Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. (June 21, 2017) -- Army leaders may not all agree on when and where the "next fight" will be, but they do agree that for the foreseeable future, the warfighter will require advanced technologies to achieve overmatch in a multi-domain environment.
"We cannot predict our precise technology requirements 30 years from now, but we do know that there are a number of operational capabilities that our forces will need us to advance to win the next fight across the domains," said Chris Manning, acting director of the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, Command Power and Integration Directorate, or CP&ID. "We focus on the future as we innovate and iterate technology."
CERDEC CP&ID is responsible for Army research and development, or R&D, efforts in the areas of mission command, positioning, navigation and timing, and operational energy. Iterative prototyping services rounds out CP&ID's current portfolio.
In a multi-domain battle environment, commanders will execute missions and gain advantages, both sequentially and simultaneously, across the domains of air, land, sea, space, cyberspace and other contested areas such as the electromagnetic spectrum. Often, these missions will entail rapidly deploying across strategic distances -- traversing through complex terrains such as deserts, jungles, sub-terrains and highly populated cities requiring Soldiers to transition seamlessly from a ground fight to multi-domain operations.
Multi-domain battle will feature another level of complexity according to Gen. David Perkins, commanding general, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC. He has described situations where multi-domain battle will not mean achieving total domain supremacy all of the time; instead, commanders will exploit temporary windows of opportunity by synching all domains to enable maneuver for a positional advantage.
"Since 9/11, the enemy is taking uncontested domains and making them contested," Perkins said. "I have to be able to move through domains with my solution sets faster than the enemy can respond to them."
To set a vision for future technology requirements in a multi-domain fight, CERDEC CP&ID established "Big Technology Goals" in the areas of artificial intelligence/machine augmentation to speed up operations; assured positioning, navigation and timing, or PNT, without space; and battlefield net zero capabilities.
"These technology goals are challenging end-states that prompt our engineers and scientists to be innovative in their pursuit of new technology," Manning said. "By setting these goals, we give our research and development workforce a target to aim for."
Artificial intelligence/machine augmentation:
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a component of the Pentagon's offset strategy, designed to obtain strategic advantage by outmaneuvering adversaries through advanced technologies and will be especially valuable in a multi-domain conflict. Machine augmentation, a subset of AI, inserts automation to process data-heavy or repeatable tasks to produce a suggested course of action, or COA, but ultimately maintains the commander's intent.
CERDEC is exploring predictive mission recommendations through machine automation, which aims to speed up the commander's decision cycle by unburdening his cognitive tasks during expeditionary movement and maneuver.
"The combination of humans and machines are meant to complement one another," said James Hennig, CERDEC CP&ID chief engineer. "Commanders may evaluate AI data, but the final COA decision belongs to the commander."
CERDEC CP&ID's explorations into AI have initially produced the Automated Planning Framework, or APF, prototype, which allows commanders and staff to run through the Military Decision Making Process to analyze maneuvers, logistics, fires, intelligence and other warfighting function COAs.
In addition, the Mission Command Battle Lab, or MCBL, part of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, and CERDEC CP&ID have formed a strong partnership with Command and General Staff College students to provide feedback on various emerging mission command capabilities, including the APF.
"We see APF as a key technology in enabling commanders and staff to plan and issue orders faster than ever before," said Maj. David Dilly, MCBL S&T branch chief. "They are allowing the machine to do what it's good at while giving humans time to concentrate on the art of command. APF is an important stepping stone for the eventual use of more general artificial intelligence where computers will help us understand, plan, and fight in multi-domain battle."
Assured PNT without space:
PNT capabilities will always be critical in modern warfare, and more so in multi-domain battle. Even with the wonders of GPS, Assured PNT is never a given.
