The ADF will soon embark on one of the most complex and challenging projects in its history, one that promises to greatly enhance the ADF’s ability to effectively defend its airspace and to rapidly employ counter-effects against hostile threats.
In an actual ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ scenario, Project AIR 6500 will pull together the ADF’s many advanced command and control, air defence, air combat, ISR, and communications systems into a potentially world-beating joint integrated air and missile defence system.
The project is currently a two-phased effort, although this is likely to be expanded to additional phases as the program develops and additional capabilities are added.
“Phase one is described as a joint air battle management system,” AIRCDRE Phil Tammen, Director General Air and Space Surveillance and Control told ADBR. “It’s unashamedly the foundation of the capability – it’s meant to provide the core architecture and to give due consideration to what kind of command and control systems and sensor networks you’re going to need to manage the future air battle management systems.
“As part of that, it has to lay the foundations for the air and missile defence environment,” he added. “But in practice, the deliverable is for capability around the deployed joint forces.
“And then Phase two currently has a working title of a Medium-Range Ground-based Air and Missile Defence (MRGAMD) system.”
AIR 6500 Phase 1 has been placed in a deliberate holding pattern in recent years. It was thought that the project was surging towards a possibly unrealistic calendar milestone that may have put the requirements and the ultimate capability vision at risk, so it was deliberately slowed in late 2017.
“It reflected the fact that we were dealing with a very complex project that had a lot of links into the joint world, and the level of definition of the project, frankly, wasn’t quite where we really needed it to be,” said AIRCDRE Tammen. “Essentially, it was a bit of a blessing to be able to down-tempo this a little bit and to think harder about it.”
A key factor in that decision was the evolving geopolitical environment and emergant capabilities in the wider region, as well as the ongoing recapitalisation of the ADF’s air combat, ISR, air defence and communications capabilities. Another factor was feedback from industry after an initial capability solutions study (CSS) was conducted in 2016/17.
“There are a lot of new platforms and capabilities coming into the ADF, and we needed to do some more thinking about how they’re optimally connected,” AIRCDRE Tammen explained. “We needed to better define just what are the bounds of AIR 6500.
“Because it has been badged publicly with integrated air and missile defence, that introduced a bit of potential for overreach,” he added. “It could be read to suggest we’re looking at BMD (ballistic missile defence), but actually the scoping is a lot tighter and a lot more complex than just that.
“So, as part of integrated air defence, the whole range of enabling functions that we’re chasing around cooperative engagement, engagement management, and the introduction of elements of AI (artificial intelligence) into decision-making around weapons assignments and priorities in a battlespace is really quite complex. So, the more we scratched at it, the more we realised it really needed some more seriously-disciplined thought.”
Phase 2 of AIR 6500 will be an interesting one, especially as the looming deployment of hypersonic weapons in the region means the previously understood definition of ‘medium-range’ is now under review, and will likely no longer just be defined by a notional range arc on a chart.
“The complex problem is both in the sense that what constitutes being medium-range is evolving fast as the threats move, in particular the nature of the threats,” said AIRCDRE Tammen. “It will need to match speed, so medium range now implies something entirely down to response time. With everything going faster into the future, we still need to preserve a certain amount of timing to think and respond. So the actual definition of range performance is now under pressure.”
As to what kind of capability might be adopted for Phase 2, while the Commonwealth is yet to define this requirement, observers could look at the recently selected Project LAND 19 Phase 7B solution, the Raytheon/KONGSBERG Enhanced NASAMS short-range ground-based air-defence (SRGBAD) system for some guidance.
In SRGBAD form, the Enhanced NASAMS system will provide a mobile tactical-level protection from air and indirect fire threats to the Joint Force. But the integration of CEA Technologies’ CEAOPS and CEATAC advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radars gives the system a much greater sensor reach than that of the AMRAAM radar-guided and AIM-9X infrared effectors.
Even though the definition of medium range is under review, with the adoption of longer-ranged effectors such as the developmental AMRAAM-ER or even a land-based SM-3 Block IB, the Enhanced NASAMS could, in theory, form the foundation of an MRGAMD capability.
Phase 2 is currently scheduled to go through its Gate 0 milestone in FY2019/20, but this is likely to slip. “No decision has been made around it yet, but I would suggest that there is a degree of pressure around Phase 2 because, despite the decision to defer Phase 1, Phase 2 was left where it was,” explained AIRCDRE Tammen. “The two phases are now more coincident than is comfortable for project scope development”.
“So the schedule is open for discussion and, as we firm up definitions of those two phases, we’re going into a force structure planning (FSP) process this year,” he added. “And like all unapproved early-phase projects, we’ll get some re-validation through that and, it’s fair to say there could be some change in relation to phasing.
