things, both new things and legacy things,” says Will Roper as the Air Force gears up for its next ABMS exercise in April.
By THERESA HITCHENS, Breaking Defense
WASHINGTON: The Air Force will hold its first official industry day on its emerging battle management, command and control system for multi-domain operations on Jan. 29.
While a number of companies — ranging from defense primes Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to commercial startups such as Ghost Robotics of Philadelphia — brought equipment to the first multi-service exercise of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) Dec. 16-18, the industry day at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio will be the first time potential vendors will be provided a comprehensive picture of the multi-faceted concept, according to an announcement by Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC).
The Air Force wants to push the ABMS development process as fast as possible by putting “industry in the design and build seat very early on,” Air Force acquisition head Will Roper told reporters last Tuesday. “What I hope industry will see in ABMS is a pot of money for connecting things, both new things and legacy things. And it is open for competition three times a year, outside of the normal budget cycle — so, a continual opportunity for innovation.
“ABMS is not envisioned as a single program of record, but rather an open architecture family of systems that enables capabilities via multiple integrated platforms,” the Air Force industry day solicitation says. “ABMS will realize the vision of Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) to enhance and expand capabilities by enabling any sensor to inform any shooter in any domain—land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.”
As Breaking D readers know, ABMS comprises six key technology types or “product areas,” and 28 specific products that the Air Force intends to develop over time, working jointly with the Navy and the Army as DoD and the Joint Staff evolve the overarching JADC2 concept. The specific technologies being developed have all been labeled with the suffix “ONE”, to help explain their linkages to the ABMS construct.
For example, the “meshONE” is the “software-defined network component” of the ABMS ‘internet’ the Air Force aims “to build with our sister services,” the Air Force said in an email statement today. “It is being developed to integrate with nodes in each domain and connect to other networks as needed, just like commercial internet has multiple domains, subnets, etc.”
Other ABMS products tested were the latest iteration of the Air Force’s experimental Unified Data Library (initially designed for space object data), called “dataONE,” that the service hopes will eventually include data from all Air Force and other service sensors; “crossDomainONE” to “seamlessly and securely move data up and down security classification boundaries;” and “OmiaONE,” which s a newly enabled “common operating picture” across domains (rather than limited to, say, the air domain) something like the traffic mapping system Waze.
Advanced Battle Management System OverviewLockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell provided the “ABMS OnRamp” exercise with a new radio/antenna combo, called “gatewayONE,” that successfully allowed Air Force and Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to directly, and stealthily, link to Air Force F-22 Raptors by “translating” between the two incompatible computer languages used by the two aircraft.
SpaceX used one of its Starlink satellites during the December exercise to link directly to an AC-130 to test out the possible use of commercial space-based broadband — under the auspices of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Global Lightning program. The service intends to also test similar satellite networks built by Iridium, L3Harris and OneWeb.
The Army brought it’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) built by Lockheed Martin to integrate as a ‘shooter’ to the ABMS exercise; the Navy brought the USS Thomas Hudner guided-missile destroyer.
Ghost Robotics, which specializes in legged robots for both commercial and military purposes, built the prototype “robot dogs” brought to the exercise by Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to serve as perimeter security, an Air Force spokesperson said today.
The robot prototypes, called Ghost Vision 60, are already being tested by the Army, Navy special forces, and the Australian army, among others, Jiren Parikh, Ghost Vision CEO, told me today. The robots weigh about 32 kilograms each, and can carry a variety of payloads (weighing up to 14 kilos), including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pods, explosives or radios and antennas to serve as a mobile communications network. They can be used for anything from perimeter security to detection of chemical and biological weapons to actually destroying a target.
Ghost Robotics is a subcontractor to Immersive Wisdom, a Florida-based software startup which has got an Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 contract for the robots and accompanying imaging payload. SBIR Phase II awards normally do not exceed $1 million total costs for two years.
Roper said that while the robot dogs couldn’t be properly patched into the ABMS network during the exercise, SOCOM and the companies are free to try again in future exercises.
“They showed up very late, and said ‘we have these systems and we think we can connect them into your demonstration and we wanna give it a shot’,” Roper said. “And they were able to meet our timeline. The fact that it didn’t work, well, there’s no prejudice against that system in the future. They can come back and do it again.”
Roper said the idea is to build up an experimental culture — “let’s try that, and if it doesn’t work, you’ll get another opportunity to in a few months. So I hope we’ll start taking a little more risk; that we’ll have more things not work, because you learn from that as well.”
Parikh said he expects the robot prototypes to joint a future ABMS exercise, noting that the problem during the December test was not with the robots themselves but with establishing connectivity to the network, due to the heavy volume of bandwidth being used.
As Breaking D readers know, the Air Force intends to hold its next exercise during the first two weeks of April. That iteration of the ABMS exercises, which the Air Force intends to hold every four months, will again involve Northern Command, which served as lead for the December exercise, but will be expanded to include Space Command and Strategic Command, as well as participants from the new Space Force.