By Joseph Eddins, Airman Magazine
/ Published May 26, 2021
The nature of ABMS is that it will never be finished. It will always evolve to encompass the newest technological advantages. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration)
ABMS illustration. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Strohmeyer, the Commanders Initiatives Group (CIG) deputy director with North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) NORTHCOM, speaks with reporters about the new innovative Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) Onramp 2, Sept 2, 2020 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The effect ABMS is attempting to achieve is Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). JADC2 is meant to accelerate the speed of the kill chain by connecting sensors to shooters. ABMS is the digital infrastructure which allows a level of connectivity and [sensor] compatibility for our military at war. As a new Joint Warfighting Concept, Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO) seeks to create simultaneous dilemmas for adversary forces, overwhelming them with too many challenges to counter successfully. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Alex Edwards, 125th Fighter Wing Detachment 1 commander, responds to a simulated alert call during the Advanced Battle Management System Onramp 2 demonstration out of Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., Sept. 3, 2020. The effect ABMS is attempting to achieve is Joint All-Domain Command and Control. JADC2 is meant to accelerate the speed of the kill chain by connecting sensors to shooters. ABMS is the digital infrastructure which allows a level of connectivity and compatibility for our military at war. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Dutton)
U.S. Air Force Airmen monitor computers in support of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) Onramp 2, Sept 2, 2020 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)
A Ghost Robotics Vision 60 prototype patrols the flight line during the Advanced Battle Management System exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Sept. 3, 2020. The prototype of a four-legged dog-like robot, was tested during the exercise as a new way to patrol battle spaces and provide Airmen with direct eyes on targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)
U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines prepare a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System at a simulated austere base during the Advanced Battle Management System exercise on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 3, 2020. The ABMS is an interconnected battle network – the digital architecture or foundation – which collects, processes and shares data relevant to warfighters in order to make better decisions faster in the kill chain. In order to achieve all-domain superiority, it requires that individual military activities not simply be de-conflicted, but rather integrated – activities in one domain must enhance the effectiveness of those in another domain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Cory D. Payne)
AT&T civilian contractors control and monitor a “Cell on Wings” drone in order to provide 5G connectivity to participants of the Advanced Battle Management Systems (ABMS) Onramp 2 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on Aug. 27, 2020. The Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) is an interconnected battle network – the digital architecture or foundation – which collects, processes and shares data relevant to warfighters in order to make better decisions faster in the kill chain. In order to achieve all-domain superiority, it requires that individual military activities not simply be de-conflicted, but rather integrated – activities in one domain must enhance the effectiveness of those in another domain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Charlye Alonso)
Master Sgt. Kyle Pearson (left), Headquarters Air Mobility Command expeditionary communications functional area manager, and Tech. Sgt. Kevin Koenig, 621st Contingency Response Support Squadron tactical radio communications section chief, provides communication from a Nomad GCS Tactical Control Vehicle at a simulated austere base during the Advanced Battle Management System exercise on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Sept. 1, 2020. The ABMS is an interconnected battle network – the digital architecture or foundation – which collects, processes and shares data relevant to warfighters in order to make better decisions faster in the kill chain. In order to achieve all-domain superiority, it requires that individual military activities not simply be de-conflicted, but rather integrated – activities in one domain must enhance the effectiveness of those in another domain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cory D. Payne)
A communications pod installed in a KC-46 Pegasus will allow the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor to connect and instantly receive and transmit the most up-to-date information to try to ensure decision superiority. This concept is known as Capability Release #1 under the Advanced Battle Management System framework, which the USAF announced on May 21 is entering a new phase. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Travis Burcham)
Brig. Gen. Jeffery D. Valenzia is director of Joint Force Integration and head of the cross-functional team responsible for establishing the manpower, resources, and doctrinal infrastructure for the Advanced Battle Management System program.
ABMS will facilitate the rapid sensing of the environment, assimilation and structuring of data and the distribution of that data to decision makers. The effect will be to dramatically shorten the time from observation of the battle environment to action by decisionmakers. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
The Advanced Battle Management System will enable the rapid collection, processing and sharing of data across all domains, weapons systems and commands. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
The imaging sensors aboard a Remotely Piloted Aircraft are an example of the many was data is collected to inform decision making. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Niles Bartolome, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) on the Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, March 8, 2020. The JSTARs forward deployed to PSAB from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar as part of an agile combat employment mission meant to test the squadron’s ability to conduct missions in the region from an austere location. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Charles)
"Data is the lifeblood of our economies. It's the lifeblood of our social lives. And without a doubt, data is the lifeblood of our victory."BRIG. GEN. JEFFERY D. VALENZIA
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: This is all about connecting dots. Oftentimes our adversaries work below the noise level, meaning a lot of their activities are difficult to connect what they could mean within the whole. We've already demonstrated through some commercially available off-the-shelf technologies that we can focus the data collection in a way that starts to connect those dots below the threshold that might indicate the intent of an adversary.
Today, we talk about it being about speed, but, at the end of the day, what we talk about is how do we avoid conflict? We don't want to go to war and we can oftentimes deter war if we understand our adversaries’ intentions early. Then we can take a proactive measure in order to deter them so that they don't feel as though they have a military advantage.
