Innovators seek out solutions to Army tech challenges

January 06, 2016

"To ensure that when we send Soldiers into battle, they have the full might and weight of the United States behind them" is the purpose of his organization, Lt. Col. R. Scot Peeke told an audience of about 300 scientists and engineers.

The chief of the innovation branch along with four other speakers from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)/Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) spent the day at Adelphi Laboratory Center talking about future Army technology needs and capabilities.

Army researchers outside the Army Research Laboratory who were also interested in the future operational environment joined the RDECOM/ARL/TRADOC/ARCIC Collaboration Exchange Meeting on Dec. 15 through streaming video available to Army technology partners.

"It was the 50,000-foot level view of where the Army is going in the future," said Dr. Troy Alexander, associate for strategic planning at ARL. "We need to understand to those challenges from the operational perspective."

Army science and technology (S&T) is positioned to have the most compelling argument for innovation. "But when we look at the concerns for the future it is fair to say that there is room for improvement," Peeke said.

The second speaker, Nicholas Eremita, the deputy division chief of Joint and Army Concepts within ARCIC, is a veteran of the military, where he got a start in mechanical engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Eremita talked about the Army Operating Concept and operational issues on a grand scale that sounded similar to what ARL faces by going beyond functions to operating from a more cross-cutting, campaign perspective.

"We have to think about war and warfare differently," he said. "Helping to shape and understand the Army Operating Concept that guides the approach is an ongoing debate."

Dr. Kira Hutchinson, who has a background in chemistry, talked to researchers about one of the new ideas to bring in fresh perspective: the Mad Scientist Initiative. She invited the workforce to participate in the next conference for the program, which helps TRADOC maintain a perspective on understanding the far-future operational environment.

One of the last talks of the day was about the Army's capabilities, needs, and critical gaps. Lt. Col. Eric McAllister, chief of TRADOC's capabilities-assessment branch, delved into the idea of concept to capabilities for the future force. As the Army becomes more expeditionary in nature, he said, the question is about where it could afford to take risks.

The talks around issues like how the Army fought in the past versus the developing new normal were spirited.

"Operational Army and S&T speak different languages," said Michael Zoltoski, lethality division chief at ARL, who brought up questions about autonomous systems and about overmatch gaps.

The challenge that researchers face, Zoltoski said, is talking about technology in a way that considers the end capability that the Army needs; then, vice versa for operational counterparts to consider the fundamental research that will lead to capabilities decades from now.

Peeke spoke in terms of developing capabilities in support of the Army's 11 missions. He said S&T should be involved from the earliest stages of looking into warfighting challenges that guide the Army's approach.

"That whole point of the expeditionary nature is a new concept to many of us and the impact is far reaching," Alexander said. "Soldiers on the ground will have to rapidly transition, so what does that mean in terms of technology requirements?"

Alexander said, "The only way we get to game-changing technology is by having frank discussion about what will be best for national security and for the Warfighter."

Innovators from the operational Army and from ARL are both driven to protect the Warfighter, he said. "We don't have all of the answers. But if we are working together as one Army, we will get closer to solutions."

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Last Update / Reviewed: January 6, 2016