What is it?
U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) is supporting the development of the United States Army and Marine Corps Concept Multi-Domain Battle (MDB): Combined Arms for the 21st Century. This concept describes military operations against a peer adversary that can contest U.S. forces in all domains — in competition and in armed conflict — and challenge the deterrence efforts in 2025-2040.
Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) is nested with the Army’s MDB concept and deliver tactical, operational, and strategic value through an indigenous approach, precision targeting operations, developing understanding and wielding influence, and crisis response.
What has the Army done?
USASOC partnered with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command‘s Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) to link Silent Quest 17, USASOC’s title 10 Wargame, to the Army’s deep future wargame, Unified Quest 17. The result was an integrated and synchronized approach to the future-focused peer adversary problem set. It incorporated a detailed examination of the competition short of an armed conflict period leading to armed conflict under the MBD concept.
What continued efforts are planned for the future?
USASOC will deliver physical and cognitive effects to shape the operational environment and extend the reach of the Joint Force. This includes improving SOF and conventional force integration, interoperability and interdependence to enhance unity of effort across multiple domains. To prepare ARSOF capabilities needed by the Army, USASOC Strategy — 2035 identifies how ARSOF must adapt to address future threats. This means promulgating an indigenous approach that views challenge to stability as problems to be solved by empowered people in the region.
USASOC is also broadening the concept of maneuver to encompass both physical and cognitive objectives in order to gain a position of relative advantage with respect to the enemy and population.
Why is this important to the Army?
U.S. military advantages across all domains. Future wars may be fought using new technologies; however, they will be fought by people for social, economic, cultural, and political reasons. The interaction of armed forces with societies in conflict will affect the outcome of wars. Partners will require support from the U.S. military to withstand attacks on their populations, forces, and commercial interests and to support U.S. operational and strategic goals.
ARSOF provides Joint Force commanders the ability to transform indigenous mass into combat power in order to develop effective partner forces that can win against determined enemies.
Pictured above: Soldiers hold a rope steady while others conduct fast-rope insertion training during Operation Emerald Warrior at the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., April 30, 2014. (DoD photo)
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Researchers from industry and universities across the nation have rallied around a collaborative technology alliance with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory since 2008.
A research program called Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology, or MAST, came to its conclusion during a capstone event of presentations and demonstrations from Aug. 22 – 24 of both ground and air micro-robots.
Teams of researchers gave 17 live demonstrations of the technologies they’ve been working on over the past several years. The University of Pennsylvania showcased a group of autonomous quadcopters that self-organize into formations.
Officials said technology has advanced dramatically during the life of the program.
“I think there’s still a long way to go to get them to do all of the behaviors we want in any type of environment,” said Dr. Brett Piekarski, the Army’s collaborative alliance manager. “There are certain areas where I think we’ve really pushed the bar and moved the state-of-the-art. One example is in scaling things down to be able to do autonomous behavior in something that fits in the size of your hand.”
Piekarski has been with the program since its inception and has managed the alliance of Army, industry and university researchers since 2012.
“In one way, I’m a little sad to see it end,” he said. “In another way, I’m really excited because I think we pushed the boundaries of the state-of-the-art and we will be seeing the impact of the advancements within the program for years to come.”
When the program started, the laboratory had several objectives. Scientists wanted to understand fundamental technologies that would to enable autonomous micro-robots to work together.
“Some things have matured quite a bit and other things I think we’re still scratching the surface,” Piekarski said. “There’s been a lot of discovery and innovation. Proof-of-concept type things would be another area where I think we’ve done a lot of innovation in technology development.”
“I am absolutely certain this technology will help the Soldiers of the future,” said Allison Mathis, the program’s deputy manager and an Army researcher with MAST for the past three years. “We have created advances in everything. There are new platforms, new algorithms, new sensors. Not all of this will be ready next year, or even the next five years, but we have absolutely advanced technology. We are making an impact right now.”
