Future Air Force Jets to Attack With Less "Central" Command & Control

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said future fighter jets will need to attack with less "command and control"

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown

-- By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

The Air Force is training its fighter jets to attack and destroy enemy air and ground targets without needing to rely upon large centralized ground-based command and control systems, given the quickening pace at which adversaries are developing “jamming,” electronic warfare and cyber attack technologies.

Citing the intensity with which near-peer adversaries are accelerating methods of attacking command and control systems, GPS and other networking technologies, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said air combat operations will need to succeed without connecting to a broader command and control network.

“Airmen of the future will need to get after the mission orders, take their skills and abilities and operate without a lot communication back to central command and control,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Air Force News Service recently at an Air Force Association Air War Symposium. “This is not just about the Air Force moving faster in peacetime. It is about the Air Force being prepared to fight in the future of warfare,” Wilson said.

Moving into the 2030s, Wilson’s comments suggest that air attack platforms such as an F-22 or F-35 will need to track enemies, acquire targets and relay intelligence to other air assets such as other fighter jets and drones – without going through a broader centralized network.

Currently, much target data comes from ground-based coordinators or drone video feeds and aerial sensors which first connect to a ground-based command and control node before being transmitted to attack aircraft. Now, the Air Force is accelerating efforts to advance emerging technologies which enable things like more manned-unmanned teaming in the air. Fighter jets, for example, will be able to use computer algorithms to control nearby drones from the cockpit of the aircraft, Air Force scientists say.

Air Force developers recognize that longer-range sensors, weapons and targeting technologies further necessitate the need for “dispersed” command and control, as air attack platforms will need to operate at farther and farther distances.

“This force must be able to operate over long distances, which will require a robust logistical backbone capable of delivering fuel, spare parts and weapons, even while under attack,” Maj. William Russell, Air Force spokesman, told Warrior Maven.

This is one specific reason why the Air Force is fast-tracking LINK 16 data connectivity between 4th and 5th generation attack platform. Such a system, of course, can expedite target sharing, navigational data and threat intelligence information from air-attack system to air-attack system. More two-way LINK 16 connectivity in the air can enable data transmissions which do not rely solely upon more “jammable” radio communications, Lockheed and Air Force developers have told Warrior Maven.

Also, more “hardened” and point-to-point connectivity in the air can help mitigate vulnerability to numerous kinds of attacks, and even decrease reliance on some larger airborne surveillance platforms such as an AWACS in the future, according to the Air Force Air Superiority Flight Plan 2030.

“The increasing lethality and reach of adversary weapons will significantly increase the risk to large BMC2 (battle management command and control) platforms like AWACS in 2030. This will limit their ability to see and manage activities in the contested and highly contested environments,” the Air Force plan states.

Given this expected future combat scenario, the Air Superiority Flight Plan 2030 specifically calls for the service to “disaggregate” command and control and use “multiple sensor platforms, including teamed manned and unmanned systems.”

The Flight Plan goes on specify that future Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) will need to include “options for non-traditional concepts.”

ABMS, said by Air Force developers to fully come to fruition by the 2040s, is described by Air Force officials as more of a “system” than platform-specific application. -- To Read Warrior Maven's Piece on the Air Force ISR Plan for 2040 CLICK HERE --

Over the longer term, the advanced ABMS suite of sensors and ISR technologies could integrate on a number of current and future air platforms, Air Force officials told Warrior Maven.

Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.

As a result of this, the Air Force has been vigorously pursuing resilient, cyber hardened, combat capable communications technology to sustain combat operations and preserve force networking without GPS.

As a result there is increased focus within the military community on combat technologies that can provide what the military calls
positioning, navigation and timing for a wide range of systems.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radio frequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS. -- To Read Warrior Maven Report on US Military Tech Operating Without GPS CLICK HERE --

The technology utilizes a ground operated handheld device which uses an algorithm to aggregate signals of opportunity from various radio frequencies, AFRL electronics engineers have told Warrior Maven in prior interviews.

These kinds of data-sharing technologies make communications less vulnerable to known areas of expected enemy attack, such as EW strikes on SATCOM systems, efforts to disrupt GPS connectivity and the potential use of anti-satellite weapon

While several countries are known to be making investments in the development of space weaponry, Chinese activities have engendered particular concern among Pentagon leaders, analysts and threat assessment professionals.

The Chinese fired a land-based kinetic energy SC-19 missile at a satellite several years ago, an action that inspired worldwide attention and condemnation. Pentagon officials say the Chinese program is very advanced.

As long ago as 2007, they launched an ASAT test of a low-altitude interceptor. They struck and destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite and created tens of thousands of pieces of debris, Air Force senior leaders have explained.

In response, the U.S. Joint Space Operations center issued a warning to other countries that operate satellites to stay clear of potentially damaging space debris. Since this time, the Chinese have continued to conduct live-fire tests of ASAT weapons while avoiding repeated attacks on actual satellites.

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--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of WARRIOR MAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached at krisosborn.ko@gmail.com --

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