Airman Magazine: How does JADC2 and ABMS support the goals of the National Defense Strategy?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Well, the goal, the goals of the National Defense Strategy are clearly this – we have to work as a globally-integrated force. We can no longer operate within a (single) geographic domain or organizational boundary. What JADC2 advances, and what ABMS enables, is a connection and understanding across the whole of the globe without consideration to seams. So, the total force, meaning all 11 combatant commands, can be operating off of this same level of understanding. They can plan together and then they can execute together.
Airman Magazine: When I see JADC2 and ABMS mashed together in the same sentence, I get confused as to which one is which. So ABMS is a platform within the JADC2 system?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Yeah. That's a great question that you're asking because a lot of people are confused and our understanding has emerged and evolved over time. So, JADC2 is the joint forces construct on how to achieve decision advantage. Of which ABMS is the Air Force's contribution to create decision advantage. Meaning, JADC2 is the idea. ABMS are the tools to enable it. But ABMS is not just a platform. In fact, it's many things.
Oftentimes, it's changes in policies. It's changes in procedures. Often, we're finding that it's changes in software, how we code our sensors and how we code our command and control functions. It's changes in our people. Today, the majority of the force grew up in the digital age, but (there are) those of us, and I include myself as part of the generation, who did not. It's how to leverage people who can understand, in a data-saturated world, how to process and then take advantage of the data that's made available to them.
So, what we're avoiding is the notion that ABMS is pigeonholed into one, but it's a lot of different tools that we're going to deliver to the joint force to enable decision advantage.
Airman Magazine: I remember at an Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium, Gen. David L. Goldfein (former Air Force chief of staff) talked about Uber for the Air Force. Was he talking about ABMS?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: That's right. There's a lot of commercial illustrations that suggest that the technology is already there. One of the things, when you heard Gen. Goldfein talk about Uber, or when you hear illustrations, such as that, it's this idea that you can put in algorithms to understand otherwise massive amounts of data in a way that allows you to be more responsive to whatever your mission may be. In Uber's case, to pick up the right rider and take them to the right destination. In our case, it's to deter and, if we're unsuccessful, to defeat our adversaries.
Airman Magazine: In the beginning, the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) concept was more about a set of eyeballs looking out of the canopy, seeing the enemy first, and then engaging quickly. Can you explain that concept and how it will still hold, with the eyeballs being replaced by sensors and engagement vectors encompassing all domains, including cyber?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: You bet. We break it down into three very broad steps. We have to be able to sense. We have to be able to make sense and we need to be able to act. So, sense comes from, largely, the various sensors that we have, everything from national-level assets to tactical assets.
For example, traditionally when we start thinking about sensors, we think about unmanned aerial vehicles with cameras on them that can pipe the information back, but it's far more sophisticated than just a UAV flying over a battlespace. For instance, it's an F-35 (Lightning II) that is flying within contested airspace and collecting a tremendous amount of intelligence information.
Frankly, that information may not be valuable to that F-35 pilot to execute their mission, but that information is extraordinarily valuable to another partner or ally. So being able to sense the environment is incredibly important.
Next, we have to be able to take that sensing data and move it to a place that we can process it to add meaning or make sense of that data. Making sense of the data is really tailor-made to the need of that decision-maker. And as they process that data in order to extract the meaning of it, they then need the ability to direct the action. This is what's changing from the Department of Defense and where we have been to where we are as we've largely left the service member to be the totality of that process.
Today, we're learning things like data standards. We're learning about data scientists. We're learning about systems engineering. We're adding some terms and skills to our vernacular that haven't been inherent in warfighting up to today.
Airman Magazine: Data is the new oil?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Data is the lifeblood of our economies. It's the lifeblood of our social lives. And without a doubt, data is the lifeblood of our victory.
Airman Magazine: So how is the modern battlespace different in terms of observe, orient, decide and act?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: We hit on it earlier. It's about speed. Today, you can't wait to collect all available information, sit down and try to assemble some sort of board or Bureau or center or cell, that is going to make sense of that and eventually deliver an analysis to a decision-maker. Today that (process) is oftentimes measured in hours, if not days. We need to move that down to seconds.
Airman Magazine: Could explain what a sensor is, in general terms, and how they are deployed and what types of information can be gathered with them?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: The sensor is really anything that helps you to understand your environment. This would be everything from a sensor that has a camera on it that can take a picture, to something as sophisticated as a fifth-generation fighter that is collecting all of the signals information that might be in the air. It's even down to the Soldier whose boots are in the dirt who is trying to understand their environment. The idea is to take traditional and nontraditional, exquisite and simple sensors and take all of that information and merge it into a single picture.
Airman Magazine: For ABMS and JADC2, do you basically have to retrofit an old Air Force and bring it up to the level of the new Air Force?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: No, that's the good thing. We have this data there, but today, most of that data is stove-piped. It's stove-piped within a particular platform. It's stove-piped within a particular function or an organization. And others don't know, for instance, the Air Force may very well be able to detect the presence of a threat within the air domain, but may not have the means to pass it to our maritime brothers. So, our maritime brothers are collecting the same information to understand the environment. This causes sensor saturation on a single point, which does not give us the totality of understanding that we need to have.
