AUSTIN, Texas – Innovation is the enabling force behind Army modernization.
At Army Futures Command, Soldiers and civilians employ promising new methods, devices and research to conceptualize and develop solutions that will have outsized impacts on the nation’s future warfighting capabilities.
This enthusiasm for – and commitment to – creative and transformational change extends beyond weapons and combat equipment to include elements such as modern talent management structures, futuristic organizational designs and nontraditional business and university partnerships.
In a May address to Congress, Lt. Gen. James M. Richardson, Acting Commanding General of Army Futures Command, underscored how Army Futures Command’s far-reaching application of innovation is as dynamic as it is imperative:
“First, innovation is about more than materiel. Armies win or lose by combination of how they fight, how they organize, and how they equip. All three start with AFC. Changes in technology require changes in how we fight and vice versa. So, we don’t develop our concepts and requirements separately and sequentially. We develop them together and iteratively.”
While the idea of continuously evolving materiel and systems to maintain a competitive edge is not new, the approaches to innovation that the command is taking are groundbreaking for a number of reasons.
First, the official mission of Army Futures Command is to provide Army modernization solutions (integrated concepts, organizations designs, and technologies) in order to allow the Joint Force, employing Army capabilities, to achieve overmatch in the future operational environment.
In other words, the command, which was established in 2018, was intentionally designed to focus all of its efforts on future readiness. The decision to inaugurate an “operational architect” of Army modernization has helped to orient modernization activities, particularly those rooted in emerging science and technology disciplines, as well as highlight the importance of imagining new ways of thinking and doing.
As a result, the command is strengthening the Army by implementing a comprehensive approach to modernization – one that enables overmatch on future battlefields and modernization at the speed of change.
Second, Army Futures Command is helping the Army reevaluate and streamline how it connects and collaborates with innovators and entrepreneurs from a variety of sectors, thereby amplifying the force’s own ability to innovate.
Without sacrificing time-honored traditions or field-proven ways of operating, the command and its partners are exploring how to fold in state-of-the-art practices and tools to improve outcomes for Soldiers and for the Army as a whole.
The process involves placing prominence on Soldier-centered design, which keeps the operational needs of the end user – the Soldier – at the forefront of prototyping efforts.
Empowered by the opportunity to draw on the most groundbreaking methods and ideas, including those culled from Soldiers themselves, the command is innovating quickly and effectively to transform how future warfighters will operate in fast-paced, high-tech and multi-domain environments.
Recognizing that people are the foundation of a data-centric Army, the command is also experimenting with how to best integrate cutting-edge talent as part of the Joint Force.
This experimentation feeds into a third unique activity of Army Futures Command, which is leveraging best practices from leading businesses and the tech industry to foster a culture of innovation and rapid advancement.
In addition to partnering with the commercial sector to envision future products, the command is evaluating how incorporating key tactics – such as openness to new ideas, a willingness to fail fast and fail early, and implementation of flexible personnel hiring and training mechanisms – can produce a more agile and competitive organization.
The result of these efforts and others is a command that is invigorated by its ability to achieve leap-ahead progress across multiple fields and that understands the intrinsic value of an innovative mindset.
Joe Parson, Senior Technical Advisor with the command’s Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team, sees innovation as “the process of creating value by applying novel solutions to meaningful problems.”
Master Sgt. Nathan Hunsaker, Tactical Radio Lead for the Network Cross-Functional Team’s Unified Network Portfolio, describes innovation as “going from evolutionary, in the context of technology, to revolutionary” – a progression that involves “understanding what is in the art of the possible, rather than the art of the probable, and trying to achieve that.”
In characterizing how they innovate, staff are often eager to emphasize why they innovate, stressing the importance of being future-ready in order to keep Soldiers safe and America strong.
“We can’t rest on our laurels, we can’t rely on what we were doing yesterday,” Parson said.
Hunsaker agrees with the sentiment.
“As our near-peer adversaries advance in technology, we have to be willing to take risks to get ahead,” he said.
To hear Army Futures Command staff perspectives on innovation in their own words, view the video here.