Austin, Texas -- In the midst of a global pandemic, U.S. Army Futures Command has stepped into the fray to support the nation’s response effort, while forging ahead on Army modernization priorities during 2020.
Just as with the rest of the world, AFC has had to adjust operations this past year, and yet has still found a way to thrive in the challenging environment. From assisting the world’s race to assist the sick and help find a vaccine for COVID-19, to leading the Department of Defense effort to modernize the Joint Force at the pace of industry, 2020 has been a year of firsts for the Austin - based command.
AFC entered the Austin tech sphere in 2018 to the lead of the Pentagon’s effort to modernize the armed forces at an innovation overmatch. Austin was chosen as the headquarters location due to its highly developed innovation ecosystem across industry and academia. Army partnerships with these institutions support the synergistic efforts needed to realize massive, force-wide modernization.
“Future battlefields will be incredibly lethal – forcing units to operate widely dispersed, while hyper-activity will accelerate decision cycles and sensor “saturation” will make it impossible to remain unseen”, said Gen. John Murray, AFC’s commanding general. “The Character of War – not the Nature of War – is changing and the technologies driving it are autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence. If these three key technologies are going to work together on a future battlefield, they will have to be underpinned by a network that is reliable, resilient, and adaptive and we must have common standards for our data and data architectures.”
The primary driver for the Army’s effort to respond to these changes is Project Convergence, a “campaign of learning” designed to create interoperability between all elements of the Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, to include using new networks and artificial intelligence algorithms to connect sensors and shooters. Central to the project is the concept of innovating to overmatch, not simply to parity, which has led the DOD to look for solutions in the civilian sector.
In an effort to move at the speed of need and at scale, AFC is partnering with industry and academia to develop ideas and solutions, and to implement them at the pace required of today’s global operating environment. The inaugural year of effort for this project culminated in September, at the Yuma Training Ground, in Arizona, where cross-communications between sensors and soldiers were demonstrated with exceptional success.
Diving into another challenge, AFC launched Software Factory in Austin, the first of its kind within the Army. This effort is based on a partnership model to find solutions to complex problems and the anticipated needs of the future warfight. The ultimate goal of Software Factory is to teach Soldiers and civilians how to solve Army problems with cloud technology and modern software, creating cutting-edge applications for current and future systems. This initiative is expected to create lasting impacts across the DoD.
“This is the best program I’ve participated in during my 18 years in the Army,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mercedes Barrera, a software developer. “You can effect change in real-time. We were able to make changes for today’s problems instead of just talking about the problems and hoping for a change ten years from now.”
On the medical front, AFC’s Army Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC), headquartered at Fort Detrick, Md., has been on the front-lines in the fight against COVID-19, providing direct support for Operation Warp Speed, the multi-agency U.S. government initiative accelerating the development, manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
MRDC is leading research efforts to prevent, detect, and treat the novel virus through the application of existing field-leading research capabilities, a global research network, and established partnerships with industry and academia to support the whole-of-government response to COVID-19.
Aside from their work on COVID-19, MRDC is the Army’s medical materiel developer, responsible for medical research, development, and acquisition. Their expertise in these critical areas helps establish and maintain the capabilities the Army needs to remain ready and lethal on the battlefield.
AFC’s busy year of firsts doesn’t stop at there.
As part of the modernization effort of armored vehicles, Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicles (OMFVs) are being developed for integration into armored brigade combat teams known as ABCTs. OMFVs are to be deployed as part of a section, platoon, and company of mechanized infantry, garnering not only significant tactical advantage for soldiers, but also providing advanced sensors, lethality, protection, and mobile mission command opportunities.
The Army modernization team also completed Soldier Touchpoint 3 of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) which will increase the warfighter’s battlefield awareness and ability to rapidly identify potential threats and take decisive action.
The secret to AFC’s ability to operate on so many disparate levels at such a fast pace can be attributed to the creation of eight Cross Functional Teams (CFTs). While geographically dispersed, each is focused on achieving different, but interconnected, readiness priorities of the Army. The teams are: Air and Missile Defense (Fort Sill, Okla.); Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (Redstone Armory, Huntsville, Ala.); Long Range Precision Fires (Fort Sill, Okla.); Future Vertical Lift (Redstone Armory, Huntsville, Ala.); Network (Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.); Next Generation Combat Vehicle (Detroit Arsenal, Mich.); Soldier Lethality (Fort Benning, Ga.); Synthetic Training Environment (Orlando, Fla.).
Lt. Gen. James Richardson, AFC deputy commanding general, expressed his support and faith in these teams, stating that, “CFTs are critical to our ability to be agile in our innovation efforts. These technologies are so new and require extreme adaptability by those working them. Thanks to CFTs, the Army is able to engage in this process, without letting us get in our own way with our.”
All of this combines to achieve the DoD’s goal of achieving and ensuring military overmatch in the battles to come. AFC’s CFTs are the linchpin for this goal, and in 2020, they more than proved their worth.
AFC and DoD leadership have repeatedly stated their dedication to continuing AFC’s wide-range of efforts, with an ultimate goal of successfully achieving overmatch in multi-domain operations.