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Department of the Air Force Targets Key Cross-Cutting Solutions

The service is aligning and optimizing its functionality for the future.

The Department of the Air Force (DAF) is advancing several warfighting-enabling solutions designed specifically for great power competition, including offensive electronic warfare and modernization of command control, communications and battle management (C3BM) processes.

“One of our four cross-cutting operational enablers, or COEs, is electronic warfare and counter targeting,” said Kristyn Jones, acting undersecretary of the Air Force. speaking to industry, academia and airmen at the AFCEA Northern Virginia Chapter’s Air Force Information Technology Day, December 14, 2023. “In order for us to maintain our information advantage, especially in highly contested environments, we must have dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Specifically, the Air Force is stepping more into offensive electronic warfare systems, building on their defensive aircraft-focused capabilities.

As part of that effort, the service is pursuing a new modular, open architecture for electronic attack solutions. The idea there, Jones noted, is an open architecture system that would tie into battle management capabilities that coordinate with other effects across land, sea, air, space and cyber.

“In the past, the Air Force has focused primarily on defensive electronic attack systems,” she said. “But we're now looking within this POM [Program Objective Memorandum] at offensive electronic attack capabilities to ensure we have a viable delivery method that is battle managed across all domains and levels of warfare.”

To support the efforts, the Air Force is standing up two new electronic warfare-related detachments early this year at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jones added. Those organizations, which will be part of the base’s new Spectrum Warfare Group, will help conduct the initial electronic warfare readiness assessments of Air Force systems for the DAF.

In general, the service has been boosting the mission sets at Robins, adding Battle Management Control and the Advanced Battle Management Family of Systems, in addition to the spectrum warfare responsibilities. The 728th Battle Control Management Squadron, added last February, is commanding and controlling aircraft in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility through 24/7 real-time radar surveillance to facilitate airspace deconfliction, air refueling positioning and tactical reconnaissance, according to an Air Force report. The base also stood up the 18th Airborne Command and Control Squadron with their first E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), a key communications relay and gateway system for leaders that exchanges data from multiple air, ground and maritime sources, across joint, coalition, allies and host nation forces.

Those moves, and many others, including information technology modernization efforts, are all part of the Secretary of the Air Force’s broader efforts to reshape the DAF for great power competition. “Today, the competition and potential conflict we must prepare for in this era of great power competition is fundamentally different,” Jones stated. “The DAF is not optimized for great power competition. We owe our airmen and guardians better, and we must change. We must ensure that the DAF is optimized and ready to deter and defeat adversaries today.”

Closely related to the spectrum warfare advances, the DAF is making more progress on modernizing its C3BM capabilities. As part of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS)—the Air Force’s contribution to combined joint all domain command and control (CJADC2)—the service achieved initial operational capability in October of its cloud-based command and control (CBC2) solution to a modernized tactical command and control suite for air defense of the Eastern sector of the United States, the undersecretary shared. The Air Force will continue to the tool to additional air defense sectors over the rest of this fiscal year.

“While legacy systems are restricted to only a few data sources that often provide an incomplete picture to controllers, CBC2 integrates hundreds of data sources into a common user interface and fuses them into a relevant track for our controllers and battle managers,” she stated. “This nonproprietary user interface was built in tight partnership with operators and has the ability to easily add data sources, future algorithms and new capabilities. Additionally, it leverages current enterprise solutions and cloud-native applications for resilient, reliable and scalable digital architecture.”

Jones noted that the CBC2 solution has prioritized coalition integration “from the start.”

The space-based transportation backbone of CJADC2 is also progressing, with the successful demonstration by the Space Development Agency of the first Link-16 network entry of a space-to-ground connection from a satellite in low Earth orbit, as part of the agency’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. “This represents a major step forward for CJADC2, demonstrating that we can utilize space to connect any sensor in the world to any shooter in the world in real time,” she said.

Overall, Jones emphasized that the DAF is examining “all aspects” of their organizations and processes, and “all areas that contribute to our warfighting capability and capacity,” as a way to optimize the Air Force. As such, the leaders are aligning to important attributes—strong organizational alignment; a focus on enterprise solutions; deliberate integration; an aligned and focused workforce; agile and adaptive processes; and resilient, survivable and sustainable capabilities—that they feel will help them achieve success in the current and future strategic environment.

In addition, the secretary has identified key areas most consequential to re-optimizing the service, including providing mission-ready airmen and Guardians, improving integration of capabilities and advancing readiness.

“The first is all about people, and looking at how we attract, retain and develop the talent and specialized skills required for great power competition,” Jones explained. “A second effort is optimizing our capabilities and is focused on better integrating both horizontally and vertically, making data driven prioritization and resourcing decisions to improve sustainment and logistics, better integrating emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomy and commercial capabilities. A third area is readiness, which is focused on defining the readiness standards that we need for great power competition, generating and sustaining that readiness, and a relook at how we evaluate and assess our readiness. We're looking at prioritizing readiness for the most stressing scenarios, not just our daytime operations.”

In addition, the DAF is examining the service’s ability to project power with mission-ready forces. This effort has leaders evaluating the unit of action for both the Air Force and Space Force; the Army has already shifted its unit of action from the battalion level to divisions as a way to succeed in the near-peer environment. The Air Force is also looking at installation and mission support functions.

“And finally, the fifth area I mentioned is preserving safe, reliable and effective strategic deterrence, including how we align and modernize our nuclear enterprise,” Jones offered. “When I say we're looking at all aspects of the DAF’s organization and processes, you can really see that includes all aspects. If we fail to adapt, we lose our competitive advantage. You can expect more specifics early [this] year.”