The squad as an integrated platform

By Ross Guckert, PEO SoldierSeptember 25, 2019

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PEO Soldier, Soldier Lethality team apply a system-of-systems engineering approach to close combat squads to improve lethality and overmatch.

Modernizing to achieve overmatch against potential current and future adversaries is one of the Army's top priorities, and is essential for the Army to respond to potential threats identified in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. By focusing on the squad as an integrated combat platform, the Army has positioned itself to enhance close combat capability, from partnering with industry to developing more technologically advanced equipment for Soldiers. The foundation to establish this integrated approach is the adaptive squad architecture (ASA), which henceforth will be the basis for all close combat squad capability priorities.

The architecture is being developed in close collaboration between the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier and the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team by applying a system-of-systems engineering approach to the squad. Treating it as an integrated combat platform is similar to what we do with air and ground combat platforms. The architecture addresses a key goal of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force based in the Office of the Secretary of Defense: to "develop, evaluate, recommend, and implement improvements to U.S. squad-level infantry combat formations in order to ensure close combat overmatch ... against pacing threats and strengthen the combat, lethality, survivability, resiliency, and readiness of infantry squads."

Adaptive squad architecture "is a set of tools and processes that will offer the requirements developers, science and technology community and materiel developers the ability to regard the squad as a platform and develop equipment toward that goal," said Kathleen Gerstein, assistant program executive officer for Futures and Integration within PEO Soldier. ASA provides three essential functions: identification of interfaces, quantitative assessment of new capabilities and system-level configuration management.

"By definition, an architecture is a unifying or coherent form or structure that is used to build to a standard," said John Howell, adaptive squad architecture lead. "ASA is two software tools [the Architectural Assessment Tool (AAT) and the Configuration Database (CD)] that enable a number of capabilities supporting our key stakeholders. The assessment tool will allow stakeholders to do integration planning in a virtual environment to see how new or existing equipment works on a Soldier and squad.

"It provides the capability of systems to work at the Soldier [or] squad level; it can determine the critical interfaces; it has the ability to maintain the latest and greatest versions for use; and it provides the ability to quantitatively predict how much more effective a squad will be with new or upgraded equipment," Howell said.

PEO Soldier, the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team and industry are partnering to develop the initial version of adaptive squad architecture in multiple phases over an 18-month period. ASA will be used to:

- Define the standards and interfaces for incorporating equipment in the future.

- Define approaches to centralized processing and power.

- Enable wireless communications across the squad.

- Provide the tools and processes to address integration issues and more accurately identify the problems associated with Soldier load.

By applying a systems approach to the Soldier and squad, we will achieve significant efficiencies and enable and encourage innovation by our industry partners, resulting in a more lethal and effective combat platform. In addition, ASA will enable speed of delivery for new capabilities to ensure that we keep pace with emerging threats.

The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) will be the first program to leverage the new architecture. IVAS is among the first systems approved as a middle-tier acquisition prototyping program, which provides streamlined authorities related to requirements and DOD 5000 policy.

The IVAS program provides enhanced situational awareness compared with current capability, resulting in better lethality, mobility and survivability for the Soldier. It does this through the fusion of advanced sensors, waveguide heads-up display technology, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and integration with the tactical network and the Soldier's weapon sight. It is being designed so that Soldiers can fight, rehearse and train on the same equipment, supported by augmented reality and leveraging the synthetic training environment being developed by the Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team.


ASA's quantitative assessment of new capabilities is being executed through the Soldier Performance Module, an iterative, three-pronged, "crawl, walk, run" approach leveraging the Soldier Squad Performance Research Institute in Natick, Massachusetts; the Soldier Integration Facility being built at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and the Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning, Georgia. This close combat squad development environment is also being done in close partnership with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Army Research Laboratory, the CCDC C5ISR Center and industry.

The Soldier Squad Performance Research Institute will operate in a controlled laboratory environment. It will validate performance and training approaches and optimize the measures of performance associated with Soldier and squad overmatch. The Soldier Integration Facility will operationalize the technical solution to help determine its operational utility in addressing Soldier capability gaps. Again, the intent is to optimize Soldier and squad performance and effectiveness. Finally, full operational validation will occur at the Maneuver Battle Lab, using an experimentation force and addressing the full spectrum of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities solutions.

