Airmen conduct the Shadow Operations Center-Nellis’ Flag event at the 805th Combat Training Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Dec. 8, 2022.

Airmen conduct the Shadow Operations Center-Nellis’ Flag event at the 805th Combat Training Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Dec. 8, 2022. U.S. Air Force / Keith Keel

Budget delays could ‘slow roll’ Air Force’s digital infrastructure plans

In early 2024, the service plans to launch cloud-based command and control technologies in three undisclosed locations.

The Air Force’s top tech integration office is only a year old, but it has big plans to bring cloud-based command and control and other digital infrastructure to operators in 2024—barring major budget delays.

“If we don't get our budget next month, that's all going to get slow rolled,” Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey, the Air Force’s integrating program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications and Battle Management, or C3BM, told reporters Monday at the Air, Space, Cyber 2023 conference in National Harbor, Md. “We're delivering capability now; this isn't a future endeavor, this is like here and now things are hitting the street.”

The Air Force stood up C3BM last year to handle the service’s Advanced Battle Management System—a collection of linked technologies and networked sensors that are central to being able to seamlessly send data across the department. ABMS is the Air Force’s contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, which is the Pentagon’s effort to connect networks, systems, and sensors from headquarters to the battlefield.

But a late budget could impede progress on crucial efforts, such as improving digital infrastructure to prepare for broad deployment of cloud-based command and control.

The Air Force requested $500.6 million for ABMS in fiscal 2024—about twice the amount it got in 2023. That dramatic increase is largely “because we're trying to start scaling actual fielding capability,” Cropsey said. 

“We're past the thinking and we're into doing. If we don't get the budget in ‘24 when we've asked for it, next month, then we're gonna have to start slow-rolling on the actual ability to field some of those things,” he said.

The Air Force sent a team to the Indo-Pacific region to study operational command and control needs for the past year, said Brig. Gen. Daniel Clayton, the Air Force’s lead for the ABMS cross functional team. “We did a very thorough analysis of that. And then that is what's driving the use cases that [Brig. Gen.] Cropsey needs.”  

The ABMS team is also talking with commanders from geographic, field, and major combatant commands across the Air Force to understand the operational problems they have that could be solved by ABMS. 

“We're trying to assess, from the command and control standpoint, how we can help…with those operational problems and be very specific to then give the insights from that,” Clayton said.

A key part of ABMS is deploying  a cloud-based command and control solution called CBC2. It’s a top priority for the Air Force and there are plans to put the technology in three undisclosed locations in 2024. 

“We've got at least three different locations that we're planning to drop it into coming up here in the next two to three quarters” of fiscal 2024 before focusing on how much the capability can be scaled, Cropsey said, without adding further detail.

“Some of that's going to depend on how much we can actually replicate that team and push additional bandwidth through it,” as well as whether the right digital infrastructure, including software, hardware, and everything in between to “connect things together, that requires some processes and some compute,” he said.

“If I don't have a digital infrastructure that connects that app base back into the other pieces of that enterprise, [that] doesn't do me a whole lot of good and drop CBC2 capability if I can't connect it.”

Cropsey said there are complications that come with trying to tie those elements together and trying to reconcile timing and scheduling. 

The goal is to focus on the Air Defense Sectors before trying to deploy CBC2 to larger theaters, such as Indo-Pacific Command or European Command. 

But a delayed budget “will start to impact a number of locations that we can actually get a deployment capability into,” Cropsey said. That is, anything beyond the initial three locations, because some areas need digital infrastructure before they could get cloud-based command and control. 

“The current fielding plan should stay intact for CBC2 if we don't get all the money that we need up front,” Cropsey said. But adjustments will have to be made for other approved priorities if the budget is delayed past the second quarter of fiscal 2024.