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The explosion of AI-enabled computing, advanced new algorithms, precision targeting, increased automation and streamlined targeting data organization are known to be reshaping plans for future warfare at staggering speeds. The pace of technological change, and its implications for weapons systems, continues to introduce new, paradigm-changing tactics for war planners.
While there will continue to be much more to say on this topic, for years to come, there is an interesting, yet often under-recognized element of this lingering beneath the radar of much of the public discourse. Saving money.
Applications of many advanced technologies, some of which emerge due to extensive research and development funding and innovative thinking, can wind up saving the Pentagon billions of dollars as well.
The idea is to generate operational efficiency while bringing the added bonus of financial efficiency as well.
New Weapons Platforms and Costs
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth introduced this concept to reporters in a recent engagement when asked about costs associated with new weapons platforms following the conclusion of the Army’s Project Convergence 21 experiment.
The overall thrust of the experiment, the results of which are not being analyzed, is to exponentially increase the speed of warfare decision making and greatly reduce sensor-to-shooter time to stay ahead of or “inside of” an enemy's decision cycle.
Wormuth first emphasized the paradigm-changing tactical benefit and strategic importance of many of the new systems explored during the experiment and then also made the point that, in many cases, advanced technologies can wind up saving money.
Streamlining technological efficiency and pursuing performance breakthroughs can also lead to substantial long-term budget advantages. The two things are by no means mutually exclusive, she indicated, when talking about new technologies that integrate otherwise disconnected nodes and weapons systems. Specifically, she was asked about the expenses associated with building and testing some of the new high-tech systems used in the Project Convergence experiment.
“A lot of this is actually looking at how we use data, how you use software and how we use algorithms to help us better connect sensors to shooters. So I actually think there’s potential for us to actually have some offset savings,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters, according to a transcript provided to Warrior by the Army.
Wormuth’s point about software seems quite significant, given how advances in computing and software upgrades can streamline systems to greatly reduce the necessary hardware footprint. Not only can smaller form factors be lighter weight, more efficient and able to introduce operational value, but they can reduce the need for manpower in some cases and save money. Expanding operational functionality through advanced software upgrades can not only decrease a need for potentially redundant hardware systems but also enable the removal of larger, less efficient systems costly to maintain.
“The more we can move from eight, you know, ways to look at the battlefield to four pictures of the battlefield to finally one picture of the battlefield, We then won’t need as many people to do that. We may be able actually to get rid of some of our Legacy IT systems and things like that as we bring online some of these new things. So I think there’s potential there for savings frankly,” Wormuth said.
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There are many examples of this kind of thing, some of which are very large scale. The amount of computer automation used by the Navy to operate Ford-class carriers enables the service to deploy the ship with roughly 900 fewer sailors on board.
Procedural functions such as equipment monitoring, data collection and even the operations of certain ship systems can safely and efficiently be done by computers. This can lessen the need for some large and potentially redundant hardware systems and reduce manning requirements, something Navy developers have long said can save as much as $4 billion over the life of the ship.
Money spent on innovation, in effect, can reshape war to ensure overmatch against enemies in the future while also, in some cases if managed properly, achieve high levels of cost savings and budget efficiencies.
The same can be said of an Army combat vehicle networking system called VICTORY which has been under development for many years; it is an interconnected onboard system connecting sensor “boxes” or other kinds of vehicle systems to one another on a common network to streamline and organize data from otherwise disconnected equipment nodes.
While the application is primarily oriented toward improving mission execution and decision-making by organizing and presenting data, it also brings the substantial advantage of reducing the amount of needed hardware “boxes” or different sensors and pieces of equipment on the vehicle.
The budget and expense question was posed in the context of whether Army efforts to build new land-fired Long Range Precision Missile (PrSM) was necessary given weapons operated by other services. The answer from Army leaders was a resounding yes, as emerging weapons like the PrSM The Navy can launch a Tomahawk missile from the ocean at land-targets 900 miles away and Air Force bombers can fire air-launched cruise missiles against fortified ground targets at great distances, so does the Army really need a new system such as its fast emerging long-range Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)?
This question was presented to senior Army leaders in the context of asking about the expense of new weapons systems. The two most senior members of the Army had a clear, unambiguous response, explaining that “yes” it was absolutely crucial for the Army to have systems that can complement or pick up missions for similar weapons systems employed by other services. A land-operated weapon like PrSM adds a unique tactical advantage now available with other weapons.
“When I look at the battlefield, whether it is potentially in Indo-PACOM or whether it is in Europe, there are going to be more than enough targets to shoot at for the whole joint force. All of us need to be looking at how we can bring long-range Precision Fires capabilities. It is not something that should be left to just one service,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters, according to a transcript provided to The National Interest by the Army.
Citing the complexities and interwoven, multi-domain challenges associated with the current global threat environment, Wormuth was clear that Commanders need multiple options in the joint fight.
Perhaps a Navy submarine or ship is not in position to fire upon or reach a highly crucial enemy target such as inland air defenses? Perhaps long-range, precise, advanced air defenses prevent aircraft from flying within range to attack? Maybe neither sea nor air assets are in position to reach a highly critical target which advancing armored forces need to destroy at safer stand-off distances? Or perhaps, as Wormuth put it, there are simply so many targets likely to emerge in a major warfare standoff that not having long range land attack options could greatly imperil a mission? The concept, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said, is to present multiple “dilemmas” for an enemy.
“When you think about us providing options, really what it’s about is providing options to the combatant commander. And so, if you think about it, he has capabilities from the air. He has capabilities from the sea. He has capabilities from the land. There are also capabilities from cyber - and all those present multiple dilemmas to our competitors, and it does not allow them to focus on one option when it comes to a future situation,” Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said, according to the same transcript.
There is also the additional advantage of networking weapons systems, newer kinds of data-sharing technologies are increasingly able to connect weapons sensors and targeting systems to one another across otherwise disparate or unreachable nodes across and area of operations.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.