Defense Leaders Discuss the Impact of Emerging Technologies on Warfighter Performance in the 21st Century

Warfighter Performance

The defense industry is bringing together the best and brightest talent to develop solutions that will have a major impact on the future of warfighter performance. With all manner of new technology matriculating into use, leaders in the industry came together at Sea Air Space 2021 to discuss “Improving Warfighter Performance in the 21st Century’s Dynamic Warfighting Environment.” The panelists focused on how industry partners and the military are working together to create a more effective warfighter.

Panelists included:

  • Rear Adm. Jerry Burroughs, U.S. Navy (ret.), Sierra Nevada Corporation
  • Rear Adm. C.J. Jaynes, U.S. Navy (ret.), Raytheon
  • Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, U.S. Navy (ret.), BAE Systems
  • Dr. Bruce Swett, Chief Artificial Intelligence Architect, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems
  • Mr. Todd Probert, President, National Security and Innovative Solutions, CACI

Each panelist reflected on the role that connectivity plays in enabling the future of warfighter performance. It’s not only about the available technology, but how to intentionally leverage the technology to create a more effective warfighter.

“We finally have technology that’s becoming more obvious and available to us through the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” RADM Darrah highlighted the opportunity ahead.  If implemented correctly, these technologies will generate incredible amounts of data that will be useful in the battlespace. Yet with that in mind, the onus is on the industry to keep updating communication systems to remain ahead of any adversaries.

Adding his thoughts, Dr. Swett also pointed towards maintaining realistic expectations for these advanced technologies as the industry and the military work to integrate them. “One of the first things we need to accept is the current limitations of AI,” he began. “AI has demonstrated that it can if given the proper guidelines and data, produce superhuman capabilities, so we have to be very deliberate with how we roll it out to the warfighter.”

Dr. Swett also added that there must be a reflection of democratic American values in the use of AI, specifically noting that decision-making that can potentially impact life or property must be in the hands of a person, not an AI. “Some of our adversaries are already building fully automated kill systems, but we have to meet them while still respecting our values.”

Moving away from the possible applications of AI and machine learning towards warfighting itself, RADM Burroughs touched on the improvements to training that can help keep U.S. warfighters at the forefront of readiness. “The key to getting this tech out there is to make sure it’s intuitive,” RADM Burroughs said.

He shared his vision for a future where innovations such as creating a virtual twin could help warfighters understand their technology intimately before ever having to use that knowledge in a live-fire action. “VR and AR applications like a virtual twin give us so many options for testing things before we put them out there rapidly, having the ability to replicate the battlefield in other places is a powerful tool for training warfighters.”

RADM Jaynes agreed, adding that the role of VR and AR must not be understated when thinking about the future of training. “One day there will be a virtual reality trainer,” RADM Jaynes stated. “You will be able to just put on some goggles and have an entire plane in front of you to ‘work’ on and become familiar with.”

Beyond training off the battlefield, Jaynes was excited about the potential for “on-the-fly” training. “The next step is to make this AR/VR training available to the warfighter whenever they need, wherever they are.” This training will only become easier, RADM Jaynes explained, now that the new generation of warfighters is already familiar with the gaming technology currently serving as the foundation of most military VR/AR. “It’s tech these kids have already used, they don’t have to relearn it,” she said.

Overall, these defense leaders see great opportunities to leverage emerging technology to improve warfighter performance, training, and effectiveness. They agreed that the industry has made the technology available and it is ready to be implemented. Yet for it to truly improve warfighter performance, military leaders will need to prioritize the acquisition and use of these emerging solutions in the future.

To access the video-on-demand of this panel and others from Sea Air Space 2021, click here.