It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed,
the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
US Army Moves To Improve Electronic-Warfare Tactics
Jen Judson, Defense News 12:44 p.m. EDT July 15, 2016
(Photo: Staff Sgt. Tamika Dillard/US Army)
WASHINGTON — The US Army doesn’t need the Russians to jam its electronic equipment when it can do so itself, according to the Army's Electronic Warfare Division chief.
The service is working to refine its electronic warfare (EW) tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) so there are no surprises on the battlefield when it comes to malfunctioning equipment, Col. Jeffrey Church told Defense News in a recent interview at the Pentagon.
The Army relies on the electromagnetic spectrum for everything from the individual soldier’s communications to precise weapons targeting and situational awareness, but even with this major dependence the service has been slow to develop its EW capability.
With a new Army chief of staff and secretary that want to prioritize countering growing threats in the cyber and electronic realm while protecting the service’s communication networks, Church said the service is now making some positive steps forward in those areas.
One way the Army is tackling its lagging EW capability is by training soldiers how to defend against EW attacks and how to operate electronics in the field properly so they aren't jamming themselves, according to Church. Some of that means getting back to the basics and also managing the spectrum better.
While it wasn’t a prominent aspect of Poland’s national military exercise Anakonda in June, the US Army incorporated EW and cyber events into operations there.
“For safety purposes we did not do any electronic warfare events during the live fire [demonstration at Anakonda],” Church said. Instead the Army used a training mechanism called “white carding” where a unit or a soldier is handed a card that indicates there is a problem, whether it’s mild static or complete silence.
The reason such an approach was taken in the exercise is “sitting next to a Polish town, they would prefer their cellphones and TVs, they prefer that continues to work for the local population," he said.
The Army’s EW office is sorting through the key takeaways from Anakonda, but one issue that became very apparent during the exercise is that spectrum management is still very important, according to Church. “If you don’t deconflict your frequencies, well I don’t need the Russians to jam me if I’m jamming myself, right?"
The Army also realized that it has to get better at deconflicting frequencies, which essentially means enforcing the rules better, according to Church. If a unit is assigned a specific frequency, it should not be using a different frequency.
The Army’s EW division plans next to conduct a major training exercise at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, in August to refine major TTPs for operating in the electromagnetic spectrum, Church said.
The training won’t just address the obvious Russian threat but also issues that could arise due to interference from things like the sun, being too close to other things giving off electricity like a generator, or operating too close to or on a wrong frequency.
The training through NTC will also incorporate a contested cyberspace.
“We are taking a unit in the Army — a brigade combat team — at the peak of its training and we are going to expose them to effects that other nation states who might be adversarial to us — could expose them to in a deployed environment,” Church said. “It probably won’t be a 24/7 ‘black out the spectrum so they can’t talk.’ It’ll be controlled, obviously, under the opposing force. They will have to plan, they will have to execute, they will have to position equipment.”
The hope is the training will be effective in developing TTPs that a brigade combat team could use “right now, today, to minimize the effects of adversaries,” Church said.
But it’s also about going back to the past, in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, when the Army was good at EW because it was facing the Soviet Union. Over the last 15 years of fighting counterinsurgency, the Army has let its training in the area slip.
Going back to basics means “little things” like talking on low power rather than high power, using directional antennas, terrain masking, putting a big hill in between the unit and the enemy so it’s hard for them to jam or even hear the unit. Also, soldiers will need to relearn how to use a map, a compass, and pace counts for orientation, Church said.
Of course, the NTC is a playground for live-jamming practice because it’s in the middle of nowhere, according to Church. But the Army is also figuring out how to train soldiers while they are at home station to handle electronic attacks.
It turns out the service already owns what is calls a direct injection jammer, which has been used for testing equipment during development. Now the EW program office is going to use these to safely train soldiers to handle electronic interference at more urban military bases without jamming a civilian using a GPS on his way to the grocery store to get milk, for example, Church said.
The direct injection jammer is a small box that can be mounted in a vehicle or worn on body armor that plugs into equipment through a cable and is programmed to interfere with what it's plugged into without affecting nearby equipment.
The jammers will make it possible for soldiers to train in foreign countries as well without needing permission to operate in their spectrums and will save the Army time in having to seek permission from entities like the Federal Communications Commission or local airports, Church added.
Meanwhile, the Army is also on track to field the initial version of its Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool in September, according to Church. The tool will allow soldiers to plan, coordinate and synchronize electronic warfare within the electromagnetic spectrum using a computer screen with visual aids.