"GPS is a battlefield game changer, but unfortunately it is susceptible to unintentional signal blockage, such as buildings and trees, interference due to power lines or friendly radio frequencies and an increasing amount of adversarial interference," said Paul Olson, CP&ID PNT division chief engineer. "We are mitigating these issues by executing R&D on a number of complementary PNT, or GPS-independent, technologies to include vision-aided navigation, RF ranging, precision time transfer, and position navigation algorithm frameworks that enable rapid insertion of new PNT sources."
CERDEC CP&ID has continuously advanced PNT capabilities over the past 30 years, and is a supporting partner to Direct Reporting Program Manager PNT, which leads the Army in developing and integrating Assured PNT technologies.
"Our partnerships play a critical role in making the Army PNT strategy a success and drive continuous innovation to provide the Warfighter with PNT data that they can trust," said Kevin Coggins, PM PNT program manager.
CP&ID is not merely focused on the position and navigation capabilities; the "time" aspect is often the most critical, cross-cutting function used to synchronize many warfighting systems.
"When you think about GPS's ability to synchronize time from anywhere in the world to within two to 40 nano-seconds, you understand how important it is for technologies such as radio communications or calls for fire," said John Del Colliano, CP&ID PNT Integrated Systems branch chief. "Within a multi-domain battlefield, I can't think of anything more critical than possessing accurate time."
Net-zero power solutions:
Movement and maneuver in the future operating environment will push Soldiers into austere environments for longer periods of time, predicating the need for innovative operational energy solutions. In a multi-domain environment, reducing the power demand will be critical -- land-based forces will take on an even greater role to enable air and naval forces, which is a 180 degree shift from wars past.
Soldiers must already bear a significant battery burden to support radios, GPS systems and night visions goggles -- making them reliant on standard 72-hour resupply missions. Striving for net-zero power solutions means Soldiers can produce as much energy as they use and require little to no resupply.
"The Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver predicts that that brigade combat teams will have to operate semi-independently for extended periods of time," Manning said. "We are looking at how we can provide power without a need for resupply, starting with a target of seven days, and looking at how much longer we can push it during those semi-independent operations."
Some of CERDEC CP&ID's R&D activities working toward net-zero power include Soldier-worn energy harvesting technologies, such as the Energy Harvesting Assault Pack, or EHAP, which is designed to convert the natural movements of Soldiers into usable power. CERDEC's solar power technologies are designed to convert sunlight into sustainable power for expeditionary movement and maneuver for mounted and dismounted missions. These alternative technologies help to shift the focus from traditional energy storage and power generation techniques to innovative net zero solutions.
Experimenting and Prototyping:
As the Army prepares for its next fight, it is turning to rapid and iterative demonstrations and prototyping as a sound option to systematically, yet quickly field state-of the-art capabilities to Soldiers. In a multi-domain environment, agile and adaptable technology insertion helps the Army keep pace with peer- and near-peer nations.
CERDEC's Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Prototype Integration Facility, or PIF, is working with Army program offices, depots and industry to provide engineering, design, fabrication and integration services that help validate cutting-edge capabilities relevant to the Army's force now and into the future.
"We believe experimentation and prototyping offers several value propositions to the Army and warfighter, by accelerating schedules, advancing technologies and informing requirements," Manning said.
Prototyping also makes good fiscal sense. Building capabilities early allows Soldiers sufficient time to evaluate the technology and provide operational feedback. Taxpayers do not spend money on a full-rate production until the technology performs optimally and meets Soldier needs, at which time the technical data transitions to industry, or depots such as the Tobyhanna Army Depot.
Multi-domain battle will only increase the complexity and pace of movement and maneuver operations, and will require the Army's S&T community to constantly adapt and innovate technologies that unburden the Soldier.
"We are intensely focused on the Army's goals to prepare for the next fight, and we understand that our technologies must enable Soldiers to conduct multi-domain battle in an increasingly complicated operational environment," Manning said. "Our vast experience and expertise executing R&D towards the Army's challenges helps us create innovative and operationally relevant technology solutions."