ARLINGTON, Va. — Soldiers in the coming years may use artificial intelligence to predict when and how to resupply troops and rely on swarms of automated watercraft and drones to get those supplies to personnel spread across vast distances.

That’s the vision of the deputy director of the Army Futures Command’s newest Cross Functional Team-Contested Logistics.

Rob Watts, team deputy director, shared that scenario at Wednesday’s Association of the U.S. Army’s forum on contested logistics.

The team, announced in March 2023, is currently working on concepts that would tie sensor data, much like the service began in recent years for tracking equipment maintenance needs, to predicting logistical needs.

“We want a tool to tell us, when we get to precision sustainment, that ‘you need to start moving some ammo to island X today because it’s going to take 10 days to get there, based on the threat information from the intel community,” Watts said.

Some of that has already been demonstrated, said Maj. Gen. Michelle Donahue, commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Support Command.

Donahue said that soldiers were able to pull sensor data from systems during a Project Convergence demonstration in 2022. Logistics specialists then used analytical tools to speed up decisions on what support was needed from a brigade to a battalion in seconds.

Even snapshot-type questions, such as how much fuel is available to units in three separate locations, should be answered in minutes by artificial intelligence, rather than having a soldier scour spreadsheets and radio disparate units, Watts said.

Tying all the data being collected through the various sensor systems the Army’s using could also improve planning.

One example Watts referenced was if a commander needed to extend an operation from five to 10 days. Such a system could answer that question accurately.

Watts’ team is also examining the role that Army watercraft will play in future conflict, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

“If you can kind of envision a swarm of these autonomous vessels going out to various island chains, not having to beach because we can have the UAVs come in, meet somewhere over the water, grab portions and take that area’s portion — ammo, food, blood — whatever it is to the point of need,” Watts said.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush told Defense News in October that the service has a high interest in a new watercraft that it received the first prototype of in 2023.

The Maneuver Support Vessel-Light is a 100-foot-long landing craft with a range of 360 nautical miles. The large vessel is expected to replace a Vietnam War-era boat, the Landing Craft Mechanized-8. There are no current plans for it to be autonomous.

The initiative echoes efforts in the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marines evaluated an Expeditionary Warfare Unmanned Surface Vessel during a 2019 exercise.

Then-Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said at that year’s Modern Day Marine Expo that ships of that watercraft of that size, which could carry 50- to-1,200 tons could help with the Corps’ resupply needs. Smith is now the Marine Corps commandant.

Military Times reported in 2023 that Navy Capt. Randy Slaff, program executive officer for U.S. Special Operations Command’s maritime technology unit, is looking for uncrewed options for both its surface and subsurface watercraft.

The watercraft initiative was also highlighted in a paper by Lt. Col. Amos Fox published by AUSA on Tuesday titled, “Contested Logistics: A Primer.”

The paper highlights the need to shrink logistical tails and reduce the distances needed to move supplies by generating supplies such as ammunition, food, water and repair parts closer to the battlefield.

The paper calls for the Army to have its own watercraft fleet so that it is not dependent on Navy and Air Force transportation to move supplies. The key area it would improve, Fox claims, is resupply from the theater to the division level.

*CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect that Rob Watts is the deputy director of the Cross Functional Team-Contested Logistics.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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