AI and Integrated Weapons
Warrior: How is AI progressing and integrating when it comes to Army weapons and technology development?
Murray: “We have an AI task force led by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. We see great potential in artificial intelligence. There are certain places in the country where there is at least some concern about the application of AI to military systems. The whole project Maven thing ran into a little of that. Secretary Esper signed off on guidelines for the application of AI.
There was a guy named John Boyd in the Air Force who came up with this concept called the OODA Loop, which means Observe Orient Detect and Act... if you can observe and get inside the OODA Loop of your adversary, that means you can get to understanding and action faster. I actually think that is a great way to look at what I believe is the most logical and valuable use of AI for military applications….that is the ability to see first, decide first and act first, faster than any adversary.
The ability to see, understand, decide and act faster than an adversary in what is going to be a very hyperactive battlefield in the future I think would be number one when it comes to the fast application of AI.”
U.S. Army Robot Combat Vehicle Program
Warrior: What is the status of the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program?
Murray: “We had a soldier touchpoint where we were putting robotic vehicles in the hands of soldiers at Fort Carson. That was supposed to take place in the second week of March. That was postponed and we are going to try to make that up this summer. We've been using light robots in Iraq and Afghanistan for the better part of a decade plus our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) guys working to stop roadside bombs and vehicle-born bombs. We have moved onto medium robotic vehicles. The mediums are probably about 10-tons or so and that is what we were going to do some experimentation with at Fort Carson. We have not yet done experimentation with what we call heavy class... 20 to 30-ton class vehicle.”
Warrior: How fast do you see autonomy developing in terms of combat readiness?
Murray: “You can imagine that the higher up you go in weight, the more you can put on it. We are looking at algorithms that enable them to cross terrain. So we have spent a lot of time looking at the secure link between the robotic vehicle and the soldier in the vehicle itself. I think robotics will fundamentally change the way we fight in the future.“Experimentation is just as important as the technology, which includes understanding what this will do in terms of what formations will look like in the future and how they will be employed. What is the greatest value from a reconnaissance standpoint? or a weapons standpoint? What are the linkages to make sure we have secure linkages?”
Warrior: What are some of the next moves when it comes to Army Robotics? Which Army units are involved?
Murray: “The University of Texas made a $50 million investment to build us a robotics laboratory. We were supposed to start that this month, but that has been delayed until June or July. There is a lot of partnership between the University of Texas and my lab - specifically ARL South, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team and PEO Ground Combat Systems to push the envelope.”
Warrior: How are the drones and unmanned systems being networked in terms of a new concept for Combined Arms?
Murray: “Up at CMU (Carnegie Mellon Univ.) they are working on algorithms to link ground and air vehicles -- and it becomes not manned-unmanned teaming but unmanned-unmanned teaming. Go out in this grid square and go identify this threat, so from a ground and air perspective, those vehicles talk to each other. We are collecting training data to train our algorithms.”
Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force
Warrior: What are the plans when it comes to the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force?
Murray: “Our multi-domain operations concept will transition into new doctrine to replace air land battle. A concept is a concept because you don't yet have all the tools to execute it, so there are certain things related to the main operations we don't have yet. What comes next? If technology continues to evolve at the rate it is evolving, and there are all indications that it is going to, if you look out into the future, if you don't start thinking about it, it is going to be here before you know it and you are going to be behind.”
Warrior: The Army must have some major efforts looking at what war may look like in 20 to 30 years?
Murray: “We have something called ‘Team Ignite.’ It is not a standing organization but a cross functional team between my technologists and my scientists. One part is responsible for the technology at Combat Capabilities Development Command, another is a ‘future concepts’ unit at Fort Eustis, Va. and my concept writers at our Futures and Concepts Center. This forces the people who are thinking about future concepts to take technology into account because they technologists are right there with them. This forces them to think about how technology will change the concept.... also it directly feeds what we should be investing in in our science and technology areas.”
