The future battlespace is an ever-evolving concept, and it is almost impossible to qualify. The changing requirements to put warfighters in the best position to combat and counter adversaries across every domain have resulted in any number of initiatives and programs designed to give them that tactical edge. Throughout it all, one innovation has continued to demonstrate significant promise: Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“We’re bringing our soldiers, sailors, [and] airmen together with all the different capabilities that they have, along with all the different sensors,” U.S. Navy Cmdr. Rollie Wicks noted in a recent PC21 panel at AUSA 2021. “We’re not doing business as we’ve always done in the past, we’re thinking about new ways to fight on the battlefield of tomorrow.”
AI, combined with machine learning algorithms, presents a plethora of advantages to the warfighter and their commanders. From high-speed data cleaning to autonomous intelligence-gathering sensors, AI presents a significant warfighting advantage to whichever nation can field it properly. As part of a wider conversation at AUSA on Project Convergence 21, experts discussed how AI remains a critical component of any future battle management system.
As a requirements officer for AI and ML at the Navy Digital Warfare Office, USN Cmdr. Wicks is working with the Navy’s JADC2 program, the Air Force’s ABMS, and the Marine Corps’ Project Overmatch. Each has shown him the power and potential that AI has for in-field applications.
Technology demonstrations and exercises like PC21 allow for quick testing and solution identification. The nature of PC21 lets leaders like Wicks identify those needed changes and then “pick up the phone and make changes to code” which brings real substantial progress far faster than before.
Eliminating roadblocks to creating rapid iterative solutions is a crucial part of how Project Convergence is enabling AI and ML to play a larger role in warfighter readiness sooner. “As we go into the future, and we need to think about being more adaptable,” Wicks explained. That adaptability applies not just to the teams conducting the project but to the technologies and solutions themselves of the future battlespace. One particular adaptation that Wicks highlighted is machine-to-machine communication, something which has been made difficult due to legacy systems and solutions that are not designed to communicate with each other.
For their part, the defense industry has been hard at work trying to address that next generation of interoperable platforms and solutions. The industry has notably been facilitating the U.S. Military’s transition from analog to digital. Wicks noted that this is the next major roadblock facing the military. “That transition from analog to digital, that’s the first step. Then once we get to digital machine-to-machine communications, we start automating and introducing AI and ML.”
That step, introducing AI and ML to the existing systems, will create its own series of hurdles that must be addressed. One which Wicks emphasized is how to guarantee reliable data sharing with those who need it. “What we need to be able to do is enable the right shooters and the right commander, with the right data, at the right time.” Wicks explained that the defense industry should start thinking about how their technologies can help provide that efficient and reliable communication, as PC21 and PC22 continue to make progress and the services begin to look for solutions.
Ongoing conversations with joint partners and allies for PC22 show that the AI and ML-enabled future is on the way, and the U.S. military is ready for the industry to step in and help create it. “AI and ML enable us to be faster, make better decisions, and to overwhelm and converge on our adversaries,” Wicks concluded. How the industry will answer that call remains to be seen, but whoever gets involved will find an eager participant in the U.S. military.
To watch the entire panel discussion on AI and ML in the future battlespace, click here.