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The Future Battlefield is Digital

The Future Battlefield is Digital
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An Open Architecture for the Future Battlefield

It’s time for the U.S. Army to create a fully integrated, digital battlefield—using secure, open architectures that will seamlessly connect diverse legacy systems and new technologies. This interoperable framework will support rapid data collection and analysis, communication, faster decisions, and enhanced performance—from the rear echelon to the tactical edge. By joining research and development (R&D), operations, and diverse partners from major companies to nontraditional defense contractors, we can speed the path for the U.S. Army to achieve greater lethality with higher survivability.  

Advantages of the Integrated Digital Battlefield 

Connecting intelligence and operations with agile, integrated systems and components will strengthen our overall national defense—while providing benefits for every stakeholder:

  • The Army will own the solution and have access to the country’s best innovation, accelerating integration, lowering costs, and saving time.
  • Soldiers will execute their missions with higher coordination and synchronized power to enhance readiness and resilience, leading to higher lethality and survivability.
  • Buyers and decision makers will have confidence in modular, scalable tech that transforms effectiveness. They can be continuously innovative while streamlining rollout and training.
  • Research and development groups will have a standardized, open framework to speed innovation.
  • Military partners from large original equipment manufacturers to small nontraditional defense contractors will be able to plug into consistent, standardized frameworks that speed innovation. 

Warfare Is Digital

Across land, in the air, below the sea, and in space, the battlefield is becoming increasingly digital. Time is the new weapon. Digital ecosystems are composed of smaller components that must be networked—and no single solutions provider can manage it all. Legacy and proprietary systems must be able to integrate the latest breakthroughs to combat emerging threats.

Procurement needs to move faster to answer new challenges. Sets, kits, and outfits should no longer be tied to programs of record that risk being outdated before they’re fully fielded. Instead, upgradable equipment should be procured at scale so it can be produced in large volumes to enhance readiness quickly across the services. To sustain overmatch, the Army needs to modernize, innovate, and integrate—allowing soldiers to dominate at speed.

Why Integration Is the Answer 

Integration will allow the Army to strengthen today’s performance while it architects tomorrow’s solutions. Leaders must connect emerging technology with unified standards, clear communication, and faster processes.

Instead of disparate pieces working in stovepipes, we need to accelerate innovation by connecting our soldiers to systems and tools in secure, interoperable ways through open architectures. Instead of program offices working on custom projects, we need to align efforts across the Army, partnering with industry, academia, and tech leaders. In addition, instead of being locked into proprietary solutions via labyrinthine, expensive programs of record, the military needs to tap into agile new thinking from both large companies and small, nontraditional contractors.  

Uniting weapons, tools, and tactics around open, interoperable architectures will give the soldier a seamless flow of information providing higher resilience, with rapid updates driven by agile processes that work across the operational domain—keeping squads not just up-to-date for today’s challenges, but ahead of tomorrow’s threat.

Benefits for Soldiers, Squads, and Across the Battlefield

Integrated systems and strategies can empower commanders, squads, and individual soldiers with greater lethality through a connected ecosystem of digital capabilities and technologies. Here are some ways the Army can create a resilient future force.    

1. Integrate Soldier Training and Operations with Immersive Technology

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and other immersive technologies help soldiers increase lethality with higher survivability. Soldiers can train for multiple events in an environment that replicates the one they’ll operate in, saving time and costs and enhancing live training. When squads are in-theater, integrated systems will gather soldier data to inform future training—while bringing analytics into the theater for actionable intelligence at the edge.    

VR transforms mission training, planning, and after-action reviews. With a steady stream of biometric, physiological, and cognitive data gathered from their performance, soldiers can train as they fight by practicing within realistic immersive scenarios. They will carry the same techniques into battle using lightweight, networked tech—with sensors which gather data to inform future training. This data can also be used to quantify soldiers’ increased effectiveness, giving more precise data for strategic planning.