What we learn from each stage will then be inserted back into the cycle as required to update and refine requirements and improve solutions, eventually resulting in the optimal capability for the Soldier and squad. The architecture sets the framework and standards for how we insert and integrate new capabilities in this assessment process.


Overall, the architecture's purpose is to create a squad architecture that enables the rapid but deliberate delivery of integrated capabilities to the force, initially focused on close-combat formations, to ensure a lethal overmatch against current and future threats.

The adaptive squad architecture will also allow the Army to make more informed decisions on upgrading or replacing equipment. It also will provide a single, authoritative technical database of all squad equipment and assist in analyzing, defining and maintaining interfaces, which will make it possible to manage the squad as an integrated platform. Leveraging standard interface protocols, the ASA will specify a set of common hardware requirements, networks and connections. This will allow the creation of a system that will link, interoperate and be interchangeable as new technologies and mission needs arise. It also will reduce the weight that Soldiers bear. "We are overburdening our Soldiers," Gerstein said. "We must find a method to consider the many aspects of developing equipment which alleviates that overburdening." By taking a systems approach to Soldier load, we are able to allocate size, weight and power across the subcomponents to further optimize mobility, effectiveness and, ultimately, lethality.

Howell explained that the initiative was a response to the challenge the Army has had in the past with this task, historically assessing the individual Soldier's load rather than the load integrated across the squad. The focus of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, by contrast, "is how to improve the lethality, survivability, resilience and readiness of close combat formations in the Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command. Much of the challenge associated with this task comes from the fact that infantry squads have never been viewed as a platform and addressed in a holistic manner," he said.

Across DOD, Howell noted, "the services manage their pacing platforms, such as combat aircraft or tanks, as systems to ensure that critical variables such as weight, power, protection and communication are all optimized for that system. We absolutely must do the same for the close-combat Soldier and squad." By taking a centralized approach to power and processing, applying innovative approaches to eliminating cables, and setting size, weight and power allowances across the subcomponents, we can realize significant efficiencies across these domains and help Soldiers reduce their load. The adaptive squad architecture will be a key enabler to achieve these efficiencies.

"Now, with ASA, the terms 'extensibility' and 'modular open-systems approach' that are normally associated with information technology systems or larger weapon systems will apply to the close combat Soldier and squad," Howell said. "The Army materiel enterprise must now be planning for integrated capabilities right from the start of the acquisition process."


As new, advanced equipment is developed, the adaptive squad architecture will provide the means to integrate it. Additionally, it will give other platform PEOs (aerial, ground and maritime, for example) a way to ensure that their platforms can incorporate and accommodate the situational awareness, logistics and lethality needs of the Soldiers who use them.

"It's time to stop making the Soldier figure out how all the equipment needs to fit together. The ASA will help us get a little closer to that goal," Gerstein said.

"There have been many valiant efforts over the years to create a Soldier-squad architecture," said Howell. "Unfortunately, there have always been significant challenges, either operational, financial, technical or otherwise, that have prevented success.

"The partnership between PEO Soldier and the SL CFT [Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team], as well as the support of Army leadership and our Soldiers, has enabled the realization of the ASA and the Soldier Performance Module," he said. "The time has definitely come to build and use the architecture that will finally allow the Soldier and squad to be treated like an integrated platform."

The PEO Soldier and Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team partnership is vital to achieving the goal of the squad as an integrated combat platform. Together, these organizations are improving the Army's ability to keep pace with emerging threats by leveraging the adaptive squad architecture to synchronize capability gaps and technology development, ultimately providing Soldiers with the capability they need for overmatch.

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ROSS GUCKERT is the deputy program executive officer for Soldier, supporting the program executive officer in leading the development, integration, testing, acquisition, fielding, sustainment and modernization of more than 150 diverse programs of record. He holds an M.S. in national resource strategy from National Defense University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces; an M.S. in engineering management from George Washington University; and a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. He is Level III certified in program management, engineering, and science and technology management. He is Level I certified in test and evaluation. He is a member of the Senior Executive Service and the Army Acquisition Corps.

This article is published in the 2019 Fall issue of Army AL&T magazine.

Related Links:

Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology)

PEO Soldier