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The Future of Air and Space Command, Control Needs Partnerships and Technology

Defense officials emphasized the need for better interoperability and faster adaptation of commercial tech.

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Future Air Space
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Today’s globalized digital world requires a degree of interoperability in the military heretofore unseen. At the 2023 Air, Space and Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland, leaders from the Air Force and Space Force convened to discuss the future of technology’s role in command and control doctrine.

The conference brought together military leaders to discuss roadblocks to effective command and control structures and some of the tech that might enable better interoperability between disparate systems and command structures.

Effective command and control will be “absolutely critical in tomorrow’s battle space” according to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and moderated a panel at the event.

“The next war is going to see U.S. forces going up against an enemy with extensive spectrum warfare capabilities and a doctrine that they intentionally built on disrupting our kill chain,” Deptula said.

At the event, Doug Beck, director of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), said that leveraging the best of commercial technology can help in countering strategic threats abroad. Beck noted that commercial tech has faster capabilities than the Air Force in at least 11 of 14 critical areas.

“Commercial technology in many cases has the benefit of both speed… and in some cases, there are capabilities … in the technology areas we care about that are just going to move faster in places that are driven by the relentless needs of billions of customers in the enterprises that serve them,” Beck said.

Air Force Integrating Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Battle Management Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey said that AI can play a role in helping command and control decisions, but the technology first needs to be trusted and understood in how it reaches its decisions.

“I think if we don’t understand AI as trusted tools that we use to get useful things accomplished, we end up talking about it again in the abstract,” Cropsey said. “I have to be able to expose the data and then I have to be able to exploit it. AI can help me connect things that I may not be able to connect otherwise because there’s too many moving pieces to do it right with a human operator in the loop.”

Brig. Gen. Daniel Clayton, director of the Advanced Battle Management System Cross-Functional Team, said it is a “high priority” that the Air Force’s allies and partners are integrated into the command and control structure from the beginning, as opposed to trying to loop them in further down the line.

“We’re trying to get after the integrated by design part, which is in order for us to be a bit more interoperable in the future, it starts with the architecture and the design today,” Clayton said at the event.

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