Thank you John for that kind introduction and thank you to Mr. Brian Wynne and the entire Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International for inviting me here today. I am truly honored and humbled to be in the company of so many distinguished guests. The leadership, passion, and creativity of those gathered in this room is inspiring. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our Army and our Soldiers.
I must say that it feels slightly ironic…as an Army officer… to be speaking here on "Air Day." Clearly a reflection of my two decades of service in Airborne units! But seriously, given how important unmanned aerial systems have been to Army operations for the past 15 years, it is absolutely on target. I do plan to focus on UAVs for a bit, but I will also highlight ground-based systems a bit later.
A few weeks ago, we completed our annual AUSA conference. Some of you may have been there. I think I saw a few of you on the exhibit floor. Those who attended will remember that the theme of the conference was: "Ready Today, Preparing for the Future."
This phrase… so short and succinct… really lays out our responsibility now and the challenge before us. Specifically, looking forward… how do we, as the foundation of the Joint Force, sustain sufficient current capabilities while laying the foundation for tomorrow's challenges? This is a tough question, and one that we must get right.
Our Army remains heavily engaged. Right now… over 183,000 Soldiers are supporting geographic combatant commanders in over 140 locations, assuring our allies and deterring our enemies around the globe. Ladies and gentlemen… that is a busy Army… and the scope and scale demands innovative leaders capable of making tough decisions so that we can sustain this relentless pace. It also demands the best technologies… things like unmanned systems… so that we can sustain overmatch against our adversaries.
Unsurprising to most in this room, unmanned systems… specifically unmanned aerial systems… have been vital contributors to mission success over the past 15 years of war.
Back in 2001 the Army had only 45 unmanned aerial systems in our inventory. And frankly, as a BCT Commander in 2003 during the March to Baghdad, I had none supporting me. Today, over 8,000 unmanned aircraft are embedded in Army formations from the division to platoon level. They are literally woven into the fabric of Army formations to such an extent that a leader in today's formation cannot imagine operating without them. Ask any Soldier with recent combat experience, and I'm sure you will hear stories about UAVs helping identify an IED emplacer in Baghdad or Ramadi or one that supported base defense, high-value insurgent targeting or route clearance operations in some remote corner of Afghanistan.
Today thousands of handheld UAVs -- Ravens and Pumas -- are fielded at the platoon-level. Hundreds of RQ-7B Shadows -- larger, more capable systems with full motion video -- provide reconnaissance and manned-unmanned teaming capabilities for brigade combat teams, the 75th Ranger Regiment, combat aviation brigades and Special Forces Groups.
Dozens of Gray Eagles -- systems with a range of 725 miles and the ability to remain on station for 8 hours at a time -- provide a much needed organic and responsive eye-in-the-sky for Army divisions. And another four Gray Eagle companies -- part of our Echelon Above Division capability -- serve as the Army's contribution to the Joint Force for global allocation; as we speak, two companies of Echelon Above Division Gray Eagles are supporting operations in Cameroon and Iraq. These diverse capabilities enable us to leverage systems -- at echelon -- in support of Army operations around the globe.
Last year the 82nd Airborne Division, acknowledging this point, reinforced the importance of persistent tactical reconnaissance by more than doubling the number of Shadow platoons in theater shortly after they deployed to Iraq. They prioritized this capability, despite force manning restrictions… and at the expense of other enabler capabilities. Shadow UAVs, combined with smaller platoon level assets, proved critical in targeting the enemy and protecting friendly forces at major bases like Al Asad, Al Taqqaddum, Taji and Erbil.
Perhaps more important, they helped cement our partnership with the Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops during operations to retake Ramadi. Right now, U.S. Army operated UAVs -- at echelon -- are helping support coalition effects to tighten the noose around Mosul, and you can be sure that they will prove vital for follow-on operations elsewhere.
But what I just mentioned is really our past. Now I want to talk to you about our future. Our Army is at a strategic crossroads…one in which we must continue to prosecute the current fight while laying the foundation of our force for future generations. In the face of this reality, it is imperative that we clearly articulate our focus for the future and boldly adopt the right strategic vision…tempered by humility and a willingness to learn…. so that we can incorporate the right lessons from more than a decade of conflict… adapt our formations for the demands of today's complex operating environment… and build critical capabilities to ensure overmatch against future threats.
We have applied a lot of institutional energy thinking this through.
Our assessment is… that in the future… the pace of innovation will be increasingly compressed, with technologies that used to take 20 to 30 years to develop now being fielded in 5 to 10 years. Exacerbating this challenge, rapid increases in the pace of innovation are coinciding with some of the most staggering geopolitical, societal, economic and natural changes in modern history.
The stable unipolar system…. one dominated by the United States… is being replaced by a multi-polar world awash in competition. More and more people are leaving their rural homes for cities, increasing the demands on the State to provide basic necessities. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with shortages of food and water in other places, are causing demographic changes, which in turn are fueling the rise of nationalism across the globe. The rapid flow of information is creating new sources of wealth,… and an improved standard of living for millions… while concurrently increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
These sweeping changes have profound implications for how we man, train, equip and organize our forces.
