Lawmakers Call for More Answers on Military Command-and-Control Plans

The Air Force has four months to figure out exactly what it wants the Advanced Battle Management System to do, as part of a proposed set of congressional oversight requirements.

ABMS is the service’s sweeping effort to connect its platforms not only as attack assets but as intelligence and communications nodes. Its ambitious goals have drawn criticism from those on Capitol Hill and federal watchdogs who say it needs more specific benchmarks. Now, the final draft of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill wants to see those objectives in writing.

By April 1, 2021, the Secretary of the Air Force must draw up a report on global requirements for tracking moving targets and for tactical-level command and control—missions handled by the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System planes that are nearing retirement. ABMS was created as a more holistic approach to battle management than simply swapping older airframes for new models.

Within 60 days of creating that analysis, Congress wants the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council to certify that ABMS will meet the combat needs laid out in the report. The high-level council is finishing its own slate of requirements and initiatives the military will pursue to achieve joint all-domain command and control, of which ABMS is a part.

Lawmakers direct the council to then brief the congressional defense committees on the results within a month of their sign-off.

In the new bill, lawmakers push the JROC to approve requirements for JADC2 by April 1 as well. Within three months, the top generals of each military service must tell Congress whether their command-and-control efforts are compatible with that JADC2 vision.

Starting Oct. 1, 2021, and lasting three years, “the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief Information Officer of the Department of Defense, and a senior military service representative for each of the armed forces” should brief the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on JADC2 progress each quarter.

The legislation similarly lays out extensive guardrails that will shape how the military pursues plug-and-play technology to help them communicate more fluidly.

“The conferees’ intent is to expand the use of modularity in the design of weapons systems, as well as business systems and cybersecurity systems, to more easily enable competition for upgrades as well as sustainment throughout a product’s lifecycle, while protecting the proprietary intellectual property embodied within the modules of modular systems,” lawmakers said.

They called for more tests of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-built technology that can bridge the various software interfaces that hamper broad communication across military systems.

“Prior efforts to adopt universal standards both within and across the military services have failed to achieve comprehensive interoperability,” lawmakers said. “Adoption rates of standards invariably lag, and technology advances require changes in standards that result in backwards incompatibilities. Even if the new initiatives proposed within the DOD research and engineering community overcome these problems, incompatible interfaces will remain numerous for many years to come, hampering joint, multi-domain operations.”

Members of Congress also want more visibility into the full cost of a command-and-control overhaul. DOD’s fiscal 2022 budget request should include the expected price tag for JADC2 development and implementation for that year, a figure currently fragmented across the armed forces. The Air Force wants $3.3 billion for ABMS from 2021 through 2025 alone.

In the House and Senate’s compromise bill, released Dec. 3, lawmakers offer ABMS $216.8 million for research and development in 2021. They cut $85.5 million from the Air Force’s request for the program, citing “unjustified costs.”

Congress also proposes that the Air Force work with the Pentagon’s independent cost-projection office to set cost estimates for each type of product under ABMS, from data management to sensor integration.

“The conferees appreciate the rationale for ABMS and support the objective of comprehensive, interoperable battle management and command and control,” an explanatory report accompanying the bill said. “Better definition of anticipated ABMS capabilities and costs will focus both congressional oversight and service development and execution of the ABMS family of systems.”

The National Defense Authorization Act is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and must still earn the President’s approval to become law.