MAST started as a five-year research alliance, which extended to 10 years, and brought together 19 partners from industry and academia. Lead defense contractor, BAE Systems, worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on microsystems integration, The University of Michigan worked on microelectronics, while the University of Maryland focused on microsystem mechanics. The University of Pennsylvania targeted processing for autonomous operations.
Other consortium members were the University of California, Berkeley; Carnegie-Mellon University; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of New Mexico; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford University; Texas A&M University; University of California, Merced; University of Delaware; University of Texas, Austin; Kansas State University; University of Colorado, Bolder; Bowie State University; and University of California, San Diego.
“We’ve demonstrated what can be done in this space with some innovative ideas,” Piekarski said. “There needs to be a lot of work in all of these areas to get them into engineered solutions that we can put in the hands of the Soldiers.”
Piekarski said the lab will continue to work with its stakeholders and partners to “take it to the next level.”
The Army recently announced its next focus area for a collaborative technology alliance will be known as Distributed Collaborative Intelligent Systems and Technology, or DCIST.
“It’s really about high numbers of systems, heterogeneous in nature,” Piekarski said. “So you think of it as air, ground, large, small, Soldiers in the loop…How do we do distributed intelligence? And then once we have that decision making, how do we get the information back out and control these large heterogeneous teams in complex and contested environments?”
Researchers said the next program will not be without challenges.
“If you have small, individual robots and you have instrumented Humvees and you have a person and you have maybe tens or hundreds or thousands of any of these things…How do they work together? How do you deal with attrition? How do they talk to each other? How does a fully instrumented Humvee talk to a tiny robot and talk to a person? This is not a simple problem. This is an incredibly difficult, exciting program.”
Dr. Brian Sadler, the Army senior research scientist for intelligent systems, said he is optimistic about the future.
“The convergence of technology that we’re witnessing now, and as we propel it forward, is going to be a dramatic lifesaver and game-changer in terms of the way we operate tactically,” Sadler said. “This is my opinion. I am extremely optimistic.”
Sadler said it is important for the Army to stay out in front of the technology curve because autonomous robotics will soon be ubiquitous.
“We’re now seeing a wave of commercialization in this space,” he said. “It’s going to change the way we do business. I believe this is going to be a tactical offset strategy for the Army — the miniaturization of the robotics, the combination of large and small platforms, what it brings to the networking, what it brings to sensing and the ability to go fast in complex environments, to be able to inject these into a scene ahead of the warfighter from overhead, from the ground, in and out of buildings at a very rapid pace. All of that is coming.”
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The Army is ramping up the fielding of improved mission-command hardware and software that provide increased situational awareness, chat capability and less complex user interfaces for Soldiers in combat vehicles.
Recognizing high demand for the systems and significant impact on operations, Army Forces Command requested an accelerated pace to reach all Active, Reserve and National Guard units with completion no later than 2024, two years ahead of the initial timeline.
By 2024, units will be synchronized with the same upgraded software called Joint Battle Command-Platform, and the Army’s new standardized tactical computer, known as the Mounted Family of Computing System. The combined capabilities of JBC-P and MFoCS deliver the Army’s next-generation friendly force tracking system.
“The most recent developments in the system — ease of use and high reliability — are aimed at enhancing the qualities that JBC-P and MFoCS are known for throughout the Army,” said Lt. Col. Shane Sims, product manager for JBC-P, assigned to Project Mission Command. “The Army needs newer and more robust hardware to support future software upgrades. Getting this to Soldiers faster will pave the modernization path for the Army’s Mounted Computing Environment.”
IMPETUS FOR FASTER FIELDING
There are currently three variants of mounted computing capabilities throughout the Army. The Army first fielded JBC-P in May 2015, which is an upgrade to the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking system, known as FBCB2/BFT, and Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR. The two latter systems are 15 years old and 10 years old, respectively.