While the Army is behind, Church said, “we are taking those steps to get caught up ... and get ourselves back into the electromagnetic spectrum, to get ourselves back into the fight and regain our position of dominance.”
The US Army has become very good at fighting low grade counter-insurgency combat operations, unfortunately that means nothing if you have to go up against a half-way competently equipped military and the Russian's and Chinese certainly qualify.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed,
the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
The Doctrine of Military Change: How the US Army Evolves
July 25, 2016
The U.S. Army is often accused of being slow to change and unimaginative. Indeed, these are fairly predictable indictments that have dogged military organizations for centuries. Yet militaries do evolve over time to meet new challenges. The United States entered World War II with the Army’s horse-bound 26th Cavalry Regiment engaging Japanese tanks during the Philippines campaign. By the end of the war, the Army had evolved into a competent and robust mechanized force.Benjamin M. Jensen, Forging the Sword: Doctrinal Change in the U.S. Army (Stanford Security Studies, 2016).
Military theorist J.F.C. Fuller referred to doctrine as “set of principles the Army uses to guide its actions in support of a national objectives.” The Department of Defense, in its quest to make any simple explanation unnecessarily cumbersome, defines doctrine as “fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives.” To put it more simply than this, doctrine provides the lingua franca for military planners and thinkers to effectively discuss the military problems they face.
Since the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army has updated its main operational doctrine publication, Field Manual 3-0, seven times. These revisions included the introduction of Active Defense, Air-Land Battle, and Counterinsurgency doctrine, all of which were major doctrinal shifts designed to meet changing operational environments. So why, then, has the U.S. Army been able to readily make these changes successfully despite the many other examples of military organizations that have proven wholly unable to do so?
This is what Benjamin M. Jensen seeks to answer in his new book, Forging the Sword. Examining the numerous doctrinal changes the Army has undergone since 1975, he identifies two key institutional processes responsible. First, the presence of effective doctrinal incubators within the Army. Second, the persistent efforts of advocacy networks to support proposed changes coming from those same incubators.
Incubators are smaller subunits that exist outside of the existing military bureaucracy. Free to examine future trends and solutions, these incubators are able to devise novel solutions to problems instead of regurgitating current orthodoxy and giving it a fancy new name. The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), long stigmatized as being slow and out-of-touch, has a rich history of creating these incubators to develop new doctrine.
Advocacy networks provide the intellectual forums for leaders across the Army to engage with these new proposed doctrines, critique and improve them, and provide buy-in from leaders at all levels of the organization. Professional associations, journals, and schoolhouses combine to form those networks to foster the spread of new ideas. Today publications such as War on the Rocks and The Strategy Bridge provide key new nodes within those same advocacy networks to engage with new emerging ideas that play outsized roles in the promulgation of new doctrine.
The classic example showing the interplay of incubators and advocacy networks is the creation and adoption of the Air-Land Battle doctrine in the 1980s. Soviet armored units in Europe significantly outnumbered those of NATO. Worse, much of the Soviet advantage came from the huge numbers of follow-on forces that would flow into theater at the onset of conflict. Army planners realized that they would only succeed if they could disrupt the enemy’s rear areas,and consequently would require several key changes in the way the Army viewed the battlefield.
First, unit commanders would have to visualize operations much farther beyond the forward edge of battle than they had before. A division commander would conceivably be expected to influence events 70 kilometers beyond the forward line of troops. A corps commander saw that area of influence extending out to 150 kilometers. This was in turn accompanied by shorter time windows (at or below 96 hours for a corps headquarters) within which those commands would need to engage enemy targets. Second, Army formations would need to make greater use of precision fires and leverage the Air Force to “service” targets behind the lines. This meant U.S. Army ground units working closely with their counterparts in the Air Force, nominating enemy targets behind the forward line of troops to create tactical openings.
Though the Air-Land Battle doctrine was officially created and vetted within TRADOC, study groups at Fort Leavenworth and forward-stationed corps inside Europe began exploring how best to deal with repelling a massive Soviet ground attack in Europe. Once these ideas were proposed, they were then socialized for buy-in in the professional publications of mid-tier officers, such as Infantry and Armor magazine.
These same doctrinal developments both used and drove technological shifts. Military-wide studies identified the potential of precision munitions, creating the so-called “Assault Breaker” concept that so defined the second offset strategy. The demand for those munitions were spurred by other studies that articulated the Soviet threat that the Army would face in the 1980s.
Are Resources a Greater Determining Factor?
How far can incubators and advocacy networks carry a military? Take the example of the French Army. By the end of World War I, despite mid-war morale issues, the French Army was an innovative and aggressive force. Having developed innovative combined arms techniques, the French Army ended the war exhausted but far more capable and innovative than the elan-drunk formations that so disastrously faced German troops in the summer of 1914.
