Army researcher witnesses human impact of modernization

October 11, 2016

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 11, 2016) -- Researchers and scientists join the civilian workforce for a multitude of reasons. Some join because of their military backgrounds, others are from a military families, most all are drawn to public service because they share a passion to support America's service men and women.

Dr. John K. Hawley, an engineering psychologist with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, said he has always had an interest in military history and is particularly interested in the history of military innovation—specifically the impact of technological innovation on the human side of military operations.

Hawley, who has been working at ARL for nearly 15 years, got his start at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, where he was a branch chief for a few years before moving to Fort Bliss to oversee an investigation of human factors and human performance contributors to the challenges involving the Patriot air and missile defense system during Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a former air defense officer, Hawley worked extensively with Patriot and other air defense systems—giving him the needed experience. Before joining ARL, he worked for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences at their field office in Texas Fort Bliss and also in Alexandria, Virginia, and spent several years working in the private sector.

"I generally liked working for small technology-oriented companies. I got involved in MANPRINT (now Human Systems Integration, or HSI) while working for ARI in the mid-1980s, and I guess that experience has followed me throughout my career," Hawley said. "Working HSI has kept me close to technical and doctrinal innovations in the Army. For the past four years I've been involved in the Army's Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs, exercises to support Soldier readiness."

NIEs are designed to help the Army keep pace with rapid advances in communications technologies and deliver integrated network and mission command capabilities, a top Army modernization priority for readiness.

The NIEs are a series of semiannual exercises intended to integrate and mature the Army's tactical network in an operational context. During an NIE, the Army conducts integrated and parallel operational tests of selected Army programs of record, evaluates developmental and emerging network capabilities in an operational environment, and assesses non-networked capabilities in an integrated operational environment.

"The Army is in the midst of an extensive modernization move into network-enabled operations. The centerpiece of this modernization initiative has been the NIEs," said Hawley. "New equipment suites for network-enabled operations are tried out first in the NIEs."

The first exercise in each yearly sequence is now referred to an Army Warfighting Assessment. The assessments focus on future Army warfighting challenges, non-materiel aspects of force modernization, and joint and multinational interoperability. The exercises are held at Fort Bliss and, as the exercises unfold, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

"We get a chance to look at new digital mission command systems and networking gear in the aggregate, as systems of systems, and 'in the wild' — as used within an integrated operational environment," said Hawley.

"I got deeply into that topic as co-lead on the HSI effort for the Future Combat Systems program while I was at APG. Now, with the NIEs I feel like I have a front row seat during a major modernization initiative and am able to observe and write about the human impact of modernization. Technology, particularly information and communications technology such as that employed in network-enabled operations, can have a very disruptive impact on receiving organizations.

"The Army generally does not deal adequately with those disruptive impacts. I have defined my current job as documenting and characterizing the nature of those disruptive impacts, identifying potential solutions, and working with proponents to implement those solutions. Solutions usually involve changes in doctrine, organization, training, leader preparation, and personnel—the so called DOTLP domains. It's HSI on a bigger stage."

Hawley has experienced a great deal throughout his 40-year professional career. When he's not at work, he said he likes to read a lot both professionally and for pleasure, and for more than 20 years has been an avid cyclist.

"I stay in the game because I really like the applied work that I'm currently doing," he said. It's fun. Also, at this stage of my professional career, I'm very interested in making things work better for the Army while using all their new network-enabled gear."

Hawley said his research experience and what he's learned over the years can help.

"They need a translator to make that vast body of information available to them and relevant to their problems," he said. "To do that, you have to have one foot in the technical world and another in the operational world, so to speak. You have to understand their world as they experience it, what makes some of these equipment suites hard to use and what could be done to make their job easier."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: October 11, 2016