Airman Magazine: I think I've seen a little bit of that play out at U.S. Southern Command when I went there.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Without a doubt. SOUTHCOM is unique because where we are talking about very sophisticated capabilities and bringing on allies and partners in a very sophisticated sense. What an air Advanced Battle Management System also does, is it accounts for the lesser sophisticated partners and allies. For instance, if you go down into the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility, most of their partners are fighting on WhatsApp. So how do we then factor in that there is a wide spectrum of capabilities that are out there, but we still have to operate as a single force?
It's worth mentioning the strategic advantage that the United States has is our ability to develop a coalition. That's through allies and willing partners. No other nation in the world can build a coalition the way we can. Therefore, when we start looking at building out these advanced command and control capabilities, this decision advantage, we have to take it from the high end all the way down to the low end, because we don't know where in the globe we're going to find ourselves competing for our national security interests.
Airman Magazine: What is the importance of an exquisite sensor system to support the ABMS and JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Well, let me maybe rephrase the question. As we look at sensors in the operating environment that we have in the future, what's changed? So today, we put very capable sensors on very large platforms and slide them in close proximity to the fight so that they can provide that closing of the kill-chain capability, everything from being able to understand the environment, to making sense of (the) environment, to handing that to a decision-maker and then immediately directing an asset to execute a mission - that's battle management 101.
What we know today though, is tomorrow we can't take these big platforms and we can't fly them right up against the battlefield and expect the same level of understanding; predominantly because they're highly vulnerable. Our adversaries have spent decades understanding how we fight our war, and they know that they can't take us toe to toe, fighter to fighter, ship to ship, tank to tank.
They know that the only way they're going to unravel us is to disrupt our ability to command and control. So, they've developed the capabilities to hold these large platforms at risk. So advanced battle management of tomorrow takes that same capability, the ability to sense, and now distribute it across a wide array of sensor capabilities, some extraordinarily exquisite. (Chief of Space Operations) Gen. John Raymond just recently released in the media that they're working on a ground moving target indicator capability that is space-based. Yesterday, that was on the JSTARS platform; a highly vulnerable system. Tomorrow, we're going to put that in space.
Airman Magazine: You are working closely with the Space Force on that?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Without a doubt. I don't think anybody who understands warfare today or tomorrow would disagree with the fact that we cannot win without space.
Airman Magazine: I just don't think most people think about space when it comes to war, because it's never been an overt battlefield visible to the public.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: If you're a student of war, if you understand military tactics and capabilities, then you know that we have to focus on the capabilities in space and the defense of space.
Airman Magazine: The high ground.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: It is the ultimate high ground.
Airman Magazine: Can you explain why we have to get the data right from the beginning and what needs to happen before all the data we collect can quickly be collected, formatted and utilized?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Without a doubt. I'm going to bridge into that question. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. recently signed the Advanced Battle Management System campaign plan. This is the first-ever that lays out eight warfighting, required capabilities, or imperatives. What he says in that plan is that there's a lot that we have to get after, but the first thing is about sharing data.
The reason for that is we can build an advanced array of sensors, but if they are all communicating in some proprietary or a unique way, it becomes very difficult in order to collect, store and process that data for a warfighter to use. In other words, you end up having to build a wooden shoe for every sensor source, and we need to get away from that. So what we've done is we set a course in order to identify what is the best way to affect data movement and what is the best way in order to make data shareable.
So (the) movement of data; this is pipes. We've got to have the pipes, whether they're space-based, terrestrial-based, whatever the case may be, whatever waveform we may choose, we've got to be able to move the data. We have to move it to a location and we have to store it. Oftentimes you'll hear us talk about cloud-based storage. It's very similar to what the commercial industry has done.
The difference for us is we'll have cloud-based storage, but we'll also need to develop the tactical edge cloud-based capability. This is important because if our force is effectively cut off from the whole, we still need the parts to operate, and (the) tactical edge (and) cloud-based storage of this data will help to enable that. Second, sharing of data. Well, to share data one, you, as the user, need to know that it's there. If you don't know that my sensor collected the data that you need, then you don't know how to pull that data in to help shape your decision-making.
This comes from the ability to characterize the data in a way that a disparate level of users knows how to go search and find it. Think of your Google search. The last element of that is the data has to come into a format that you can use it. So that we're not delivering data that's proprietary or data that is locked within a particular vendor’s solution, but instead is presented in a universal way that means something to you.
If we get this right, then as we build things such as space-based, ground-moving target indication capability, or other exquisite sensors, then they will produce data according to that architectural standard and we don't have to continue to develop the individual solution for each sensor.
Airman Magazine: I want to just touch on the edge connection that you were talking about. Is that like a buffering thing, or is it more of like firmware that's constantly being updated, so when it's disconnected from the network, it can operate without it?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: The idea behind it is that you can take the data that you need for that location in which you operate and you can store it and process it on the tactical edge so that you are not exclusively dependent on a reach-back capability. What we want is a live exchange of that data back and forth between the edge and the rear, but we also need to have the ability to operate if we have that line to new data cut. Then when we reconnect the pathway, the update and refresh occurs again and we continue to push new data into the tactical edge.
Airman Magazine: The big question is, do our adversaries have an ABMS or a JADC2 in the works?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: There are elements of decision advantage of which our adversaries have also built out. They too understand the importance of working as an integrated force. I will tell you that the majority of the technologies and capabilities they have built is how to undermine our ability to operate as an integrated force, not necessarily as sophisticated and resilient of a capability as we're building out. Frankly, we are so far ahead of our adversaries and how we have learned to operate as a joint force that it's going to take them a long time to catch up, but what we can't do is rest on those laurels and think they won't catch up. They have already set a course to show that they can converge and surpass us if we don't continue to evolve.
