SEATTLE — Five blocks away from Pike Place, sandwiched between venture capitalist firms, major tech companies, and startups on the 33rd floor is the Pacific Northwest Mission Acceleration Center, buzzing with cyber industry professionals from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.
On Sept. 18, 2023, a meeting of highly qualified minds with a goal to maximize efficiency and streamline organizational processes for the U.S. Army was officially underway. These individuals are working diligently with I Corps’ newly formed Data Integration and Innovation Team.
The team is currently staffed by eight Soldiers from across Joint Base Lewis-McChord with varying ranks and occupational specialties. What they have in common is that all members possess a college degree or technical certifications in either science, technology, engineering or math.
The commanding general of America’s First Corps, Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, formed this “data warfare team” by writing an order to gather and interview these mission-essential Soldiers in hopes to help getting after cyber and data obstacles that the corps faces. According to Sgt. 1st Class Richard Fuentes, a cyber network defender with the I Corps network and communication office and the Data Integration and Innovation Team lead, Brunson's efforts were the driving force to fill in the apparent gaps which were noticed after a review of I Corps’ most recent Warfighter exercise in late 2022.
The team's mission is to test and solve problem sets unique to I Corps' command area by using cutting-edge technology, aligning with industry practices, and encompassing continuous integration and continuous delivery. This process could significantly speed up the timeline. Fuentes mentioned that what they are developing will impact the broader Army and the Department of Defense if proven fruitful.
“We're in the process of shifting to (the Agile methodology), if you look at the acquisitions process, it takes forever for us to get anything done; training and development on average is about two to three years behind,” said Fuentes. “We’re going to be that middleman, we’re going to figure out and develop the products for the Army, receive true Soldier feedback and work through the entire process in-house.”
To set the tone of the kickoff and remind the group of how critical their work can affect their end user, a Data Integration and Innovation Team member recalled a question Brunson asked him.
“Who is the most important person in the Army?” Brunson once asked him.
If you are a West Point cadet, one might naturally think the commander is the most important, but according to the anecdote, Brunson answered his question with, “It’s the 19-year-old with his rifle pointed at the door, everyone else at that moment is support.”
With this story in everyone's mind, the crowd breaks out into smaller, more specialized groups to further discuss and clarify ideas concerning their focus area. Some of the projects these groups are working on are the Joint Manning Document, Automated, or JMDA, and the Automated Munitions Tracker, shortened AMT. Both use Microsoft's Azure artificial intelligence in the software to make critical decisions in each program's responsibilities.
The I Corps' personnel office requested the team to create the JMDA to address a problem experienced when working with other military branches. This product takes the human element out of the process and automates the manual task of gathering names and the metrics of Soldiers for accountability. By using AI, a task that can consume days; or even weeks; can be accomplished in a few short hours or even minutes. The JMDA can also scale up for a joint-multinational exercise.
“We’re decreasing complexity, if I had to sit here and input 5,000 names into a database, line-by-line, for every G-1 (personnel office of a division and higher entity) or S-1 (personnel office of a brigade and lower entity) shop in I Corps, that's going to take hours, days or even weeks, depending on the amount,” said Fuentes. “This program takes all that and decreases the amount of time, auto-populates those available personnel, notifies those S-1s and G-1s and gets Soldiers on the move.”
The team is developing the AMT in partnership with Leidos, a software development company. The AMT will enhance fire operational capabilities for current and future weapons platforms. This software works with the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System to speed the process from when a munition is fired to when a new one is delivered back to the Soldiers firing the weapons platform. The software will simplify and expedite the process of providing munitions to critical areas of a future battlefield by using AI.
“You're looking at automated logistics for fires, instead of me sitting there and building out a request document every single time I get down to a certain level, the software is automatically tracking it,” said Fuentes. “This does two things; from a logistical standpoint, you get to see exactly what munitions are going out and from which location; two, it gives commanders an extra level of situational awareness and ensures that they can prioritize and restructure ammo effectively and accordingly to which location is sending out more rounds.”
With these products and more in the works with the help of industry collaboration, a minimum viable product may be delivered to a Data Integration and Innovation team member by Cobra Gold 24, a joint multinational exercise in Thailand. The product will be a very early model aligned with the Agile methodology. Still, with continuous integration and delivery, America's First Corps and the Army will be on their way to a more efficient and streamlined future, with the credit going to a small team on JBLM, partnered with civilian industry partners.
“This kickoff is our course of action development for the next year and we’re bringing innovation from industry to help get after some hard, complex I Corps problems,” said Fuentes. “But the I Corps Data team intends to test these products by next year’s Cobra Gold.”