FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- During the final day of the 2013 Association of the United States Army's 2013 Winter Symposium and Exposition, Army leaders joined representatives from academia and industry to discuss emerging strategic trends and how current science and technology initiatives are helping to prepare Soldiers for future threats.

The Institute of Land Warfare panel was chaired by Maj. Gen. William Hix, director of the Concept Development and Learning Directorate of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, who provided his view of the current, mid- and long-term priorities for developing future Army capabilities.

Hix emphasized that the Army must move beyond incremental advancements to achieve an order of magnitude improvement in warfighting capabilities to effectively prepare Soldiers to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

"If we do not think that far out, we will find ourselves incrementally changing going forward," he explained. "We will wind up, if you will, with the Army we get and not the Army we want, or more importantly, the Army the nation will need as part of the joint force."

In the short term, Hix said the focus is on making smart investments. He specifically addressed the Army's Network Integration Evaluations, a series of semiannual, Soldier-led evaluations designed to further integrate, mature and rapidly progress the Army's tactical network.

"It's really about empowering leaders and units at the tactical edge to seize and exploit the initiative so we can maintain relative advantage over our adversaries." Hix said.

During a related panel at this year's AUSA symposium, Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commanding general of Brigade Modernization Command, said that NIEs have tested 143 systems, recommended 36 for fielding, and led to funding for 24 systems. He explained that NIEs support the current force by providing the opportunity to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers early and often.

"As we look to the mid-term out to 2020, and then beyond that into the 2030-2040 timeframe," Hix continued, "we have to ask ourselves: What are the challenges and how do we posture the Army to be ready to meet those challenges?"

Hix said the Army's Campaign of Learning, which seeks to integrate all the activities the Army is doing in the area of experimentation and testing, is leading these efforts.

"We do this exploration through a series of wargames, seminars, experiments, studies leveraging the insights of our partners in industry, academia, think tanks, our multinational partners, those in other services and of course, the government science and technology community," Hix said.

Paul Rogers, director of the Army's Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, also discussed the importance of making smart investments that are directly tied to mission objectives. He noted four themes within TARDEC's investment strategy: preventing surprise for the Soldier, extending the Soldier reach, mitigating risk and reducing Soldier burden, both physical and cognitive.

"I think if we use those four themes to shape our investments and shape our discussions, we are not only advancing our technology, but we are also directly impacting the Soldier," Rogers said.

Fellow panel member John D. Joannopoulos, director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, or ISN, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, addressed advancing a very specific technology to achieve the order of magnitude advances that will be critical to preparing Soldiers for the future.

"The major goal is to dramatically improve the survivability of the Soldier by working and extending the frontiers of nanotechnology through fundamental research but also through transitioning with industry and Army partners," Joannopoulos said.

He explained that the ISN is an Army University Affiliated Research Center whose research of the intrinsic properties of matter could result in developing new materials with unique properties that are currently unattainable in nature.

"If we're successful, there is actually the potential for doing something that's revolutionary, rather than evolutionary," he said. Examples of this included helping the Army develop new protective gear that provides Soldiers with greater blast protection or lightweight metal alloys that combine high strength and toughness to protect future combat vehicles.

Bruce Snider, director of Technology at Raytheon for Network Centric Systems, reinforced comments made by his fellow panel members by highlighting the importance of the Army's continued focus on science and technology in solving some of its greatest challenges.

"Focused S&T is critical," Snider said. "As we partner with our research universities and [others]… the more you can do to help us understand your requirements, your roadmaps and your challenges -- that will help us drive those far-term, mid-term and near-term developments that we think will really help the Soldier today and in the future."

The panel issued a challenge of innovation to the community of practice for a new and visionary path at a strategic inflection point for the Army S&T enterprise.

"We will seek to expand and leverage the relationships and ideas developed by the panel," Hix said, "in order to focus the Army's S&T investment for the future."