Why then was the French Army so unable to innovate during the interwar period? The French military viewed the importance of doctrine in ways similar and different than the U.S. military does now. The French interwar military argued that doctrine ensured “harmony” between individual military formations. This is similar to the idea that doctrine provides a common language (which in turn provides a degree of harmony), but is also far more restrictive in its conception. If the U.S. conception of doctrine is to provide a common language and series of concepts that can then be flexibly applied by subordinate commanders, the French concept of “harmony” evokes the image of a symphony, not a discourse. This contrasts with what emerged in the United States during the 80s, which could more readily be described as jazz, not a symphony.
For French military theorists of the period, this restrictive nature was a feature, not a bug. Much has been made of the French Army becoming overly fixated on the lessons learned from centrally controlled World War I battles that occurred in the final year of the war. Despite the concepts of mobile warfare by mechanized formations that had begun to emerge in Germany and (to a lesser extent) the United Kingdom, France remained mired largely in static defense.
Why did French theorists fixate on static defense? Voices inside the French Army advocated for a different approach. Charles de Gaulle, for instance, pushed for the adoption of a professional Army organized into mechanized formations. Marshal Philippe Pétain, on the other hand, wanted a large military composed largely of light infantry designed to fight in a defense-in-depth. Both De Gaulle’s and Pétain’s proposals were ignored, largely since they would have put key industrial locations of France, centered on the Franco-German border, directly into the conflict zone.
Borrowing Jensen’s framework, what incubators and advocacy networks existed within the French military? French Army doctrine was developed at the French War College (the École Superieure de Guerre), yet it was the French War College that rehashed the same doctrine of World War I. Advocacy networks also existed. De Gaulle clearly filled that role in his writings, but his ideas clashed dramatically with those of the War College.
Yet the story isn’t nearly as simple as that. Even if the French Army had possessed incubators and advocacy networks, it’s not clear to whom those newly incubated ideas would be advocated. The French High Command did not have clear lines of responsibility to judge new ideas. In a sense, then, the French military was almost too well-suited to doctrinal change. The decentralized system potentially allowed for the creation of incubators, yet no one was in a position to extract their ideas. As such, the French Army was stuck maintaining a “business as usual” approach to doctrine development.
In a larger sense, these failures were the result of larger problems faced by the French state during the interwar period. The privations suffered by the French population during the war, one that was fought largely on French soil, meant the French public expected their “years of agony” (as historian Eugenia Kiesling would term it) to be rewarded. The French military saw its draft period dropped from three years to one, which limited the French military’s ability to function as a coherent force. With soldiers in uniform for just a single year, the French military would in turn have to rely even more heavily on its reserve formations than it had in the past, since the short draft period meant that fewer soldiers were available for military service.
Further, this meant that any doctrine changes made by the French Army were made doubly difficult. In addition to the French High Command’s focus on making do with less, it also faced the prospect training units of reservists who might not be available for training for years at a time. If the High Command introduced too radical a change to the Army’s doctrine, the individual reserve units responsible for fleshing out standing divisions might arrive with a range of different training levels, having each trained on different skills required to enact different doctrines.
Are Structures or Resources Key?
What implications does this hold for the future of doctrine development in the United States Army? As Jensen has ably demonstrated, the Army possesses a robust structure in place to facilitate the development of new doctrine. But does that structure exist because of the relatively resource-rich budget environment that the Army has existed in? Though it has experienced cuts during the “peace dividend” at the conclusion of the Cold War and during sequestration, the U.S. Army has still enjoyed relatively advantageous budget conditions when compared to other NATO armies.
The Army itself actually provides examples of what happens when those resources aren’t nearly so abundant. During President Eisenhower’s New Look Policy during the 1950s, the Army found itself increasingly unable to afford major modernization programs and their associated doctrinal revisions. Under General Maxwell Taylor, the Army adopted the highly criticized “pentomic division” in part because it was unable to afford better alternatives. When General Taylor attempted to acquire new weapons and vehicles that would enable greater mobility and firepower on the nuclear battlefield, the Army found itself overruled, with Taylor being directed to purchase “newfangled” equipment by Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson. According to Taylor, the Army even began to adopt tactical nuclear weapons just to “stake out a claim to a share of the nuclear arsenal.”
This failure had major implications for the Army. As Andrew Bacevich argues, the new organization produced units far less trained and less capable. This is not surprising, given another motivation for this change was the declining budget prompting the Army to cut 100,000 soldiers. Conversely, Air-Land Battle enjoyed a period of relative budget plenty under the Reagan-era defense buildup.
