Defense spending bill slashes ABMS budget nearly in half

By Sara Sirota / December 21, 2020 at 4:44 PM

Lawmakers delivered a major blow to Air Force leadership today by stripping nearly half the funding the service requested to develop the Advanced Battle Management System in their fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill.

Congress is proposing just $159 million of the $302 million budget the Air Force sought for the high-speed network. The program is a top priority for digital modernization as the military looks to conduct joint all-domain operations.

The funding cut is even larger than what House and Senate appropriators recommended in earlier versions of the bill -- a sign Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown and acquisition executive Will Roper did not do enough to court lawmakers who've long been skeptical of the program's acquisition strategy and spending levels.

According to the final bill's report, Congress removed $50 million for unjustified growth, $23 million due to forward financing of the on-ramp demonstrations and $15 million because of poor justification materials.

Lawmakers also slashed funding due to forward financing within seven categories of product development: $2 million from digital architecture, $11 million from sensor integration, $6 million from data, $18 million from secure processing, $11 million from connectivity, $5 million from applications and $3 million from effects integration.

The $159 million budget is still up from the $144 million Congress appropriated in FY-20 between ABMS and the Multi Domain Command and Control program ABMS absorbed this year. The Air Force was looking to significantly scale up spending in FY-21, though, followed by hikes to $591 million in FY-22, $1.1 billion in FY-24 and $832 million in FY-25.

Continued advocacy for the program moving forward may depend on whomever the Biden administration selects to replace Roper, the most vocal champion of ABMS within the Air Force.

The defense spending bill is part of a $2.3 billion omnibus package. It must pass the House and Senate and receive the president's signature by midnight tonight to prevent a government shutdown.