OUTSIDE THE LINES: Amit Kapadia, the chief engineer for Product Manager Synthetic Environment at the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), speaks to local chief engineers and systems architects during peo s Modernization Industry Day on Sept. 14 at the Tech Grove campus in Orlando, Florida. To advance technologically, the Army needs to engage a far wider circle of the science and technology community. (Photo by Donnie Ryan, PEO STRI)
FROM THE ARMY
DOUGLAS R. BUSH
“It’s never a good bet to bet against America.”
—President Joe Biden, State of the Union Address
Feb. 7, 2023
As we build this future force, we are keenly focused on the pacing threat of China, the acute threat posed by Russia, as well as persistent threats from North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations. China continues to make great investments in artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber research and development. In its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has brought a level of brutality and destruction to the continent of Europe tragically on a scale not seen since World War II.
The secretary of the Army recently provided guidance that distills and refines our priorities in order to prepare the Army for the threats we see in Ukraine, but at a far higher level of sophistication and scale in the future. Each of the six imperatives identified below has complex technical problems embedded in it. This is where collaboration among public and private organizations is vitally important in finding solutions.
- Sense farther and more persistently.
- Concentrate highly lethal low-signature combat forces.
- Deliver precise, longer-range fires.
- Protect our forces against air, missile and drone attacks.
- Communicate and share data with ourselves and joint and coalition partners.
- Sustain the fight across contested terrain.
While the Army has outstanding scientists working in its research centers, I believe we need to harness a far wider circle of the science and technology community, both in government and the private sector, to achieve the Army’s goals. It’s vital that we, in the Army, work to cast a wider net to find solutions to our challenges.
Let me outline in more detail some specific challenges we are facing and where we need help.
Autonomous systems. One area is autonomous systems, both in the air and on the ground. I want to differentiate between autonomous systems and simply unmanned systems, which we have in great numbers today. Most of our current unmanned systems require data links for control and operation, links that are both vulnerable to a sophisticated enemy and extremely burdensome on our communications networks to maintain, especially at large scale. As a result, the smarter our unmanned systems are, the more they can do on their own without direct human control, the less vulnerable they will be to the enemy and the less demand they will put on our networks.
There is, of course, a huge amount of research in the private sector in this area that we certainly want to leverage.
Tactical energy. A second area where we need help is dramatically reducing the energy demand of our weapon systems and our platforms and, concurrently, dramatically increasing our ability to generate energy in the field. We’ve gone to war in the past with extremely large and vulnerable supply lines. The American way of war is war through logistics. It’s one of our greatest strengths. In doing so, however, we create a vulnerability that a sophisticated enemy could interdict. We need less energy demand in the front, and we need more energy capacity produced at the front to dramatically shrink those supply lines.
We have near-term technology efforts underway today in areas like hybrid electric vehicles. The Army’s climate strategy requires aggressive action, to which we are firmly committed. However, in the longer term, we need significant advances in areas like new battery chemistry, much longer lasting materials, and ruggedized solar and wind power generation to move the dial dramatically in making Army forces in the field require less energy.
Affordable directed energy. Another area to highlight is affordable directed energy. Here we are finally seeing, through a lot of research and many years of development, the long-discussed promise of lasers and high-powered microwave systems that can provide meaningful military capability. That’s the good news. The challenge now is moving to directed-energy systems that have the promise to be affordable at scale to deal with new threats, such as swarms of drones, that are otherwise very costly to handle with more traditional missile- and air-defense systems.
Having done all this research, we are now confronting the high cost of producing these directed-energy systems. That’s a significant barrier to overcome as we want to field directed-energy systems across the Army at scale. So, in this case, it’s a question of technology refinement versus perhaps pure invention. We’ve overcome great technical hurdles in directed energy, but we now need innovative technical solutions to refining these technologies so we can affordably produce them at scale.
Counterhypersonics. A fourth area is counterhypersonic technologies. Much has been made of advances in the area of offensive hypersonic weapons. The Army is one of the leading services in DOD, developing its own offensive hypersonic weapon systems. However, matching an enemy missile for missile in this area could prove very costly and still leave our forces vulnerable to enemy systems. So, we need help in finding innovative ways to counter hypersonic weapons in an affordable way. Innovation that offsets an opponent’s technology in a way that imposes costs on them is the kind of thing that DOD has excelled at in the past, and we need that kind of innovation now in the area of counterhypersonics.
Another important issue I’m working on is not only finding innovative technologies, but also moving them from research to production across the so-called “valley of death.”
First, we are formalizing new strategies to improve transition from science and technology labs to program executive offices, to ensure that innovative technology has a landing spot and, more importantly, funding in place when ready to take it into production. Making sure that government funding is in place at the right time is something we have long struggled with, so progress in this area is very important. Successful transition ultimately comes down to invested personnel and managers in our laboratories and our program offices being held accountable to successfully manage transition within the labs and product line teams.
Second, we are trying to make sure we do a better job of communicating with innovators both inside and outside the government on what the Army needs. The Army is a big place with a lot of people with great ideas doing great work, so I can see how it’s difficult to find the right spots to find out what’s really a priority and what’s likely to get funded if we develop the technology. We need to do a better job of coordinating our needs and communicating them through trusted sources of information, so innovation communities can find the answers and know exactly who in the Army to work with on a given issue. Also, and this is critical, there has to be an actual need for the system to do a useful function in the military, and then the technical research side of how to fund the research and get it into acquisition.
Overall, our focus must remain on collaboration, cooperation and unity of effort to ensure our joint warfighters are ready to deter adversaries and, if necessary, fight and win in combat.