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Opinion | An army command like no other is about to seize the future of warfare

Opinion | An army command like no other is about to seize the future of warfare


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AUSTIN Each year on Memorial Day, we honor the bravery and sacrifice of the American military. However, many of them died needlessly because the army was ill-prepared for the war it had to wage. From the First Battle of Bull Run (1861) to the Kasserin Pass (1943) to Task Force Smith in Korea (1950) and the Iraqi Mutiny (2003), U.S. forces often fought in the early battles of the war. have been defeated. In the years to come, such failures could have even more devastating consequences than in the past. The job of the Army Futures Command (AFC) is to prevent that from happening.

It is an army unit like no other. I have visited many military bases that look familiar. As you get closer, you’ll see pawn shops, honky tonks, and tattoo parlors. Entering from the guard post, the base is spread out for miles with barracks, canteens, PXs, office buildings, training grounds, and more.

In contrast, to get to the Army Futures Command, enter a skyscraper in downtown Austin and take the elevator up to a floor similar to other offices. Most of the workers wear plain clothes rather than military uniforms, and I don’t see anyone saluting others. The order’s raison d’être is to tap into the changing technology pioneered by the private sector, and to maintain the traditional Army spit-honing technology is the raison d’etre of many high-tech companies with major offices in Austin. would create unnecessary barriers to cooperation with

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) was the inspiration for the creation of the Command in 2018. Three years earlier, in 2015, Mr. McCain, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked General Mark A. Milley a tough question. He was appointed Army Chief of Staff. (Milley later became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) At that point, the Army was reeling from the cancellation of expensive and high-profile weapons programs, including the Future Combat Systems program, which was supposed to produce the next generation of armored weapons. Was. vehicle.

Reverend Colbert I King: On this Memorial Day, remember service and sacrifice.

Millie recalled McCain telling him, “You really have some serious challenges here. Think about how you’re going to reform the Army.” Thus was born the concept of moving all of the Army’s modernization functions under one roof and keeping the organization far from its traditional military bases. (After more than 40 years in the uniform and preparing to retire, Millie told me Friday that the AFC is one of the things we’ve accomplished that I’m most proud of.)

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The need for such a command was first emphasized by the Ukrainian War. The war in Ukraine resembles the trench warfare of World War I in some respects, but adaptations are occurring at breakneck speed in everything from drones to electronic warfare to air defense. One example: the U.S. High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which was a virtual threat to Ukrainians last summer, was severely compromised by Russia’s jamming of GPS signals. The Ukrainian side now has to develop countermeasures against Russian countermeasures.

I can’t think of a time in history since the eve of World War II when massive amounts of disruptive technology had such a large impact on warfare, AFC commander Gen. Gen. James E. Rainey told me. It’s crazy how fast things change.

The work of Rainey and the more than 20,000 personnel under his command will enable the Army to keep pace with developments in areas such as robotics, quantum computing, hypersonics, directed energy and artificial intelligence. to develop technologies and concepts to .

Rainey said he has had challenging jobs, such as a battalion commander in combat. But of all the jobs I’ve had, the amount of learning required for this job surpasses my previous jobs. He said he had some knowledge of subjects ranging from artificial intelligence to the acquisition of the Army before he took office last fall, but since then he has had to take it up to doctoral level. rice field.

He does this by hiring a number of actual PhDs and listening to a number of external advisors. I visited AFC headquarters in early May with a group of military analysts. Mr. Rainey also regularly convenes meetings with technology experts to break the closed atmosphere that characterizes the military.

Significant organizational change was required to enable the Army to accelerate the pace of technology adaptation. The Army Applied Research Laboratory, a division of the AFC, is funding prototype projects from tech start-ups and is run by Casey Purley, a young civilian with a PhD in molecular genetics and microbiology. It is Her office is just like Silicon Valley, in Austin’s Capital Factory, a co-working space for tech entrepreneurs.

Another AFC division, the Army Software Factory, is located at a community college in Austin. Its commanding officer, Colonel Vito Errico, graduated from West Point University, earned his MBA from Yale University, and oversaw his group of 200 civilian and military programmers developing software solutions for the Army. I’m here. The company’s programmers are regularly sent to army units around the world to solve problems on the fly. Errico said he doesn’t care about your status or background, he just cares about your coding ability. One of his team members, Sgt., a talented programmer, said he was leaving the Army because he had grown tired of security duties in his previous assignments. However, given the opportunity to pursue his passion for coding, he renewed his six-year contract.

The paper’s view: On this Memorial Day, remember young lives cut short

The AFC’s goal is to prepare the Army for the battlefield in 2040, the target date set by Command, through projects such as Robot Platoon. Rainey told me he wasn’t going to endorse the Terminator or RoboCop. His goal is to make human platoons more lethal and survivable in future battles when evading detection by pervasive sensors, many of which are on drones, will be nearly impossible. . The solution pursued by the AFC would combine manned and unmanned vehicles into a single force so that, as Laney said, soldiers, the most valuable weapon system, never make first contact with the enemy. It is to do so.

He told me he didn’t expect it to work. The goal is really not to misunderstand. We want to get to his 70% solution, recognize what went wrong, and adapt faster than his opponent.

The challenges of future warfare will not only be technical, but ethical. Advances in artificial intelligence will allow nations to deploy autonomous weapons capable of killing without human control. Rainey draws a line there. He told me that I believe the U.S. military will continue to be a values-based military, meaning that it will comply with the laws of armed conflict. Therefore, the Army should not let automated AI make decisions that take human lives, he said. Of course, a dictatorship like China would have little qualms about unleashing killer robots that can make decisions faster than humans.

Despite the AFC’s brave talk of innovation, it is still part of one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, the Pentagon. Weapons can be developed, but cannot be obtained in large quantities. That’s the job of the Department of Defense acquisition bureaucrats. Therefore, it remains to be seen how successful this five-year command will be in accelerating the Army’s innovation metabolism. But we must at least give credit to the Army for trying to be better prepared for future wars than it was for the past.

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