By David VergunOctober 14, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The way ahead on modernization will involve everything from autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence, Army leaders said at a panel in October.
Speaking at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, each of the leaders linked the Army's modernization efforts to its overal goal of readiness.
Asked how technology will change the way the Army fights, acting assistant secretary of the Army Katharina G. McFarland called the Soldier "our primary weapon." The role of technology, she said, would be to unburden the soldier.
McFarland said the Army's new Rapid Capabilities Office and other acquisition methods that streamline the process will enable new technologies to come to the fore.
"We need to make him able to spend more time thinking rather than doing," she said. "We need to think about how we create an environment that allows him to have an extension of himself. Those things are related to autonomy."
By autonomy, she meant the unmanned ground and aerial systems that can extend a Soldier's reach on the battlefield.
In her remarks, McFarland listed a host of technology-enabled goals that the Army has already set out to accomplish:
-- Enable formations to "aggregate and disaggregate quickly."
-- Improve overmatch in electronic warfare.
-- Lessen the logistics and maintenance burden.
-- Equip Soldiers with complete network and communications gear.
-- Ensure that Soldiers have immediate and accurate positioning and navigation data in contested environments.
-- Implement strategies to remove the cyber capabilities of adversaries.
According to Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr., deputy chief of staff, G-2, the Army has over the last decade, "been very additive" in terms of providing sensors and communications data for the Soldier. "It's almost become a burden," he said.
The key to modernization for the Soldier, he said, will be to unburden him from some of that flood of data by "placing it on a machine" that can process the data and use it to provide the Soldier with meaningful solutions. That, he said, can be accomplished through machine learning and artificial intelligence systems.
Another area that needs improving, Ashley said, is information sharing with coalition partners. Currently, much of the data that is collected goes to U.S.-only systems.
"When you think of all the [data] collection that you bring in when you process, exploit, and disseminate that information, it's important that you can get it in near-real time to coalition partners and coalition users," he continued.
The solution to exchanging information with coalition partners, he said, is to "federate" the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data.
Federation, he explained, means requiring common data standards and processes to ensure that the many unique systems used by coalition partners can communicate with one another.
Another area the general said could use improvement is the realm of social media.
"When you look at all the things that come in through social media, how do you track them?" Ashley said. "How do you look for a trend? How do you receive warnings?"
The general cited, as an example, people congregating in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring. At the time, intelligence agencies had no way of seeing or measuring what was going on, he said.
Had there been a way to track the chatter on social media being used by those who assembled, a clearer picture of what was going on would have emerged.
Lt. Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who served as the deputy chief of staff, G-4 until September and now serves commander of the Army Materiel Command, said the Army's acquisition and requirements processes must be streamlined.
When it comes to acquisition, few people realize that 70 percent of the cost of a weapon or equipment system comes from sustainment, he said. Just a small part of the cost comes from the research, development and purchase.
According to Perna, the solution is "more alignment between the requirements, generators and acquisition process early-on in teaming."
Even before the acquisition process begins, he said, there should be sufficient Soldier testing to ensure the system is the right fit for the Soldier.
Asked to name the top three sustainment challenges the Army faces today, Perna replied, "First and foremost, we need to be able to maintain our own equipment on the battlefield."
To do that, the Army must own the intellectual property rights, rather than depend on contractors, he said.
Soldiers must also be properly trained to maintain their own equipment, he added, and the Army must be prepared to counter enemy cyber threats to the supply chain.