Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, RDECOM commanding general, answers questions about how RDECOM solves problems that Soldiers face today, as well as what the Army will face in the future.
by Ms. Argie Sarantinos-Perrin
For Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, readiness is a moving target. The necessity for readiness today is simply a given, but then there’s tomorrow and the host of tomorrows to come.
“We need to strike the right balance between near-term and far-term technology so that we can stay ahead of our adversaries. Our goal is to figure out how to capture breakthrough technology and harness its potential so that we keep the technology pipeline full,” Wins said in an interview on July 7.
Wins is in a place to know. As commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), it’s his job to oversee research and development efforts among a team of Army scientists and engineers that is engaged with hundreds of industry and academic partners around the world.
By serving as a bridge between the science and technology (S&T) community, the operational community and the acquisition community, Wins champions technology that will bring value to the Army and provide better capabilities.
A major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, Wins’ team includes six Research, Development and Engineering Centers (RDECs) and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, which work together to develop technologies and capabilities for Soldiers across all domains—land, air, sea, space and cyber.
Argie Sarantinos-Perrin: What does readiness mean to you?
Wins: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley is on record saying we are on the cusp of a fundamental change in the character of ground warfare that will be as significant as the introduction of the machine gun or the change from horse to mechanized vehicles. Importantly, he makes a distinction between the nature of war, which he says is immutable, and the character of war, which changes with our adversaries, the terrain and, in this case, the technologies we have and the technologies our Soldiers face.
As RDECOM commander, I have to make sure we are working on the capabilities our Soldiers need to dominate any adversary with respect to both the nature and the character of war. And we have to do that across the Army’s primary time horizons—the current fight, the next fight and the future fight. We have to give Soldiers what they need to survive the nature of war and win within the character of the particular conflict they might face. The RDECOM team does that by working on programs to take the cognitive load off the Soldier so they can overcome the fog of war, which is part of its nature. At the same time, we’re working on programs that gather data about the character of a particular situation that our Soldiers face for decision makers.
Fundamentally, war is a series of actions and reactions. We make changes and our adversaries make moves and countermoves, and we discover second- and third-order effects. For example, the changes in the character of war—the speed of communications, movement, firepower, etc.—mean that decisions are being made at lower and lower levels. When I came in the Army, you had to find a platoon leader or a tactical operations center to find a radio. Now, every Soldier is increasingly becoming a node on the network, and, as a part of the multidomain battle, we expect a continuous, uninterrupted mission command with a robust and resilient network. That brings the obvious power and weight considerations, which we have to address.
That’s the RD&E [research, development and engineering] part of the readiness picture. The more we can empower our Soldiers to dominate an adversary, unburden them of what is distracting or unnecessary and protect them from their adversaries, the better our Soldiers can defend our nation and its interests.
Sarantinos-Perrin: How do you see RDECOM shaping readiness for today and tomorrow?
Wins: A big part of working across these time horizons is keeping the technology pipeline full. We need to strike the right balance between near-term and far-term technology so that we can stay ahead of our adversaries. One way we do this is by working with industry to capture emerging technology and figure out how we can adapt it for military use. We also collaborate with industry to develop technology that has a military application and can also be used commercially. This collaboration, in my view, needs to occur early and often, minimizing barriers that sometimes occur when government and industry partners compete. Then, we need to make the technology available for our Soldiers as quickly as possible.
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, which was once a revolutionary product, is used around the world in cars, boats, planes, trains, smartphones and wristwatches. While our Soldiers rely on GPS to navigate, our adversaries have figured out how to jam the signals, and they are taking advantage of that. In order to stay ahead of our adversaries and keep the pipeline going, we are working on the successor to GPS by developing new algorithms and architectures that will provide stronger signals and plug-and-play integration across multiple platforms.
We often pursue long-term technology through our research efforts even though we do not know how it will be applied for the Army or how it will change the character of war. For instance, we are working on high-energy lasers, a technology that we have been working on for 16 years, which will affect the overall character of war by giving us a lethal capability, as well as a logistics capability, but we aren’t really sure about its full potential or how it can be fully applied in a military setting.
We have to work the whole range of RD&E now if we want new technologies to build new capabilities for the future fight. If we stop working toward all of those horizons, gaps in capability will occur. Soldiers of the future will turn to us and we won’t have what we need to create the capability they need. That’s the day they walk into a fair fight, or perhaps when we’re at a disadvantage. We can’t let that happen.
