AUSTIN, Texas – At U.S. Army Futures Command and across the Army, people are the first priority.
In accordance with this guiding principle, ongoing Army modernization efforts reflect the importance of supporting and empowering staff as well as the need to engage and encourage the next generation of defense leaders.
On Monday, Futures Command had the opportunity to host a group of master’s degree students from National Defense University’s Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy at two of its specialized innovation centers in downtown Austin.
The 18 students, all experienced military officers or civilians with extensive national security backgrounds, were able to view their current study of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) industry and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) through a Futures Command lens, as well as learn more Army technology modernization efforts.
The visit included briefs from subject matter experts at the Army Software Factory, where Soldiers and Army Civilians are developing software programs to enhance how the Army and its people operate, and the Army Applications Laboratory, an idea incubator and novel gateway for creative industry solutions to complex Army problems.
During the tour, “we could see how the business processes are being done, how different ways of taking innovative ideas, new solutions to existing problems can be leveraged,” said student Andrea Kung Starrett, a program manager with the federal government.
The experience also demonstrated to students how building more diverse and nimble relationships with industry, as well as innovating from within, could accelerate Army and Joint Force modernization activities.
“How do you scale up and rapidly innovate? That is a national defense question that we must answer, and Futures Command has a huge role in it,” said student Lt. Col. James Leidenberg of the U.S. Army.
"We know that there’s increasing risk of war on the horizon, and that we’ll be challenged in multiple domains,” Leidenberg said. “With that anticipation, that we’re going to face a future with certain competition and a risk of conflict, mobilization is vital. Our efforts to innovate with industry working alongside us strengthens our national defense and is in everyone’s interest.”
The group of students included career officers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Space Force, as well as leaders from the federal national security community and private industry. The cross-section of government servants and defense sector experts highlighted the program’s commitment to understanding and advancing C4ISR through the lens of JADC2, the Department of Defense initiative to modernize command and control technologies and procedures to process information, make decisions and direct actions of the Joint Force across all warfighting domains.
“The idea of JADC2 is that we can work together, we can share data, we can make decisions jointly that really synchronize movement and actions across time and space,” Starrett said.
The cohesion offered by the initiative “deters our adversaries. It denies them the ability that they can find a gap they can exploit,” Leidenberg added. “Our ability to achieve that gives us a unique advantage on the battlefield.”
Col. Karen Briggman, a professor at the Eisenhower School and director of the school’s C4ISR Industry Study program, elaborated on the benefits of having students learn about U.S. military modernization concepts and efforts in person and in real time.
“If you don’t understand resourcing and how funding flows, you can never really advocate for your Service,” Briggman said. “Having the students understand how to articulate requirements in a way that’s impactful and how to speak to senior leaders is highly valuable.”
Knowledge of modern technology options is also essential for furthering modernization and convergence aims.
“We’re at a point with technology where you can’t have just a smart guy in the room who knows technology,” Briggman said. “The guy sitting at the head of the table – or the lady sitting at the head of the table – has to be technology literate, to some extent.”
To gain insight into the C4ISR market and acquisition processes, students in the program visit innovation hubs, federally funded research centers, major defense companies and groundbreaking small businesses. For example, the current cohort recently traveled to Boston to visit sites such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Advanced Functional Fabrics of America – a public-private partnership working to integrate sensors and other advanced technologies into fabrics. Students also meet with a multitude of C4ISR stakeholders, ranging from data end users and JADC2 framework developers to NATO counterparts and members of Congress.
The process results in “great discussions about true interoperability, information sharing, how we can work together in parallel at the very beginning in actually developing the technology that we need,” Briggman said, adding that students are “very passionate about this work.”
Trips to innovation units within the Joint Services provide further context and awareness on how transformative change works in practice.
“Army Futures Command allows the students to see how a Service innovates – not just how the Service goes about innovation and modernization, but how it nurtures innovation culture and how it partners beyond itself to innovate,” Briggman said.
Her students are working on individual papers and plan to combine their efforts into a final capstone report that will inform C4ISR and JADC2. But first, they will continue to explore innovation efforts taking place across the defense community.
“In order to know what we need to do, we need to figure out what we want to do,” Starrett said.