Air Force aims to field new moving target indication capability in 2027

The new capability is currently being funded by the Defense Department's Quick Start authorities, according to an Air Force spokesperson.
Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, speaks during the panel discussion “Answering the Warfighters’ Needs” at the Air and Space Forces Association 2023 Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo., March 7, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

As the Air Force begins using new authorities from Congress to fund early development work on modernization efforts, the department wants to start fielding one of those capabilities for moving target indication in 2027, DefenseScoop has learned.

During a recent Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing, Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter told lawmakers that the service plans to field the “first increment” of a resilient command, control and communications capability in 2027. The specific capability he was referring to is a C3 battle management system for moving target indication — one of two programs currently being funded by the Department of Defense’s Quick Start authority, an Air Force spokesperson told DefenseScoop in a statement.

“It’s a rolling timeline. In terms of that first increment of capability — probably in the 2027 time frame, I would say, if you were to talk about something at the level of a network capability,” Hunter said at the May 8 hearing in response to questions from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

Approved by the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act in December, the Quick Start rapid acquisition authority allows the services to begin development on new programs in some cases without a congressionally approved budget. Spearheaded by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, the authorities look to address delays in modernization efforts caused by the often lengthy period of time between when the services submit their annual budget requests and when lawmakers pass appropriations.


The Air Force has confirmed that two programs have been initiated through Quick Start, including the C3BM system for moving target indication. The other is a resilient national GPS position, navigation and timing capability.

Both programs are considered classified, and the spokesperson declined to provide any additional details beyond Hunter’s comments during the SASC hearing.

The Air and Space Forces want to transition part of the ground moving target indication mission from radars on airborne platforms — such as the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) that was retired in 2023 — to those on space-based systems.

In its budget request for fiscal 2024, the Space Force kick-started a new program alongside the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) called Long Range Kill Chains to develop ground moving target indicator sensors and auxiliary payloads to replace part of the E-8C JSTARS mission. Due to classification, the Department of the Air Force has not confirmed whether the moving target indication funded via Quick Start is directly related to the Long Range Kill Chain program.

While the services intend to move fast on deploying new moving target indicator capabilities, Hunter told lawmakers that fielding a fully realized networking system would still take time.


“If you start talking about really being able to do entire mission threads at scale, anywhere in the world, it’s going to be another few years before we can really say we’ve rolled that out to the warfighter,” he said.

In the meantime, Hunter emphasized that the department is incrementally deploying other “meaningful” networking systems prior to fielding the moving target indication system. According to his written testimony to Congress, there are over 50 ongoing programs across the Air and Space Forces dedicated to modernizing their networking capabilities in support of the DAF Battle Network — the services’ contribution to the military’s Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control (CJADC2) concept.

For example, the Air Force delivered a cloud-based command and control (CBC2) capability to the Eastern Air Defense Sector in October, and later to the Canadian Air Defense Sector in January. The department plans to deliver more CBC2 systems to the Pacific, Western and Alaskan air defense sectors throughout fiscal 2024, according to the spokesperson.

The Air Force is also deploying Tactical Operation Centers-Light (TOC-L) kits to different locations around the world and integrating them into service- and joint-level exercises. Essentially mobile computers equipped with software and data-management applications, the kits generate air pictures for battle managers by integrating and fusing data from hundreds of feeds.

“Modernizing legacy systems to support modern day mission threads and horizontal integration across stove-piped platforms to close mission threads at speed and scale are areas that we continue to work through in order to deliver the DAF BATTLE NETWORK to the warfighter,” the spokesperson said. 

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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