The real challenge facing commanders in the next war will be sorting through the overflow of information coming at them as they struggle to act faster than the enemy, according to the U.S. Air Force‘s top general.
“You can either have information overload or information that is not necessarily clear or it could be deceptive,” Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown told an audience Monday during the “Future of Defense Summit” webinar hosted by the news outlet The Hill.
“It’s really about connecting the right sensor to the right shooter to the decision maker and being able to move forward and really being able to really make decisions when you have imperfect information,” Brown said.
Each U.S. service is conducting experiments to test how artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies can be used to create more efficient command-and-control networks in an effort to develop the Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
JADC2 is meant to link the services’ radars and sensors. In the future, a fused, streamlined network could track incoming missiles and other threats and then feed targeting information to the right weapons system to destroy them much faster than today.
Brown and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville used their time during the panel to keep their services’ modernization efforts in the public spotlight as they work to maintain congressional support.
The Air Force has been zeroing in on a strategy to link weapons and capabilities for better centralized oversight and control. Its effort, known as the Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, is a state-of-the-art program that focuses on combined intelligence sensor data from weapons and spacecraft anywhere around the world.
The service conducted a series of ABMS tests last year.
One of the largest took place in September 2020, involving U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Space Command, “70 industry teams, 65 government teams from every service including the Coast Guard, 35 military platforms, 30 geographic locations and four national test ranges,” according to an Air Force news release.
For the last three years, the service has been pushing lawmakers to think beyond the scope of single aircraft to do single-mission tasks in favor of the broad network approach. But Congress hasn’t been quick to accept the concept since it isn’t a visible show of warfighting strength, such as planes on a flight line.
The Government Accountability Office last year released its analysis of ABMS, stating the Air Force has yet to prove how the intricate network will work despite talking about the concept for years. During the 2019 budget cycle, the service began a monthslong campaign on why it favored ABMS over replacing the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.
Last summer in draft legislation, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee said it “lacks enough confidence in the Air Force’s structuring and execution” to justify increasing the program’s budget.
And in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress cut the Air Force’s funding request by nearly half, giving the service $159 million out of a requested $302 million. Lawmakers also requested a detailed report on what ABMS is intended to achieve.
As a result, some experiments to test the connecting technology have been curtailed, according to Preston Dunlap, the Air Force’s chief architect. Dunlap told reporters earlier this month there had been one ABMS “on-ramp” test in February with U.S. Air Forces in Europe; another is scheduled for this summer.
But a third test, with Australia and other partners, has been canceled due to the funding gap, Dunlap said, as reported by C4ISRNET.
The Army’s approach to JADC2 focuses on a series of experiments known as Project Convergence.
Last September, the service conducted the first of these experiments at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The Army used satellites in low-Earth orbit and unmanned aerial systems to link ground sensors tracking surrogate incoming threats. The targeting information was fed into a network and then sent to howitzer artillery on the ground that was best positioned to destroy the target.
“We were getting lethal effects in tens of seconds versus tens of minutes,” McConville said, adding that speed and range will be critical on the future battlefield.
“I think what we are trying to do with the Joint All-Domain Command and Control approach is recognizing that everything we do in the future, we are going to fight jointly,” McConville said.
JADC2 will allow the Army to “use all the sensors on the battlefield and get them using technology to get the information to the right shooter,” he explained.
“It fundamentally changes the way we operate; it gives us decision dominance, which gives us overmatch,” he said.
— Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.
— Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this story.
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