Once we identify that need, we need people who can not only master the scientific and technological disciplines we know today, but who can also identify and pioneer the ones that have yet to emerge. And the same is true of the facilities and tools they’ll need. With that talent, we have to provide the best environment in terms of labs, equipment and knowledge so they can perform.
Consequently, managing talent and infrastructure is a big focus of our internal campaign plan for this reason. Just as the Army realizes you need good trainers and good training facilities to make good Soldiers, we realize you need good scientists and engineers in world-class facilities to create world-class capabilities.
Sarantinos-Perrin: Speaking of the future, are there any research programs that you’re especially excited about that may not be fielded for many years?
Wins: Quantum effects holds great promise for the future. For example, when we can make quantum communications work, we will be able to communicate without worrying about our messages being intercepted. That will potentially be a revolutionary shift from today, when we put so much time and effort into protecting the network. Of course, our competitors are working on this as well. What will it mean when both major parties of a conflict can communicate at the speed and in the volume we do today without worrying about their adversary intercepting their communications? What will that do to the rest of the battlefield? To signals intelligence? What will we have to give commanders to allow them to dominate that battlefield?
Artificial intelligence [AI] is another area where we are exploring the use of autonomous or semi-autonomous technology to control combat. By using AI, there is the potential for the Army to engage the enemy at a greater distance and keep them off guard.
We are also looking at ways to better protect Soldiers in a multidomain battle, which includes the cyber domain. All domains will be contested, so we have to be able to throw the enemy off by attacking from different domains, which will require more capacity and lethal and resilient systems all around.
Soldiers will need to know which network will give them the right effect, which will more than likely not be the network that we have today. The future network will enable Soldiers to perform uninterrupted command in a contested environment—with the ability to scale down to a degraded mode, if necessary, then back up to a robust mode—and it will be self-healing, resilient and allow Soldiers to communicate over extended distances.
Sarantinos-Perrin: Can you walk us through the development of a recent prototype? What is it, how was it conceived, how was it developed and where is it going?
Wins: Our team at the U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center [AMRDEC] created the Multi-Mission Launcher [MML] prototype, which is the first development of a major acquisition program by the government in more than 30 years. Truly a team effort, the MML was developed by more than 150 subject matter experts across the AMRDEC enterprise and representatives from five directorates and more than 20 functional areas, as well as 85 industry partners who assisted in designing and manufacturing.
The MML program is part of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 – Intercept [IFPC Inc 2-I] system, which is a mobile, ground-based weapon system designed to defeat unmanned aircraft systems, cruise missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars.
The project began in 2012 when the IFPC Inc 2-I product office approached AMRDEC to determine if an MML was feasible from an engineering standpoint. Working together, our AMRDEC engineers and the IFPC Inc 2-I product office moved the project forward, and two prototype MMLs were delivered in 2015.
Another exciting prototype is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center [TARDEC] and General Motors—the new Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. The ZH2 is an off-road truck that was designed for the Army. The truck’s hydrogen fuel can be produced from a variety of sources, including natural gas, and the vehicle does not produce any harmful emissions, only water. The ZH2 is currently being evaluated at various military bases around the country and offers other benefits, including less heat and noise, which is helpful in situations where stealth is required. TARDEC worked with industry early on in the process and helped inform requirements.
Sarantinos-Perrin: As the RDECOM commanding general, is it your call whether a particular technology goes forward? What goes into making such decisions?
Wins: This is a complicated question, because we work across different time horizons and support a wide variety of partners. I have the power to make decisions for any part of RDECOM, but I know it’s best to trust the experts—the folks in the RDECs and labs who work hard to develop the technology. They’re the best in the world.
Once we get a technology to the point where it can transition out of RDECOM to be used by someone else, the authority to accept that technology transitions as well. The technology transitions, as your readers know, to program managers and program executive officers whose goal is to make the technology a program of record, which means funding has been approved so the program can move forward. However, the final decision is made by the chief of staff of the Army and the Army acquisition executive.
What ultimately drives these decisions are the same realities that drive the rest of the Army—time, technology and resources. Most importantly, does it enhance the capability of the warfighter?
Sarantinos-Perrin: You’ve given examples of how RDECOM supports warfighters on the ground. How about Army aircraft?
Wins: One area most people don’t know about is the role our RDECs play in flight safety and the airworthiness of our military aircraft. RDECOM’s Aviation-Missile Center inspects every Army aircraft for airworthiness. As part of maintaining aviation readiness in support of the Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command, we are working on the Advanced Threat Detection System, which will protect the aircraft as well as personnel in them. That’s a significant contribution to day-to-day readiness.