The Army planned to save money by fielding legacy hardware, known as JV-5, to 60 percent of units, and the newer system, MFoCS, would have gone to the remaining units. However, to better support Soldiers, the Army decided to eliminate the use of old hardware entirely. Several factors are driving these decisions: the reduction of software and hardware baselines, improved cyber protection from recent technological advancements, and cost avoidance by eliminating sustainment of older systems.
MFoCS ranges in options from a detachable tablet to a full vehicle-mounted workstation. It can also run additional software inside the vehicles, which reduces size, weight and power demand.
“From an operational perspective, these upgrades are designed to enhance Soldiers’ capabilities for planning and executing their missions,” Sims said. “MFoCS provides these improvements and eliminates the need to operate multiple computers in the same vehicle. “We’re working across Army program offices with the goal of fielding a single tactical computer that is scalable and tailorable to the mission and vehicle.”
The Army’s move to an MFoCS-only fleet will serve as the hardware infrastructure for the MCE, which will provide a common set of applications and services as one of six computing environments that make up the Army’s Common Operating Environment.
Factoring in Soldiers’ training time is also a significant consideration during a large fielding initiative. To help the Army accomplish this expedited timeline, the Army Training and Doctrine Command and PdM JBC-P combined efforts and condensed new equipment training time for Soldiers from 40 hours to 16 hours.
“This is a significant benefit for the Army Reserve and National Guard units that can now complete training over a weekend instead of being called up for an entire week,” Sims said.
FIELDING, TRAINING PLAN
JBC-P is part of the Department of the Army G3/5/7’s Unit Set Fielding construct, which works as a unit’s one-stop shop for the management, planning and implementation of fielding and reset. The
G3/5/7 will set JBC-P prioritization based on units’ anticipated deployments, exercises and training events, said Ed Lauer, JBC-P platform fielding team lead. Under USF, a unit is defined as a brigade, including its subordinate battalions and companies.
To cut two years from the original plan, PM Mission Command is increasing the size of its training and fielding teams, which are based at Fort Hood, Texas. It is also ramping up procurement of the vehicle hardware and software platforms.
Currently, JBC-P is fielded to 17 units, with 18 additional units slated for fiscal year 2018. The significant build-up will begin in fiscal year 2019, with 50 to 70 units per year to be fielded and trained under the accelerated plan, versus the previous schedule of 30 to 50 units. About 98,000 MFoCS platforms will be in place by 2024.
“Our fielding coordination teams do a lot of work at Fort Hood before we hit the ground. We’re doing hundreds of installations and Soldier trainings for each unit,” Lauer said. “We have to make sure the vehicles are in good, working condition and the proper Soldiers are available and ready to be trained.”
Col. Troy Crosby, project manager for Mission Command, said the decision to accelerate the fielding pace is critical to improve Soldier experience by enabling them to better plan, monitor and execute missions.
“We’re providing a critical capability for Soldiers as the Army retains its technological edge ahead of potential adversaries,” Crosby said.
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army’s mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army’s joint, coalition and other mission partners.
Fort Benning’s Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex hosted a maneuver live fire demonstration of robotics and autonomous systems, as part of the Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy Summit. Senior Army leaders gathered with engineers and scientists to discuss how developments like these align capabilities and technologies with the maneuver strategies of the future. Donald Sando, Director of Capabilities Development and Integration, Maneuver Center of Excellence said, “At the Maneuver Center, as we look to improve maneuver force capabilities for the future, it’s very important we collaborate with the army labs, research development and engineering command, and also our defense industry partners.”
Autonomous weapons platforms give the Army overmatch capabilities using innovation and technology. These technologies play an integral role, are designed to increase mobility, lethality, and protection of the maneuver force.
“By using automation, I can provide a capability much closer to the tactical edge.” said, Dr. Robert Sadowski, Robotics Senior Research Scientist, U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC)
The result is reduced risk to Soldiers and units, increased opportunities for efficiencies, and a differential advantage over U.S. adversaries. Fort Benning is the center of gravity in the Army for producing trained combat Soldiers and is the primary driver for development of the future force.