“The industry feedback around the program generally speaking has been that, just like us as they get to know the problems posed, that the current schedule is quite aggressive. In particular, if you’re trying to identify and set standards around a core architecture in Phase 1, it’s hard to be simultaneously acquiring Phase 2.”
Much of that feedback has been gleaned through a series of CSSs initially awarded to four US primes – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman – in 2016, as well as from submissions from other companies.
“We had a series of capability solution study contracts in 2016/17 and, as we speak, we’re just re-establishing a new round of contracts,” AIRCDRE Tammen said. “It’s our intention to use them to explore the phasing and other issues like that with the companies.”
The next round of CSS contracts have been awarded to five companies – the previous four, plus General Dynamics.
“This is not the kind of thing we can do sitting around in offices listening to unclass BD pitches,” he added. “In order to really understand our environment and the threats and opportunities, you need to have more substantive conversations with potential suppliers. Then you need to be integrating and balancing that content that you from get from industry with what you’re getting in the government-to-government space from key allies.”
It’s reasonably clear no one company can provide a single solution for AIR 6500 Phase 1, one that encompasses sensors, effectors, communications and networks, cyber, artificial intelligence, facilities, and the ability to integrate it all together. So the Commonwealth expects a high degree of collaboration across industry in order to meet the requirements.
There are likely two acquisition model options which may be used in combination; the appointment of a prime system integrator (PSI) to lead a team to build an integrated capability, and the use of government-to-government procurement approaches.
But the Commonwealth doesn’t want the commercial teams to lock down yet. “What we’re saying is, we actually want to see genuine collaboration up front,” AIRCDRE Tammen said. “We want to talk about architecture and commercial models, time frames, cost and risk issues, and schedules in particular. We don’t want companies to go and split themselves off into big competing teams and start working on their offer, as the PSI will need to integrate a response involving most of the prospective PSI and many other platform OEM.
“So, what we’re saying is, ‘slow down, let’s not go hyper-competitive from the outset’, because that’s going to be a particularly poor way to arrive at the overall solution.”
It’s likely there will be upgrade or modification work required to many other of the ADF’s major combat and ISR platforms and systems in order to fully integrate them into the future AIR 6500 network, so there will be plenty of work to go around.
“We’re working hard to try to discern what will be within AIR 6500 from a scope point of view,” AIRCDRE Tammen said. “Which systems will be funded and directed and delivered from within AIR 6500, and what will be seen as the broader ongoing upgrading of other platforms to maintain commonality with the joint warfare architecture?”
The successful delivery of Project AIR 6500 will provide an opportunity to Government and the ADF to develop new concepts of operations, specifically ‘left-of-launch’, ie, before a threat is employed against Australian and/or allied forces, via the many new land, sea, air and space-based ISR, electronic warfare and cyber capabilities.
While there will likely be many political deliberations before potentially overt or subtle offensive capabilities are employed, it allows the ADF to offer kinetic and non-kinetic response options to Government.
In a 2017 Sir Richard Williams Foundation’s Integrated Air & Missile Defence Study – The Challenge of Integrated Force Design report, AVM John Blackburn AO (Ret’d) wrote; “The USAF’s Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense: Vision 2020 emphasises that if deterrence fails, neutralising an adversary’s offensive air and missile assets prior to use continues to be the preferred method to negate them, and with the increasing growth in numbers, is the only practical means to defeat large threat inventories. This link between offensive and defensive operations for IAMD is critical.”
The CASG project team is keen to ensure that it doesn’t fixate on a materiel only response. “There are intelligence products that have to come into this,” AIRCDRE Tammen offered. “There are non-traditional sensors…the idea that there is a radar that sees a missile and then we engage it with another missile represents a small overall part of the capabilities.
“It needs networking at the highest levels of real-time responsiveness,” he added. “And so there are all sorts of command and control issues here. There are issues around the ability to employ force, and how you integrate human decision-making around machine decision suggestions and recommendations in real time.
The industry angle
Each of the three major companies ADBR spoke with for this article thinks the Commonwealth will eventually appoint a prime system integrator (PSI) to partner with the services in integrating the capability elements of AIR 6500 together and with the wider ADF.
With its large local engineering footprint which has developed such advanced capabilities as Vigilare, HF-MOD, Currawong and, more recently, the Advanced Teaming System (ATS) ‘Loyal Wingman’ unmanned system, Boeing’s Brisbane-based Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) team will lead that company’s efforts on AIR 6500, while still being able to draw upon ‘Big Boeing’s’ resources and product portfolio.
“For us, AIR 6500 is a program that is going to solve a pretty complex operational challenge,” Chief Engineer, New Business at BDA Hugh Webster told ADBR. “It’s going to knit together the short-range air missile defence system from LAND 19, the national integrated air missile defensive assets like SEA 4000, your space intel systems, and include a range of other what I call ‘influencing systems’.”
