Senior leaders from around the Air Force recently traveled to Hanscom Air Force Base to discuss aligning the service’s aerial networking efforts in support of Joint All-Domain Command and Control.
The Aerial Networks Division hosted general officers and members of the senior executive service for a summit aimed at developing aerial networking roadmaps to meet Advanced Battle Management System and JADC2 objectives. These roadmaps will include capability reviews and requirements, research and development, and acquisition strategies for aerial network technology.
The Aerial Networks Division is part of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, headquartered at Hanscom AFB.
Brig. Gen. Evan Pettus, Air Force Warfare Center vice commander and attendee, said that the work that went on during the summit will have a significant impact on the warfighter for years to come.
“Bringing in important stakeholders from across the enterprise to put together the big picture of the technology that’s currently available has really helped synchronize our efforts,” he said. “This might be the beginning of a journey, but it’s an important one and one we’ve got to take. Because of the impact on the warfighter, we have to have our aerial networks right.”
The summit provided a forum for leaders from Air Staff, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWC, the Rapid Capabilities Office, and multiple Air Force Life Cycle Management Center acquisition directorates and program offices to meet face-to-face at the appropriate level.
For Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, AFRL commander, a major takeaway of the event was that decisions were made on how the Air Force should invest resources to ensure resilient communications for warfighters in all operational environments.
“Bringing everyone together, from technologists to the warfighters, allowed us to really shape our focus,” she said. “So much great work is going on in the Air Force and this summit really helped us streamline our priorities toward our ultimate goal.”
For Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, program executive officer for C3I&N, the summit reinforced his belief that industry partners are critical to the development of aerial networks in the Air Force.
“This summit was an opportunity for us to align our efforts and refine our requirements, and then we can turn to our industry partners and tell them exactly what we need them to work on for our military to stay ahead of our adversaries,” he said. “It also reinforced the fact that there is a lot of great work going on out there, but it’s not all aligned to the same strategic goal. These roadmaps will help us get there.”
Schmidt said he believes in the value of bringing the operational, requirements, and test communities together with the organizations that develop and acquire aerial network components. For Schmidt, these partnerships, like those with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, the MITRE Corp., AFRL, and others, are critical to supporting aerial networks so the Department of Defense and coalition partners can continue to improve communication, both inside and outside of highly-contested environments.
In his address to the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in September 2021, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall discussed the need to achieve and deliver measurable improvements with ABMS.
“To be stronger, we are going to have to change,” he said. “Our strategic competitors have studied how we fight and they have taken asymmetric steps to exploit our vulnerabilities and to defeat us. We have to respond with a sense of urgency, but we also have to take the time necessary to make smart choices about our future and our investments.”
According to Col. Shane Louis, Aerial Networks Division senior materiel leader, the summit was a successful step in achieving the secretary’s objectives.
“This first-of-its-kind summit went exactly as we hoped,” he said. “Not just endorsing the establishment of the Aerial Networks Division as the lead for the Air Force’s Aerial Networks Center of Excellence, but also in jump-starting the process of developing enterprise-wide roadmaps to provide a critical communications capability, even in highly contested environments.”
Over the last several years, the Aerial Networks Division has made progress demonstrating significant advances in aerial network capabilities, like self-healing mesh networks, high capacity backbones, software programmable radios, and protected tactical waveforms for secure and resilient satellite communications, Louis said.
JADC2 is the U.S. Department of Defense strategic warfighting concept that connects the sensors, shooters, and related communications from all military services. The Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, is the Air Force’s primary contribution to JADC2.