Warfare in 2030+
Characterized by a proliferation of technologies that alter the military balance of power, the over-the-horizon security environment will be disruptive and translate into a highly cluttered and congested operational environment for the Air Force. The strategic employment of anti-access/area denial (A2AD), designed to create fundamental risks for the Air Force and other force components to operate with sufficient freedom of maneuver, will intensify as adversaries employ more advanced surface-to-air missiles, fighter aircraft, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) within command and control (C2) enterprises that are more integrated and automated. The Air Force will preserve only a limited ability to conduct operations and apply force if it cannot find effective ways and means to overcome dense A2AD and electronic threat environments for sufficient mobility at a chosen point of strategic, operational, or tactical importance. The challenge of confronting more restrictive and degraded operations spaces for conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and prosecuting time-sensitive targets is compounded as adversaries increasingly become more capable of targeting static C2 and logistics nodes.
Introducing a mix of more sophisticated kinetic and non-kinetic effects – in particular, and increasingly, with cyberwarfare – to target critical C2 and logistics nodes at the operational and theater levels provides adversaries with a way of effectively raising the complexity and potential costs of military intervention. The future fight is, therefore, one which must be fought in tremendously compressed time frames and, increasingly, across the traditional and fluid operational domains, including space and cyberspace. The key to fighting and winning in this type of competition continuum, therefore, lies in enabling commanders and edge warfighters to become more intelligent, faster, and more autonomous. This evolution in the way of warfare necessary to counter A2AD threats more coherently and become able to operate inside the observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loop of adversaries spotlights the strategic imperatives for the Air Force in harvesting revolutionary new technologies, concept of operations (CONOPS) and doctrinal approaches.
Introducing JADC2 and ABMS
Joint all domain command and control (JADC2) and Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) have emerged in the United States as a new warfare paradigm to resolve the challenges associated with developing a highly resilient C2 enterprise and superior battlespace awareness and management capabilities by proposing a radical redesign of how the Air Force should operate. The United States Air Force aims to combine the JADC2 as an operational construct with ABMS to connect disparate shooters and sensors across the Joint Force to make full spectrum targeting across all domains possible by exploiting a federated set of military resources in ways that were previously unachievable. The intended goals of JADC2 and ABMS do not differ radically from what has been acknowledged for many years as a necessary transformation in warfighting. Still, this latest attempt goes ‘beyond Joint’ and presents a new vision to finally fulfill the long-held strategic aspiration for a truly networked force.
Without the ability to effectively aggregate, integrate and fuse data resources across multiple domains, the Air Force will likely be shut out of the future fight. JADC2 and ABMS aim to unlock the potential offered by a distributed space power architecture where constellations of small satellites will be able to provide edge warfighters with rapidly-processed data streams – simultaneously and on a worldwide scale – without the inherent limitations of legacy radiofrequency (RF) communications networks. By placing its reliance for data feeds on space-based assets using optical communication instead of purely on ground-based or airborne C2 nodes as has traditionally been the case, the Joint Force will become able to operate in dense threat environments and degraded operations spaces where bandwidth would otherwise be reduced or where network availability would be unreliable owing to adversarial effects. The increasing probability and risks of Combat Air Operations Centers (CAOCs) becoming dislocated are therefore resolved by an ABMS-supported JADC2 construct which would remain executable even in advanced electronic and cyber warfare environments.
However, the intended purpose of JADC2 and ABMS is not limited to connectivity only, as ABMS is envisioned to serve as a command-decision and data-integration enabler for multidomain effects, sensors, data processing, applications, and digital architectures. Artificial intelligence (AI), and in particular its subset of machine learning (ML), is at the cusp of triggering a paradigm shift for militaries by providing the means to rapidly process immense streams of ISR and other critical data necessary for allowing the Joint Force to function at peak performance. Driven by advancements in computing power, in particular, processing speeds, ‘big data’ and AI, the Find, Fix, Target, Track, and Assess (F2T2A) cycle will be massively optimized for the Air Force as it becomes possible to assist and empower tactical commanders in high-intensity forward combat with the same situational awareness (SA) and decision-making in C2 that has until now been the reserve of headquarter elements typically removed from where the fight actually takes place.
JADC2 and ABMS redefine the notion of force connectivity as it is conceptualized and actualized, providing a basis for the Air Force to finally become responsive to adversarial effects, decision-making, and maneuvering in real time. The aggregated benefits of JADC2 and ABMS unlock a new potential for achieving superior SA and battlespace force management which legacy approaches cannot get close to offering. More broadly, data, networks, and information superiority will be more vital than any specific platform in heralding future combat advantage and battlespace dominance. Integrating sensors and shooters into ABMS, or an equivalent system, is a challenging but surmountable technical obstacle. However, the arrival of JADC2 and ABMS will require the producers, curators, and consumers of information warfare (IW), including cyber warfare and intelligence agencies, to fundamentally change how they operate, cooperate, and evolve. As freedom of maneuver is challenged like never before, the Air Force must prepare itself for a radical transformation in how it conducts business with a realization that data and networks, not just its aircraft and weapons, will determine future operational success.