GovConWire: Expert Panel Discusses Army Modernization Efforts & Challenges During Potomac Officers Club’s 5th Annual Army Forum

Sep 7, 2020

By Sarah Sybert

During Potomac Officers Club’s 5th Annual Army Forum on August 27th, notable federal and industry leaders discussed the progress, innovations and accomplishments of the Army’s modernization renaissance over the last year, what challenges remain, and how industry can help in 2021 and beyond.

If you missed the event, you can still register to watch the footage in Potomac Officers Club’s Event Archive.

During the forum, Potomac Officers Club hosted an expert panel, moderated by Kevin Leonard senior vice president of Contingency Operations with Vectrus.

The panel featured industry experts, including four-time Wash100 Award recipient Tony Frazier, executive vice president of Global Field Operations with Maxar Technologies and Mike Wells, chief innovation officer of the Operation Technology Group with Vectrus.

Federal leaders on the panel included Keith Krapels, director of Sensors & Electron Devices Directorate at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory (ARL); BG Anthony Potts, program executive officer (PEO) Soldier with the U.S. Army; and Joel Babbitt, Program Executive Officer – SOF Warrior, U.S. Special Operations Command.

Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)) and 2020 Wash100 Award recipient, served as a keynote speaker during the forum.

BG Potts began the panel discussion, stating, “In these times, we have the opportunity to do things differently. In the last several years we’ve gained more capability in on-body computing.” He added that a primary initiative within his office is to build an architecture that enables capability development at the speed of innovation and the speed of relevance to better support the soldiers on the battlefield.

Within the shifting defense landscape, “Army leadership is willing to accept more prudent risk to gain a greater reward than I’ve seen in my career,” he said. The office has recently developed a soldier/squad integration facility (SIF), where the division leverages augmentation systems to enhance its adaptive squad architecture. The facility enables the integrated testing of capabilities linked together through our government owned architecture.

“The SIF becomes the physical instantiation of our Architecture, where we bring capability together as a system of systems. The only way that works is by the USG owning the architecture. It is the interface control documents (electrical, mechanical, and physical) along with our software development tool kit, that unites these technologies,” BG Potts said.

COL Babbitt followed BG Potts, adding analysis on how SOCOM has modernized its systems to address the modern battlefield.  SOCOM is a joint force, and is working to help build the ties that forget a more joint force across the defense branches. “We not only see the future as more joint, but we’re working to build that future,” Babbitt said.

While there are organizations that work to predict black swan events like the COVID-19 pandemic, COL Babbitt and his team have worked to research emerging trends. He shared three of those emerging trends: Social War, Mass is King, and Hyper-Enabled Forces.

Social warfare focuses on how deep fake images and fake news, within the context of a great war, can drive strategic decisions. Mass is King focuses on the rising role of drones and autonomous capabilities in warfare going forward.

Hyper-Enabled Forces is the concept of taking larger assets that are controlled at the operational level of war and miniaturizing them to operate at the tactical level of war, such as small drones for local ISR rather than large drones, loitering man-pack, ISR-capable missiles rather than missiles delivered by aircraft, and automating intel analysis and putting it on the operator rather than having a room full of analysts.

Krapels provided a scientific approach to warfare, noting that his office focuses on the development of STEM technology for the defense department. He listed some of the recent developments within his agency, noting that there are areas that the Army needs to grow to remain competitive in the smart technology battlefield.

“We’re developing technologies that we can’t and don’t have today. We’re going to enable capability overmatch within architectures of systems in the future to have overmatch over our competition,” Krapels said.

The research from ARL will enable the industry to develop new capabilities. The industry excels at RDT&E BA 6.3 and RDT&E BA 6.4, advanced development and prototyping.  ARL is working on developing Diamond ultra-wide band gap RF electronics into next generation RF systems.

Wells followed Krapels address, adding to the theory of safe havens and 5G technologies. He stated that 5G will enable end-to-end transmissions to be received in approximately one millisecond, which means that the decision process will drastically change.

“5G is a strategic imperative for the DoD to embrace and move technology into everything it does because data can come together instantaneously,” Wells said.

5G could enable a vehicle to communicate across offices quickly, and the vehicle could potentially become autonomous. He also discussed the internet of things (IoT). IT and OT convergence, noting it could be one of the largest security challenges the nation would face and is comparable to the launch of the internet.

Frazier discussed how Maxar continues to work in tandem with the federal sector on modernization and acquisition process efforts. Maxar has supported the DoD, specifically SOCOM, Army and intelligence community (IC) for decades. The company’s satellite imagery enables soldiers and analysts with foundation GEOINT and critical situational awareness to support their missions.

“We’ve invested over $1 billion dollars in capabilities of the future, such as our next-generation WorldView Legion satellites, the acquisition of the 3D data and technology leader Vricon, and artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to respond to the challenges outlined in the DoD’s National Defense Strategy,” Frazier said.

In case you missed the event, click here to replay Potomac Officers Club’s 5th Annual Army Virtual Forum.