WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will drop the F-22 from a communications prototyping effort closely tied to its Advanced Battle Management System, as the service works to pare down inventory of the aging aircraft.
The exclusion of the F-22 from the so-called ABMS Capability Release 1, meant to enable the secure transfer of data between aircraft and systems on the ground, was included in an analysis published this month by the Government Accountability Office.
The federal watchdog examined the Air Force’s contributions to the Pentagon’s connect-everything campaign, or Joint All-Domain Command and Control, at the behest of Congress, which has in the past slashed funding.
Initially, Capability Release 1 was designed to link and provide real-time sensor feedback to KC-46 refueling tankers, F-35s and F-22s, and separate command-and-control systems. The fifth-generation fighters cannot share information with one another, the GAO noted, due to differences in communications design and development.
Air Force officials told the watchdog the decision to dismiss the F-22 from preliminary Capability Release 1 work stems from its “reduced role in the future force structure,” among other factors. The combined fiscal 2023 budget request for the Air and Space forces, some $194 billion, called for cutting 150 aircraft, including older A-10s, KC-135s and F-22s.
Linking the F-35 has since taken precedence, the GAO said. F-22 connections may be revisited in the future.
“Historically, when DOD and the military departments acquired weapons systems, they generally prioritized individual system capabilities over connectivity, data interoperability, and functional compatibility across systems,” the report reads. “DOD recognizes that its systems now need to operate in battle environments that are more complex and demand greater connectivity.”
Capability Release 1 prototypes are expected to be installed on two KC-46 tankers in fiscal 2024, following roughly one year of setbacks tied to what the report described as “technical issues.” The tech builds on successes struck during a December 2019 exercise, at which the Air Force logged data transmission between F-35s and other aircraft.
Capability Release 1, more broadly, is a key project under the umbrella of ABMS, the Air Force’s JADC2 candidate. The Army and Navy likewise have their own candidates: Project Convergence, a weekslong tech crucible, and Project Overmatch, an advanced-networking endeavor rarely discussed in public.
Overall, JADC2 embodies how the U.S. wants to fight its future wars, with long-standing walls between air, land, sea, space and cyber demolished and forces across each domain reacting quicker and more efficiently than ever before.
Such an approach is necessary, defense officials say, to maintain an edge on China or Russia, which they describe as the nation’s top two national security threats.
Stephen Losey contributed to this article.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.