By Lt. Gen. Aundre F. PiggeeAugust 31, 2018
If I were 22 years old again, just graduating from college and newly commissioned as a second lieutenant, I would be very excited to be entering our Army because of a game-changing step we took this summer: the activation of the Army Futures Command.
THE NEW COMMAND'S PURPOSE
The activation of the Futures Command is the most significant reorganization of the Army since 1973, when the Army established both the Training and Doctrine Command and Forces Command after the Vietnam War. I was in middle school at the time, but when I entered the Army a decade later, I was very much a beneficiary.
That reorganization drove the modernization of the Army's big five weapon systems: the Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Apache helicopter, Black Hawk helicopter, and Patriot missile system.
The Futures Command is aimed at reawakening that innovative spirit to deliver technologies to warfighters faster than ever, at a time when the speed of technological developments in our civilian sector is startling. Of the nation's 10 largest technology companies today, seven were not even around in 1973: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco, Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcom.
That being said, the Army did not cease to innovate after developing the big five weapon systems. In the case of sustainers, we would not have been as successful in Iraq and Afghanistan were it not for many innovations.
Mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles and improved personal body armor aided in Soldier protection. Very small aperture terminals connected us to networks. Aerial GPS-guided delivery systems were used to drop supplies in remote locations. Explosive ordnance disposal enablers helped us hunt for roadside bombs. Movement tracking systems let us communicate with convoys and monitor materiel and equipment throughout the supply chain.
The Global Combat Support System-Army, now used by more than 150,000 logisticians, has drastically improved our materiel readiness. As proud as we are of our new logistics information system, it took 20 years to develop. We cannot wait another 20 years for our next success story.
That is where the Futures Command comes in. This "start-up" is designed to operate not in the industrial age but in the information age. Its 500 personnel will be located in Austin, Texas, near high-tech industries and research universities in order to harness the best talent possible and bring emerging technologies to Soldiers.
Its focus will be on six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, an Army network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
Leading the efforts to stand up the command are Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville. As they explain in interviews in this edition of Army Sustainment, logisticians will play an important role as the Army experiments with technologies that 10 years ago may have seemed better fit for the Star Wars movies. What they have to say is important because the equipment we supply, how we get it there, how we manufacture it, how we communicate, and our state of readiness will be much improved.
FIVE TRANSFORMING AREAS
Here are what I consider to be five of the most promising areas that will transform Army logistics: autonomous resupply, additive manufacturing, advanced power generation and distribution, condition-based maintenance plus (CBM+), and big data decision-making.
AUTONOMOUS RESUPPLY. In the future, sustainment Soldiers will not be required to man vehicles if we can instead deliver materials by autonomous or semi-autonomous ground vehicles, aerial vehicles, and watercraft. These vehicles could take Soldiers out of harm's way and provide responsive sustainment to widely dispersed units when conditions pose unsuitable risk. They could provide more options for commanders and create multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING. If we can print parts or special tools on the battlefield, we will not need to manufacture them 8,000 miles from where Soldiers fight. Additive manufacturing processes help us meet demand at the point of need, allow inoperable vehicles to be fixed faster, and will reduce distribution requirements, increase operational readiness, and improve materiel development.
ADVANCED POWER GENERATION AND DISTRIBUTION. We will not need to transport fuel if warfighters can instead have their own organic power sources. Advanced power generation may provide greater energy output with increased fuel efficiency and management. It will enable expeditionary sustainment of forces in remote areas and self-sufficient power generation so that Soldiers can operate away from existing power grids. This could reduce our logistics footprint and extend operational reach, making Soldiers more effective and units less logistically dependent.
CBM+. The CBM+ technology gives us a way to conduct information-enabled, fleetwide management at the tactical level through national level. It is great for commanders; they get actionable information to ensure their systems are ready. This will increase reliability and reduce the cost of sustaining equipment.
BIG DATA DECISION-MAKING. The Army is working hard to improve our information management processes by maximizing the usefulness of the massive amounts of data we get through our enterprise resource planning systems like the Global Combat Support System-Army. This will result in improved data-driven decision-making for all Army leaders and managers.
During the past few years, I have made it a priority to visit or learn from leaders at companies like Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, and Starbucks and to visit leading research universities, including Penn State, the University of Southern California, and the University of Texas El Paso.
What struck me is both how disruptive technologies can be and how much is commercially available for us to use today. If there are innovations that allow us to do our jobs better on a multi-domain battlefield, we need to employ them.
Key to our modernization is a good understanding of our current capabilities, the operational environment, and the threat. We need technologies and processes that can solve real issues, not technological wizardry that does not meet our basic, practical needs.
New technologies can be expensive to develop. We have only a finite amount of resources, so we must use them wisely and not waste them on things we do not need. We also have to do a good job of maintaining what we have because it must serve until we field the next breakthrough technology or equipment.
Just as I benefited from the last big modernization of the Army, so too will our future Soldiers. They must be enabled with the latest technology. And we must keep pace with our commercial industrial base to fight adversaries we may face in the future. Our nation expects--and our Soldiers deserve--the very best; they continue to be our greatest asset.
Lt. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee is the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4. He oversees policies and procedures used by all Army logisticians throughout the world.
This article was published in the September-October 2018 issue of Army Sustainment.