Building organizational structures within the Army is vital for doctrinal innovation. But the Army cannot simply worry about advocacy within its formation. It must also understand the limited environment in which it exists and convey the reality of that environment to outside audiences across government and the national defense community. In the absence of such understanding, the Army will find itself attempting to build upon a foundation of sand, no matter how flexible its doctrine development process.
Luke O’Brien is an Army officer assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground and is currently a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Graduate Fellow at National Defense University. He is also an associate member of the Military Writers Guild. O’Brien’s views are his own, and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or the Army. He can be found on Twitter as @luke_j_obrien.
Army Should Break With DoD’s Modernization Strategy
By Daniel Goure
on July 26, 2016 at 3:12 PM
Gen. Mark Milley CSA in camo
The Army needs to break with DoD’s modernization strategy or risk being broken itself. Simply stated, the Army cannot afford to cut end strength and units in order to free up resources for modernization. This is all the more true if the modernization programs are complex, expensive and will take years to reach IOC. The assessment of the global security environment undergirding DoD’s decision to emphasize capability over capacity is fundamentally at odds with reality.
Since the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Defense Strategic Guidance of 2012, the Pentagon has been cutting the size of the military, retiring obsolescent weapons systems and reducing combat units in order to meet defense budget strictures while salvaging some prospect for modernizing the force. The Army felt the impact of this new strategy more than the other services. It cut 13 Brigade Combat Teams as part of the process of downsizing the Active Component end strength from a wartime high of 570,000 to a planned level of 450,000.
Of late, the pressure to reduce force structure and cut manpower has increased as DoD set itself on a course towards investing in advanced capabilities. As reflected in its so-called Third Offset Strategy, the Pentagon’s leadership believes the military has sufficient capacity or force levels to address today’s challenges, but needs to invest in new technologies in order to reassert its eroding advantage in cutting-edge military capabilities. This focus on capabilities vice capacity or number was reinforced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent directive to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, in which he ordered that service to reduce its intended procurement of the Littoral Combat Ship and apply the savings to acquiring additional advanced tactical aircraft and munitions.
As the new Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley observed in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Right now the level of uncertainty, the velocity of instability, and potential for significant inter-state conflict is higher than it has been since the end of the Cold War in 1989-91.” It should be noted that at that time the size of the Active Component was in excess of 700,000 and the Total Force stood at more than 1.2 million.
It is increasingly evident that the Army is too small to meet even current challenges, much less the possibility for large-scale conflicts in multiple regions. In order to deal with two long-term stability operations in Southwest Asia, the Army had to grow temporarily to 570,000 in the Active Component. Even then, it actually conducted the two campaigns sequentially, not in parallel.
The National Commission on the Future of the Army concluded that the Army cannot meet its current missions at proposed force levels without a significant increase in resources above those mandated by the current budget comprise. Even then, there will be significant capability shortfalls in terms of both manpower and technologies. The commission even goes so far as to suggest the possible need for a further reduction of two combat brigades in order to free up manpower for support missions. In the words of Nadia Schawlow, a well-respected expert on Army issues: “the commission pulled its punches on Army end strength. It endorses a minimum level of manpower, while admitting existing rotational policies actually leave the active duty force understrength in the event of simultaneous contingencies.”
Army troops build rope bridge
The reality for the Army is that numbers count and it is extremely difficult to replace the power of soldiers on the ground with machines in any form. Unlike air and naval combat, which involve clashes between a relatively small number of high performance machines, land warfare is about numbers. It is ironic that the military services and Pentagon leadership continually say that people are its critical military advantage while cutting personnel so they can acquire more hardware.
It is clear that even an enhanced Active Component will not be sufficient to address all major missions. At a minimum, the Active Component must possess both the capacity and capability to ensure that no adversary can achieve a successful “blitzkrieg.” The role of the National Guard in such a scenario is to make it clear to an adversary that the U.S. military has sufficient capacity to pursue a protracted conflict, if necessary. To fulfill this role the National Guard does not need to be a carbon copy of the Active Component. But it does have to be robust, with combat units capable of taking their place in the line of battle or supporting a counterattack.
Avoiding the continual erosion of its end strength is only the first problem the Army faces. It must also invest in essential modernization. But how to do so without breaking the bank or, at least, provoking yet another round of personnel cuts to create an investment fund?
