The Army’s Force of the Future

The U.S. Army plans to deliver actionable geospatial insight to forward-deployed forces as part of its modernization plans.

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The success of the United States Army’s modernization efforts depends in part on its ability to envision the tactics and technologies that will define future conflicts. Thanks to geospatial intelligence, those conflicts may look quite different than past engagements.

“You can’t hide. So we’re calling it a transparent battlefield,” said Brigadier General Stephanie Ahern, director of concepts at the Futures and Concepts Center at U.S. Army Futures Command, during a panel discussion at the GEOINT 2022 symposium. “If people—whether it’s actual countries or people across the community—want to be able to see things, they can usually find you. And if they can find you, you’re really at risk of survival.”

Yet geospatial technology and intelligence also carries the promise of providing forward-deployed forces with the resources they need to operate successfully, even in an environment where it is difficult to surprise the enemy. Supplying those battalion-level troops with the insights they need to make decisions is a centerpiece of the Army’s approach to modernization.

“If you can’t get that [data-driven insight] down to a tactical user in the field, in a format that they can rapidly use, then you’ve got a lot of persistence but no real war-fighting capability,” said Willie Nelson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, and former director of the Assured Precision Navigation and Timing cross-functional team at U.S. Army Futures Command. Nelson spoke as part of the GEOINT panel discussion on Army modernization.

One focal point of the Army’s new Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node (TITAN) is to ensure that forward-deployed forces have access to geospatial intelligence that can be quickly translated into actionable insight.

“TITAN gets described as the next-generation ground station, but it’s way more than that. It is the future key analytic node for the Army, at least at the operational and tactical level,” said Colonel James Blejski, director of Army G8 Force Development, Intelligence and Electronic Warfare and the Department of the Army.

Translating geospatial data into the sort of insight that forward-deployed forces can act on is easier than done, for several reasons. One challenge is that the Army relies on industry partnerships both to acquire and analyze geospatial data. There can be a tension between protecting proprietary algorithms and technology, and making data accessible to forward-deployed forces.

“We are absolutely open-minded about how we want to deliver that data. There’s no parochialism, right? We want to protect your intelligence property as an industry partner, but we want to do it in a way that [enables us to] share that information,” said Mark Kitz, program executive officer for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors at the Department of the Army, speaking as part of the GEOINT panel discussion. Kitz pledged to commercial partners that the Army would take a “common-sense approach on how we can deliver that data“—but emphasized that geospatial data and insight needed be delivered in a way that was useful to forward-deployed forces, and that could be integrated with other sources of data and intelligence.

Addressing those format and delivery considerations takes on added significance because in future conflicts, geospatial data and insights will likely need to be shared with partners outside the Army.

“We’re not going to [fight] alone, we’re going to do it in a coalition setting, and we’re going to have to be able to share this information rapidly because we are going to fight outnumbered,” said Major General John Rafferty, commander of the Long Range Precision Fires cross-functional team at U.S. Army Futures Command.

Ultimately, said Major General Rafferty, the Army’s modernization effort depends on whether emerging technologies and insight benefit forces making heat-of-battle decisions.

“How do you take a people-first approach to modernization? Everything’s about the soldier who’s going to fight [using emerging combat technology],” said Major General Rafferty. The litmus test for next-gen tech is whether it proves useful in action: “Put it in the hands of soldiers in a relevant and challenging environment, under tough and demanding conditions, and let’s see what they can do.”

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