Warrior: How do you envision or prepare for scenarios and technologies that do not exist today?
Murray: “If we write the concept and say 'if only I could' and then say 'well I can't do that now, but what about in 15 years?' there is a path to get there if we put the right dollars in the right place today. That is what is starting to drive our S&T investments. We are making those investments now, so that 15 years from now... we go from “If only I could” to "we actually can."
Warrior: What are you doing with regard to looking at warfare in 2040?
Murray: “When it comes to the future operational environment and understanding what that will look like, the most important thing to understand is you are never going to be right. 2040ish is the focus area. My understanding is from a technology perspective, an economic perspective, a globalization perspective an a demographic perspective... it is all going to have an impact. We are trying to describe and not define what that may look like. If you get that right it really drives the concepts and drives the material you are going to need to operate in that environment.”
Warrior: What are some of the main challenges your Command is thinking about in terms of future warfare?
Murray: “First you figure out the environment and then you figure out what you need to fight in the environment. Concepts should drive material development and S&T should drive concepts too because a big piece of this future operating environment is tech forecasting. There is a tech forecasting cell at the Army Research Lab..not only from a U.S. Tech base but worldwide which looks at where the investments are being made and where we are going to be in technology in 10 to 15 years.”
Warrior: Many are talking about cloud technology and the extent to which large weapons platforms will function as “nodes” in a meshed, multi-domain network?
Murray: “Cloud architecture and tactical cloud are going to be absolutely critical to what we do in the future. Any sensor and shooter and any C2 (Command and Control) node. When you start talking about "any" you will run into some bandwidth issues. I actually think... we have a saying in the Army for as long as I have been in the Army which is "any soldier is a sensor." I see a point in the future where everything on the battlefield is a sensor.”
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Warrior: What do you see as some of the major advantages of using cloud networking?
Murray: “Munitions are sensors, air vehicles are sensors... I just see a plethora of sensors. It all comes down to the data. When you talk about cloud, it is about having someplace for that data to go where it is successful. All that data has to be available and then it is all about having the ability to get the right data out of the cloud to the right shooter through the right C2 node, so that when you don't have these massive bandwidth requirements on every platform everywhere.”
Long Range Precision Fires
Warrior: I understand Long Range Precision fires has hit more than 60km with artillery?
Murray: “An Excalibur shot hit 63km. It pretty much doubled the range. Then we have the non-precision XM1113, a new round which we have shot over 70km. What is next is providing the accuracy we need. so we need to modify some of our precision guidance kits to deliver that round. That is on track to be ERCA (Extended Range Cannon Artillery) in 2023. XM1113 is not as precise. Right now we fire dumb artillery rounds with a PGK(Precision Guidance Kit), so this is adopting a PGK to a new range. You are shooting at longer ranges and the round is going higher in the atmosphere where you are dealing with thinner air so the dynamics are different. That is also for FY 2023.”
Warrior: How was the recent test with the Army’s Precision Strike Missile which, I understand, seeks to eventually fire 500km?
Murray: “The precision strike missile flew out for test number 3 at Yuma. That is our post-INF solution for rockets. We have not tested it beyond 500km yet, but that is coming up within the next month. The thing most people miss is about the range. The current missiles can go about 350km and this will go beyond 500km eventually. We are almost doubling the range.. with existing launchers so we are not having to invest in new launchers. We can now put two missiles in the launcher as opposed to what we can do now which is one.”
Future Vertical Lift
Warrior: Where do things stand with the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program?
Murray: “With Future Vertical Lift there are two lines of effort. They are both Important to the Army and we have demonstrated some pretty good agility... including the ability to get into landing zones in tight spaces like some of the stuff you have seen in Afghanistan. One is the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft. Those are the two tech demonstrators that have been flying in Fort Worth for over a year now. These were purely tech demonstrators to prove out the technology. Those are on track and we are looking at accelerating those aircraft right now. They are tech demonstrators... and we will start looking at prototyping aircraft. At least one of them has been north of 200knots and the other has been north of 180. We don't have requirements yet because they are tech demonstrators, at least one of them has doubled the range of the Black Hawk, increased speed, increased range and at least one of them has increased payload.”