Creating a fast path to close the orient, observe, decide, act (OODA) loop before near-peer enemy forces can observe is a key goal of today’s Army. Enabling the soldier to train as they fight will empower soldier performance, providing a virtual loop of continuous improvement to get inside the adversary’s OODA loop.

Our own work developing tactical training tools confirms that “virtually being there” before the mission accelerates soldiers’ confidence and competence in-theater.

Use AR for mission rehearsal, execution, and after-action. Overlaying digital content on top of a real-world environment gives soldiers critical information when every second counts. As with VR, soldiers can use AR to train for dangerous missions safely, with physiological and cognitive performance data showing areas where improvement is needed—for example, strengthening eye focus or lowering heart rate—on the same domain and environment where they’ll deploy or operate. 

During rehearsal for an actual mission, they can continue to use the same AR capability, honing the skills they’ll use in combat. For example, leaders can prepare troops for missions from identifying strategic targets to mine detection. Then in theater, as soldiers perform these skills, networked systems will track physiological and cognitive data while intel streams in to improve communication, performance, and situational awareness—providing faster, more actionable intelligence to speed decision making. After training or combat, the data can be used to inform the next training session.

AR and VR applications can be tailored for specific roles and tasks. For example, commanders currently meet virtually to visualize the execution of multiple operations orders through our Tabletop Commander application, which combines machine learning and analytics with remote collaboration.

2. Connect Squads for Mobile, Agile, Coordinated Action at the Edge

Soldiers on the move will be more agile and effective with light, fast, secure devices providing real-time intel and awareness. Using integrated, open-tech solutions, squads will have the ability to make fast decisions anytime, anywhere. 

Unify and augment soldiers’ capabilities with one integrated framework delivering analytics at the edge. Working with partners, we’ve developed technology to prove the efficacy of a unified solution. Our SmartEdge framework selects and processes sensor data using individual devices to create a platform anywhere the soldier travels. It consists of a sensor processing unit loaded with open software that receives and transmits data in near real-time, with fused sensors giving access to capabilities like cameras and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. 

Through meshed processing—networks created by a fusion of sensors and capabilities—squads receive analytics and intel to increase situational awareness in disconnected environments. As a result, soldiers can make split-second decisions for fast action to increase lethality.

Share intelligence within the squad with intra-soldier wireless (ISW). Using open, non-proprietary standards, ISW will allow for strategic capabilities such as secure, resilient positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) aligned across platforms and systems to ensure soldiers can trust the data to navigate and synchronize with certainty, speed, and precision. They’ll be empowered by continuous monitoring and AI processing, securely delivered through sensors and light tech embedded in their headsets.

3. Shape the Future Battlefield with Autonomous Assets  

Since the military will own this open, integrated architecture, it can be continuously updated. This will allow rapid expansion to a fully integrated battlefield, where soldiers can connect with ground combat vehicles and autonomous assets that function independently, yet in coordination. Soldiers will gain unprecedented visibility and autonomy in critical situations, ensuring we keep the ultimate weapon—time—on our side as we disrupt the adversary’s OODA loop. 

Drones, airborne sensors, vehicles, and other assets will serve as autonomous aids to help soldiers be more effective with less risk. Think of routinely working with vehicles that arrive when summoned, mini-drones that zoom to surveil adversaries at command, and bomb-disposal robots opening doors to look inside vehicles to search for explosive devices. Autonomous agents can help replenish troops in the field, directly contributing to soldiers’ survival.

We’re All In for the Integrated Battlefield

By helping every U.S. military branch integrate mission with execution over the past decades, we have seen firsthand the challenges of unconnected systems, R&D, policies, and procedures.

Today we're helping units accelerate transformation across every Army service command, from home station to combat training centers. We’ve built a network of iHubs to provide innovation where it’s needed, with inventive partnerships ranging from global technology leaders to agile startups.

Our experts integrate new and legacy systems and provide tech-agnostic engineering services, scouting out the best solution for the Department of Defense’s needs—if we can’t find it, we’ll help build it. We’re here to provide open tech that will ensure continued overmatch.

Explore our vision for the future battlefield