Air Force gears up for first 'connect-a-thon'

Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics  at Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 16, 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

Will Roper speaks at the Air Force Association's Air, Space Cyber Conference in Sept. 2019. (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo/USAF)

This December, the Air Force plans to hold its first industry event to discover whether commercial devices, applications and other capabilities can connect to the Advanced Battle Management System, a fundamental aircraft multi-domain command and control system.

As 2020 government budgets are in limbo, Will Roper, the Air Force's acquisition chief, said one of the best ways to prove budget needs to Congress is to show warfighting effects in the first event that centers around virtually connecting aircraft platforms.

"We've got a variety of platforms that we'd like to be able to exchange information in ways they haven't done before," Roper told reporters Nov. 12 during a Defense Writers Group event at George Washington University. "If we do a waterfall deployment and say that we're going to get the Advanced Battle Management System in five years, I already know it's failed."

Dubbed "connect-a-thons," the events will focus on data transfers between platforms, starting with the F-35 and F-22 aircraft. New events will take place every four months. The goal is to make warfighting and enterprise development more "coherent and integrated" as part of the service's digital transformation.

"The Advanced Battle Management System program, that's the warfighting side of the [digital] enterprise transformation -- enterprise IT as a service, Cloud One, all of that -- is the development side, so all those things are coherent and integrated," Roper said. "We've got to be able to do that in a radical way that is different."

The connect-a-thons will include industry partners, other military services and combatant commanders testing capabilities that could be put into a potential deployment production line afterwards.

The events will also include space capabilities and use Starlink satellites from SpaceX to prove the aircraft can use commercial communications "and then push our picture down to a handheld tablet to represent an operator," Roper said.

Roper said the Air Force is looking to deploy the capability on its tanker fleet, KC-135, and be the first to be operational with it. Ahead of that, the goal is to demonstrate it's adaptable for many different types of platforms.

The events ultimately aim to be more than experimental grounds but part of new acquisition strategy where the Air Force can move from the idea phase to deployment in four months.

"In future, that's how we want the program to evolve: whoever is ready gets to demonstrate first, gets to pipeline first, they get to access the funding we're requesting in the budget," Roper said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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