Future battlefields will be extraordinarily complex, multi-domain environments. They will include operations in the air and on the ground, increasingly in urban settings, and they must leverage and integrate capabilities from operations at sea, in space and in cyberspace. Future operations will require Leaders of Character capable of commanding small, distributed formations against an elusive and often ambiguous enemy. This extraordinarily complex environment will place a premium on all types of unmanned systems.
To that end, we have identified five objectives to guide the development and employment of unmanned systems, both air and ground. First, these systems must increase situational awareness, going where manned systems cannot, thereby increasing standoff, survivability and agility for our Soldiers. With that in mind, in FY18 we will begin fielding Improved Gray Eagles… systems with greater payload capacity and near triple the range of existing systems… to support our Soldiers from extended distances; and we are developing multi-functional electronic warfare payloads for our Gray Eagles to sustain critical information dominance on the battlefield.
Second, systems must lighten Soldiers' physical and cognitive workloads. As any infantryman can tell you… and I are one… heavy loads increase fatigue and limit Commanders' options in both scope and duration. Therefore, we are focused on capabilities like the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport, an unmanned system capable of carrying a squad's worth of equipment…life support and combat gear…with multi-function flexibility for key contributions to power generation and CASEVAC during dismounted operations. We are also developing common UAS Ground Control Stations. This breakthrough technology, enabling a common interface for multiple types of unmanned systems, means that both Shadow and Gray Eagle operators…. who today use different displays…. will enjoy commonality… along with as yet undeveloped unmanned systems… on the same interface. This capability will provide Commanders' greater flexibility, reduce operator workload and increase interoperability within the Army and the Joint Force.
Third, future unmanned systems must help sustain the force with increased distribution, throughput and efficiency. They must be capable of moving materiel to the battlefield while providing Commanders' a broad array of distribution options. One of our major efforts in this regard is the Leader-Follower capability, a system currently under test with the Pallet Loading System (PLS) fleet of vehicles, to provide automated driving for up to four follow-on vehicles for every one manned-lead PLS. Similar to autonomous driving efforts being tested around the country, this capability, set to go for production by 2024, will reduce the threat to our Soldiers, increase Commanders' range of options, and improve our sustainability and endurance.
Fourth, future unmanned systems must facilitate movement and maneuver. In support of this effort, we are laying the groundwork for the concept of scalable control. With scalable control, UAV operators and recovery teams, operating away from their supported units, can transfer control of systems, once in flight, to other Soldiers in need of assistance.
This will enable ground combat units to positively control UAV assets, prioritizing efforts as needed, in support of a broader array of mission objectives. It will also free up UAV operators…always in short supply… for other missions. Likewise, we are pursuing the Common Robotic System (Individual)…a man-portable, miniature and highly mobile unmanned system capable of providing dismounted forces ground-based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear detection, and explosive ordnance disposal capabilities. Once fielded, this capability will provide our Soldiers with on-site capabilities that now reside only at higher command echelons.
Finally, future unmanned systems must help protect the force. Unmanned systems already play a vital role in securing bases and routes in theater. Likewise, unmanned systems are used regularly by explosive ordnance disposal teams to assess and interrogate IEDs, preventing thousands of casualties since 2001.
In the future the Route Clearance and Interrogation System will provide route clearance teams an unmanned, semi-automated capability to interrogate, excavate and classify deeply buried explosive hazards, IEDs, and caches. This capability, along with other man-transportable systems, will increase Soldiers' standoff and our ability to detect and neutralize IED threats.
As we look to the future, it is wise to acknowledge that our Nation cannot predict with whom or where the next crisis response will emerge. To win in a complex world, the United States Army must provide our National leaders with multiple options, integrate the efforts of multiple partners, operate across multiple domains, and present our adversaries with multiple dilemmas. These imperatives require a trained and ready Army … one that is well-equipped, adaptable and prepared to meet our Nation's threats whenever and wherever it is called.
You…. business and industry leaders… are our partners in this effort. You play an absolutely critical role in helping us build the force of the future.
History, in fact, has shown that when we work together and put our minds to it, we can accomplish great things in support of our national interests.
This is why this forum and your continued engagement is so critical. This period of transition is challenging… but with every challenge comes opportunity, and those gathered here know how to respond to opportunities better than most. Great business and industry leaders… like great military leaders… possess the creativity, innovation and relentless passion to drive positive change in the midst of challenge. All of this work provides fertile ground for collaboration and our Army needs your support now more than ever. Before I go, I will leave you with a thought from an old infantryman.
After 35 years of leading in our Army… I am convinced of one thing more than any other: Leadership remains Decisive. Across three decades, I have partnered with young sergeants in combat units and leaders of foreign countries.
I have linked arms with humanitarian leacers to solve wicked problems for those less fortunate in earthquake ravaged Haiti, and I have worked hand-in-hand with business and industry leaders -- people like you -- to find and field the best solutions for our Soldiers. In every instance, it was the competence, commitment, and character of Decisive Leaders that carried the day. This is why I am confident the United States…and the leaders we produce… will continue to lead the cause of freedom in this complex world.
Thank you again to the Association's leadership and members for your support to our Armed Forces. And thank you again for inviting us to join you for this special occasion…I look forward to your questions. God Bless you all, Army Strong!