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Army Weapons Developers are Seeking to Maintain a Technological Edge

Army weapons developers want to insert new technologies into acquisition programs as they emerge

Army weapons developers are taking steps to keep pace with rapid global technological change in order to ensure that America’s ground force retains its edge against a wide range of potential adversaries.

Attendees at a recent acquisition training course near Washington, D.C., were acutely aware of how challenging it will be for the U.S. Army to sustain its global technological superiority as other countries and potential adversaries acquire a wide range of new weapons.

Some of these technologies include ground-based precision munitions, next-generation communications and networking gear, drones, electronic warfare capability and cyber-attack potential.

The “Army Acquisition Leader Preparation Course” was conceived of to ensure that service leaders, program managers and developing acquisition leaders have occasion to refine their perspectives and expand their thinking regarding how best to navigate the waters of future uncertainty.

Both terrorist groups and so-called near-peer competitors such as China and Russia are working on acquiring or developing many, if not all, of the above cited technologies, making the Army’s future operating environment increasingly complex and threatening, service officials explained.

“How are we going to move into the future in the current operating environment where things move so fast? The goal here is, from an acquisition leader standpoint, to get out in front and innovate – starting with how we train our acquisition leaders,” Col. Jack Dills, former Executive Officer for the Military Deputy for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year. 

As a result of all these phenomena, weapons developers and program managers at the acquisition conference were focused on maintaining an ability to quickly spiral in emerging technologies throughout the trajectory of a program’s development and maturation, Dills explained.

“How do you work within a program baseline to be able to get the right negotiations and adjustments in place? What do I trade-off to keep development moving fast?” Dills asked.

Dills offered the example of cellular communications networks, explaining that third world countries do not have the existing infrastructure of towers and wires to consider and can therefore more quickly embrace and implement the most current technologies.

“Given the rapid pace of technological change, we need to allow for technology insertion. We have creative intelligent adversaries and they are not going to wait on an acquisition process to build the latest and greatest weaponry against us,” Dills added.

In some cases, third world or less advanced adversaries could have an unexpected or surprising advantage when it comes to implementing the latest technologies.

“If you look at adversaries that do not have the huge infrastructure that we have — they are able to move quickly. In the U.S., we have a lot of investment in generation 2 wireless technology, some of which is cumbersome and slow. This makes it harder to move to a generation 4 wireless network. If you are in Africa, you can just buy the latest technology and throw up towers,” Dills explained.

Similar phenomena may indeed be true for other technological systems with which the U.S. wants to retain an ability to upgrade quickly as needed in order to stay ahead of the global growth curve.  

Commercial technology is increasingly progressing at an alarming rate to a degree that will very likely impact Army acquisition, At the same time, the Army’s acquisition community should use commercial-off-the-shelf innovations to the degree necessary but stop short of relying on it too much, Dills explained.

Commercial technologies are available to everyone, including adversaries, Dills explained. As a result, the U.S. Army should seek to quickly develop its own military systems and technologies in order to stay ahead of adversaries.

“How do we ensure coms (communications technologies) that are resilient if there is a denial of service attack? How do we bounce to the next line of coms if we need to go from satellite to terrestrial coms?” Dills asked.

Technological progress has always been a huge factor in military development. Historians have made much of innovations and next-generation tactics such as the German tank warfare, and Blitz Krieg, in World War II.  Also, the advent of the U.S. military’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or GPS-guided precision air attack set a new unprecedented global standard in the Gulf War.

With this in mind, the Army approaches its future combat environment in terms of “expecting the unexpected” and wants to be ready for a wide range of potential challenges from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism and possible full-scale mechanized warfare against “near peer” adversaries.

While innovation has consistently shaped the history of conflict, never has the pace of innovation been quite as fast as it is now, Army acquisition leaders explained.

“What is different is the pace. The pace of change is dramatically different and increasing at a dramatically different rate. We want to be proactive about what we are going to see in future global threats as a community. We want to be able to react to what we cannot predict and prepare our leaders on how to approach problem,” Craig Spisak, Director of the Army Acquisition Support Center, said.  

Part of the rationale is to expose growing acquisition leaders to professionals from a wide range of environments to include academics, industry experts and government officials from other agencies, Lt. Col. Al Niles told Scout Warrior.

“It is important to be able to have a network of senior leaders so that acquisition officers have a data base that we can draw upon,” Niles explained.

Spisak emphasized that innovations were being pursued for the simple, unambiguous reason that they increase the prospect of soldiers returning home from combat.

“At the end of the day the American public wants us to do the best we can do. We want to make sure that we are giving them every possible thing to ensure that they are executing their mission effectively, doing so in as safe an environment as possible and that they are coming home to their loved ones,” Spisak said.

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