Looking more long term, we can look at efforts in Degraded Visual Environment [DVE] and Future Vertical Lift [FVL]. The DVE effort combines several technologies to allow pilots to look into degraded environments such as storms or fog or obscurants and identify things like hidden structures, power lines, etc. Part of readiness is being able to operate in different environments, so DVE will make a significant readiness impact when it’s fielded.
The FVL is expected to replace the Army’s current aviation fleet over the next 25 to 40 years. AMRDEC is leading the DOD science and technology part of the project, and is working with industry to design and build a joint multirole technology demonstrator, tentatively scheduled for delivery in 2018. A technology demonstrator is a pre-prototype that is built with existing capabilities as well as experimental capabilities, and it is constructed in such a way that future technologies can be incorporated into it. We are working side by side with industry and sharing our S&T efforts to help inform and deliver on FVL technology. Plans for the new FVL include the ability to fly farther and faster, carry heavier payloads, be easier and less expensive to sustain, team with unmanned systems and perform certain optionally piloted missions.
Sarantinos-Perrin: Soldiers rely on the Army’s tactical network to communicate and maintain situational awareness, so maintaining cyber resiliency is critical. What research and development projects is RDECOM working on that support cyber resiliency?
Wins: While we typically think of electronic warfare in relation to radios and electronic systems, our team at TARDEC is developing cyber resiliency in autonomous vehicles. TARDEC has completed the first trial and will conduct a second one this fall with the Australia Defence Science and Technology Group. This project, which began last fall, evaluated the cyber-resiliency of an autonomously operated vehicle in Australia from TARDEC’s labs in Warren, Michigan. Using a satellite-on-the-move system that was developed in Australia, data was transferred between a control station and the moving robotic vehicle. For the second phase this fall, the team will integrate a weapon system onto the vehicle to test its cyber vulnerabilities. (See “Nobody, Take the Wheel!” Army AL&T, April – June 2017.)
I mentioned earlier how the future network will have to bridge both tactical technologies along with commercial technologies, allowing Soldiers to go back and forth seamlessly. Our CERDEC [Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center] team is working on hardware network convergence, which will allow Soldiers to operate in a denied environment and leverage communications from different tiers, including the ground, aerial and satellite layers. The ultimate goal is for a Soldier to use his radio to communicate, without worrying about which network he is using or whether he will be able to communicate at all.
Sarantinos-Perrin: How does your previous service in G-8 and force development inform your view of readiness and your work at RDECOM?
Wins: My previous work in G-8 and the Army Capabilities and Integration Center gave me the opportunity to work the full range, from requirements to resources to technology development. I’ve worked on the requirements side as the director of capability development as part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command [TRADOC], where Army requirements are generally initiated. I was the first person to determine if a requirement was written in a way that would provide capability to the warfighter. From there, the requirement moved forward to the Department of the Army to be approved and matched with the appropriate resources. I learned to appreciate the process, which, of course, often came with funding challenges. I am now on the front end of the material development side, looking at ways for the technology to be inserted into different capabilities that generally are intended to deliver a material solution. While each team has a different perspective on the technology, the bottom line is how will it meet the tenets of readiness, how will it provide a capability that empowers, unburdens and protects the warfighter.
Sarantinos-Perrin: Is there anything you would like to add?
Wins: Everything I’ve talked about today is largely possible because of the RDECOM workforce, a team of more than 14,000 people at more than 100 locations around the world. This talented team is responsible for developing and maturing technology that enables Soldiers to do their jobs and support their missions.
Key to all these efforts is integration. We are past the time in history when one part of RDECOM can develop a major capability without the help of some other part—or many other parts—of the command and our partners. We work closely with industry and academia, as well as with key Army organizations including TRADOC, the Aviation Community of Excellence, program executive offices, the acquisition community and Soldiers to identify science and technology requirements, manage research and testing and then pass the information to industry to develop.
For more information, go to the RDECOM website at http://www.rdecom.army.mil/ or contact the RDECOM Public Affairs office at 443-395-3922.
ARGIE SARANTINOS-PERRIN, a public affairs specialist for Huntington Ingalls Industries – Technical Solutions Division, provides contract support to RDECOM. She holds an M.S. in professional writing and a B.A. in mass communications from Towson University. She has 12 years of public affairs experience supporting DOD.
This article will be published in the October – December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.