Army 2-Star on Project Convergence and Sensor-to-Shooter Advancements
Robotic attack weapons, space-based attacks, cyber intrusions and AI-enabled high-speed, long-range warfare are all key factors anticipated to inform future warfare into the 2040s and beyond.
Although Amy Futurists believe to have a solid grasp on many of the technological trends now informing basic research and various preparations for warfare in future decades, many scientists and weapons developers are quite clear about the simple that that …. Future warfare will present the unexpected.
Weapons which are not now envisioned are anticipated as part of the kinds of war games and future warfare scenarios now envisioned by senior weapons developers.
Hyperactive Future Battlefield
Former Commanding General of Army Futures Command Gen. John Murray told Warrior a year or two ago that the expectation is that there will be a “hyperactive future battlefield,” a question I posed to a current senior Army weapons developer.
“The future battlefield is going to be hyperactive, complex and lethal in ways that we can only begin to imagine now. We know that our peer competitors have spent the last 20 plus years investing in capabilities that offset our distinct advantage,” Maj. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview.
Future warfare will also be more dispersed, given the extended ranges at which emerging weapons and sensors operate and the expanding use of cyberwarfare, EW and space-based technology. Rafferty, who now oversees development of key long range ground fires programs such as the emerging Extended Range Cannon Artillery capable of firing precision rounds as far as 70km. The Army is also developing a first-of-its kind long-range weapon called Precision Strike Missile now being tested at ranges greater than 500 miles.
“Long range precision fires emerged as the number one priority because it enables everything else. It enables our joint partners, it enables our coalition partners, and then it enables Combined Arms Maneuver,” Rafferty said.
These kinds of technologies, coupled with advanced, as-of-yet uncovered findings emerging from current basic research in the services’ laboratories, are now influencing preparations, war-games and predictions central to Army efforts to prepare for future warfare.
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“Our vision of the future battlefield is still beginning to take shape as we look at the continued investments that our peer competitors are making. We look at the proliferation of long range systems and sophisticated air defenses across both theaters….. in the European theater and certainly in the Indo PACOM theater. We recognize that we've got to deliver systems that begin to deny our adversaries that distinct advantage of overmatch,” Rafferty said.
One defining element of future warfare expected to reshape tactics and concepts of operation pertains to a simple concept …. “Information” and “AI”
Information is now much for fully considered a “weapon of war” given the recent technological breakthroughs in the spheres of AI, high-speed computing and secure networking technologies now shaping weapons development and operational planning.
The Army’s Project Convergence “campaign of learning,” for example, used AI-enabled computing to organize, analyze and distribute otherwise unmanageable amounts of networked sensor data across multiple domains in seconds. This process, now evolving to incorporate both other US military services and even international partners this year in Project Convergence 2022, shortens sensor-to-shooter time from minutes to seconds.
Commanders moving to contact in a Combined Arms Maneuver formation, for example, can receive near real-time threat and targeting information in order to quickly launch necessary counterattacks and defenses. Not only this, but the incoming information is organized in seconds by an AI-capable computer called Firestorm, which performs analytics on data arriving from drones, mini-drones, helicopters, aircraft, ground troops and even armored vehicles. A “synergized” view of the battlefield is presented to human decision makers with specific recommendations regarding which “shooter,” weapon or counterattack method would be optimal for a particular threat scenario.
Senior Army weapons developers involved with Project Convergence tell Warrior about the fast-growing extent to which data itself is a “weapon of war.’
Army Futures Command Breaks Through with Robotics, AI Enabled War
“Now I fully understand the importance of data in the future and giving our soldiers weapons, like AI algorithms to find targets inside all that data. And then and then making pathways for them to be able to streamline that call for fire right to the right to the platform,” Maj. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview.
During Project Convergence 2020, for instance, forward operating mini-drones were able to find enemy targets in high-threat areas while manned platforms operated at safer standoff ranges. However, these mini-drones, called “air launched effects,” not only gathered time-critical data but also helped network it to reach larger drones, helicopters, ground-based dismounted soldiers, armored vehicles and AI-empowered command and control technologies.
By bouncing incoming sensor data off of a vast or seemingly limitless database, and considering multiple variables in relation to one another, AI-capable algorithms can analyze prior scenarios, historical instances, weapons performance and key attack variables such as weather, range, terrain or enemy maneuvers. This kind of near real-time analytics can find and communicate optimal courses of action for commanders and human decision-makers faced with an immediate need to respond to enemy attacks.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.