WASHINGTON -- The Army is working to modernize Soldier lethality by developing and fielding the next generation of individual and squad weapons technology, while planning to hone skills on the systems in a synthetic training environment.

Soldier lethality is one of the Army's six modernization priorities that are supported by eight newly-created Cross-Functional Teams. Those teams will be a part of the Army Futures Command, which stands up this summer.

"Our Soldiers and squads must fight, win, and survive now and tomorrow in a multi-domain environment against all adversaries, day and night," said Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, director of the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, or CFT.

In order to do that, the Army is making efforts to improve its synthetic training environment to better train Soldiers and units at home stations, armories, institutions, and deployed locations around the world.

LEADING MODERNIZATION EFFORTS TO ENABLE CLOSE COMBAT FORCES

The Soldier lethality modernization effort was created to aid the Army's potential growth by capitalizing on emerging technology and streamlining the acquisition process to ensure overmatch against its adversaries.

To match and surpass the enemy threat, the Soldier Lethality CFT focused on the 100K Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve personnel that are consistently within close proximity of enemy forces.

The Lethality CFT is cross-pollinating modernization efforts by collaborating with the other four services, U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, U.S. Special Operations Command, the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and all the Army Centers of Excellence.

"If you put something onto an F-35 (Lighting II) or an M1 (Abrams) tank, you know what it does. We don't have that same data of what happens if you put something into a squad. So, we're developing that very closely," Donahue said.

"But from a (Soldier) lethality perspective, if we're going to go out and buy something, we want to know exactly where we're going to put it in a squad," Donahue said. "Additionally, why go out and buy something if it's only going to give a five percent increase in lethality?"

At present, the CFT is driven to fulfill several near-term goals to ensure that Soldiers receive the best equipment in the shortest time possible, Donahue added.

These near-term goals include: the next generation of squad weapons, which will include a replacement for the M249 Carbine; the development and fielding of the Army's newest enhanced night vision goggles, or ENVG; and lastly, the implementation of an adaptive Soldier architecture, which will standardize data, power interfaces, and connection points across all combat platforms.

In reference to the next generation of squad weapons, Donahue said that the Army's existing weapon systems perform well against its current adversaries. However, it is up to the CFTs to determine the future threat and develop a weapons system that surpasses the enemy's expectations.

Even though the new weapons systems are still in a development stage, Donahue said it is possible that a new system will be tested or released within the next couple of years.

"The first thing is you're going to see a weapon that will be without peer against any threat that is out there. It will be lighter ... and much more capable, lethal, and accurate than anything that we have right now," he said.

In addition to the next weapon system, the CFT is working to field its newest ENVG. The goggle combines a heads-up display and built-in reticle, with "double-tubed" thermal and night-vision technology, the general said. The ENVG is projected for release before Fiscal Year 2019.

"We're putting that reticle up into the [ENVG] ... and we're seeing in the initial testing [that] they're shooting significantly better. So, we're increasing lethality right away and giving [Soldiers] that offensive capability and the ability to see things significantly better," he said.

The device has improved depth perception, a wider field of view, and the capability to operate during hours of daylight. Additionally, through the HUD , the new ENVG will also capture and monitor waypoints and share that information with other Soldiers in the field.

Moving forward, any improvements made to the Soldier lethality program -- to include the ENVG -- must align with the force's adaptive Soldier architecture to ensure capability integration across all CFTs, the general said.

"Of all the things the CFT is working on, the adaptive architecture is the most important," the general said.

"[The adaptive architecture is] building that backbone for everything that we are going to do into the future. All the maturity of the technology is present where we can finally kind of put these pieces together but, and again, have the ability to upgrade it very quickly at relatively little cost."

SYNTHETIC TRAINING ENVIRONMENT

In direct support of Army's Soldier lethality modernization efforts, Army senior leaders have identified a need to create a synthetic training environment to help train Soldiers to operate within the multi-domain battlefield.

Current training capabilities, both live and virtual, cannot sufficiently train Soldiers for the future of electronic and cyber warfare, said Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, director of the Synthetic Training Environment CFT. Moreover, the current Integrated Training Environment is unable to duplicate complex operational environments such as megacities, and subterranean structures.

"Our current ITE was created from the Army's legacy systems. These systems were built with 1980s and 1990s technology. As technology advanced, what we did is hooked these simulators together, and then we tried to create the best training environment we could," Gervais said.

"It's done a pretty good job, but the problem we have as our current legacy virtual simulations and simulation trainers is they're antiquated. They run on a closed network and are very limited in what they provide in terms of what we need to do to train today," she said.

According to the general, the new STE will deliver upon three core simulation capabilities:

-- "One World Terrain," which can be used by all simulation trainers and generates an accessible representation of any location on the globe.

-- Virtual Trainers that help formations conduct combined-arms maneuver training -- from Soldier and squad to above the battalion level.

-- Training simulation software, which creates an open architecture and standard application programming interfaces.

Currently, the Army has 12 locations -- 10 CONUS and two OCONUS -- where Soldiers can train within a live, virtually-constructed environment, the general said. After the implementation of the STE's three core simulation capabilities, the goal is to converge the Army's live, virtual, gaming, and constructive environments into a single simulation training environment.

More importantly, the new STE will need to be available Army-wide, she said.

However, developing the future synthetic training environment has been no easy task. Shortly after taking over the position, Gervais started working within the Army's acquisition network to try and support the needs of the program.

Straightaway, the general was not happy with the projected 2025 to 2030 procurement date.

"So, when I started looking at that, my biggest fear was that I would be giving the Army an iPhone 1 when the world was on iPhone 15. That was my biggest concern," she said.

To accommodate, Gervais changed her approach and engaged with industry partners and academia.

"The commercial virtual and gaming industry was making great strides in terms of graphics processing, realism, fidelity, and in-game physics. We were also seeing a lot of the great capabilities being made in the types of virtually generated terrain," she said.

In September 2017, the CFT launched an industry day at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Six months later, the team awarded seven other transactional authorities.

As a result, the CFT's outside-the-box thinking has streamlined the STE's modernization efforts. In turn, the CFT is currently testing seven, One World Terrain designs, the general said.

In addition to the development of One World Terrain infrastructure, the STE program is driven to improve the Army's existing virtual collective trainers. The CFT is also working to support the Army's need for a Soldier and virtual squad trainer. Lastly, it is up to the STE team to try and pull it all together through the creation of training simulation software.

"I would have loved this as a lieutenant," Gervais said. "Before I ever deployed for my first deployment in Iraq, I could have been on the ground, virtually. I could've done mission rehearsals instead of showing up on the ground and getting the strip map to where I had to go.

"We're moving at lightning speed. We're working with industry and to get the STE in the hands of Soldiers so that they can give us feedback. We need to get it into their hands because they need this -- today," she added.

(Editor's note: This is one of six articles covering the Army's six modernization priorities. Those priorities are long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality.)