53. Critical Juncture in DoD Manufacturing Technologies

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present a new post by returning guest blogger and official Mad Scientist Dr. Richard Nabors, addressing the importance of DoD Manufacturing Technologies (MANTECH). In this future-focused story, critical decision points are interspersed throughout the narrative, illustrating the ramifications of DoD MANTECH investment decisions in ensuring military superiority for future operations.

Dr. Nabors’ previous guest posts discussed how:
Integrated sensor systems will provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces;
Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for these integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments); and
• The recently completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program can serve as a use case for successful future innovation via four key practices.)

Source: Future War Stories (FWS) Blogsite

Four men crouched behind an air conditioning unit mounted on the roof of the townhouse, guns aimed and ready. US Army Sergeant Johnson, the unit leader, could sense the others’ tension as a truck drove down the street below them. He glanced toward Rodriguez, the fifth man of the team, who lay belly down on the roof in front of the air conditioner box, peering over the edge. The enemy truck appeared a tempting target, but the continuous, live reporting Johnson was receiving from the Soldier Support Artificial Intelligence Unit (SOSIA) that they had just spent the morning setting up indicated there were civilians in the area. “Hold,” he whispered into his helmet mike.

SOSIA was a powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) computer program that connected to an Integrated Sensor Architecture of millions of commercial and military sensors which processed and sent real-time analysis and imagery directly to soldiers. SOSIA used everything from city overhead street cameras, to in-the-road seismic sensors, and the tens of thousands of military sensors fielded, such as Sargent Johnson’s personal Short-Wave InfraRed (SWIR) imager. The bone conducting speaker in Johnson’s helmet chirped the vital statistics of the truck as it approached. Johnson activated his mic again and whispered, SOSIA says the truck is full. Too many for us to take on without compromising the mission. Also, there are civilians in the area.”

Rodriguez wriggled back to the shelter of the air conditioning unit and glared at Johnson.  SOSIA says,” he growled, sarcasm dripping from each word. Is SOSIA in command, Johnson?”

Johnson studied him a minute, and then each of the others before responding. He knew that the waiting and inactivity were telling on the men. They wanted action. They had seen too many of their buddies fall, too many dead civilians, too many wounded children. They wanted to destroy the base from which the enemy operated.

“What’s eatin’ you, Rod? Don’t you trust all of the techno stuff we’ve been deploying?” Johnson asked as calmly as he could, given his own tension.

“Sure,” Rodriguez shrugged. “I just don’t like a bunch of electrons and wires tellin’ a thinking human bein’ what to do.”

“You know that I am in command of this mission.” Johnson glared at him with an icy stare. “I am the thinking human being behind every decisive action we take. Don’t ever forget it.”

Rodriguez dropped his eyes. “Sorry, Sarge,” he mumbled.

The plan to attack the enemy’s temporary command post by a small assault team was totally contingent on the element of surprise. Their mission was dependent upon the information generated by the sensors they had laid around the enemy’s post. They had to know what they were getting into. Were the enemy holed up in the post or were individual outposts spread out in the surrounding structures? The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drones that had already been deployed in combination with their compact lidar imagery systems had swept the landscape for enemy and friendly sensors while creating a 3D terrain of the urban space around the enemy’s command post. Johnson had been briefed on the data and the maps were available on his helmet display. Now SOSIA’s data had been added to mix.

What next was his judgement call. Command Central had given unit leaders the ability and responsibility to be autonomous and to make decisions based on the immediate situation. The lives of his men, the enemy, and the civilians between them depended on what he called next. Outside of the truck below, the sensor data indicated that the area had been cleared of all enemy combatants. Should he trust the data from the sensors and proceed with the original plan?

No:  Because the number of sensors available for the US Army to use were limited, Johnson could not trust that the area was clear and that his small team would have the element of surprise they would need to survive an assault on the base. Without this confidence, the risks were too high and the mission would need to be abandoned.

Yes:  Because of DoD Manufacturing Technology investments into sensor manufacturing, the US Army was able to field an incredible volume of low-cost, complex sensors across the battlespace, ensuring that systems like SOSIA and Johnson had enough information about global awareness to feel confident with the real-time data that they had access to. Being able to trust in the sensor network that provided critical, in the moment information enabled Johnson to manage the risks and make the call.

