System Designed to Overhaul How the Air Force Fights Takes Big Step Forward

Ghost Robotics Vision 60 prototype Advanced Battle Management System exercise
Tech. Sgt. John Rodiguez, 321st Contingency Response Squadron security team, patrols with a Ghost Robotics Vision 60 prototype at a simulated austere base during the Advanced Battle Management System exercise on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 3, 2020. (Zachary Rufus/U.S. Air Force)

The new Air Force system aimed at speeding data flow and availability across a variety of platforms and commands now has a Program Executive Office assigned to deliver it.

"I'm very convinced this will work," Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said of the service's much-hailed Advanced Battle Management System in a virtual roundtable with reporters Nov. 17.

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Roper and the Air Force said the delivery phases of ABMS would be taken on by the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office as the integrating program executive office.

The Air Force is putting ABMS in the Rapid Capabilities Office as PEO, rather than handing it to a single PEO officer, in recognition of the complexity of developing the system, Roper said.

"This will be something new, and something that's new like ABMS probably needs a new construct for how we manage and execute," he said.

Roper gave no timeline for deliveries but said he expected "we will have the first things bought for connection to real platforms next year."

ABMS is intended "to enable the Air Force and Space Force to operate together and as part of a joint team -- connecting sensors, decision makers and weapons through a secure data network enabling rapid decision making and all-domain command and control," according to the Air Force.

What that means, Roper said, is that the Air Force was building "what looks like the Internet but is connected to military platforms."

Congress thus far "is not questioning whether we can do this," Roper said. Instead, he said, lawmakers are citing more technical concerns, such as, "let's talk about your baselines, let's talk about your documentation."

One of the problems that still must be addressed is that the current acquisitions system is not designed for a continuously updating digital system, Roper said.

"But I think we're off to a pretty good start," he added.

Another problem will be adapting ABMS to the aging fleet of aircraft and the declining mission capable, or MC rates, he said.

"MC rates are always challenging with the oldest fleet on record. The average age of the Air Force aircraft is 23 years," he said. "As long as we are not retiring old aircraft, you can expect the MC rate challenges to continue and likely get worse, because there's not infinite money to throw at these old airplanes."

Roper said the Air Force would propose retiring legacy aircraft fleets, though he did not specify which platforms. For years, Congress has rejected Air Force attempts to retire such aircraft as the A-10 Thunderbolt.

"The Air Force should not have to focus its funding on keeping geriatric airplanes flying into their twilight years," Roper said.

"We can bring in all the technologies we can think of, but if the airplanes are continuing to get older, the physics is against us, and that's the primary thing we have to solve."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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