The answer is to break with past service and DoD practices with respect to modernization. Over the past two decades, Army modernization has careened from one fanciful idea to another, generally reflecting the Pentagon’s changing views of the national security environment and the prospects for future conflict. Across all the various ideas – Comanche, Future Combat System, Ground Combat Vehicle – Army modernization focused on the wrong problem. It sought to replicate the other services, building ever more exquisite machines embedded in ever more elaborate networks that required fewer people and permitted increased distance between the soldier and the target. It was predictable that each of these efforts would be extremely complex, very expensive and take way too long to reach the field.
In order to both increase end strength and pursue a course of modernization, the Army needs to change how it formulates requirements and pursues acquisitions. In particular, the Army needs to institutionalize the practice of the recent conflicts of allowing commanders in the field to drive the processes through the generation of operational needs statements. This reflects the experiences of the past decade in which hundreds of items were procured, everything from cold weather gear to robots, unmanned systems, aerostats, sensors and armored vehicles, through an accelerated acquisition process based on operational requirements generated in the field. Current examples: ultralight vehicles, Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, 30mm cannon for Stryker and the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System.
Israeli Iron Dome launch
This approach will not work for everything, most notably major new weapons systems and combat vehicles. But it is particularly relevant and useful at this stage in the Army’s evolution where there is little money for new starts, transformational technologies are fairly far out on the horizon and there is substantial uncertainty regarding where the Army will be deployed and how it will be required to fight. By focusing on the operational needs generated by field commanders the Army can promote relevance, shorten acquisition timelines, constrain system costs, limit the potential for mischief by a distant acquisition bureaucracy and, perhaps most important, get new capabilities in the hands of operators rapidly.
In short, instead of tying up large blocks of resources for protracted periods of time while developing exquisite systems, the Army needs to focus on low-cost, rapidly producible and deployable capabilities. Where possible, the Army should rely on non-developmental items — including those developed by allies. For example, Israeli defense industries have fielded the highly successful Iron Dome system to counter rockets, missiles, artillery and mortars and the Trophy Active Protection System to defeat anti-tank rockets and missiles. In areas such as communications and IT, the Army needs to leverage wherever possible the commercial world rather than pursue purpose-built capabilities that come with high price tags and long timelines.
This approach will result in a Total Force characterized by tiered modernization. Central to this approach is the return of the National Guard to its erstwhile role as a Strategic Reserve. High-end capabilities that require extensive training and maintenance must reside largely, perhaps even exclusively, in the Active Component. It will take time to organize, equip, train and deploy Reserve Component formations. There may be time to provide these units with supplementary capabilities based on feedback from field commanders.
With tiered modernization in mind, the National Commission erred in proposing that four Apache battalions be retained in the Reserve Component. A more sensible solution would have been to replace the Apache helicopters with additional Black Hawks, but develop an appropriate light attack capability for them.
The key to managing a force based on tiered readiness will be found in its networking and Command and Control. Senior Army leaders have stressed the importance of end-to-end connectivity and the ability to integrate the variety of capabilities resident in the Joint Force. As the TO&E of the Total Force becomes more heterogeneous, it will be vital that it is held together by a solid communications backbone. Consequently, investments in IT, networking, sensors and ISR will be more important than the introduction of new platforms.
For too long the Army has been asked to reduce capacity in the interest of maintaining readiness and modernization. The increasingly complex and unstable international security environment is creating a new demand on the Army to field forces, not just at prior to or at the start of a conflict but form the long haul. If the Army is to retain or even increase its capacity, it must be very careful in the way it pursues modernization. It also must be willing to modernize selectively, at a minimum cost and with a primary focus on the Active Component.
I think most unbiased observers would say the US military, not just the Army, is under strength for the global mission's they are expected to carry out.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed,
the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
Damn straight! It's always stupid to talk about troop cuts when you have active combat going on in half a dozen places with significant numbers of troops so occupied........
Army to Meet with Firms Interested in Developing New Light Tank
An M551 Sheridan outside the the Vatican's embassy in 1989 during negotiations for Noriega's surrender before the combat vehicle was retired. The Army plans to meet with companies Aug. 9, 2016, to discuss the idea of developing a new light tank. (Photo courtesy of the Center of Military History)
Posted By: Brendan McGarry August 4, 2016
The U.S. Army plans to meet next week with firms to discuss the idea of developing a new light armored vehicle with mobile protected firepower.
The Army plans to hold a so-called industry day on Tuesday at Fort Benning in Georgia to discuss the requirements for such a vehicle, essentially a light tank, in the areas of lethality, mobility, protection, transportability, sustainability, energy and cyber, according to a statement released on Thursday from the service.