“Defence has certainly expressed an interest for industry to work together, and that’s been a long-held view,” Webster added. “I think it’s incumbent on us to try and answer that call, and that is certainly going to give Defence the best solution.
“Our focus has been really about, ‘how do we help Defence think about that complexity?’, and ‘how do we help Defence work with the four other primes to build out a concept as to how they might acquire?’ My heavy point there is that this is not about picking A versus B, but more about what’s the warfighter outcome that they’re going to expect perhaps in a three-year time frame, then in a five-year time frame, then ultimately for the life of this system as it continues to evolve.”
Boeing echoes the Commonwealth’s position that no single company can deliver an all-encompassing solution for AIR 6500. “We think it’s going to be based on an architecture that’s evolvable and scalable,” Webster said. “We’re doing some work with the USAF’s open mission systems to take a look at whether that’s the right candidate to support that evolvability, but it’s definitely got to be some sort of pulled-together pieces from each of the primes, plus what we’d call tier two and small to medium enterprises – they’ve got to contribute as well.
“The way we’re thinking about how that’s going to build out is, Defence gives us insight into what they coordinate, we’re going to go away and with the other primes and figure out an initial architecture, and then come back to Defence and say this is what we’re thinking, this is the roadmap. They’ll then give us some course correct.”
Boeing thinks that, if a PSI is appointed, it will most likely be a company that has experience with integrating big complex systems, rather than the company that supplies the most elements of the solution.
“At some point I think Defence will need to select a prime as they’ve done for SEA 5000,” Webster offered. “Then that collaborative work will just continue, just pick up pace much like it has on SEA 5000 with BAE helping Navy drive through that program. I think the same thing will happen on AIR 6500.
“We think Defence is thinking about the how not the what,” said Webster. “A part of that process is thinking about the daily operational effects and the roadmap, but it’s more critical to be thinking about how is this really complex system program going to be executed. There are so many unique things about the Australian environment, so that means you just can’t plop a large system from the US here in country. So that’s why we think it’s important to be thinking about it in terms of the ‘how’.”
Lockheed Martin will also draw upon its large US pool of engineering resources and product portfolio, but will also utilise the engineering resources and facilities of its local entity to lead its effort.
“What we’ve been trying to do as a partner in this process is to make sure we’re investing in the technology and facilities to help bring this to life,” Lockheed Martin’s Vice President and General Manager of C6ISR, John Rambeau told ADBR.
“There are two major facilities that we have stood up in Australia; the STELarLab which we have down in Melbourne which is really more of a research facility where we’re looking at everything from artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, advanced sensing technologies, cross-domain collaboration which obviously would feed directly into 6500 and more that we’re doing in that centre.
“And the other facility that we’ve made investment in is Canberra which is the Endeavour Center. And, that’s really focused a little bit more on engagement with customers, engagement with Australia’s small-medium enterprises, and others across industry to really do more experimentation and collaboration together. So, we’re trying to put the right foundation in place to be a good partner to the ADF and moving the program forward.
“The ADF has now the best collection of assets in terms of air combat aircraft,” Lockheed Martin’s Director of Business Development for Rotary and Mission Systems Australia New Zealand, Neale Prescott added. “They’ve got F-35s coming out, they’ve got Growler, the Super Hornet, the Aegis destroyers.
“So, it becomes that network of ADF platforms,” Prescott said. “It becomes now the ability to extend Australia’s surveillance horizon way beyond what it was previously. And then to extend that into being able to counter the threats, and really being able to enact military operations with huge lead times in comparison.
“So, while there’s the medium-range missile defence element, I think there’s a much more important link between the long-range sensors like JORN, and the fact that we have air combat-related sensors connected with all of the maritime forces.
“So, I see that as increasing the surveillance horizon, and increasing their detection, the amount of warning times. So, in a military sense, a lot more options for how would we handle the threats, how can we undertake operations with the highest probability of success.”
John Rambeau added, “I don’t think any one company has the capability to do all of this. Certainly if that was the case…I’m sure one company probably could find a way, but that wouldn’t be the optimal solution. If you look at the platforms that are in the inventory today, there is going to be a lot of platform-specific knowledge that will be highly important to getting the integration done in a way that really unlocks the full potential of those platforms.
“I think we’ve had a lot of good engagement around what the capability ought to look like. We’ve had some discussion too around different models that could be employed to acquire the capability. And so, whether there would be a PSI, or would there be a more traditional teaming sort of a process and then a competitive tender, I don’t think that has really come completely to conclusion.”
One model the company can perhaps draw some experience from is the US Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) Command Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system which is managed by Lockheed Martin.
“That is a national program in the US which, I think in a commercial sense is perhaps a construct that demonstrates the major contractors can work together,” Prescott said. “It’s less about the technological piece and perhaps more about the commercial behaviour of companies.”
