Today I follow up on last week’s “War, Peace, and Technology.” Digging a bit deeper led me to discover what the military is really after with its augmented reality contract, recently awarded to Microsoft.
Not to mix fact with fiction, we can examine the government’s own solicitation documents to get to the bottom of its reasoning for the $480 million procurement of Microsoft’s HoloLens technology. The objective stares us right in the face. U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) Prototype Project aims to “rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train.” That is all fine and well.
The interesting part comes next. What our government seeks for our military is the “increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.” Remember how I said that technology could bring about war and peace equally? That was before the word “lethality” jumped out at me from the pages of the solicitation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still technology’s champion. That is, I will advocate for technological advancement until the day I die (hopefully not at the hand of some advanced military weapon). Now that we are on this path of using augmented reality headsets to train our soldiers and equip them for battle, there is no turning back.
Since I seem not to tire of saying how much I dislike conspiracy theories, let’s move on to facts alone. The facts reside in the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) Unclassified brief put together by the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. IVAS stands as the answer to a “fundamental problem” to overcome “an erosion in close combat capability relative to the pacing threats identified in the National Defense Strategy.” This platform comes with some impressive bells and whistles:
· Day/Night Rapid Target Acquisition
· Machine Learning Capabilities/Artificial Intelligence
· Synthetic Training Environment (STE) Squad Capability (One World Terrain, Training Simulation Software, Training Management Tools)
· An Adaptive Squad Operating System
· Nett Warrior / ATAK Connectivity
· Fused Day/Night Vision Capabilities
· Intra-Soldier Wireless Connectivity
· Squad Lethality Rating/Metrics
· Mixed/Live Reality
Going into each of these capabilities at length would be cumbersome, so let’s boil it down a bit. The “As Is” state here presents: Limited integration (constrains the Soldier’s agility), limited walkthroughs (limited representative terrain/structures/locations), and “Train or Fight” (different operational weapons and equipment). The “To Be” makes possible: A single platform that allows soldiers to Fight, Rehearse, and Train through the integration of the head/body/weapon (detection, targeting, and engagements that match the speed of war), unlimited rehearsals (infinite availability of identical terrain/structures/location), and “Train as you Fight” (identical training/operational weapons and equipment).
The IVAS prototype development roadmap spans nearly two years and results in eight capabilities:
1. Adaptive Soldier/Squad Architecture (Provides an architecture, documenting existing Soldier variations)
2. Synthetic Training Environment (STE) – Squad Capability
3. Heads Up Display (HUD) Integration (Conformal head mounted digital sensor system with immersive see-through display)
4. Thermal Camera Development/Integration (Ultra-compact thermal sensor modules with standard interfaces)
5. Low Light Camera Development/Integration (Ultra-compact digital Low-Light Level (LLL) sensor modules with standard interfaces)
6. Nett Warrior 3.0 Integration (Network Situational Awareness enabled by Artificial Intelligence for combat overmatch, Synthetic train and rehearsal, wireless and hearing protection)
7. Squad Lethality Metrics (Ability to predict Soldier/Squad performance based on accepted models)
8. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (Rule-based planning, decision, and opposing force (OPFOR) adaption support. Quantitative pattern recognition, change detection, ID support)
Now for a bit of discussion. Having gotten to know what exactly our government seeks for our Soldiers, we can begin to analyze this technology’s implications. Let’s draw a parallel here. No doubt most of you are familiar with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or other similar acronyms that stand for convenient and cost saving technology. I’ve got a new one for you today. It has nothing to do with cloud computing, but I promise you won’t easily forget it. Feast your eyes on Soldier-as-an-Integrated-Weapons-Platform (SIWP).
We are revolutionizing the concept of a Warfighter as we know it.
By incorporating augmented reality as one of our military’s tools, IVAS allows for the “rapid conduct and repetition of squad-level training in a Mixed Reality (MR) based synthetic environment.” This paves the way for “training on common battle drills” and provides “a realistic simulation of the operational environment; and will permit training scenarios to be quickly and easily developed and modified […] to suit specific training requirements.” Upon conclusion, an After Action Review (AAR) capability “where performance data and replays of training exercises will be used to support rapid improvement of soldier performance.”
Given this technological advantage, our Soldiers will have access to a training environment that captures lethality, survivability, mobility, and situational awareness through controlled experiments. Lest I dwell too much on our brave men and women being called a “Weapons Platform,” I quite agree with an environment in which they are given more intelligent training. The patriot in me does not see much of a problem with our military being better prepared for combat.
The idealist in me yearns for world peace, yes. I care about the value of human life and harmonious coexistence. Still, I stand by my earlier opinion that technological advancement will not and must not stop. From a philosophical perspective, humans are both benevolent and lethal. Time will tell in which direction this technological advantage will tip the fragile balance.