The fundamental character of warfare is changing. Increased globalization and technological evolutions guarantee that if the United States wants to maintain overmatch in all domains — land, sea, air, space and cyberspace — we must adapt and modernize.
As part of this effort, U.S. Army Futures Command was created and placed at the forefront of identifying and implementing cutting-edge and transformational ways to conduct warfare. The future fight will likely be characterized by an incredible lethality in a dispersed environment, in which rapid decision-making will be critical. Therefore, AFC is focused on deepening relationships with the defense industry, both domestically and globally, to leverage state-of-the-art and emerging technologies. This will ensure that the widest range of viewpoints and information are embedded into the technologies being created for the battlefields of the future.
The Army Modernization Strategy revolves heavily around what we call the 3+2 model, (artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomy, along with networks and data) — all critical technological areas of transformation and innovation where we must maintain overmatch. These areas require a broad engagement aperture. As such, AFC is partnering with small and nontraditional businesses, along with our traditional defense partners. The Army is committed to cultivating these partnerships to provide an exemplary contribution to the joint all-domain warfare effort, with particular emphasis on the 3+2 model areas of innovation.
During 2020, our nation faced challenges and conditions not seen for decades. The near-term uncertainty COVID-19 has created will continue into 2021. However, the long-term outlook for the domestic and global defense industry continues to be positive.
As national military requirements evolve and with the current geopolitical environment — including potential hot spots in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East — the U.S. military must remain ready for global contingencies and, when necessary, to fight and win. Robust interconnectivity across the globe has increased the intensity of international competition for the defense industry. Where the United States defense industry once dominated military production, we now see growing trends of state-owned enterprises and government-controlled companies seeking to influence international decision-making and economic outcomes. These organizations have financial backing, lower human capital costs and nationalistic impulses. The combination of these factors creates a strong position for them to compete in the business sector as well as in the geopolitical arena.
Historically, global defense industries focused heavily on large, platform-centric systems and large-scale production programs. However, today’s hyper-information and data-driven technology environment has opened the door to network-centric and information-dependent systems, which are being developed by smaller and niche companies, and which play a critical role in the transformation of warfare. Army Futures Command is the Army’s vanguard for this incredibly critical effort to work with all industries to spur and develop the structural technologies that will enable the Army to achieve victories on future battlefields, wherever they may occur.
Although we will always need conventional platforms and systems, AI and unmanned/remote systems are changing the character of warfare. Future war fighting will likely focus on agile, asymmetric and networked systems that provide information advantage for speed and precision of kinetic and non-kinetic fires. The Army must harness cutting-edge and innovative technologies to achieve overmatch in the face of adversaries pursuing the same.
AFC is leading the Army in partnering with a broad spectrum of domestic and international partners (government and industry) to deliver the technologies and capabilities that will shape the future of warfare. While we face an uncertain future where deterrence and warfare will be fundamentally different, AI, robotics, autonomy and networks are key drivers to help shape this change. These concepts will bring rise to questions surrounding automation and human-machine collaboration, and AFC is working with our partners to address them.
Historical American ingenuity has proved that the ability to affect change is by no means monopolized by large organizations. The nation’s tightening fiscal realities and constraints will offer opportunities to smaller, startup companies to increase their impact on future development and innovation. Smaller entities are often advantaged in this arena due to their agility and responsiveness, a byproduct of lower overhead and a reduced hierarchical decision-making process.
AFC’s challenge is to smooth the obstacles that can hinder effective partnerships with large and small enterprises to shape and forge the future. Army Futures Command is enhancing access and opportunity through our “front door” program to build connective links, collaborate with researchers and forge new industry partners.
As the geopolitical landscape continues to shift and technologies continue to rapidly advance, the character of war will continue to evolve. Army Futures Command remains committed to providing the best solutions to rapidly transform our Army to ensure we maintain technological and war-fighting superiority in the 21st century.
Gen. Mike Murray is the commander of U.S. Army Futures Command.