COMMENTARY

Army invests in science and tech to gain the advantage

Science and technology have always been a source of decisive economic and military advantage. Today, scientific advancements are critical to the United States to counter the economic and military advances of potential adversaries. The widespread dispersion of technology affords even adversaries of modest means the pathway for acquiring sophisticated capabilities. 

Military science and technology investments now are directed toward assuring our forces can maintain dominance in all warfighting domains. China and Russia, near-peer adversaries and state-level strategic competitors are heavily investing in science and technology to gain economic and military advantages. North Korea and Iran also pursue advanced military capabilities to extend their influence through a mixture of nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional and unconventional weapons and ballistic missile capabilities. Increasingly, it is difficult to separate the economic and military reasons for investment in research and development. 

In his 2018 National Defense Strategy, Secretary James Mattis said we operate now in an increasingly complex security environment defined by rapid technological change, with challenges from our adversaries in every domain. The ability to advance our capabilities and to maintain technological superiority depends on our commitment to scientific and technological achievement.

On July 31, the White House released its research and development budget priorities guidance for federal agencies in developing their fiscal year 2020 budgets. The underlying goal is for us to be the nation that leads in emerging technologies, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing, to biotechnology, advanced wireless communications and space commercialization.

Each of these has far-reaching economic and military consequence. These priorities are: security of the American people; leadership in artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences and strategic computing; connectivity and autonomy; manufacturing; space exploration and commercialization; energy dominance; medical innovation; and agriculture.

This year, NDIA partnered with the Army to restart its science and technology conference. This important event – formally the Army Science & Technology Symposium and Showcase, Aug. 21-23 in Washington – will bring together the entire Army science and technology (S&T) enterprise to review the program and assess progress, needs, priorities and strategy. Thought leaders, researchers and warfighters alike will meet to discuss the latest emerging technologies for the Army, options that enable effective, affordable capabilities to ensure success on the battlefield and beyond. 

Topics include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical-lift platforms, networked hardware, software and infrastructure, air and missile defense, soldier lethality, future technologies and workforce and STEM training.

The Army’s S&T programs are an investment in its future, providing and informing technological options to senior leadership and acquisition programs. More than 22 Army laboratories, research, development and engineering centers and research institutes comprise this enterprise. Together, they pursue distinct but interconnected roles: fundamental research, technology investigation, technology options, innovation, experimental prototyping and systems improvement, and quick reaction. 

To effectively meet the operational challenges and emerging threats in 2025, the Army is developing future capabilities to include the ability to operate freely in the electromagnetic spectrum; maintaining secure, reliable communications and accurate position navigation and timing capabilities; and developing advanced systems to protect and defend ground platforms.

Conversely, to defeat more technologically advanced threat protective systems, the Army must develop advanced capabilities such as directed energy weapons and autonomous vehicles, along with enhancing conventional capabilities. Soon, Army forces will apply cross-domain capabilities from land to create synergy across all warfighting domains, ensuring freedom of movement and action for joint forces and allies.

The Army S&T portfolio is focused on accelerating capability concepts, including:

  • Decide faster -- Overwhelming an adversary’s command and control with advanced processing technologies
  • Manned-unmanned teaming -- Teams of manned and autonomous vehicles working in concert with mounted and dismounted forces
  • Asymmetric vision -- Enhanced situational awareness for urban canyons with three-dimensional threats and a dense populace
  • Survive and project indirect fires -- Protect friendly forces to maneuver, close with and defeat enemy forces at the operational and tactical level
  • Sustain a vital in-house workforce and laboratory infrastructure

The Army S&T enterprise is a critical resource for maintaining the service’s capabilities and is the key to enabling concepts and technologies to make the Army more lethal, expeditionary and agile.

About the Author

Retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle is president and chief executive officer of the National Defense Industrial Association.

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