Airman Magazine: If you took ABMS and JADC2 and I put them into our Red Flag events and training out at Nellis AFB, how would that play out?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Some of it you would never even see. If you were flying around in a cockpit or you were part of a ground force working out there on the range, you may never see it. Others, you will.
For instance, you could be sitting in a ground attack vehicle, maybe you're a tactical air control party out there helping to control the air fight against the ground forces. You may be operating with a common operating picture that's populated with (the) awareness that you have no idea where it came from. That information was fused, piped into you and made sense of so that you can make very accurate and timely decisions. The same may go if you're flying a fighter aircraft, a bomber aircraft, or you're sitting back in a ground control station, operating an unmanned vehicle.
That level of awareness of your environment, the operators are going to see fairly quickly, but much of the acceleration of the decision-making is going to happen up to the point where they're taking action. There is a bit of an above-the-waterline and a below-the-waterline benefit of advanced battle management.
Airman Magazine: I was told that the other services are working on their own ABMS at the same time as the Air Force has kind of been more ambitious doing the joint, um, kind of overall, am I, am I wrong in that? And maybe you could explain that to me? Can you explain how you can have JADC2 if the services create separate ABMS systems?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Let me correct that perception because sometimes I hear people with that perception. Here's the truth. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force, first of all, are closely partnered in our understanding of how we have to work together in order to enable JADC2. But each of us presented from a domain unique perspective, which means our tools and our perspectives shape a bit of how we develop the solutions, but that doesn't mean that they're not complimentary. In fact, they highly overlay each other in the technologies we bring to bear. The same way that the maritime domain is better connecting the subsurface, on surface and above-surface capabilities. So too is the air domain and the ground domain.
Here's what's unique. Today, when a battalion or a division is advancing forward with their operations center, we don't have the automated means to share understanding. But, working with the Army's Project Convergence and the Navy's Project Overmatch, we're building that shared understanding.
Now, here's where the joint side of it comes into play. What the joint staff is doing, and largely done through the joint requirements oversight council, or the JROC, is building out the means to establish some common standards and expectations of how to share that information. That's important because any one service can't develop the solution and expect the other services to find a way to adapt to it.
Airman Magazine: So, my next question is about leadership. What kind of leaders are we going to need to see this through?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Right. Great question. In fact, while data sharing is today's focus, human capital development is our next focus because Gen. Brown fully appreciates that we have to get the people part of this formula right and we need to do it early. This means that we have to reconsider the attributes we value in candidates for the Air Force. We have to reconsider how we are training them, how we are developing them, our education programs, and the attributes which we value in our promotions. So, what are we looking for?
What we need are leaders who can operate in a highly complex and rapidly changing environment. One of the attributes of tactical edge computing or disaggregated operations is this ability to distribute decision-making. Whereas we commonly look at decisions that are made within an AOC by a CFAC, we may find ourselves disaggregated where it's the mission commander out on a particular strike mission that suddenly has the decision-making authority without the reach back to include a modification of their mission to maybe a different objective or different principle, in the Army's terms. The Air Force has adopted this. We call this mission command, which is how can I push decision-making and autonomy to the lowest level possible in order to accelerate our ability to interact with our operating environment.
The Airmen we need to operate in that environment, the skills, the knowledge and the abilities are different than what we are currently valuing today. So we have to identify those, build them into the entirety of our human capital management process so that we can start building out leaders where this (mission command) is second nature to them.
Airman Magazine: I was in the AOC when North Korea was shooting up missiles and I saw an Airman, who was probably 22 years old on the phone and his hands were shaking. That's a lot of trust in someone that young in a rapid-fire situation.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Let me pick up on trust because what you just said is really insightful. One of the things, as we start to build out this command and control model, this new way of operating, it really hinges on trust in our Airmen. So, when I push decision-making authority out in the tactical edge, I have to trust that they understand my intent as a commander and that they will have the tools and the authorities to execute within that intent. But trust also (needs to exist) in the data.
So, if I have an algorithm or a machine-to-machine exchange of information that looked at my available options and came up with a recommendation, I need to trust that data. So that trust needs to exist in a couple of ways.
Number one; I have to have that data protected. I need to know that the data that you synthesize to help me to make those decisions are protected from nefarious manipulation.
The second thing is, I need to trust that those algorithms are actually making some good recommendations. And we do that through exercises and experimentation. We need to put these capabilities into our war fighters' hands as fast as possible, let them practice with them and then let them help us to shape how they operate and how they interact with them so that we can continue to improve them.
We call this DevSecOps - Development-Security-Operations. It's taking the developers and the operators, always with security forefront in their minds, and putting them in the dirt together to work through these problem sets so we can build out trust. The power that we have access to, both within the commercial industry and within our own ranks, is staggering.
Airman Magazine: This is kind of like the beginning of the internet of the Air Force?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: In a simple sense, it really is. I'll date myself here, I was an adult when we got cell phones out of backpacks, I was already in the Air Force the first time I had a personal computer. I remember when the Air Force introduced this idea called email, of which I was highly skeptical. This is my generation.
