Army researchers think outside the box
May 6, 2014
- "Integration is critical to the chief of staff's vision of a future Army that will be technologically competent and feature enhanced combat power ."
Army Technology Magazine
- May/June 2014 Focus: Soldier of the Future
Commentary by Dale A. Ormond
U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command
Science-fiction writers envision technologies that scientists and engineers often create in the future. Consider the smartphone. Once firmly in the realm of science fiction, we use our "communicators" to not only talk to someone on the other side of the globe, but also to schedule our calendars, check e-mail, or access the Internet. Forty years ago, this seemed unattainable.
Yet Army researchers within the Army Materiel Command and Research, Development and Engineering Command team achieves innovation by imagining something and then creating an idea or concept that can change the nature of the fight.
In the future, quantum communications will enable entangled atoms to pass information with no apparent connection. This means bandwidth will not be an issue. It also means secure communications. We are working on this with the University of Maryland.
We are also working closely with the U.S. Special Operations Command on the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS. Sensors will give Soldiers a wealth of information, and the suit will provide better protection, enhanced performance and improved situational awareness.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno wants us to focus on the squad and individual Soldier, and we are focused on lightening the load both physically and cognitively.
As Soldiers access more data, it becomes a constant stream of information. Those of us who remember the early Internet went through this as it matured from a novelty to a vital, yet sometimes overwhelming connection to the world. During the early days of the Internet the trick was to find information. Then it became finding good information. The same is happening to Soldiers. We need to provide the right information at the right time in a form Soldiers can use. After all, Soldiers use information to make decisions in a split second and often under dire circumstances.
When I served on a submarine in the U.S. Navy, my boat had the latest sonar and torpedo fire-control system. The system could easily overwhelm the crew with the number of screens and the amount of information it provided, but it enabled each of us to configure the output to best support our decision-making process. I see this in the same way. Military technology must provide the Soldier with information best suited to an individual's decision-making process. As researchers and engineers, the more thought put into designing a streamlined, configurable information flow, the better off our Soldiers will be. We will help our Soldiers to make the best decisions with the best information at the speed of battle, which can be the difference between life and death, victory and defeat.
To achieve this end as we move forward with an even more technology-oriented Soldier, our scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory are developing a helmet that can sense who's wearing it. This helmet will provide information contextually tailored by its wearer.
Smart helmets are just one of the technologies that will help provide warriors with information they need. If it takes too long for our Soldiers to evaluate the information, we may lose the fight. Time is critical to their success.
We envision a day when squad leaders will have an app that outlines missions and mission requirements. Imagine a squad leader sharing information with his or her team by laying out the mission and specifying the required equipment. Instead of needing a briefing to be told what to do, Soldiers will customize their kit and meet for the first time, ready to execute the mission.
Future American warriors will depend on technologies that better protect them and prepare them for the fight. RDECOM's technology development strategy ties everything together, from lethality to protection.
This integration is critical to the chief of staff's vision of a future Army that will be technologically competent and feature enhanced combat power with fewer Soldiers. Connectivity and integration are critical attributes to enable our technologies to be greater than the sum of their parts, just as the Internet and cloud applications are helping mobile devices rival the power of desktop computers of a few years ago. We have this firmly in mind for the goals of the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization program for Army 2025 and continuing toward the Army of 2040.
We are focused on developing technologies that give our Soldiers the advantage of an unfair fight. That's our primary motivation. With AMC, RDECOM has tremendous capabilities. Between what we develop and what we help industry modify to meet our specific requirements, there is no one better positioned to accomplish this mission. We will continue to do the necessary work to enable our leadership's vision for the Army of the future.
ABOUT RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND ENGINEERING COMMAND
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.