The MPF program “will be a lightweight combat vehicle that provides the Infantry Brigade Combat Team long range, precision direct fire capability that ensures freedom of movement and action during joint expeditionary maneuver and joint combined arms operations,” according to the statement.
Speaking at the event will be Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence; Lt. Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff for programs (G8); Brig. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for ground combat systems; and Col. William Nuckols, director of the maneuver requirements division, according to the Army.
The service has been experimenting with ways to bring more firepower to soldiers.
Army officials recently conducted at Benning a live-fire demonstration of 30mm cannons mounted on the Light Armored Vehicle (Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle) and Flyer Advanced Light Strike Vehicle, both of which are made by General Dynamics Corp.
The exercise featured the ground mobility vehicle 1.1 prototype firing the M230-LF 30mm cannon and the light armored vehicle combat reconnaissance vehicle prototype with a Kongsberg turret firing an integrated MK44 30mm cannon.
The Army quietly canceled its Light Reconnaissance Vehicle program in June, opting instead to equip cavalry scout units with the more general-purpose Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, designed to replace a third of the Humvee fleet.
That decision came without notice after maneuver leaders held a two-week vehicle assessment at Benning last August involving six companies as part of a platform demonstration to evaluate prototypes from industry. Instead, the Army will equip scout units in infantry brigade combat teams with JLTVs with potential sensor and lethality upgrades, officials maintain.
–Matthew Cox contributed to this report.
Tiny Drones Win Over Army Grunts. Big Bots? Not So Much
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
on August 08, 2016 at 4:00 AM
A soldier holds a PD-100 mini-drone during the PACMAN-I experiment in Hawaii.
Tiny drones, no bigger than your palm, were the big stars of an Army experiment in Hawaii, participants told Breaking Defense. Larger ground robots, however, struggled in the jungle.
Staff Sergeant James Roe told me he was “blown away” by the PD-100 Black Hornet, a commercially available mini-drone used in PACMAN-I (Pacific Manned-Unmanned Initiative, part of the Pacific Pathways exercises). “That was a system that we could actually take right now…on the battlefield,” Roe said. “Some of these other systems, as with any electronics and robotics, there are some things that have to be worked out.”
Army Secretary Eric Fanning checks out a robot at PACMAN-I.
But ground robots got particularly mixed reviews. They helped haul equipment for the chronically overloaded infantry, and some could even fire a remote-controlled machinegun, but the tracked ‘bots couldn’t keep up with foot troops over rough terrain.
“There are numerous places, at least on this island, where that SMET (Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport) cannot go,” said Broc Garner, like Roe a staff sergeant in Bravo Company, 2/27 Infantry. In a mission over rough ground, said Garner, “at a certain point, we’re going to have to either abandon this machine …. or leave two people with it” on guard.
That’s manpower a platoon can’t spare. Indeed, just dedicating troops to operate the remote-controlled machines was a big burden on the small units, Garner said.
A soldier guides a Punisher unmanned ground vehicle during PACMAN-I in Hawaii.
The Army’s tactical radio network also needed boosting. One senior Army scientist involved, Lonnie Freiburger, explained the robots didn’t use regular Army radios at all “as they do not provide the necessary bandwidth.” Instead, he said, they used a 4G LTE cellular phone network. That’s a reasonable expedient for an experiment, but not something to rely on in combat, when the enemy can listen in or simply blow up cell towers.
The experiment also tested relays to boost signals so they could penetrate the thick foliage, said Freiburger, who works for the Tank-Automotive Research & Development Command (TARDEC). One approach was a mini-drone hovering in place. Another was a “canopy buoy” dropped from a helicopter into the jungle canopy.
Ad hoc as it was, the experiment’s network workarounds worked: Neither Garner nor Roe complained about communications. Instead, they exulted in the ability to see video feeds of what was awaiting their troops in the next village or down the trail, and in the ability to share that video with their superiors.
“The situational awareness tools that we had up there are the ones we’re definitely looking forward to obtaining” as regular issue, Garner said. In current operations, he explained, “the hardest thing to do (is) get that positive identification of a weapon or of hostile intent” so you are cleared to fire. The ability to share video makes that process much faster and easier — without having to put soldiers in harm’s way to check out the target.
A PD-100 in a soldier’s hand, showing the front camera.
American commanders have enjoyed drone video for years, but unmanned aircraft are in high demand and rarely available to frontline soldiers. Besides, an infantry squad can hardly carry around a one-ton Predator or even a 460-lb Shadow. But then again, an infantry squad doesn’t need to scout targets a hundred miles ahead: It just needs to see over the next hill.
