ABMS Onramp 2 sees second MQ-9 AIM-9X shot, other CMD tactics development

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A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the ramp on Sept. 3, 2020, ahead of the ABMS Onramp #2. The network integration and cross-domain solutions proven during the ABMS demonstration significantly decreased the total time from target discovery to engagement to battle damage assessment. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)
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From employing an AIM-9X from an MQ-9 to improving AGR-20 cruise missile defense tactics from the F-16, units across the 53rd Wing played a critical role in the Advanced Battle Management System Onramp #2 from August 31 to Sept. 3, 2020.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., successfully employed a live air-to-air AIM-9X Block 2 missile against a target BQM-167 drone simulating a cruise missile. The crew received off-board cueing information, found and tracked the target, then maneuvered to validly employ the AIM-9X against the surrogate cruise missile.

The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, alongside Developmental Test partners, the 26th Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev., and industry partners collaborated to plan and execute this event, validating a concept emerging from the Weapons School. Connecting the squadron operations cell and the ground-based cockpit to the ABMS network to enable the MQ-9 to target the BQM-167 was a significant effort that required resolution to the numerous technical challenges to provide this connection.

Joint All Domain Command and Control provided critical data to the MQ-9 and crew for timely and accurate target information. The network integration and cross-domain solutions proven during the ABMS demonstration significantly decreased the total time from target discovery to engagement to battle damage assessment.

“This truly was a combined effort to make this demonstration a success,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “While early in development, this successful test opens the door to further explore integration opportunities the aircraft and cockpits could provide to JADC2, as well as counterair capabilities and roles beyond the typical counter-terrorism role assumed by the MQ-9.”

The ABMS demonstration served as the second MQ-9 AIM-9X employment since the first air-to-air shot in November of 2017 against a target drone. Since 2017, the MQ-9 community has investigated and proven the efficacy of the MQ-9 in a counter-air role utilizing the AIM-9X and future non-kinetic effects. The combined test, weapons school, and industry team since 2009 has demonstrated the capability to integrate the MQ-9’s effects in major combat operations across a variety of missions during large scale exercises at the USAF weapons school, integrating with Naval assets, and flying in numerous combatant commands.

“This test, and others like it, can shape the future of the MQ-9, as we continue to increase its relevance in great power competition and support the National Defense Strategy,” said Chmielewski. “I am extremely proud of the squadron’s efforts to make this a success.”

In addition to the MQ-9 efforts in ABMS, the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron also continued the 53rd Wing’s work in developing tactics, techniques and procedures for cruise missile defense. Working with mission partners, the 422nd TES overcame countless obstacles to plan and execute the first overland Air-to-Air AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System live fire test.

The AGR-20A is a fraction of the cost of the AIM-120 missile commonly used for cruise missile defense. Additionally, the AGR-20A can be loaded faster than an AIM-120 and an aircraft can carry two-to-three times the number weapons, directly supporting the National Defense Strategy’s priority of reform the Department for greater performance and affordability. Through this test in the AMBS Onramp #2, the team generated valuable test data that will be used to work through critical sensor and other limitations that will ultimately move the U.S. Air Force forward in developing this tactic.

In both the previously mentioned tests, and in others during ABMS, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron provided the BQM-167 simulated cruise missiles, and the 82nd ATRS’s QF-16s played vital roles in other experiments during the Onramp.

“We often say the 53rd Wing is responsible for bringing the future faster, so it makes sense that our squadrons play such a vital role in ABMS,” said Col Ryan Messer, 53rd Wing commander. “Like all experiments, this Onramp required countless hours of work and planning to make execution possible, and our teams are filled with the experts and professionals required to help bring a vision such as ABMS to reality.”

ABMS is the top modernization priority for the Department of the Air Force with a budget of $3.3 billion over five years and will be the backbone of a network-centric approach in partnership with all the services across the Department of Defense. That broader effort is known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control. When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will allow U.S. forces from all services — as well as allies — to receive, fuse and act upon a vast array of data and information in all domains at the speed of relevance.

The 53rd Wing provides tactical advantage to the warfighter at the speed of relevance. By testing new, operational capabilities, evaluating fielded capabilities, and optimizing electronic warfare capabilities, the wing is bringing the future faster while answering the warfighter’s demands for integrated, multi-domain capabilities.

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