The Airmen and the civilians that we're bringing into the force today have only known this. They have only known powerful computing in their pocket. They've only known interconnectedness and the movement of data, across wires at lightning speed. They're also coming to understand the frailty of when you're not discriminating in the data that you use to make your own personal decisions.
This awakening that the military is going through, the commercial industry has already gone through it. And it's important to recognize our partnership with industry is largely where we're going to find our successes.
Airman Magazine: When the internet first started, nobody saw it as too much of a Pandora's box. But now it seems there are so many pros and cons to rapid communication. What pros and cons do you see in the future of ABMS and JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Rapid communication depends upon two attributes: data under motion and data at rest.
When we start talking about rapid communications, how do we get back to that idea of trust? How do I trust that data? How do I trust that somebody hasn't gone in and manipulated the data in order to manipulate my understanding? Are they siphoning off data in order to reduce my understanding? As we start looking at an operating environment where we expect every warfighter to operate at lightning speed, we have to understand that there's a great risk in the data they use to make their decisions.
The second piece is, fast also leads to disjointed. When we empower the parts to operate as the whole, how do we keep them operating as a whole? So, if I'm a part that's aggregated and I'm executing my mission, I have some centrally-organized function there, but if I get split due to some sort of enemy activity that disaggregates me, I'm still expected to execute. The idea that I stay part of the whole assumes the whole hasn't changed. Then I have to reattach.
During this disaggregation and re-aggregation, maintaining momentum around a unified purpose and a coherency of effort is really hard if you're working at light speeds.
Airman Magazine: When I talked with Capt. (Michael) Kanaan, who wrote "T minus AI," he was at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and now is at the MIT AI Accelerator. About the beginning stages of AI (in the military), he said it was so difficult to explain it to the stakeholders and decision-makers. They had to take an entire year to figure out how to communicate what AI was and what it could do for the military. Do you have that same problem with ABMS and JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Without a doubt. And the reason is people jump to conclusions on what it can be before we're there. What we have to understand is AI is remarkable, but it's still got a long way to go. Oftentimes, people will jump to the conclusion that AI means robotic warfare and that is unethical. I ask everybody to hold off for a second. We're not jumping to where we're going to hit a button and execute some sort of robotic, outside-of-the-human process, military operation.
AI also reflects in our lives in ways that some of us are comfortable with and some are not. For example, I gave my mom a meat thermometer that sits inside the oven and tells her when the meat is done; pretty easy. Well, evidently it feeds back to some central server that then sends her an email, congratulating her on making a beautiful pork roast. She sees that as a violation of her privacy, that's culturally some of the hurdles that we have to overcome as we start thinking of bringing in machine learning and AI into our military operations.
Airman Magazine: Do we build ABMS around the weapon system or do we build the weapons system around ABMS?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: There's a both-element to it. Ultimately, we build the idea of this interconnectedness of all the parts into a coherent whole, and we build future systems with that in mind first. That's part of what's becoming a changing principle within our acquisition and development process, but we can't do so and leave all of our legacy systems behind. We also have to figure out, how do we continue to connect existing weapons systems that are going to be here for a long time and how do we bring them in to operate as a whole? It's this idea of homogeneity or heterogeneity. So, do I make everything homogeneous so it all looks and operates the same? Or, do I accept that there are going to be heterogeneous parts, but I create the capability for them to operate as if they're homogeneous? That's where ABMS lives.
Airman Magazine: I think of the boneyard, where everything seems to be laid to rest, but is oftentimes a holding area for when the Air Force decides we need to use these again. So when they regenerate those mothballed platforms, how fast and easy will it be to put some sensors on it and make it compatible with ABMS?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Everything is more sophisticated than we think. For example, we use the SWAP acronym, which is, do I have the space? Can I add the weight? Do I have the ability to control? Do I have the power to run it? You'll find a lot of our systems were built off of infrastructure within the platform that doesn't support really advanced weapon systems or sensor bases. Can you modify them? You can, but now it becomes a cost-benefit analysis.
I'll talk about the capability called Release 1. The Air Force is building a way to have a 5th-generation airborne tactical platform back the data onboard a KC-46 -- one equipped with a special pod to receive all that data. The KC-46 then pipes this data beyond line-of-sight, back to a central node for storage and processing. So, this is taking a KC-46 that is otherwise used to refuel or transport aircraft, and now we're using it as a command and control node. That sort of thinking, that sort of modification, is how we're eventually going to create this network that connects the parts into the whole.
Airman Magazine: So are you just eating and breathing ABMS? I bet you turn it off when you get home. So where are we currently with ABMS experimentation and exercising?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: It's actually the opposite. I have a hard time turning it off. I'll lay there in bed and I'll have an "A-Ha!" moment. I'm writing an op-ed right now and I was cleaning up dinner and I thought about a part of the op-ed I didn't like anymore and had to run up, log on and make a quick adjustment. So it's actually the opposite. Being able to walk away from it is hard.
I really believe in what we're doing and I really believe that Gen. Brown has put us on the path we need to be on. So let me answer your question. Where is our experimentation or exercising focus today? It's really focused on the idea of how we can better connect otherwise disconnected capabilities.
I'll give you an example, Project Convergence 21. This is the Army's initiative to support JADC2.