Johnson jerked his head and motioned the men to go down the staircase off of the roof. “All data indicates that the area is clear,” he stated firmly. “SOSIA is tracking the truck to the possible base site. Any questions before we go?”

“Sarge,” Boskar piped up hesitantly, “how do we know that the data is not compromised? Are we certain the enemy isn’t hacking into our systems and feeding us false information like we did to them?”

Johnson nodded. The scenario was possible. The sky was full of satellites, spying on each other. Whose was the most updated? It did seem a bit odd that the scans did not find many enemy security and/or sensors to prevent hostile forces from sneaking up on their base. Maybe their security was depending on the anonymity of being embedded in a residential area of townhouses and small stores. But was our technology protected from a hacker? he thought. Was the information he received accurate? Should he trust it?

No: With majority of sensors and networking components being manufactured outside the USA, security could definitely be an issue with compromises pre-built into the technology, not to mention the risk of possible hacking.

Yes: Because of investments into US sensor and networking manufacturers, technology from USA manufacturers has been continually updated with reliable safeguards against possible hacking or intrusion.

“Nothing is a certainty,” Johnson stated flatly. “But we can be confident that everything possible has been done to ensure the security and reliability of our intel. All any soldier can do is to trust the instructions he has been given,” Johnson reminded himself as well as his men.

Source: Reuters

“Besides, we have a surprise for them.” Reaching into the pouch at his waist, Johnson removed two small objects, one a micro-drone the size of a large beetle, the other a small touch pad. Carefully he thumbed the pad on his palm. The micro-drone darted off to follow the truck, setting down on the canopy just as the truck turned the corner and was lost from sight. “It’s embedded with an electronic disruption device,” he explained. “We’ll activate it when we are ready to go in.”

Moving quietly in their armored suits, they quickly followed the truck to the base site. Each suit had its own power pack which supplied power to all their communication and sensor devices.

Source: DeviantArt.com / LordHayabusa357G

The unique optical communication signals between their powered suits allowed continuous communications even when under electronic jamming attacks by the enemy.

The intel from the drones and SOSIA had been right. There was no complex network of perimeter sensors, at least nothing sounded an alarm, as the team got into their hold position just a short distance from the base. They took cover in an abandoned storefront building that was still home to a number of civilian refugees. “Landis, set up our jammers and get this area under a communications blackout,” Johnson commanded. “Once that is done, Boskar and Simon, round up the civilians and get them to the safe area we identified, quickly and quietly. We want them out of here before any enemy shows up. Oh, and immediately confiscate any electronic devices, just in case,” he added with a grim smile.

After the men had secured the area, Johnson once again reviewed the plan. The plan was simple. For weeks, Central Command had leaked false information that they still had no idea where the enemy command post was. Intercepted enemy communications gave every indication that they believed the false reports. Now a small attack team was to approach the base, evacuate any civilian population still in the area, and then destroy the base. All without the enemy noticing what they were doing and all without injury to or protests by civilians. What could be simpler than that?

Although the attack team had the advantage of the latest in armored suits, the enemy had the advantage of numbers and being in a defensive position. Using security codes that had been hacked from the enemy’s satellite phone system, they planned to open the base doors. Their explosives expert, Rodriguez, would proceed to lay explosives around the building while the rest of the team were to protect him by taking out any threat.

Johnson looked around at his men. Could they, the five of them, do it? They had the will. Did they have the technology to achieve this objective? There was still time to take the civilians with them and make a dash for the Command Post. Should they proceed?

No: What limited sensor intel they had could not provide the confidence necessary that a small team would be successful in overcoming the odds and disadvantages stacked against them. Without real-time information that could be acted on immediately by the squad and its leadership, it would be far too dangerous to attempt any type of decisive action where flexibility and adaptability would be required.

Yes: Because of sustained investments in high performance sensor development and manufacturing within the USA. The US Army has maintained global technology overmatch and superiority in fielding critical intelligence at the farthest echelons. Teams such as Johnson’s can trust that they will maintain combat overmatch even while outnumbered and working in complex environments because of the situational understanding achieved through the use of sensors and their enabling technologies.

“We belong to the best military in the world. We have the best weaponry, the best intel, the best technology,” Johnson said, “and we have the best men. Let’s go!”

Source: DeviantArt.com / LordHayabusa357G

[Editor’s Note: The narrative above is a work of fiction; the names of the individuals portrayed in it are not based on real people.]

Dr. Richard Nabors is Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Deputy Director, Operations Division, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.

