VIEWPOINT DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Operating at the Speed of Trust on the Battlefield of 2030 and Beyond
Former Defense Secretary Dr. Mark Esper once said, “History informs us that those who are first to harness once-in-a-generation technologies often have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for years to come.”
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be pivotal in shaping the modern battlefield. These technologies enhance situational awareness, optimize decision-making and provide a competitive edge.
From autonomous drones for reconnaissance to predictive analytics for supply chain management, their impact is profound. Operations in Ukraine have highlighted the application of these technologies: the Army Materiel Command’s Analysis Group — led by Dr. Chris Hill — has harnessed operational data to assist in demand planning at the point of need while seamlessly predicting and coordinating requirements. The ability to process vast amounts of data like this rapidly allows for real-time threat detection and response, saving lives and resources.
Moreover, AI aids in developing sophisticated cyber defenses and supports the creation of smarter, more adaptable weaponry. In short, artificial intelligence and machine learning are revolutionizing warfare by increasing efficiency, accuracy and overall effectiveness. This will remain the case as we continue activities and operations and make investments globally.
Overall, commanders and leaders must trust this technology for it to prove effective during joint all-domain operations. It is imperative that leaders at all echelons think about how we develop and implement a data training strategy with home station — as well as combat training center involvement — to build confidence in the technology so that leaders will be able to operate at the speed of trust.
In the ever-evolving landscape of warfare, technological advancements have continuously shaped the way armed forces operate. From the Gatling gun during the Civil War to the DUKW amphibious vehicle and the M-3 half-track personnel carrier during World War II, technology has always impacted how we fight.
Among these advancements, AI and machine learning have emerged as game-changers and will no doubt revolutionize the modern battlefield. Their integration has brought about unparalleled improvements in various aspects of military operations, from intelligence gathering to decision-making and beyond.
Quantum computing and machine learning can turn out more courses of action in seconds than a traditional staff can turn during the military decision-making process, and this allows for the speed of decisions that will give us a decisive edge.
As the character of war changes, we are at a strategic inflection point as now-retired Gen. Mark Milley illuminated in a Joint Force Quarterly article, “Strategic Inflection Point: The Most Historically Significant and Fundamental Change in the Character of War is Happening Now — While the Future is Clouded in Mist and Uncertainty,” published in July 2023.
“We must strive to get less wrong than the enemy,” he stated. This demands fundamental shifts in our joint task forces guided by the Joint Warfighting Concept. As we transition to a new era of warfare, we must ensure the Joint Force is included in the integration of AI and ML if we are to win the battle of getting “less wrong than the enemy.”
Meanwhile, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the battlefield is crucial for military success, and AI and ML will enable the armed forces to harness the power of big data and real-time information to enhance situational awareness. Autonomous drones equipped with AI algorithms can conduct reconnaissance missions with unparalleled efficiency, capturing data on enemy movements, terrain conditions and potential threats. This information is processed rapidly, allowing commanders to make informed decisions in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional methods.
This increased situational awareness not only minimizes risks for soldiers but also enables proactive responses to emerging threats. Simply put, access to data that can be rapidly processed and analyzed to inform real-time decision-making by commanders and warfighters is a game-changer on the battlefield.
Leveraging technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will shape how we employ this concept in future fights, as well as dictate how we train and develop leaders at echelon to leverage this revolutionary technology during competition, crisis or conflict.
In a recent Military Review article, Lt. Gen. Milford Beagle, commanding general of the Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, spoke about how we must optimize command posts by reducing reliance on the material and increasing our utilization of the information dimension.
In the chaos of warfare, split-second decisions can determine the outcome of battles.
As seen in the Battle of Midway during World War II, the speed of decision-making made the difference between success and failure during that naval battle. AI and machine learning algorithms are designed to process vast amounts of data and identify patterns that humans might miss. These tools would change how organizations make better decisions faster.
Elevating those commanders at the farthest edges of the battlefield that often operate in a “disconnected data” environment fall victim to a laborious flow of information between operational commanders and upper echelons.