Project Convergence 21 uses a number of cases they (the Army) want to look at for better information sharing. One of those is the 5th-Gen tactical fighter and utilizing data-sharing technologies; taking that information on a missile defense mission and piping it back to a ground unit for an engagement decision.
Those novel connections aren't there originally but through the experimentation and exercise, we're creating them. Another one we're coming up (with) within NORTHCOM is looking at how they can change or upgrade their command and control system to accelerate their decision in a Homeland defense mission. This is another exercise that we’re going to run this summer.
Our acquisitions community and chief architects office is deeply involved in the planning and executing of the Advanced Battle Management Systems. They're also going to bring some nascent capabilities, oftentimes software-based, in order to demonstrate their utility in an operationally demanding environment.
Airman Magazine: Wow. So many moving parts. Do you feel overwhelmed every single day, when you log into your email?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: There's a lot. I'm going to go back to a term I'd used earlier and expand on it a little bit - project management versus product management.
Project management is fairly constrained around time schedules and budgets to produce a particular capability. Product management has a much broader, wider perspective. This is what Gen. Brown and (Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force) Gen. (David) Allvin tasked me to do within the Advanced Battle Management System; take a product management approach.
What we are doing now is taking a hard look at how we develop and execute warfighting requirements throughout the totality of our developmental process and we're rebuilding the system. Then we're using the Advanced Battle Management System as the exploratory initiative to find better ways to do business. This is enabling and vexing at the same time.
It's enabling because the rule book is largely ours to rewrite. It's overwhelming because we are interacting with the bureaucracy that is tooled for a certain way to do business. This isn't a hit against the bureaucracy. In fact, we have to succeed with the bureaucracy, not in spite of the bureaucracy.
So the duality there is, how do you still retain the value-added parts of the old while at the same time exploring the new? That adds a degree of complexity that's already on top of a very complex command and control construct.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Yes, oftentimes I find we do have to have a lot of the same conversations over and over again. I don't mind because typically when I sit down with somebody who doesn't necessarily understand, it's a short conversation and then they understand. Without a doubt, the men and women, the military and the civilians and the contractors who make up our bureaucracy all want to succeed. And they have a huge role in our success as a service.
So it's really a matter of pulling them into the conversation. We use a principle called an integrated development team. This is kind of a newer idea. Actually, it's a newer methodology to an old idea that the best solutions are the solutions built out through an integrated approach rather than a stovepipe microcosm approach.
Airman Magazine: When you first stepped into this seat, how long did it take you to get up to speed? How long did it take for you to wrap all the stuff around your head and be able to shoot out answers left and right?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: When I first stepped into the seat it was clear to me we were ready for the next evolution in our institutional approach to the Advanced Battle Management System. That was enabling and encouraging because I was given a very clear charter, “Spaniard,” that's my call sign, “Do it and do it better.” That was number one.
Number two was, “It has to be about the warfighter. Those are your two marching orders.” There's a pretty wide left and right limit there. What we've done is develop a very close partnership with our acquisitions community, particularly with the Department of Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. We work with them every single day on how to build these ideas into reality.
We get unbelievable support from the chief and the vice chief. Particularly Gen. Allvin, who makes himself available almost every day, but without a doubt, every week. When you have the service's senior leadership intimately involved and supportive of finding ways to succeed and a charter with wide left and right limits, without a doubt, I think we're going to achieve both of those goals; make it better and make it warfighter centric.
Airman Magazine: Am I correct that the genesis of ABMS was to support acquisitions? To figure out how acquisitions could all come together and work seamlessly?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Actually, it began with a task to replace our airborne command and control platforms with which we conduct battle management; JSTARS and AWACS. We recognized they're no longer survivable against a more capable enemy. What it became was an understanding that battle management technology had advanced in the commercial industry. We needed to rethink our approach to battle management rather than having a flying target in close proximity to the adversary.
By using advanced communication technologies, data management algorithms, artificial intelligence, we could make it so battle management was more distributable and survivable. And today what we understand -- what we're trying to create -- is a new methodology of battle management that creates decision advantage.
But one step backward, they quickly realized the way we currently do our requirements and acquisition process is too slow from problem identification to field of solution. Nobody typically remembers the original problem by the time they get the solution out into the field. They started to really work on an agile acquisition process that is built upon several principles.
Number one is we need to work with the small guy and the big guy out there because there's a lot of amazing innovations going on with the smaller companies. The second thing is we have to fail often, and if we fear failure or we punish failure, we're going to end up building what we had before. Today, we're no longer building a platform. We're building a different style of advanced battle or battle management. We're using an agile acquisition process and now we're looking at how we can do that throughout the whole of the enterprise.
Airman Magazine: The last time I had Dr. Roper in that seat, we talked about failing faster and failing forward. Not punishing those people that failed if they took a good risk. That we should not only just brush them off and put them back on their feet to try again, but reward them for taking a good risk regardless of the outcome. We also talked about how that is often easier said than done. What's your experience with enabling a risk-taking, fail-forward culture?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Well, at the end of the day, we're spending taxpayer dollars. So we have to be able to account for every dollar we spend and that it was value-added. And we don't fight that. We are not chagrined by the fact that we're accountable for that, but sometimes failure comes at a dollar price that isn't always well-received. So we have to also show progress. Therein lies the nuanced balance between failing fast and moving fast. So how do we find (a) balance between the two? It really comes to the rigor of the thinking that goes into the development of the solutions. It's not that our solutions are bad. We just have to strengthen the thinking that goes into our solutions.
