Radio nets are quiet as the task force commander monitors and adjusts planned actions from the assault position. Company A just secured an intermediate objective and foothold in the designated block of buildings—though making little contact, the company re-tasks an autonomous platoon into the sewers below the buildings to recon forward.
Company B’s unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) move to the next overwatch position and perch, providing persistent overwatch and extending a protected network bubble as the task force dispatches a robotic breach element four streets back to remove a hastily laid obstacle. In the air, Company C is prepared to air-insert at one of three possible landing zones and awaits the task force commander’s decision. Company C will secure key bridges outside of town and is supported by a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses mission with extended-range cannons.
Company D, with the short-range air defense platoon, remains concealed, dispersed and preparing to exploit once breach points are secure. Attack aviation, UAS spotters and fire support destroy a reinforcing element attempting to flank Company A’s advance. Conditions are set; execution now rests with the small-unit leaders.
Approaching the Army’s 2028 Multi-Domain Operations waypoint, complex operations like this imagined one are within reach. However, soldier proficiency with all that capability is unlikely unless the Army moves faster—a lot faster—to integrate artificial intelligence capability.
Development of the Army’s eight cross-functional teams to drive the Army’s six modernization priorities was a needed jolt in developing capabilities to meet the demands of the future battlefield.
Still, as the Army evolves, there is more to do to validate and integrate these capabilities quickly and get them to where they are needed: into the hands of soldiers for refinement and improvement. To achieve the integrated overmatch required to dominate into the mid-21st century, it might be OK to “run with scissors” when it comes to artificial intelligence—not recklessly, but deliberately, with resources, focus and a sense of purpose.
The Army’s mission of close combat is personal—human to human—and necessitates focus on equipping and training soldiers and teams with key components of weapons/platforms, artificial intelligence and data. These components are the ingredients that enable soldier success when performing the basic functions of move, shoot, communicate, sustain and protect envisioned in multidomain operations.
While cross-functional teams remain focused on weapon and platform capability development, full doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy (DOTMLPF-P) integration requires acceleration and Army headquarters centralization using advanced analytics to optimize the Army’s staffing, training, equipping and sustaining enterprise to prepare the tactical formation for the challenge posed by the 2028 Multi-Domain Operations waypoint.
With a centralized, shared vision and performance data, advanced analytics will utilize data to assess and project how the components of soldier/team, weapon/platform and artificial intelligence bring integrated capabilities to bear.
As these components complement and overlap, they are probably best visualized as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram, with data underpinning all three. Advanced analytics offer greater efficiency, repetition and insights throughout the process to assess the value of fully integrated capability in the hands of soldiers. This helps discover gaps, seams, disconnects and opportunities, and accelerates necessary refinements earlier in the process. It also ensures optimization of these capabilities when they find their way to the deployed unit leader.
Highly interdependent teams have roles and responsibilities for each teammate in various environments. For systems development, human systems integration is critical, focusing on the warfighter’s role and a goal of tailoring integrated DOTMLPF-P solutions to enable the soldier and the team to accomplish their mission.
One clear modelable advantage the Army possesses is its leader development program. Over years of trial, the Army has developed rubrics to guide this development. As sophistication and complexity increase, these rubrics will stretch to accommodate cognitive capability and distributed decision-making at more junior levels in tactical formations.
Huge gains are possible as current rubrics are applied and adjusted to the co-adaptation needed for the soldier-artificial intelligence team.
There is an opportunity to leverage the modernization jump-start that the cross-functional teams have created.
At the soldier/team level, the intuitive feel and useability of weapons/platforms stand out as measures for how to enable soldiers in the chaos and uncertainty of combat. A soldier’s confidence in the capability the weapon/platform provides, as well as the “fit” of the composite system, all lead to combat potential and, eventually, to on-the-ground results.
All can be increased by advanced analytics in both pre-fielding development testing and post-fielding refinements through simulated repetitions in a synthetic training environment.
Combining the soldier/team with an intuitive-feeling weapon/platform and artificial intelligence creates opportunity that can be scaled at varying degrees of autonomy and results in multiple decision dilemmas for the enemy.
Artificial intelligence significantly changes every aspect of how the Army and its units deter, deploy, fight, win and reset. It is a tool, an assistant or the brains behind autonomous capability that maneuvers as part of the combined arms force.
At the tactical level, artificial intelligence can and should affect all warfighting functions and change how to detect, track, target and engage threats.