Enter the PD-100, with a maximum range of a mile and a half and a weight of less than an ounce. “It’s a little smaller…than your palm, it’s 18.25 grams,” said Roe. “It’s very easy for me to set it up, it takes probably three to five minutes for me to have it up in the air.”
The PD-100’s small size also makes it hard for the enemy to see or hear, so it can scout ahead of a surprise attack without giving the game away. Unlike the quad-copters you can buy at Wal-Mart, “there’s no sound. You wouldn’t even know it’s flying over you,” Roe said. “It looks like a bird….The enemy’s not going to know.”
One shortfall is the mini-drone’s tiny body doesn’t have much room for batteries: It can only fly for 25 minutes without needing to recharge. So each squad was issued two PD-100s with a backpack charger, as well as the remote controls. You fly one drone while the other’s charging, then switch them, for what Army science advisor Drew Downing called “almost constant eyes on target.”
How long does the charger last? “We ran it up to three and a half hours, literally leapfrogging birds the entire time,” Garner said. It’ll drain faster if you turn the handheld display to full brightness or if you fly in bad weather — the drone can manage winds up to 40 knots (46 mph).
Once the charging station runs dry, you can recharge it from the ground robots, which had hybrid engines (like a Prius) which could act as mobile generators. For modern soldiers as likely to be overburdened by spare batteries as by ammunition, that’s a big plus.
A soldier mans a robot-carried machinegun during PACMAN-I.
Garner and Roe also appreciated the robots’ ability to mount sensors and haul equipment, particularly a 0.50 caliber heavy machinegun, the kind of firepower foot troops simply can’t carry. Some of the larger robots were even rigged with a remote-controlled gun mount: Operators safely hidden in cover to send them towards the enemy and then open fire.
Until the remote broke, which happened to Garner’s unit twice. The fallback was to have a soldier get behind the ‘bot to fire the machinegun manually. But then the gunner’s only cover was the robot’s chassis, leaving him largely exposed while making a lot of noise, the kind of target the enemy is bound to notice.
The remote control “worked at the beginning, but by the end, yes, we did just have to place a guy behind that 0.50 cal,” said Garner. “He definitely gets left out in the open.”
A more reliable remote shouldn’t be too hard a fix. Less easy to resolve are the mobility limitations. A vehicle simply can’t climb, jump, or wade like a human soldier. Tanks overcome this problem by brute force, crushing obstacles or smashing them aside — but a small tracked robot lacks the height and mass.
Garner suggested the ground robots would prove most useful in cities, where they can drive on flat surfaces. “I do think it’s a good system,” he said. “It’ll be an asset in an urban environment.”
An Army soldier operates a iRobot 710 Warrior during PACMAN-I.
“We had, obviously, mobility challenges, more mobility challenges than we would ever expect in other terrain,” Freiburger acknowledged. Robots that can travel over the ground — amidst obstacles and clutter — are simply less mature than ones that can travel through the empty air. “Little money’s been invested into that area,” he said, but the experiment will inform the requirements process that unlocks more funding.
The experiment didn’t necessarily show the ground robots to best advantage, added Downing, who’s the Army Research & Development Command (RDECOM) advisor to US Army Pacific. The limited land area available didn’t allow for long route marches, on which foot soldiers would have been much more grateful for robotic mules to haul their gear. “A lot of these technologies would have shown a lot better and been more impressive if the soldiers actually had to traverse 20 miles of terrain and then conduct their mission,” Downing said.
That said, the Army is listening intently to what soldiers like Roe and Garner said. “Everything they said is captured,” said Downing. “We collected literally hundreds of surveys.”
Besides the foot troops with mini-drones and tracked ground robots, he and Freiburg said, there were also convoys of self-driving Humvees, with scout drones and mine-sweeping robots clearing the way. There were defensive perimeters watched by automated sensors, and drones rigged to detect poison gas or radiation.
“We have all this technology, and we’re trying to figure out how to integrate it,” said Downing. “We don’t want to inundate the soldier…. This is kind of our crawl-walk-run strategy.”
Soldier feedback is central to determining which systems get to graduate to a subsequent exercise in Japan, said Freiburger, and “that’s going to be instrumental in the program of record decisions” for the 2018 budget.
Big Guns For Light Infantry: Mobile Protected Firepower
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
on August 11, 2016 at 5:37 PM
The new Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle (MPF) will be the first lightly armored, heavily armed vehicle in Army service since the M551 Sheridan, pictured.
This week at Fort Benning, Ga., the Army told some 200 industry representatives from 59 companies what it wants in its next war machine, the Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle (MPF).