Airman Magazine: Could you explain your function in that and your connection with the other services?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: The Air Force contributes to JADC2 through the ABMS portfolio. The Army is through Project Convergence. The Navy is through Project Overmatch. We have a close partnership with those three departments so we can share (an) understanding (of) where our interests and capabilities overlap and where our interest in capabilities might be domain unique. And then in those areas of overlap, we're finding places to align our integration labs. We're finding places to align our experimentation venues so we can grow together.
Airman Magazine: Why is the joint team important to JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: If we don't have the joint team factored in at the beginning and the same goes for our allies -- meaning they need to be involved in it from the beginning -- it's really easy to get far down the solution development pathway that we find ourselves back into stovepipes. By integrating early, what we're really taking away is the risk of the stovepipes.
Airman Magazine: Can you explain how the concept of JADC2 is not about hardware when talking about a joint environment?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: It is not just about hardware, but, without a doubt, there are likely some hardware elements to it. So JADC2 in and of itself tells us very clearly you need to create a decision advantage. If you're going to be able to command and control across all domains, without any seam, it has to then go and look at things such as policies. It looks at software. In addition to hardware, it looks at the human enterprise. It looks at the connection between conventional and nuclear operations because that's a scene we have to consider also. It lays out a course and then develops an implementation plan that helps to guide and prioritize our efforts as a service.
Airman Magazine: If you were to visualize the perfect scene for how ABMS and JADC2 work, what would that scene look like?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: You wouldn't see it. That's the strength. The strength is they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It forces a connection with so many pathways it's inherently resilient. It allows us to pipe understanding to any corner of the globe instantaneously. It allows us to drive an almost instantaneous shared understanding at the AOC in Hawaii and the AOC in Europe. All at the same time. It allows Cyber Command and STRATCOM to operate off of the same sheet of music at the same time.
Airman Magazine: Why is it important that our coalition partners be involved in JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: We can't do this alone. We will not fight alone. We are going to deter (the) best by recognizing our strategic advantage comes from our allies. And what we can't do is hope to bolt them on after the fact. (The) second is recognizing they have some great ideas too, and they're going to help us to understand and develop solutions to a shared set of problems in ways that may elude us.
Not to mention, if we're all staring at the same problem and we're all developing our own unique solution to that same problem, we're missing the main point which is we have to remain interoperable. So we want them in with us today, now, working shoulder to shoulder through the hard part of understanding the operating environment, finding the problems, identifying solutions and testing out and fielding those solutions.
Airman Magazine: That goes back to what we were talking about before; the role of industry in helping us build relevant applications for networks.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Industry has to be in with us step-by-step, just the same as with our allies, all along the way. Industry has the resources. They have intellectual talent. They definitely have the motivation, they're extreme patriots. They want to see the security of the United States preserved. They don't want to see us go to war and they recognize that our ability to deter is how we're going to avoid having to go to war. We need them to understand the problems that we're trying to solve. We can't leave them to guess what problems we're trying to solve.
It's a little bit of the principle of, "bring me a rock. No, bring me a different rock". We don't want to put the industry in that position. We would do that by keeping them outside the conversation.
We've made a very deliberate effort to create a venue, once a quarter, that we bring industry together and we share with them exactly where we're at. We are also going to great lengths to ensure that when we communicate the problems that we need to solve, we do so in an unclassified, widely-distributed manner so that we're not just bringing the big industry partners, but we're also bringing the small industry partners that oftentimes have unique solutions that we otherwise wouldn't consider.
Airman Magazine: As ABMS goes into the future, do you see it creating new jobs for the Air Force, maybe new career fields, or is it just going to be handled by the cyber folks and the IT folks?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: That's a good question. I don't know. I don't know. We've already created the 13-Oscar career field. My sense is a lot of what we're going to need is inherent within that career field. But, I do suspect that there might be some changes in other career fields as maybe their role and environment changes. But we haven't really unpackaged that human capital side of it yet. I suspect that we're going to have to come to terms with answering that question.
Airman Magazine: All right. So, into the cloud we go. What are the goals and benefits of a cloud-based data stream?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: The goal is that you allow information to aggregate in a manner of which is accessible by subscribers. The Space Force has already created the Unified Data Library that works off of this principle. The real benefit of it is we get away from what we call on-premise storage and on-premise processing. There's a couple of reasons why that doesn't work as well as the cloud-based.
Number one, is that a particular location has all the information and the processing ability. If that particular location is isolated, then nobody else can have access to it.
The second piece to it is the simple ability to upgrade our software. We know that we're under cyber attack every single day. We see it in the news today with the fuel crisis on the Southeast coast. So those cyber aggressors are coming after these systems.
One of the best defenses we have is the ability to conduct software updates in order to shore up vulnerabilities that we identify. When you have on-premise storage and processing, we have to develop the fix. We have to mail the fix out. Sometimes a technician has to come and upload the fix. Maybe we have to bring a system down for some period of time while they upload the fix and bring it back up.
That timeframe is not nearly as responsive as it needs to be. When you put it into the cloud, we can fix it in a matter of hours, as opposed to weeks or months. Think of it in the same way that your personal smartphone gets the updates to its operating system. They come at you quite frequently. It's the same sort of capability that we can build into our command and control systems when we enable cloud-based storage and processing.