It also should accurately forecast battle-damaged and logistics resupply requirements. Artificial intelligence teaming lifts the soldier’s burden when fatigue, physical and mental stress, and uncertainty could cloud judgment.
It not only provides autonomous and semi-autonomous capabilities, but it also enhances decision support through rapid course-of-action development using data from otherwise incalculable sources.
This leads to time-compressed alternative analysis and frees the soldier to focus on task execution. The compression of tactical, operational and strategic levels establishes a broader context for artificial intelligence’s role in military operations.
Relying on Data
Digital systems rely on data to feed models and develop representations of the analog world. Data types span a wide berth—operational, environmental, performance, demographic, spatiotemporal and others—most of which can drive a deeper understanding through advanced analytics.
Along with an increasing and seemingly insatiable reliance on data comes the need for increased standards, curation, security and storage.
Effective data operations ensure collection and curation of authoritative data from a variety of sources and make it accessible, visible, formatted, appropriately structured, cloud-based and usable for multiple programs instead of just a singular program. Strict ground rules must be developed to protect and transport Army data—across the enterprise and to the tactical edge—to deny an enemy avenue for agile, cheap and effective countermeasures that strip artificial intelligence and autonomous capability from the service’s arsenal.
Leveraging Advanced Analytics
The character of combat is under rapid and consequential change. Regaining or retaining overmatch requires agile practices and the injection of technology at every level, from robotic automation of simple tasks to using artificial intelligence to inform and enhance human decision-making.
This spans warfighting functions and will make a difference in how the Army fights and how it sustains the fight with capabilities like prognostic and predictive maintenance and advanced manufacturing. Data and advanced analytics must be prioritized and leveraged to hasten capabilities integration.
Considerations for integrated capability include:
- Increasing soldier touch points with emerging capability by creating virtual environments for testing and training to refine continuously, even after fielding. Investing in a consolidated modeling and simulation effort for all cross-functional teams’ capabilities will increase soldier touch points for refining capabilities and accelerating the developmental testing of systems before spending resources for “golden data” for operational testing. Training repetitions must be increased for the soldier-artificial intelligence team to build proficiency and develop trust. The complexity and challenges of multidomain operations will require dynamic adjustment even after fielding. The enemy will try to disrupt these capabilities constantly.
- Increasing the digital acumen of the force. The Army’s competitive advantage is in developing soldiers and leaders. Next-generation soldiers and teams must operate, without hesitation, in a digitally enabled environment while maintaining the skills to operate temporarily without technology. Talent acquisition and leader development must be adjusted in stride to account for these required skills.
- Making artificial intelligence a teammate as opposed to an appendage. Artificial intelligence teammates come with the mathematical computing power to analyze and affect billions of calculations and alternatives without the fatigue that can cloud tactical judgment. Humans bring innovation and ideas that are “outside the box.” Together, once trust is established, they will continue their development and perform as an effective team.
- Giving data its due. Army headquarters has started down the path to link enterprise data to the tactical edge with the establishment and empowerment of the chief information officer, which further strengthens the key role of the Army’s chief data officer. This model needs to be operationalized to tactical formations to professionalize and optimize data operations.
Integration is tantamount to the Army’s collective success and investments. The U.S. Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams’ power is the focus they bring to develop capabilities that soldiers need. Can the Army we need be achieved in 2028, 2035 and beyond? Time will tell, but regardless of whether the goals are realistic or ambitious, the impending threat will not wait.
Army design plans cannot be held to incremental improvements on already antiquated platforms—not when the goal is to deter and, when necessary, deploy, fight and win.
To move ahead at the pace needed, advanced analytics must be leveraged to fully integrate data and artificial intelligence. These capabilities, as well as talent acquisition and development, must be put through constant assessment with embedded touch points at combat training centers and in the synthetic training environment.
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Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, U.S. Army retired, is a principal with LMI, a government consulting firm based in Tysons, Virginia. Previously, he was commanding general, Brigade Modernization Command, and before that, he served as commander, Operations Group, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
Shawn Weil is a senior executive and principal cognitive scientist at Aptima Inc., a firm that focuses on problems at the nexus of human performance and the data sciences based in Woburn, Massachusetts. He holds a doctorate in cognitive/experimental psychology from Ohio State University.
Josh Wilson is a senior executive with LMI. During seven years on active duty as an Army combat engineer, he led units on multiple tours in Iraq. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, and received a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Missouri.