WASHINGTON — Not one of the U.S. Army’s 35 signature systems it is pursuing to achieve a modernized force by 2030 will depend on another’s success or failure, service leaders told the audience Monday at a Defense News-hosted event during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The Army failed big in modernization efforts in the early 2000s to develop the sprawling Futures Combat Systems program, centered around a network that connected new vehicles, drones and other technology.
In the case of that program, “everything was interdependent with one another,” said Lt. Gen. Ross Coffman, deputy commander of Army Futures Command. “If one fell, then it impacted them all.”
The service is trying something new: setting up Army Futures Command to help build requirements and see development through, from science and technology projects all the way to prototyping. The service has already established six modernization priorities — long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, the network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality — and the plan is to develop and field 35 signature systems that bring capability across those priority areas by 2030.
Will long-range precision fires, optionally manned fighting vehicles and robots be interdependent on the battlefield, Coffman asked. “Yes, we have to be able to shoot, move, communicate and sustain [so] that we can impose our will on the enemy. But if one of these systems is set back by six months or a year, it’s not a house of cards.”
Legacy systems in the force will offer a level of redundancy in capability, “albeit not as capable,” Coffman added.
The one area that could be considered a linchpin across capability is the network, said Army acquisition chief Doug Bush. “So not everything is dependent on our new networking technology, but a lot of it is, and that’s a lot of the work we’re doing in Project Convergence — is to figure out how to do that networking.”
Project Convergence is the Army’s annual campaign of learning where the service, the joint force and now coalition partners come together to experiment with capabilities they expect to have by 2030 or beyond. The effort helps the service figure out what works, what doesn’t, how much it will need and how capabilities should be used.
To modernize the force and all the capabilities that go along with the effort, forces must be able to communicate while “the enemy is trying to take your network down,” Bush said.
“This is graduate-level networking against a very sophisticated enemy, and that’s a difficult thing to do. But if I had to pick one thing that’s cross-cutting and enables everything, it’s the network,” he added.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.