WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has a vision to field a new ground system by the end of the decade that will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help automate processes and cut the time it takes to identify a far-off threat and decide how best to engage it.
For now, soldiers must use spreadsheets, sticky notes and manually toggle between systems to aggregate targeting data. And while soldiers perform that task well, such cumbersome operations become much harder when multiple targets are encountered on a battlefield, according to Courtney Coulter, chief of the decision science branch at Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR Center.
“By the time you do all these functions, go through all these data elements, your timeline is no longer operationally relevant,” she said during an August media event at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. “If you want to be effective in modern warfare, you have to figure out a way to reduce that sensor-to-shooter timeline.”
Coulter’s team is working to develop the Synchronized High OPTEMPO Targeting application, or SHOT, which is informing the Army’s major ground system modernization effort, the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, or TITAN. The Army is requesting $58 million for TITAN in fiscal 2023, and expects to spend about $189 million to develop the system over the next five years. The service’s FY23 budget includes $3.3 million for SHOT, a smaller science and technology effort aimed at supporting TITAN and other Army fires and intelligence solutions.
The Army is designing TITAN as an instrumental piece of the service’s sensor-to-shooter chain, replacing four legacy ground systems with a single platform that can bring together data from multiple domains, process it with AI and machine learning technology, and send that intelligence to systems and decision-makers on the ground. The role of SHOT is to explore ways to reduce the workflow in that kill chain and, as Coulter put it, “to deliver knowledge points to TITAN” that they can use as they develop their ground system.
As part of that process, Coulter explained, the SHOT program leans heavily on engagements with end users, called soldier touch points, to ensure the application they’re building is useful. The team also regularly interacts with chief warrant officers who offer technical design inputs that are then provided to TITAN program leadership.
“It is valuable information that they can use as risk reduction,” she said.
Just as the SHOT program relies on feedback from end users, the broader TITAN program holds quarterly touch points at various locations. During these events, soldiers with different focus areas can try the software, which is under development by Raytheon Technologies and Palantir through a competitive prototyping effort.
Maj. Jeremiah Wright, the Army’s assistant product manager for TITAN, also said Aug. 30 during the media event that the program involves visiting operational units to observe firsthand the challenges that come with using legacy ground systems.
“What that allows us to do is take real-world operational missions and take that feedback so we can bake that into our TITAN solutions,” Wright said. “We’re taking that data, the metrics, that information to inform our final requirements document.”
Scott McGleish, business lead for Raytheon’s C4ISR product development and management efforts, said the company implements most of the feedback it receives from touch points and demonstrations into its software design and user interfaces. “It’s good to get all of the feedback so that we adapt, and we bring that into play,” he told C4ISRNET on Sept. 9.
Bryant Choung, senior vice president for defense technology at Palantir, said in a Sept. 23 email that input on details — like how data is arranged on a screen — ensures the company’s prototype makes the most important information accessible to users.
Wright noted that because TITAN is designed for modularity and the plan is to regularly improve its capability, the Army can continue to leverage user feedback for future upgrades.
Palantir and Raytheon each received $8.5 million in 2021 through other transaction authority contracts under the program’s first development stage, which focused on early design work. In late June, the companies received another $36 million apiece for TITAN’s second phase, which will culminate late next summer with the Army’s selection of a single vendor’s prototype.
The winning contractor will develop two variants: advanced and basic. The former will integrate with tactical trucks, like the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle fleet’s M1083, and will have the ability to ingest sensor data from space systems. The basic variant will be installed on the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and won’t have the space downlink package.
The service plans to buy six advanced and five basic systems.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.