The United States Army is widely known as being America’s oldest military branch, and its Soldiers continue to carry forth a number of time-honored traditions, from trumpeting bugle calls to trading challenge coins to enthusiastically offering up shouts of “hooah!”
Since 2018, however, the Army has been more formally pursuing an additional vision for itself and its troops – that of a trailblazing leader of the U.S. military’s Future Force.
Army Futures Command, which officially commenced operations three years ago, seeks to provide unity of effort across the Army in regard to modernization, while still upholding and furthering the Army’s important legacies and well-established core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
The Command is “focused on preparing the next generation and the generation after that of Soldiers, and ensuring they have the same benefits that my generation had,” said Gen. John M. Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command. Murray underscored that present modernization efforts will enable the Army “to keep ahead of our potential adversaries.”
While some might conjecture that modernizing the military would mostly involve the adoption of new weaponry, Murray clarified that achieving full modernization requires not only assessing current and needed materiel, technology and structures, but also analyzing “how we fight, or how we will have to fight in the future” and “understanding what that future could look like.”
Evaluating a variety of potential needs and scenarios and identifying solutions to address them so that the Army can prepare every American Soldier for the high-tech, domain-diverse and ultracompetitive battlefields of the future is no easy feat; nevertheless, it is one that Army Futures Command leadership has embraced eagerly.
The Command, headquartered in Austin, Texas, encompasses more than 27,000 personnel located across 24 states and 16 countries, all of whom are supporting substantial efforts designed to advance the might of the Army, as well as the agility of the entire Joint Force.
The Command’s strategic investments in tactical equipment upgrades, savvy artificial intelligence applications and cutting-edge medical research, among numerous other pursuits, are helping to ensure that the future Soldier is equipped with the advanced tools, resources and operational architecture needed to succeed alongside other U.S. military and Coalition warfighters in any combat situation, whether it occurs on land, at sea, in air or space, or in the rapidly evolving realm of cyberspace.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Crosby of Army Futures Command explained that the Command is being purposeful about “bringing Soldiers into the process earlier,” fully appreciating that “they are a very important, key attribute.”
The Soldier-Centered Design and Soldier Touchpoint initiatives created by Army Futures Command have increased the Army’s ability to incorporate Soldier feedback into development processes in influential ways. As a result, the Army has been able to reduce acquisition timelines greatly, as well as restructure materiel requirements and business procedures to ensure that new tools and equipment are, or can feasibly become, Soldier-ready.
In addition to working through subordinate commands and organizations to propel research and development, Army Futures Command has created eight Cross-Functional Teams, which serve to coordinate, integrate and elevate the Army’s efforts to modernize long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, air and missile defense, future vertical lift, network capabilities, soldier lethality, the synthetic training environment, and assured positioning, navigation and timing/space.
Furthermore, the Command has worked diligently to transform how the Army field-tests and acquires the multiple weapons, vehicles and products it utilizes, as well as how it will eventually synchronize use of key devices with other U.S. military branches.
Project Convergence, the Army’s intentional campaign of learning, is characterized by a series of exercises to test the most promising new technologies quickly but also rigorously, incorporating Soldier feedback at regular intervals to align mission objectives with functional needs.
“It’s about the technology, but it’s also about how the Soldiers will use the technology,” Murray said.
This year’s capstone exercise, Project Convergence 2021, will test over 100 technologies and include the participation of military personnel from across the Defense Department, as well as industry partners. The scope of the exercise reflects how “the Army will never fight by itself,” Murray said. “It will always be a Joint fight.”
Embedded in this action-oriented approach to refining research and development procedures, shortening acquisition timelines and ultimately converging modernization efforts across the Joint Force and outward to Coalition members is a commitment to working with a broad array of partners – including tech startups, small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, and academic researchers, scientists, and engineers – to find the very best solutions for tackling the Army’s most persistent problems.
The Command facilitates these partnerships through multiple avenues, including tech prize competitions, several hundred academic partnerships and the Austin-based Army Applications Laboratory, which fosters Army working relationships with new and nontraditional actors. Such investments help the Army to simplify proposal processes and harness groundbreaking developments, including in artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomy, which could play a significant role in future military operations.
These growing partnerships and the Command’s dedication to constant innovation and future-thinking have resulted in tangible progress across a number of priority areas.
Examples of recent Army Futures successes include identifying ways to extend the shelf-life of blood supplies in the field and prototyping 3D printing of essential personal protective equipment; welcoming initial cohorts to the Army Software Factory and Army Artificial Intelligence Technician Program, both new ventures formed to train groups of Soldiers and Army civilians in modern software development and cloud-based technology; and rapidly piloting state-of-the-art night vision goggles and mobile weapons systems designed to increase Soldier visibility, safety and accuracy during combat operations.
In recognition of the third anniversary of its activation, as well as in celebration of successes achieved to date, Army Futures Command hosted a cake-cutting ceremony in Austin and a virtual media roundtable event on Aug. 24.
During the event, Murray emphasized that “the passion of the people that work here at AFC headquarters just amazes me each and every day.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the next three years,” he added.