5th Generation Air Battle Management

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in partnership with the Air Power Development Centre of the Australian Department of Defence are please to present a new paper in which author Chris Westwood explores a series of operational, technical and human elements associated with the move towards a 5th Generation battlespace, through the lens of the Air Battle Management environment. The paper presents a simple model which aims to help a broad audience understand what 5th Generation is, why it is real, and why attempting to fight a 5th Generation battle with a 3rd or 4th Generation battle management system is becoming increasingly untenable.

The U.S.-Australia alliance is a cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. Australian and U.S. forces have shared battlespace in every major conflict since World War I. We continue to operate together on a regular basis to fortify our shared global interests. Yet, both nations face an increasingly challenging, multi-faceted threat environment that will require their Air Forces to dramatically rethink how they employ aerospace power in support of their respective interests and common interests advanced through a shared security strategy.

This paper is the first instance in what promises to be an enduring and meaningful collaboration between the Mitchell Institute and the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air Power Development Centre to advance the aerospace power dialogue. The effort is also particularly timely as both the U.S. and Australian Air Forces undertake critical modernization efforts to regain the competitive advantage necessary to deter and, if necessary, defeat potential adversaries in future conflicts.

Underpinning modernization efforts is the shared recognition that success in the future battlespace depends foremost on the speed and integration of information. The sheer volume and quality of information available to fifth-generation fighters, given their multi-spectral sensors, processing power, and connectivity, means they represent a leading element in this new operating paradigm. The concept of a Combat Cloud, however, transcends not just fifth-generation fighters, but also aerospace power writ large. By harnessing technological advancements in computing and information technology, the Combat Cloud promotes the ubiquitous and seamless exchange of information across platforms, domains, services, and coalition partners. This will enable commanders to make faster decisions that better integrate actions across domains in a manner that enhances the effectiveness of the whole, compensates for vulnerabilities, and maximizes overall capacity to exploit opportunities.

Practitioners of aerospace power will quickly recognize the close connection the Combat Cloud has with battle management, which combines situational awareness, operational decision-making, and force direction. Chris Westwood offers an insightful overview of what ‘5th Generation warfare’ looks like in the Air Battle Management context, to include the leverage provided by Combat Cloud functionality. Critically, he underscores that transitioning from an industrial age paradigm to one required in the information age is not just about hardware and software, but instead requires a holistic approach based on a common vision that spans the entire defense enterprise.

The imperative for change is clear, as our adversaries are pursuing similar concepts to harness information to achieve a powerful military advantage. On each other’s wing as in past challenges in peace and war, our nations’ air forces must adapt to sharpen our collective aerospace power edge beyond that of all adversaries.

Lt Gen David Deptula, USAF Ret. Dean, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies June 2020

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