All Seeing, All Knowing

U.S. Air Force airmen monitor computers in support of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) Onramp 2, 2 September, 2020 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The effect ABMS is attempting to achieve is Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). ABMS is the digital infrastructure which allows a level of connectivity and [sensor] compatibility for the military. (USAF)

Extensive research is being undertaken by the U.S. Department of Defense to turn the desire for All Joint Domain Command and Control (JADC2) into reality.

As the character of warfare shifts away from countering violent extremist organisations towards engaging with high capability peer adversaries, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is implementing a programme to update existing Command and Control (C2) structures.

As stipulated in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the US DoD faces potential adversaries who have developed ‘sophisticated anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities’, including electronic warfare systems, cyber weapons, long-range missiles and advanced air defences.

As described in a Congressional Research Service report on Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), published on 16 November 2020, adversaries continue to pursue A2/AD capabilities as a means of ‘countering traditional U.S. military advantages,’ including the projection of power and ability to win quickly and decisive.

According to the report, JADC2 comprises the DoD’s concept to ‘connect sensors from all of the military services into a single network’.

“DOD officials have argued that future conflicts may require decisions to be made within hours, minutes, or potentially seconds compared with the current multi-day process to analyse the operating environment and issue commands. They have also stated that the Department’s existing command and control architecture is insufficient to meet the demands of the NDS,” the CRS report suggested.

JADC2 concepts

 In response, the DoD envisions JADC2 as providing a ‘cloud-like’ environment for joint forces to ‘share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, transmitting across many communications networks, to enable faster decision making,’ the CRS report described.

According to the report, ‘JADC2 intends to enable commanders to make better decisions by collecting data from numerous sensors, processing the data using artificial intelligence algorithms to identify targets, then recommending the optimal weapon—both kinetic and non-kinetic (e.g., cyber or electronic weapons)—to engage the target.’

To date, the DoD has commissioned a Joint Cross-Functional Team to consider multiple JADC2 concepts, one of which includes the integration of 5G networks. This covers concepts, policy, doctrine and emerging operational requirements, all of which will be aligned with the Joint Warfighting Concept.

As part of the effort, the USAF continues to develop the Air Battle Management System (ABMS), a next-generation network tasked with the sharing of critical mission data across every domain of the battlefield in near real-time.

Concurrently, US Army efforts in the area of JADC2 and multi-domain operations are being led by the Futures Command and Project Convergence. As Asian Military Review went to press, the army disclosed it had already conducted multiple exercises demonstrating similar concepts to encourage greater access to joint and coalition networks.

Finally, the navy’s Project Overmatch supports JADC2 requirement following its launch in October 2020. Overmatch will develop fleet architecture, supposed by machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous technologies to enable ‘Distributed Maritime Operations’ at sea.

However, it is the US Air Force which has been designated the ‘executive agency’ for JADC2 technology development in coordination with support from industry. Over the course of 2019/2020, the USAF conducted three ABMS demonstrations with partner forces in the U.S. Army and Navy.

A small UAS flies near a Sentinel Radar during a Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control demonstration at Sembach Kaserne, Germany, 25 Feb, 2021. U.S. Air Forces in Europe conducted a CJADC2 demonstration to highlight the force’s ability to integrate network solutions and connect multiple sensors to a common operating network, presenting warfighters with an information advantage across all warfighting domains. (USAF)

In December 2019, the DoD held its first major JADC2-related exercise at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, which focused on a simulated cruise missile threat. Comprising the first demonstration of ABMS, USAF and U.S. Navy F-22 and F-35 jets collaborate with a surface vessel; U.S. Army Sentinel radar system; mobile artillery system and space assets to collect, analyse, and share data in real-time to provide a fuller picture of the operating environment.

Another evaluation was completed in July 2020, which saw air force, army and navy force components using ABMS to support a joint force operation in the collection, analysis and sharing of data in real time across a simulated battlefield environment against a ‘potential Russian threat’.

This was followed by an ‘onramp’ exercise conducted by the U.S. Northern and Space Commands at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland between 31 August and 3 September 2020 to further innovate and evolve ABMS in support of JADC2.

A USAF spokesperson described to AMR how operators used ABMS to “detect and defeat efforts to disrupt U.S. operations in space in addition to countering attacks against the U.S. homeland, including shooting down a cruise missile ‘surrogate’ with a hypervelocity weapon.”

Illustrating how AMBS allowed the joint force to use “cutting-edge methods and technologies to rapidly collect, analyse and share information and make decisions in real time”, exercise officials explained how the exercise had “compelled commanders and operators to trust data analytics and artificial intelligence to understand the battle”.

“ABMS collected and fused information in new ways by also making the information available instantaneously across geographically-separated forces spanning the operational to tactical levels of combat.

“The week long onramp further tested and refined technologies necessary for ABMS, which is building the ‘internet of things’ of the military that collects and makes sense of vast amounts of data supported by artificial intelligence,” officials concluded.

The exercise itself featured 70 industry teams, 65 government participants and 35 military platforms across 30 geographic locations in what the USAF described as the largest “joint experiment in recent history”. 

“When fully realised, senior leaders say JADC2 will allow US forces from all services as well as allies, to receive, fuse and act upon a vast array of data and information in all domains at the speed of relevance. Aside from the system’s embrace of a different warfighting philosophy and practice, ABMS is utilising an approach to developing the complex system that breaks with traditional defence approaches and practices,” exercise sources added.

