Making the Soldier the Decisive Edge

Robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing offer the warfighter new dimensions of survivability and lethality

From The Army Acquisition Executive
Steffanie B. Easter

In the future, our Army will transcend an ever-expanding range of battlefield domains where Soldiers will face new, complex and constantly evolving threats. With technology becoming ever more dynamic, we are in a race with our adversaries to harness and field the best military applications of product innovation. Our need to access technology and talent drives the pursuit of collaborative human-machine battle networks through robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing. This edition of Army AL&T explores our progress.

Throughout the history of warfare, Soldiers come face to face with the enemy, exposing themselves to the high risks associated with combat. Over time, advances in robotics and other technologies have put distance between our Soldiers and potential threats, increasing survivability and improving success on the battlefield. As we continue to exploit emerging technologies with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), we increase our ability to take Soldiers out of harm’s way while simultaneously increasing their lethality. Our intent is to achieve and maintain total combat superiority by leveraging autonomy and AI; expanding manned-unmanned combat teaming; and amplifying our advantage in munitions and equipment manufacturing.

This platform, built by researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, will enable the Army to test a greater degree of onboard perception and processing in robots, with the goal of enabling their use in a wider variety of mission scenarios, enhancing their robustness and equipping them to gather real-time intelligence. (Photo by C. Todd Lopez, ARNEWS)

WIRED TO SUPPORT THE SOLDIER
This platform, built by researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, will enable the Army to test a greater degree of onboard perception and processing in robots, with the goal of enabling their use in a wider variety of mission scenarios, enhancing their robustness and equipping them to gather real-time intelligence. (Photo by C. Todd Lopez, ARNEWS)

ROBOTICS AND AI—WHERE THE ARMY IS NOW
With a growing industry developing unmanned capabilities, the Army is constantly exploring new ways to use these technologies. In order to keep up with emerging threats on the multidomain battlefield—land, air, sea, space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum—the Army is supporting work in autonomous, self-learning technologies that can anticipate commander’s intent and inform decision-making during missions.

Army labs are working, for example, on mission command systems that would require minimal human input to guide unmanned systems to execute missions, as computers learn the intent of commanders. These promising new initiatives cover a broad spectrum of applicability in maneuvers: from fires, logistics and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, to data aggregation and filtering, the purpose in each case being to present the right information to the right person at the right time for the right decision.

Our overarching goal is to take the Soldier out of harm’s way. Robotics have been instrumental in the recent combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The capability to remotely search for and detect IEDs enables us to avoid putting Soldiers at risk. We are enhancing and using semiautonomous ground vehicles to put distance between the operator and potential threats as the robot navigates through dangerous terrain during interrogation and neutralization of explosive hazards. Additionally, we continue to push the envelope by experimenting with autonomous ground systems to strengthen our force protection capabilities and improve logistics efficiencies in theater, especially in supply and maintenance operations.

Spc. Edwin Polio, unmanned aircraft systems operator with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division (ID), flies a simulated unmanned aerial vehicle in September 2016 at the Virtual Battlespace 3 in the Mission Training Complex on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The future of Army mission command promises unmanned systems that will require minimal human input to guide them while they develop decision-making capabilities that reflect the intent of commanders. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Public Affairs, 25th ID)

FLYING TOWARD AUTOPILOT
Spc. Edwin Polio, unmanned aircraft systems operator with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division (ID), flies a simulated unmanned aerial vehicle in September 2016 at the Virtual Battlespace 3 in the Mission Training Complex on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The future of Army mission command promises unmanned systems that will require minimal human input to guide them while they develop decision-making capabilities that reflect the intent of commanders. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Public Affairs, 25th ID)

COLLABORATION AND CROSS-FUNCTIONALITY
In Army acquisition, we recognize the importance of working more closely with other Army agencies and our sister services to facilitate effective, cooperative defenses in the cyber domain and to keep pace with real-world threats. Through collaboration, our robust robotics and AI applications undergo research, development, production and testing to ensure that the technologies we field have the efficacy and cross-functionality required to address threats across the multidomain battlefield.

Further, it is well understood that collaboration among organizations drives innovative thinking. The Army Rapid Capabilities Office, for example, draws on best practices from other organizations, such as the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), and other services’ rapid capabilities offices, to engage with traditional and nontraditional developers and use creative contracting and collaboration mechanisms to encourage breakthroughs from the commercial sector.

ADVANCED AND ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING
The Army’s industrial base must develop and refine advanced manufacturing processes in order to provide higher-performance technologies to the Soldier. The Manufacturing Technology Program (ManTech) exists to improve production processes for critical technologies and to mitigate risks to schedule, budget and performance. One of the primary focuses of ManTech is to carefully invest in advanced manufacturing initiatives to develop critical capabilities that align with the Army science and technology strategy, which will benefit the entire enterprise.

Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division employed this Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport, armed with an M2 .50-caliber machine gun, during the Pacific Manned Unmanned – Initiative at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in July 2016. (Photo by Kimberly Bratic, TARDEC Public Affairs)

MANNED – UNMANNED TEAMING
Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division employed this Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport, armed with an M2 .50-caliber machine gun, during the Pacific Manned Unmanned – Initiative at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in July 2016. (Photo by Kimberly Bratic, TARDEC Public Affairs)

Exploiting advanced equipment, processes and additive techniques such as 3-D printers can optimize the production of end items, allowing faster processes with higher quality. Critical resources and research in advanced and additive manufacturing are leading to faster fielding of ammunition, drones and other protective equipment to the warfighter at lower costs.

CONCLUSION
Advances in modernization that benefit the American Soldier are possible, in large measure, because of the efforts of our Army Acquisition Workforce. Working closely with our counterparts in the industrial base, your efforts to find more ways to take the Soldier out of harm’s way while increasing the Soldier’s lethality and efficacy against current and evolving threats are more important now than ever.

Our Army acquisition team is moving forward to provide the current and future readiness needed to ensure undisputed dominance in every domain of modern and future warfare. Innovation, commitment to the mission and fearless pursuit of excellence are the drivers of our future force on the multidomain battlefield, and lie at the heart of our responsibilities for the Soldier’s welfare. With every innovation we explore and technological advance we achieve today, we boldly move forward to meet and defeat the threats of tomorrow.

This virtual reality dome at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) allows researchers to assess environmental and equipment impacts on Soldier cognition, including decision-making, spatial memory and finding their way. The research is part of the broader mission of the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, created jointly by NSRDEC and the Tufts University School of Engineering, which will examine Soldier interactions with autonomous robotic platforms to augment and optimize human cognition, mood and physical capabilities. (Photo by David Kamm, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command)

HEADY POSSIBILITIES
This virtual reality dome at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) allows researchers to assess environmental and equipment impacts on Soldier cognition, including decision-making, spatial memory and finding their way. The research is part of the broader mission of the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, created jointly by NSRDEC and the Tufts University School of Engineering, which will examine Soldier interactions with autonomous robotic platforms to augment and optimize human cognition, mood and physical capabilities. (Photo by David Kamm, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command)

This article is published in the April – June issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

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RELATED LINKS

Association of the United States Army Dwight D. Eisenhower Luncheon, including keynote speech by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley speech, Oct. 4, 2016

Milley Lays Out Vision for Army of the Future,” National Defense magazine, Oct. 4, 2016