The MPF must be light and nimble enough to accompany foot troops where the massive M1 Abrams cannot go: into dense jungle and narrow streets, up mountains and over rickety Third World bridges. It must also carry enough armor to shrug off .50 caliber machinegun fire and some heavier weapons. It must pack enough firepower to take out anything from a concrete bunker to a heavy tank.
That’s ambitious. Combining mobility, firepower, and protection in a lightweight and affordable package is hard — so hard that this is the Army’s fourth try in 20 years. The M8 Armored Gun System was cancelled in 1996 to save money. The Future Combat System was cancelled in 2009 because its ambitious high technology wasn’t working. The Stryker Mobile Gun System (MGS) managed to enter service, but to widespread dissatisfaction.
The M8 Armored Gun System, canceled in 1996.
The Army is determined to do better this time.
“Our near-peers have sought to catch up with us,” said Fort Benning commander Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, using Pentagon code for China and Russia. These sophisticated nation-states — and countries buying their hardware, like Iran — are developing so-called Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD): layered defenses of long-range sensors and missiles to keep US airpower and ships at a distance (anti-access), plus anti-tank weapons, mines, and roadside bombs to decimate ground troops who get close (area denial).
In this kind of war, light infantry units can’t count on Air Force transports or Army helicopters to drop them within walking distance of objectives that may have heavy anti-aircraft defenses. Instead, they’ll land outside of missile range and then use cross-country trucks to quickly cross long distances to the objective. That’s the role of the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV), a parallel Army program to MPF.
General Dynamics Flyer-72, a contender for the Ground Mobility Vehicle program.
The lightweight GMVs aren’t armored, however, so they can’t afford to bulldoze through ambushes. That’s why the Army wants vehicles to scout ahead for threats: originally a specially-built Light Reconnaissance Vehicle, now a variant of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. But once the scouts find enemies, friendly aircraft may have trouble breaking through the A2/AD defenses to bomb them. So the Army also wants the infantry to have its own big guns: one company of 14 MPF vehicles per brigades.
The MPF will deal with opposition that might otherwise bog down large numbers of light infantry, like a bunker, Wesley said, or an older model tank like the T-55. “What we wouldn’t expect is that infantry brigade is going to fight an entire brigade of armored vehicles,” Wesley went on.
That’s what the US Army’s own armored brigades are for, and there’s no need to reinvent them. If you gave a Light Infantry Brigade enough firepower to fight Russian-style tank armies, you’d lose all the advantages that make it light in the first place: a combat force unencumbered by heavy vehicles, a force which can fit into aircraft for rapid deployment and maneuver in difficult terrain — jungles, swamps, mountains, slums — where heavy vehicles bog down.
M1 Abrams tanks in Iraq
“What we don’t want is an Abrams; we already have an Abrams,” said Col. Will Nuckols, who works for Wesley as Fort Benning’s director of mounted (i.e. vehicle) requirements. “It’s going to be lighter, more strategically mobile, and more tactically mobile than the Abrams — with similar firepower and protection that is suitable to the formation it is supporting.”
Protection against how great a threat? That’s to be determined, based on what industry can deliver at a price the Army can afford. “It will be greater than heavy machinegun, I can tell you that,” Nuckols said. “Protection is a very high priority for the Chief of Staff of the Army.”
Size and transportability are also up in the air. “Will it necessarily be air-droppable? That’s yet to be determined,” Nuckols said.
The unsatisfactory M551 Sheridan was designed to parachute in alongside the 18th Airborne Corps, as was the M8 Armored Gun System, and since the M551’s retirement and the M8’s cancellation, the Airborne has needed a replacement. But all the other light infantry units in the Army need MPF too, and sacrificing mobility, protection, or firepower to make it air-droppable would do them no good. “You don’t want to create a niche vehicle that only addresses a very small component of your army,” Nuckols said.
To figure out the art of the possible and the potential trade-offs, the Army is bringing industry aboard at an unusually early stage. At Tuesday’s industry day, “we actually did something that, as far as I know, hasn’t been done before: We shared with them our draft Capability Development Document, CDD,” said Nuckols. “That will allow them to go back to their companies and get their engineers to work.”
What those engineers discover, in turn, will determine how the Army revises its requirements — if necessary, making them less ambitious in order to be more feasible and affordable.
“This is something we want to get fielded no later than the early ’20s,” said Wesley. “We’ve told industry we want to move as quickly as possible. It really (depends) on what they come back to us with that defines the maturity of their technology.”
The Army is trying to run the Mobile Protected Firepower program very differently from past, failed programs. How and why we’ll discuss in a second article, tomorrow.