ADELPHI, Md. — Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall emphasized responsiveness to changing threats during his meeting with scientists and engineers from the Army Research Laboratory.
During his visit to the ARL’s Adelphi Laboratory Center on Monday, Aug. 8, Kendall spoke about the Department of Defense’s efforts to improve acquisition practices and implement sound investment strategies for the future force.
“We cannot assume that, when we put a system out, it’s going to be fine for the next three or four decades,” Kendall said. “We’ve got to stay on top of what the threats are doing. They’re moving quickly. They’re responding to us, and we have to do the same.”
Kendall is the Department of Defense’s champion for what is known today as “Better Buying Power 3.0,” or the third iteration of acquisition improvement. He said his primary goal is providing dominant capabilities to the warfighter so that the United States can maintain and extend technological overmatch.
“The ultimate aim is to develop what we refer to as the Third Offset Strategy,” he said.
“Offset” refers to the combinations of technologies, organizational structures, and operating principles that will allow the U.S. to maintain military superiority without having to match a potential adversary plane-for-plane, tank-for-tank or troop-for-troop.
The DOD is pursuing technologies such as autonomy, artificial intelligence and related technologies as part of its third offset strategy. During Kendall’s day-long visit, Army researchers showcased a variety technologies meant to complement it.
At the ARL Network Science Research Laboratory, Kendall learned how industry and academia are working side-by-side with Army researchers through the Open Campus Initiative, which enables researchers from a variety of different domains to jointly conduct foundational research in Network Science.
“We are looking to understand the complex interactions between human, information and communications networks,” said Dr. Brian Rivera, chief of the Tactical Network Assurance Branch.
“(The goal is) to provide improved communications and decision-making systems for the Soldier.”
Through Open Campus, the laboratory collaborates with national and international academia, industry, small business and other government partners on forward-reaching research in areas of strategic importance to the Army.
Army neuroscientist Dr. Jean Vettel presented how her team is trying to improve Soldier performance by developing technologies that use information about the brain’s network activity to enable technology that dynamically adapts to its user.
“We’re interested in improving human-machine collaboration,” Vettel said.
Vettel’s team demonstrated a system developed with funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense under the Autonomy Research Pilot Initiative, known as ARPI. In the system, humans team with computers to enhance performance on tasks like target identification.
Using two human agents and eight autonomous deep learning computer vision agents, the hybrid team of agents completed the tasks eight times as fast as a human would operating without the system, but with comparable accuracy of humans alone.
Army researchers also revealed a future vision of autonomous robotic systems exploring new environments, sharing intelligence and enhancing manned-unmanned teaming.
“This is where we want to go looking into the future,” said Collaborative Alliance Manager Dr. Brett Piekarski, Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance.
“We really think it’s in the distributed and collaborative intelligence, control, and resilient behaviors for large numbers of heterogeneous [or diverse] systems.”
Kendall observed ground and air robotics in operation and listened researchers discuss the challenges they face developing new technology.
“I know you’re doing a lot of great work,” he said. “The message for you is to work as hard as you can and get as much from the money you have as possible. That means technologies that are going to go into the hands of the warfighter and get into our fielded systems.”
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.