WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force launched a program it says will sharpen its command and control and battle management abilities as it prepares for potential war against a major adversary.

The weapons system evaluation program, dubbed Combat Axe, is designed give leaders a look at how the Air Force’s command and control systems perform against technologically savvy opponents and real-world threats, including contested or degraded communications and radar.

This scenario is becoming increasingly important as the U.S. military pivots away from counterinsurgency and smaller-scale operations toward preparations for a larger fight against a world power, such as China or Russia.

The Air Force rolled out the predecessor to Combat Axe, then known as Combat Sentry, in July 2020.

Combat Axe training and analysis was conducted during the Combat Archer 22.08 and Checkered Flag 22-2 exercises, among the largest combined air-to-air tests in the U.S. Squadrons from the Air Force, Navy and Royal Australian Air Force participated.

The Air Force on June 22 said “various unique sensors from each weapon system,” data links and lines of communication meshed during the drills to create a common operational picture, increasing confidence in threat identification and speeding the distribution of information to fighter aircraft.

Lt. Col. Steve Wyatt, 81st Air Control Squadron commander, in a statement said such training is critical to “countering strategic competitors” and also provides an opportunity to collect data that will inform the modernization of weapons and tactics.

“In order to fight as joint and coalition forces,” he said, “we need to understand each other’s capabilities and limitations, and how each entity operates and communicates.”

Seamless information sharing — regardless of service or national affiliation — is one of the Department of Defense’s marquee efforts. The Air Force’s preeminent contribution is known as the Advanced Battle Management System, a next-generation form of command and control.

The 53rd Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, regularly holds weapons system evaluation program events to test aircraft, weapons and other systems. For example, the F-15EX Eagle II fired a weapon for the first time in January at Combat Archer, an air-to-air evaluation program, when it tracked a drone and then launched a missile at it.

That test verified the new fighter’s weapons system worked, the Air Force said, allowing it to move to more complex missile shots at future tests.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.