48. Warfare at the Speed of Thought

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the second guest blog post by Dr. Richard Nabors, Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Deputy Director, Operations Division, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), addressing how Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments.

Dr. Nabors’ previous guest post addressed how the proliferation of sensors, integrated via the Internet of Battlefield Things [IoBT], will provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces.)

Speed has always been and will be a critical component in assuring military dominance. Historically, the military has sought to increase the speed of its jets, ships, tanks, and missiles. However, one of the greatest leaps that has yet to come and is coming is the ability to significantly increase the speed of the decision-making process of the individual at the small unit level.

Source: University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
To maximize individual and small unit initiative to think and act flexibly, Soldiers must receive as much relevant information as possible, as quickly as possible. Integrated sensor technologies can provide situational awareness by collecting and sorting real-time data and sending a fusion of information to the point of need, but that information must be processed quickly in order to be operationally effective. Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are two of the most promising solutions to this challenge facing the military and will eventually make it possible for Soldiers to instantaneously respond to an actively changing environment.

AR and MR function in real-time, bringing the elements of the digital world into a Soldier’s perceived real world, resulting in optimal, timely, and relevant decisions and actions. AR and MR allow for the overlay of information and sensor data into the physical space in a way that is intuitive, serves the point of need, and requires minimal training to interpret. AR and MR will enable the U.S. military to survive in complex environments by decentralizing decision-making from mission command and placing substantial capabilities in Soldiers’ hands in a manner that does not overwhelm them with information.

Source: Tom Rooney III
On a Soldier’s display, AR can render useful battlefield data in the form of camera imaging and virtual maps, aiding a Soldier’s navigation and battlefield perspective. Special indicators can mark people and various objects to warn of potential dangers.
Source: MicroVision
Soldier-borne, palm-size reconnaissance copters with sensors and video can be directed and tasked instantaneously on the battlefield. Information can be gathered by unattended ground sensors and transmitted to a command center, with AR and MR serving as a networked communication system between military leaders and the individual Soldier. Used in this way, AR and MR increase Soldier safety and lethality.

In the near-term, the Army Research and Development (R&D) community is investing in the following areas:


Reliable position tracking devices that self-calibrate for head orientation of head-worn sensors.


• Ultralight, ultrabright, ultra-transparent display eyewear with wide field of view.

Source: CIO Australia

• Three-dimensional viewers with battlefield terrain visualization, incorporating real-time data from unmanned aerial vehicles, etc.




In the mid-term, R&D activities are focusing on:

• Manned vehicles with sensors and processing capabilities for moving autonomously, tasked for Soldier protection.

Robotic assets, tele-operated, semi-autonomous, or autonomous and imbued with intelligence, with limbs that can keep pace with Soldiers and act as teammates.

Source: BAE
• Robotic systems that contain multiple sensors that respond to environmental factors affecting the mission, or have self-deploying camouflage capabilities that stay deployed while executing maneuvers.

• Enhanced reconnaissance through deep-penetration mapping of building layouts, cyber activity, and subterranean infrastructure.

Once AR and MR prototypes and systems have seen widespread use, the far term focus will be on automation that could track and react to a Soldier’s changing situation by tailoring the augmentation the Soldier receives and by coordinating across the unit.

In addition, AR and MR will revolutionize training, empowering Soldiers to train as they fight. Soldiers will be able to use real-time sensor data from unmanned aerial vehicles to visualize battlefield terrain with geographic awareness of roads, buildings, and other structures before conducting their missions. They will be able to rehearse courses of action and analyze them before execution to improve situational awareness. AR and MR are increasingly valuable aids to tactical training in preparation for combat in complex and congested environments.

AR and MR are the critical elements required for integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments. Solving the challenge of how and where to use AR and MR will enable the military to get full value from its investments in complex integrated sensor systems.

For more information on how the convergence of technologies will enhance Soldiers on future battlefields, see:

– The discussion on advanced decision-making in An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

– Dr. James Canton’s presentation from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, & Autonomy Conference at Georgia Tech Research Institute last March.

– Dr. Rob Smith’s Mad Scientist Speaker Series presentation on Operationalizing Big Data, where he addresses the applicability of AR to sports and games training as an analogy to combat training (noting “Serious sport is war minus the shooting” — George Orwell).

Dr. Richard Nabors is Associate Director for Strategic Planning, US Army CERDEC Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.