Robins Air Force Base team developing new tactics for JADC2 battle management

By Sara Sirota / March 10, 2021 at 5:30 PM

A small team at Robins Air Force Base, GA, is working behind the scenes of the military’s joint all-domain operations planning and experimentation to come up with new tactics, techniques and procedures that could drastically change the service’s approach to battle management.

The Defense Department is looking to connect all sensors and shooters on a shared network through programs like the Advanced Battle Management System so decision-makers and operators can plan and deploy force at internet speeds. This concept relies heavily on automation and artificial intelligence for human-machine teaming, as well as seamless communications amid larger threats to network connectivity.

The Air Force’s battle managers today belong to organizations like the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings at Robins AFB, where they oversee such platforms as the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System — an ageing aircraft that gathers intelligence on the ground to inform operational planning.

The Air National Guard and active-duty forces that make up these organizations serve as a “bridge between high operations tempo missions now and [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] operations in the near future,” Maj. Ernest Nisperos, deputy director of plans and programs at the 461st ACW, explained in a recent email to Inside Defense.

Nisperos is coming up with new constructs for JADC2 battle management operations that decentralize the traditional delegations of authority, operational tasking and command posts. He has experimented with these approaches during an ABMS on-ramp event and has participated in several working groups planning the future JADC2 concept of employment and developing software for ABMS applications.

“The increased use of automation in military operations requires an evolution in battle management that uses JADC2 experts to manage all-domain effect chains using artificial intelligence and autonomous systems as standard,” Nisperos said. “This requires a delegation of authority construct that is easily used during periods of disconnected or degraded communication.”

He argued in favor of having an all-domain operations center that synchronizes a dispersed network of teams within an area of responsibility and has internal cells, which design playbooks for these teams to use. As more units and capabilities spread throughout a battlespace and confront threats in the electromagnetic spectrum, a centralized approach to command and control more commonly used today would be “impossible,” he said.

The vision for a more dispersed, decentralized approach to JADC2 battle management operations borrows heavily from Army Futures Command, which seeks disaggregated command posts to ensure survivability, rather than “positional advantage,” in highly contested environments.

“For positional advantage, we need to purposely connect local data clouds to the larger combat cloud through the technological advancements being made through ABMS for advantageous use by multiple” battle management teams, Nisperos explained.

The Air Force tested a more disaggregated approach during the second ABMS on-ramp event held last September with U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The service hosts these events periodically throughout the year so the military can perform JADC2 operational exercises and contractors can demonstrate new technologies for combatant commanders to potentially deploy in the field.

Nisperos was on the core planning team for the second on-ramp, where he functioned as the forward commander of “all-domain operations capability” at Andrews Air Force Base, MD. His team included four members from the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, which dispersed battle management teams that controlled different portions of the effects chain at multiple locations across the country.

While this gave the Air Force the opportunity to try new JADC2 concepts, the demonstration did encounter some challenges.

“The experimental JADC2 construct was embraced by the teams; however, the teams were unable to comprehensively experiment with delegations of authority that would be expected in actual JADC2 execution,” Nisperos said. “Despite these real-world constraints, we managed to experiment with [battle management team] concepts, implementing an all-domain execution checklist versus an integrated tasking order.”

The Air Force also planned to try new battle management approaches during Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, NV, earlier this year, though the outcome of that demonstration is unclear. Regardless, Nisperos believes the future battlefield where such techniques will be necessary is not too far off.

“An evolution in battle management should begin now, driving requirements and developing in parallel with technology development so that we can be postured as a joint force to proactively handle threats in all domains,” he said.

As the Air Force begins this evolution, Nisperos acknowledged it’s not yet clear how legacy platforms like JSTARS may fit into future JADC2 battle management operations.

“We have yet to define the role of legacy systems for the future fight due to the iterative nature of technology, and speed of technical obsolescence in the 21st century digital age,” he said. “This is why we need an agile approach to capability development, integration, and delivery that is both rapid and continuous.”

That may not conform with demands Congress is making of the Air Force’s ABMS program to comply with the traditional acquisition process that prioritizes established requirements, though.

As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown aims to “accelerate change” within the service, Congress has not indicated whether it is on board. Lawmakers slashed the service’s fiscal year 2021 funding for ABMS and directed officials to conduct a series of cost, schedule and technology integration reviews. He nevertheless pledged to continue advocating for change in FY-22.