An E-8C Joint STARS is towed at the Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins AFB, Ga., in July 2018. The Air Force plans to replace the E-8C with a family of systems, including remotely piloted aircraft and space assets. Air National Guard photo by SMSgt. Roger Parsons.
The Air Force has been slower than it could have been in developing its way forward on the Airborne Battle Management System, a new way to handle the mission currently flown by the E-8C Joint STARS, but the schedule should pick up soon, as the service has just selected who will lead the effort.
After more than a year, the Air Force this week selected the “architect” who will oversee the ABMS plan, which shifts away from using a single aircraft to fly airborne battle management. Instead, ABMS integrates a “system of systems” of aircraft such as MQ-9s, space assets, an “attritable layer” such as cheap unmanned aerial vehicles that are relatively disposable, and cyber systems. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said the architect will start next month, though he wouldn’t release a name just yet.
ABMS will be a “very different type of program” for the Air Force, which, if successful, could change how the service approaches other major acquisition programs. If the “architect” is able to successfully integrate a series of systems to identify a faster and cheaper way to handle a mission, it would serve as a model for future programs.
“If ABMS succeeds, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have more architects on programs,” Roper said. The ABMS program is the first time the Air Force is using this model, he said, and if it manages to avoid it becoming an “uber, major acquisition program,” it will have long-term implications in changing USAF acquisition.
Until last year, the Air Force planned a traditional recapitalization process to replace the E-8C JSTARS with a new aircraft. The service switched lanes, and was then blocked by Congress in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act from retiring any of its JSTARS until the new ABMS system is demonstrated.