This is the second of two stories covering a new Army development strategy called asymmetric vision/decide faster. To read the initial feature, visit “How the Army hopes to accelerate decision-making.”
As soldiers fight in more urban environments, the Army expects they’ll need a stream of information. Consider soldiers who need to enter a building and get to a rooftop; the Army envisions soldiers could instantly receive a map of the building and a route to get to the top while at the same time use a device to see through doors providing indicators of danger.
Soldiers also could instantaneously pass off targeting data to others in the area to allow them to provide cover.
Military leaders, including the Army chief of staff, recognize that urban environments pose significant military challenges. As a result, the Army is working to provide unprecedented situational awareness to soldiers from the time they’re pre-planning missions, en route to the target and on the ground.
To do this, the Army is relying on advanced communications gear, virtual reality training facilities and augmented reality heads up displays in soldiers’ helmets to make technologies more intuitive for soldiers.
These technologies are among the first to fall under the auspices of a new development strategy the Army is calling asymmetric vision/decide faster, or AVDF. This concept is focused on integrating technologies developed from Army research and development labs early to ensure they are interoperable when transitioned to various program executive offices. This would avoid a common problem that has plagued the Defense Department in the past: stovepiped systems that cannot communicate with each other.
Unpacking the new strategy
While one pillar of AVDF is the integration of the hardware systems and the computing systems, another is sorting through what’s critically important to those operators at the right moment. This allows them to rapidly make decisions in their surroundings, officials told C4ISRNET during a visit to the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate at Fort Belvoir.
The disaggregated squad is the focus of the concept of operation, said Lt. Col. Ray Gary, military deputy at CERDEC Night Vision. This means giving soldiers what they need to make decisions, to plan and execute the mission at that level, he said.
The Army, in addition to the recognition that it will likely be fighting in urban environments, also understands that its units must fight in a more expeditionary, disaggregated fashion.
The technologies within AVDF’s portfolio, which number around 130 and span several program executive offices, will integrate a bevy of sensor data allowing dismounted soldiers at the tactical edge make decisions faster than adversaries. In recent wargames, this approach helped prevent red team commanders from using ISR assets to obtain targeting data, officials told C4ISRNET.
The New Technological Landscape
With the new approach, also comes the advent of new technologies. This includes a variety of communications gear, virtual reality training facilities and augmented reality displays in soldiers’ helmets.
Officials say virtual reality training will play a big role in future urban operations and in the process allow soldiers to be able to preview exact street corners before they’re actually there. This will allow for more precise rehearsals and eliminate the element of surprise.
“We need to provide information in heads up displays that will allow soldiers to move unimpeded,” Rich Nabors, associate director for strategic planning at CERDEC Night Vision told C4ISRNET.
“What happens when you get into a dense urban environment, for example, you pop out of a vehicle and you really have no idea where you are. You have to get your bearings,” he said. This can be especially difficult if one is subject to fire from multiple directions. “You have to be able to hit the ground running.”
With soldier visual interface technologies, the Army is working to incorporate a stream of information to soldier’s heads up displays. This includes rapid target acquisition, which allows a soldier to see through their display where their rifle sight is set.
Officials outlined what they described as a ring of situational awareness within the soldier’s HUD that includes different icons depicting different targets in the environment.
They can also include navigation data, which is not a rudimentary task for soldiers. Using waypoint technology in the soldier’s display, they no longer have to worry about land navigation and can use the terrain to their advantage eschewing common paths or thoroughfares. Additionally, if the preplanned path on a city street is blocked for some reason, soldiers can seamlessly reorient to a new course.
The rough goal is to have a full integrated demo of all AVDF technologies by 2026.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.