Airman Magazine: And everybody's wondering, how secure is it? Can it be hacked?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: I would be remiss to ever say a hacker couldn't somehow navigate some roadblock. I do know that the National Security Agency has some of the most talented minds that our nation can produce that are around making it very difficult for our adversaries to get at our information. But what we do now is we often find vulnerabilities that we otherwise didn't recognize. Could it be hacked? Probably, but through our active defense and being very responsive, then we can mitigate the risk if an adversary identifies a vulnerability,
Airman Magazine: How are fifth-generation aircraft being used to support the development of ABMS and JADC2?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: The fifth-generation aircraft provide some of the most sophisticated sensors that we have. The very nature of their mission puts them often behind enemy lines and in a place where we can gain our best understanding of our adversary. Being able to mine that data from a fifth-generation platform in a dynamic, real-time way, gives us the ability to take that understanding from a soda straw and share it across the globe.
Airman Magazine: Can that be baked into the sixth-generation aircraft? That's I guess it goes back to the question you would build around it or build it with.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Well, the principle of all our platforms going forward is going to be based upon sharing what they know.
Airman Magazine: Is there any misinformation about ABMS; things that people perceive incorrectly?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: I would say that there's a perception at times that ABMS is not factoring in the needs of the warfighter today. And I will say that that is not the case. It is very much based around what our warfighters need. We've done this in two very important ways.
Number one, if you look at the campaign plan it is actually built around our warfighters, understanding what they need to succeed in this highly complex environment. If you begin by the practitioners and understanding what the practitioners need, you begin with a strong foundation.
Second, as we do our analysis of the areas that we need to prioritize our effort, our analysis is based upon warfighter needs. And we do that in three ways. First, we look at the current body of effort to get after today's data sharing, and we identify where that body of effort might be thin in its focus.
Are we all looking at the same spot or are we looking across the whole of the problem set?
Next, as we developed use cases, we have a use case for the homeland defense mission through the lens of NORTHCOM. We have a use case for the European theater, through the lens of EUCOM and a use case for the Pacific theater through the lens of PACOM. Those use cases allow us to identify the kill chain that we want to accelerate.
As we process, map that and identify particular war-fighting functions that are a bit archaic, we can modernize with some of the technologies that we've talked about today.
Airman Magazine: Now that feedback that you got, and you're saying that it doesn't support the warfighter, how did you come about that? Is that something that you've heard from somebody elsewhere? How did that come about? Why do you feel that way?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Initially, when we started on this journey of (the) advanced battle management system and we shifted it from being just a J Star's wax replacement to a more revolutionary look about management, not everybody necessarily understood that shift. What happened was the parts were moving in different directions within the broader enterprise, and they were no longer starting from a shared foundation. Their conversations were becoming strained.
One of the reflections of that strained understanding was the Air Force ABMS initiative is no longer about warfighting. And so, what it came down to is re-communicating what ABMS is, what our priorities are, and then building the warfighter voice more directly into how we prioritize our efforts to help, to close that seam of understanding.
Airman Magazine: So, ABMS is pretty much the answer to fighting a modern war for the future.
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: ABMS is a part of fighting a modern war. What ABMS does is it delivers decision advantage. Now there are a lot of other parts of modern warfare that we still have to continue to mature. For example, maturing our ability to sense with advanced sensors can account for over the horizon threats that we didn't have yesterday, but we're going to have tomorrow, such as hypersonics.
It's the idea that space is no longer a sanctuary in and of itself. It's the idea that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary in and of itself. We still have to continue to modernize sensors. We have to modernize platforms. We have to modernize weapons systems. ABMS is going to make it so that you can understand your environment, make sense of your environment, and then you can direct an action.
Airman Magazine: So how high is your expectation level for getting ABMS to come together from concept to a reality?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Extraordinarily high. My expectation is unbelievably high, because our chief has set it very high and because the joint force needs it to be very high, but we're going to get there.
Where we were two months ago and where we are today, the landscape has already changed in such a dramatic way. As we continue to grow and mature in our development, it's only going to get better. We're going to see capabilities delivered into warfighters' hands within a few short months.
Capability Release-1 is a great example as we're prototyping that. We're going to watch that growth in capabilities grow exponentially over a short period of time.
Airman Magazine: Now, is it too soon to say, when do you think it will be concrete?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: So, there's a great question because there is never a concrete answer. We will never reach the end. In fact, the real art of ABMS is it's a continuation of evolution. Every single time we improve, we're going to improve again. We're never done.
Airman Magazine: It goes back to the idea of what you were saying earlier; It's going to grow into the forces?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: There are particular individual capabilities that we will build up, then we will transition it into the force. But there's going to be another evolution of that same idea as technologies and techniques and tactics, and our adversary matures. ABMS gives us a way to look at the world. It gives us an institutional process in order to accelerate growth, how we close up our partners and how we deliver faster to the warfighter.
Airman Magazine: So, I can't look at ABMS as a product and say, "here, it's done"?
Brig. Gen. Valenzia: Well, if you ever do, we did something wrong, but I'll be able to tell you, we're bringing this capability to the war fight and here's why you should care.
Valenzia: ABMS Will Deliver the "Decision Advantage"
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