By Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)June 29, 2010
RICHMOND, Va. -- Scientists need to engage Soldiers and consider how new technology translates to the battlefield, according to a panel of five experts who discussed the Army's opportunities and challenges for fighting wars in the 21st century.
Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, moderated the panel discussion and asked the scientists from the Army and academia to ask tough questions during the research and development process.
"Is what you deliver to the Soldier really worth having'" Justice said.
Justice and the panel spoke to a crowd of approximately 400 Soldiers, scientists, and private industry leaders on June 24 at the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare Army Sustainment Symposium and Exposition.
To emphasize the importance of scientists and Soldiers working together to defeat current and future enemies, Justice asked all the Soldiers in the audience to stand to be recognized. He then invited a senior noncommissioned officer to join the panel to bring a Soldier's perspective to the discussion.
"All this technology is for you," he said to the Soldiers.
Panel members stressed the importance of using taxpayers' money wisely and gaining the maximum benefit from their new technologies.
Kevin Fahey, program executive officer of the U.S. Army's Combat Support and Combat Service Support, said the Army has approximately 260,000 trucks. If each truck is equipped with a $10,000 sensor, it will cost billions, he said.
Justice said the Army must use sound judgment when equipping its trucks, tanks, aircraft, and other vehicles.
"Every piece of equipment does not need every gadget," he said. "Which vehicles get what capabilities'"
Dr. Vic S. Ramdass, director of the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency, said his agency conducts cost-benefit analyses to determine whether a new technology is affordable.
Justice said that because the Army is so expansive in the number of personnel, equipment, and geographic locations, numbers drive everything.
"What benefit do you receive from the money'" Justice said.
Ramdass detailed one effort to save money. He said corrosion costs $10 billion per year across the U.S. military. His teams are researching methods to use nanotechnology to coat and protect equipment to reduce corrosion.
Ramdass also discussed efforts to improve Soldiers' situational awareness through advanced logistics technology. He detailed his agency's goal to enable a Soldier to know what is on an Army aircraft or truck and exactly where equipment is located at all times.
He gave the example of UPS shipping an item after a customer places an Internet purchase. While the customer can track the package on UPS' web site, its location is updated only at designated points during the shipping process when the bar code is scanned. Ramdass said that is not good enough for the Army when fighting a war.
"We can pull together data for useful information," Ramdass said. "The Soldier can then act on that information."
Another important goal for Army scientists is implementing Vehicular Integration for C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]/Electronic Warfare Interoperability, or VICTORY, said Kay Griffith-Boyle, Futures Office Chief, Systems Engineering and Integration Division, Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communications Tactical.
VICTORY aims to eliminate hardware redundancy, bolt-on systems, complex cabling, and continual reconfiguring of vehicles, she said. Achieving these goals will reduce life-cycle costs and maximize flexibility. It will also shrink vehicles' size and weight, thus reducing power and cooling requirements.
Fahey said that the new, open architecture when designing vehicles will allow Soldiers to "plug and play." He underscored the importance of adaptability and discussed how it took 18 months to test a vehicle. That is no longer feasible because "technology evolves faster than I can test it."
Dr. David E. Mortin, chief of the Reliability Branch, Logistics Analysis Division, U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, agreed that technology must move from the laboratory to the battlefield more quickly.
"Mature the technology faster," he said.
Dr. Steve Kornguth, director of the Center for Strategic and Innovative Technologies at the University of Texas-Austin, studies the physiological effects of combat and high-stress situations on Soldiers.
Kornguth discussed a study indicating that a Soldier's error rate triples during complex decision-making after 36 hours of sleep deprivation. The Soldier's ability to recognize and disable a threat is greatly reduced.
Kornguth's researchers are working on a system to allow Army leaders to monitor the neuro-physiological status of their Soldiers during combat. The display would track factors that could affect mission readiness, including alertness, stress and energy levels, and cognitive state. This data would allow commanders to reassign duties or decide whether the team is fully capable of engaging the enemy.
However, Kornguth cautioned that scientists must be mindful of the ramifications of emerging science on a Soldier's health and well-being. He said Army leadership and scientists must consider whether commanders in the field should be asked, based on data from emerging technologies, to administer medications on Soldiers in order to increase performance.
"What are the consequences of new technologies on attempts to enhance performance'" he said.
Justice concurred with Kornguth's warnings.
"We cannot inject technology without taking into account all considerations," Justice said. "Are we asking the right questions'"
Justice re-emphasized his point that scientists must think of Soldiers first during R&D. He asked how Soldiers can be trained on new equipment and systems while the technology is still relevant and without overwhelming them.
"Technology has to unburden the Soldier," he said. "Industry has to engage Soldiers, who are the subject-matter experts."