“I think that’s a really good example of a program where all of industry have come together to deliver,” Rambeau added. “It operates 24 by seven by 365. We operate in 33 locations around the globe, and it’s really the crown jewel of the US missile defense enterprise.
“That system was built by a team of large companies as well as other partners,” he said. “We have the other major US primes on the team and so we all work together to pull that solution together. It’s an integrated team with Lockheed Martin as the PSI, and we renew that contract every five years or so, and it’s been a partnership that’s been in place now for about 15 years.”
Northrop Grumman is also embracing the Commonwealth’s goals of collaboration between the primes, but is also looking to develop its own local capabilities as it positions itself as a possible PSI for the project.
“The key focus for us over the last several years has been toward, ‘how can we support and assist with the overarching acquisition approach?’,” the company’s Director International Battle Management, Bill Lamb told ADBR. “We think AIR 6500, in terms of how they have engaged with the industry from an approach to market perspective and their approach for seeking industry input, has been really good.
“We’ve been very proactive and appreciative of that approach,” Lamb added. “We see ourselves getting very involved over the next couple of years as the program team takes a look at and continues to evaluate what set of requirements will be included in the program, and where the long-term vision for the program will go.”
As part of the company’s expansion in Australia, it is looking to establish a facility in Australia in order to develop, model and test its integration capabilities, not just on AIR 6500, but also other programs such as the AIR 7000 Phase 1B Triton UAS, and its numerous local sustainment activities.
“We’re making a significant investment over the next five years towards essentially putting in the infrastructure that would enable us to effectively operate as a PSI, not just on RAAF AIR 6500, but on the full set of programs that the Commonwealth is looking to acquire over the next several years,” Lamb added.
“We view ourselves as a global leader in modular open systems architectures,” he said. “We have seen that, in all our engagement with the RAAF, there is clearly a requirement for competency around modular open systems architecture, and large-scale weapons systems integration. Those are the kind of capabilities that the AIR 6500 team is looking for.
“So, we think they are looking for a PSI that will serve, essentially, as a trusted partner, pulling together the full set of capabilities that need to be acquired and integrated and delivered. I think our sense is that the focus will be around a competitive source selection for that PSI.”
Despite having a similar product in its portfolio – the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS – that has been adopted by the US Army and more recently Poland, Northrop Grumman sees few similarities between that and AIR 6500.
“You can make some comparisons between how those architectures look because there is essentially a core network architecture that enables the kind of connectivity that you see,” Lamb explained. “But the Polish acquisition, for instance, is very land-focused, and does not extend into things like air battle management or maritime.
“What the AIR 6500 program is seeking to acquire is a multi-domain solution that includes integration with 5th generation fighters, with maritime, command and control, leverages cyber capabilities, electronic warfare capabilities, and space. And so it’s a much broader, more complex architecture that’s looking to be acquired. And, frankly, it’s going to be very cutting edge when it’s delivered.”
Rise of the machines
Regardless of what solution the Commonwealth selects for AIR 6500, there is likely going to be a fairly high reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) to support the ADF’s decision-making processes in order to remain inside the decision cycle required to defeat the next generation of low observable air combat aircraft and hypersonic missile threats.
“This is one of the things we’re taking out to explore with industry,” AIRCDRE Tammen said. “The least likely scenario here is that we put all our cash on the table and have one function or performance specification meet the requirement in one big system. We are much more likely to curate a series of evolutionary acquisition cycles, and it’s likely that, depending on technology and maturity, the roles of people and AI changes across the last cycle of delivery of the system.
So with the adoption of AI still at comparatively immature levels, it is likely AIR 6500 won’t just be a two-phased program.
“I think there’ll be a substantial amount of innovation that’s going to be required and demonstrated, because the kind of architecture that is going to be acquired really doesn’t exist anyplace in the world,” said Bill Lamb. “And there are certainly the technologies emerging that enable the kind of multi-domain net-centric kind of architecture that’s being acquired here.
“But, no doubt, in order to be able to achieve that, what you’re really trying to deliver with the AIR 6500 program is an architecture that affords the ability to be upgraded, modified, and new capabilities added over time. And that’s really where that modular open systems architecture approach is just so critical.
“There is a whole set of technologies out there, AI for instance, intelligent agents,” Lamb added. “There are a number of those kind of things that are really new, innovative technologies that will enhance how we perform command and control, and really get after some of the most difficult challenges that are resident with having a large system architecture that is, essentially, in place to be able to enable operations across all these various domains.”
Boeing’s Hugh Webster agrees. “There is some tech that the other primes have that’s pretty mature, and that’s going to find a place in the solution,” he said. “There are some products and techs that are maturing, and I guess they’re going to be slotted to the roadmap at some point in time. But frame of reference is that the innovation is going to be more about what is the acquisition methodology, and that’s more important than the shiny toys if you will.”
This feature article appeared in the March-April 2019 issue of ADBR.