USAF Uses COVID-19 As ABMS Testbed

Credit: Defense Department

The U.S. Air Force is leveraging the global coronavirus pandemic to advance one of its key development programs, the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).

The service awarded Google and Palantir contracts to support U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) COVID-19 relief efforts by providing command and control tools giving commanders a holistic picture, Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told reporters May 14.

For example, DeviceONE allows U.S. military, Defense Department (DOD) and intelligence community personnel to access secret-level technology from an unclassified laptop. DataONE allows classified and unclassified data from various sensors to be stored in the cloud and accessed by users only at the level they are authorized to see.

“The data management tool we use … that allows you to do processing at the edge. Those are being used right now, by NORAD/NORTHCOM in the COVID[-19] fight,” Roper said. “It’s providing an actual proving ground for this, and we’re excited now that we’re putting Palantir and Google on contract to help us with AI [artificial intelligence] analytics. We’re excited about these partnerships.”

The Air Force is using NORTHCOM’s response to COVID-19 to build the backbone for ABMS, he added.

In this use case, there are various medical issues that must be paired with first responders, and the supply chain and logistics to deliver the solution. This is not a traditional war, but the underlying infrastructure would be the same, Roper said.

For example, instead of locating a first responder, a weapon could be swapped in its place. The military must be mindful of not only the platform but the logistics it requires to support containers, tankers and other equipment.

“I’ve used the app Waze as an analogy a lot and really trying to get this through to the joint force that this Joint All-Domain Command and Control, which I think is an unfortunate term in some respects, because it implies that it’s commanding, it’s telling you what to do,” Roper said.

However, Roper envisions that like Waze, ABMS will present the operator with options and the human makes the choice that is best for the mission.

“My hope is that as we demonstrate that we can move in internet speeds to support NORAD/NORTHCOM. That COVID-19 response time line will show moving at that speed is not impossible, that 10 days can count to produce a new capability that has both hardware and software,” Roper said. 

Roper envisions the military building on this foundation, and as more warfighters use the product, the analytics will get better.

“If the joint force can just get its taste of what this will be like on the battlefield, it will be the most addictive drug that has ever been made for warfare,” Roper said. “Data is the ultimate currency in any particular field. It’s the most valuable thing on Earth.”