Fast Facts

The Air Force is developing the Advanced Battle Management System—a network to connect U.S. forces during military operations across land, sea, space, and cyberspace. Through cloud-based data sharing, sensors on drones, aircraft, ships, and other weapon systems would gather and aggregate real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information.

We found the Air Force hasn’t developed a complete plan for the system—like identifying which technologies would be included and the cost—putting it at risk for schedule delays, cost growth, and other issues if they don’t work together as intended.

We made 4 recommendations to address this.

Illustration showing DOD Cloud Network connections to satellites, jets, drones, boats, and other equipment

Illustration showing DOD Cloud Network connections to satellites, jets, drones, boats, and other equipment

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Air Force's Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) is intended to establish a network to connect sensors on aircraft, drones, ships, and other weapon systems to provide a real-time operational picture on threats across all domains, as depicted below.

Concept of Advanced Battle Management System

Concept of Advanced Battle Management System

According to Air Force officials, the department will take a nontraditional approach to develop ABMS through short-term efforts that will enable it to rapidly field capabilities. As a result of this approach, ABMS requirements will change over time as development progresses. The Air Force started ABMS development without key elements of a business case, including:

  • firm requirements to inform the technological, software, engineering, and production capabilities needed;
  • a plan to attain mature technologies when needed to track development and ensure that technologies work as intended;
  • a cost estimate to inform budget requests and determine whether development efforts are cost effective; and
  • an affordability analysis to ensure sufficient funding is available.

GAO's previous work has shown that weapon systems without a sound business case are at greater risk for schedule delays, cost growth, and integration issues. Congress has kept a close eye on the effort and required quarterly briefings on its status, as well as a list of certain ABMS requirements by June 2020. However, given the lack of specificity that remains regarding the Air Force's ABMS plans, Congress would benefit from future briefings that address the missing business case elements.

While the Air Force has taken some steps to establish an ABMS management structure, the authorities of Air Force offices to plan and execute ABMS efforts are not fully defined. Unless addressed, the unclear decision-making authorities will hinder the Air Force's ability to effectively execute and assess ABMS development across multiple organizations.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Air Force's ABMS is a family of systems intended to replace the command and control capabilities of aging legacy programs and develop a network of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance sensors. Air Force officials stated ABMS has received $172 million in funding through fiscal year 2020 for efforts related to ABMS. The Air Force is not designating ABMS as a major defense acquisition program or a middle tier acquisition program.

Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to review the status of ABMS. This report examines the extent to which the Air Force has (1) established a plan for ABMS development and (2) defined management and decision-making authorities for ABMS efforts. To conduct this assessment, GAO reviewed ABMS program documentation and interviewed Air Force officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations, including that the Air Force should develop and brief the Congress quarterly on a plan to mature technologies, a cost estimate, and an affordability analysis. In addition, the Air Force should formalize the ABMS management structure and decision-making authorities. The Air Force concurred with the four recommendations. GAO will continue to monitor the Air Force's actions to address these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Chief Architect to develop a plan to attain mature technologies when needed for each ABMS development area, which includes an initial list of technologies and an assessment of their maturity that is updated to reflect changes, and update Congress quarterly. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In June 2021, the Air Force issued a report to Congress on the planned capabilities of ABMS, which identified the technologies needed, the timeline to mature capabilities, and a notional schedule for fielding the capabilities. The acquisition strategy for the first group of capabilities developed for ABMS, approved in June 2021, lists the current technology readiness level of each subsystem and the maturation level required. To fully implement this recommendation, the Air Force should develop a plan to mature the identified technologies.
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Chief Architect to prepare a cost estimate that is developed in accordance with cost estimating leading practices, to include regularly updating the estimate to reflect ABMS changes and actual costs, and update Congress quarterly. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In June 2021, the Air Force approved the acquisition strategy for the first group of capabilities developed for ABMS, which included a draft independent cost estimate from the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency. This cost estimate will inform the Fiscal Year 2023 program funding request. As of August 2021, the Air Force is currently working to develop an initial cost estimate for another ABMS effort, and plans to conduct an independent cost estimate for future capabilities. We will review these cost estimates after they are approved.
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Chief Architect to prepare an affordability analysis that should be regularly updated, and update Congress quarterly. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. As of August 2021, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office plans to work with the DOD Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office and the Air Force major commands to develop an affordability analysis for ABMS efforts. The Air Force is currently developing an affordability analysis for the first group of capabilities developed for ABMS, and this analysis will be included in future quarterly reports to Congress. We will review the affordability analysis once it is complete.
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should formalize and document acquisition authority and decision-making responsibilities of the Air Force offices involved in the planning and execution of ABMS, to include the Chief Architect. This document should be included as part of the submission to Congress in June 2020 and communicated to the Air Force offices that support ABMS. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In November 2020 the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics issued a memo identifying the roles and responsibilities of the Senior Acquisition Executive, Chief Architect, and the ABMS Program Executive Officer. In March 2021, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office presented a brief to GAO that further defined these roles, and established responsibilities of their office.

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