Warrior:Will the new attack/scout helicopter replace or fly alongside the Apache?
Murray: “The other is Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft. The best way to put it is it is going to replace the Kiowa Warrior -- which we retired a few years ago. We took Apaches and put them into the scout role, but Apaches were never designed to be a scout aircraft. This won't replace the Apaches that are in the fleet, but it will replace the Apaches that are in the scout role. We are also looking at a Future Unmanned Aerial System. Some of these are vertical take off and some are quadcopters. We have fielded two brigades and we have two more this Summer. We will have 5 different vendors and 5 different designs in the field before we ever write the requirements document. They are flying at Fort Riley, Kansas, as we speak. The fire dept was using our UAS to pinpoint fire locations and direct firefighters around.”
Warrior: I understand there are some large steps forward in terms of helicopters controlling drones from the air?
Murray: “With manned Unmanned Teaming, we can launch a drone from a helicopter today and get pretty good range out of the UAS, which is communicating back to the aircraft itself, and a ground station. We have demonstrated some swarming technologies where you can launch multiple UAS which are talking to each other to execute different parts of the mission... and use different payload capabilities.”
Warrior: I know the Army, and really all the services, are fast-tracking Hypersonic weapons. How is that progressing for the Army and when might they be operational?
Murray: “With Hypersonics, we had a successful launch in March, in partnership with the Navy. There is a memo in terms of who is doing what in terms of hypersonics. The Army has the lead for the development for the Common Glide Body. It is being designed by the Army. Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office down in Huntsville. We had a Joint Army-Navy test shot, which was a completely successful launch and flight. I can't say how close we came to the target, but it was damn close... really close. Neil (Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood) is going to deliver a hypersonic battery in 2023. We are going through right now where it is going to be, figure out the manning of it and train the crews that will operate it. We are focusing on the R&D now for what comes next? How can we improve the operational battery we field in 2023?”
Warrior: How is the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle infantry fighting vehicle, the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, progressing following the previous cancellation and restart?
Murray: “We have great conversations with industry going. We are going to digitally design this vehicle before we commit to a prototype. The conversation with industry is about what is feasible and sustainable from a technology standpoint in the time period we are looking at … and then building a vehicle digitally. The detailed digital designs will include probably an ability to get soldiers into a virtual vehicle so we can get that soldier touchpoint feedback... before we ever commit to bending metal so we understand what we are going to get.”
Warrior: Given the fast-increasing reliance upon cyber networking, how is the Army developing weapons with a mind to cyber resilience in the current threat environment?
Murray: ”There are cyber requirements in every requirements document we write in terms of protection.”
Warrior: Do you have the people you need as Army Futures Command continues to take steps into the future?
Murray: “The thing most people don't understand is we are nowhere where we need to be... thinking about the future talent in terms of different types of talent in terms of artificial intelligence and cloud. We don't have ways of recognizing the talent that we do have. Once you understand the talent that you need -- how do you recruit it? How do you retain that talent to keep it focused and challenged? What policies need to change. We are working with with Army Talent Management Task Force.”
Warrior: Where does the Army stand on laser weapons development? Is the service interested in rail guns?
Murray: “The army looked at rail guns at UT (Univ. of Texas) back in the mid-90s and the problem with rail guns is not necessarily the weight and size of the rail gun itself; it is the power requirements. If you are on a ship, generating the power you need is a little easier than generating the power you need out in the middle of the desert someplace...so there are still some technology challenges to rail guns and they mostly center around power generation.
You could say the same thing for lasers, as power is becoming better through the scaling of this technology progresses. Now we are on track to get a medium class laser on a Stryker in an air defense role and field it 2024 or 2025 as a prototype.”
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.