WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force said it selected five companies to help accelerate the development of its Advanced Battle Management System, as the service’s secretary, Frank Kendall, acknowledged that efforts to modernize command and control systems have proved more challenging than expected.

L3Harris Technologies, Leidos, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, were picked for the venture, dubbed the ABMS Digital Infrastructure Consortium, according to announcements on Sept. 19.

Together, they will work on secure processing, resilient communications, open-ended designs and other digital challenges inherent to the Air Force’s next-generation command and control methods, according to L3Harris. Northrop Grumman similarly said the bloc would construct “technical and business roadmaps” to speed up schedules.

“We’ll apply our deep technical expertise in systems engineering, data management, connectivity and secure processing, through integration into a digital engineering environment, to shape the foundation for how data is harnessed by the Department of the Air Force, DOD, and its allies and partners,” Paul Meyer, president of Department 22 at Raytheon Intelligence and Space, said in a separate statement. “Our objective is to strengthen our customer’s readiness to deter and defend against pacing threats by helping military commanders make synchronized and more informed decisions faster than ever before in multiple domains.”

The companies are all among the 40 largest global defense firms ranked by revenue, according to the latest Defense News tally.

ABMS is the Air Force’s contribution to Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the Department of Defense’s vision for how information will be shared across military services and between forces on the battlefield. The multibillion-dollar concept relies on artificial intelligence and a wealth of other advanced tech to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Such interconnectedness, officials say, is needed to outperform China or Russia.

Kendall said Monday that efforts to reform the service’s communication and battle management have been challenging. He announced the appointment of a new program executive officer, Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey, to oversee the project, Defense News reported. Cropsey will report to Andrew Hunter and Frank Calvelli, assistant secretaries in charge of acquisition for the Air Force and Space Force.

“One of the findings of the operational imperative work to date is, we have not appreciated the scale of the effort needed” to modernize the Air Force’s C3 battle management in a JADC2 context, he said at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. “Our efforts to date have not been adequately focused, nor have they been adequately integrated.”

Kendall also said he and Air Force and Space Force chiefs — Gen. CQ Brown and Gen. Jay Raymond — will review battle management efforts quarterly.

Last week, Air Force Deputy CIO Winston Beauchamp said the service would provide to industry an ABMS test model that would improve experimentation and evaluation. The model, he said, is an outgrowth of work done by an Air Force-Space Force cross-functional team, which identified four areas for advancing ABMS, including “coming up with a model-based approach.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had 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.

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