This capability assists military leaders in making more informed decisions, from choosing optimal strategies to assessing the best course of action based on real-time intelligence. Predictive analytics derived from historical data can also aid in forecasting enemy movements and identifying potential weak points in their defenses. This is a big complement to the human intelligence and signals intelligence streams that commanders now leverage.
In the end, leveraging this technology results in a more calculated and effective approach to military operations, leading to minimized casualties and improved mission success rates.
Strategic competitors are deploying capabilities to fight the United States through multiple layers of stand-off in all domains, which will require us to defeat multiple layers of stand-off in space, cyber, air, sea and land. The ability to detect and respond to threats in real time is a critical component of modern warfare.
AI-powered systems can monitor multiple data sources simultaneously, ranging from satellite imagery to intercepted communications. By analyzing this data in real time, algorithms can identify anomalies and potential threats, triggering immediate alerts to military personnel. This proactive approach enables rapid response and counteraction, preventing adversaries from gaining an upper hand.
Whether it’s a cyberattack on critical infrastructure or the movement of enemy forces, AI-driven threat detection systems offer a significant advantage in maintaining the security and integrity of military operations.
Logistics and supply chain management are the lifeblood of any military campaign. There are too many interacting variables in a global integrated logistics environment for a sustainer to effectively monitor.
Today, personnel can only provide monitoring of historical data for vehicle fleets and commodities of supplies across various data streams. As John Price of Lone Star Analysis wrote in an August 2021 article in Military Embedded Systems, “computer systems can provide constant evaluation, and with enough machine intelligence, predictions become powerful.”
AI and machine learning optimize these processes by predicting demand patterns, identifying supply shortages and streamlining distribution routes. This includes AI-driven vehicle condition-based maintenance that monitors every aspect of a vehicle, from air intake to exhaust and all points therein.
As a result, we shift the paradigm completely from the factory to the foxhole, where now requirements emanate from the foxhole to the factory. Vehicle condition-based maintenance leverages both predictive and prescriptive analytics while providing continuous diagnostics as well as delivering problem prediction and solution prescription, thereby allowing personnel to focus on making specific adjustments to optimize the operational availability of a military vehicle fleet.
This not only ensures that troops have the necessary resources but also minimizes wastage and reduces costs. By automating repetitive tasks and optimizing routes, armed forces can allocate resources more effectively and maintain a competitive edge in terms of both speed and efficiency. This type of precision sustainment enabled by AI and machine learning ensures responses are at the speed of need or moving from the foxhole to the factory and not factory to foxhole.
Meanwhile, modern warfare extends beyond traditional battlefields, encompassing the cyber realm as well. Artificial intelligence and machine learning play a crucial role in developing adaptive defense strategies against cyber threats.
The acronym known in the Defense Department as OODA — Observe, Orient, Decide and Attack — is the cycle in which warfighters use data to enable not only educated decision-making but timely orientation as well. These technologies can quickly identify and respond to cyberattacks, analyzing patterns to distinguish between normal network activities and suspicious behavior. Additionally, AI-driven cybersecurity systems can learn from previous attacks and continuously improve their ability to detect and neutralize emerging threats.
As the world continues to evolve, so does the nature of conflict. AI and machine learning have emerged as indispensable tools in the modern military arsenal. Their capacity to process vast amounts of data, enhance decision-making and enable real-time responses has transformed the way armed forces operate.
From improving situational awareness to revolutionizing supply chain management and cybersecurity, the technologies are shaping the future of warfare.
The Defense Department must follow a “design to use” approach to leverage this technology during joint all-domain operations. Each service has different requirements when developing solutions.
Army requirements could be for soldiers on the move or ground combat vehicles; in contrast, for the Air Force, the case could be something needed for a forward air base.
As we move forward, the integration of these technologies will remain vital in maintaining military superiority and ensuring the safety and success of military personnel on the modern battlefield. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, we will no doubt be able to get there the “firstest with the mostest.” ND
Maj. Gen. David Wilson is commanding general of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Defense Department or the Army.