Cooperation is being conducted with the ABMS Program Office out of AFWERX.

Northrop Grumman officials described how the DoD was moving towards a more “inter-connected and network-centric force to deter increasingly sophisticated threats”. Roshan Roeder, vice president and general manager, communications, airborne multifunction sensors division and Colin Phan, director of strategy, networked information solutions division, described to AMR how the DoD is facing “new and increasingly sophisticated threats from near-peer adversaries, underscoring the importance of innovation in order to maintain an advantage in an age of technology-driven warfare”.

Specifically highlighting JADC2 efforts, Roeder and Phan summarised the concept as comprising an effort to “integrate sensors with shooters across all domains, commands and services”.

“With its focus on integration, it is clear that communications and networking capabilities will be essential to help DoD realise its vision for JADC2,” the pair offered.

“We are conducting a lot of air-to-air and air-to-ground demonstrations, where airborne assets push information down the ground and vice versa. Exercises feature F-35 Joint Strike Fighters talking to the U.S. Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS). We are focused on air, land and maritime integration for maximum levels in interoperability,” Roeder added.

“Exercises are designed to identify capability gaps and quickly offer an agile solution to customers. Northrop Grumman’s role is to take sensor data and push it down to other networks on the ground, looking for specific mission gaps and quickly filling them with innovative technology,” she continued before discussing how acquisition processes would also need to be sped up to demonstrate capability at the forward edge of the battlespace. “It’s OK to fail and move forward faster,” Roeder said. 

BACN soars ahead

Northrop Grumman solutions include ‘gateway’ communications systems such as the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) which in December 2020, successfully reached 200,000 combat operational flight hours since its first deployment with the U.S. Air Force in 2008.

On 26 January, 2021, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $3.6 billion contract for continued BACN operations, sustainment and support. Hosted on high-altitude aircraft such as the Global Hawk, it enhances the situation awareness of forces facing the most advanced of threats across the modern battlespace.

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) system is hosted on high-altitude aircraft such as the Global Hawk to provide persistent connectivity and operational support as part of the BACN program. (Northrop Grumman)

“The open architecture design and cyber-secure processing of the BACN gateway system, coupled with its ability to easily integrate advanced technologies and proven track record of success, make this system well suited to meet the needs of JADC2,” Roeder explained.

BACN’s Airborne Executive Processor (AEP) enables a ‘persistent gateway’ in the sky that ‘receives, bridges, and distributes communication among all participants in a battle’, according to the company.

“In theatre operations, mountainous terrain inhibited line-of-sight communications and diverse weapon systems are unable to communicate with each other; each operating unit can see only a limited set of the complete picture. BACN bridges the gaps between those systems, enabling essential situation awareness from small ground units in contact up to the highest command levels,” according to Northrop Grumman materials.

BACN is a data translator and platform agnostic solution, capable of being integrated on board almost any platform, including fixed infrastructure ground stations to translate tactical data link networks; enable joint range extension; facilitate beyond line of sight connectivity for disadvantaged users and IP-based data exchange among dissimilar users.

Seeking to future proof its JADC2 capabilities, Northrop Grumman is also planning to bring to market a new family of gateway systems to ‘enable communications and cross domain translations between multiple beyond line-of-sight and line-of-sight networks and datalinks—inclusive of 5th-to-4th generation capabilities’.

Systems, which have yet to be unveiled by Northrop Grumman, will focus on cyber-secure and integrated capabilities including cloud computing, machine learning and secure, ethical artificial intelligence, Roshan confirmed.

Additional products being offered up for JADC2 by Northrop Grumman include Freedom Radio systems which are already integrated on board F-22 and F-35 air frame integrated avionics suites.

“The signature design and open architecture functionality of the Freedom Radio supporting gatewayONE will enable 5th and 4th Generation platforms to communicate and extend capabilities to enable multiple 5th generation platform types to share and integrate data, helping make network-centric operations and JADC2 a reality for the DOD,” Roshan described.

Elsewhere, Northrop Grumman is looking at how to increase levels in resilience, security, software definition and advances in waveform technologies in order to stay ahead of the evolving battlefield. Roshan also described efforts to explore open architectures which would allow the company, industry partners and customers to insert new capabilities into platforms in a more rapid fashion.

Waveforms including IFDL and MADL are designed to maintain the stealthy nature of aircraft in addition to ensuring communications in a contested environment and bridging back to 4th Generation data links, Link 16, Common Data Link and Beyond Line of Sight components.

“It’s all about bringing forward new capabilities in a new warfighting domain,” she concluded.

Additional waveform technologies being explored include counter-communications waveforms to defeat improvised explosive devices and electronic warfare threats, Northrop Grumman officials added.

Finally, Roshan described how Northrop Grumman was seeking to exploit 5G communications networks in the future to support interoperability between joint forces and coalitions operating legacy and next-generation platforms in a secure combat environment.

As the modern battle space becomes more and more complicated, the U.S. DoD and its partner forces around the world will be forced to adopt JADC or similar concepts in order to establish and maintain operational advantage over peer adversaries. However, much will depend upon how easy and quick it is to set up systems and capabilities in addition to providing end user with sufficient levels of training to run such a concept.

In addition, they must also be aware of raising cognitive burden of end users operating or relying upon JADC2 – an area which, as typified by USSOCOM’s General Clarke – will see heavy reliance upon ML and AI to speed up decision making processes and make them even more efficient and at pace.

by Andrew White