Technology Advances Bring Benefits, Readiness Challenges
By NICK ADDE, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — While advances in technology bring forth obvious benefits for warfighters, they come with what the Navy’s chief researcher calls “a readiness challenge.”
Speaking as part of an April 5 panel discussion at the Navy League’s 2017 Sea-Air-Space Expostion, Rear Adm. David J. Hahn, commander of the Office of Naval Research, said that the way through the challenge he described is unclear.
Today’s combat operations involve a complex matrix that includes 17-year-old adversaries with AK-47 assault rifles and cell phones capable of inflicting lethality upon the most sophisticated systems thrown at them. Those systems, meanwhile, are developed to a level of sophistication that requires significant training for operators. Meanwhile, the developers of new technologies must address the needs of the present Navy, the next one, and the one that succeeds that force.
“Attending to all three, the temporal problem is exacerbated when readiness is where it is today. There is no magic technology we are creating that will solve it,” Hahn said.
The protocol now, characterized by “coupling” platforms and people who operate them, needs to change, Hahn said.
“Platforms are trying to talk to us, but we don’t understand them. We’re very good at collecting data, and very bad at doing something with that data,” Hahn said. “We need to be thinking on day one, ‘Are we ready for the fight?.
“And we must envision those fights in ways we never have done before,” he said.
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Terry V. Williams, assistant deputy commandant for Installation and Logistics, outlined a stark contrast between Marines of today and their counterparts who fought and won World War II. In the 1940s, he said, Marines carried 30-pound packs. Jeeps were easy to maintain and manufacture, and got about 16 miles per gallon of fuel.
“Today, they have 100 pounds on their backs. A Humvee weighs 18,000 pounds and is a gas guzzler, which is out of control,” Williams said.
The V-22 Osprey may fly twice as fast and as far as the CH-46 helicopter it replaced, but it drinks seven times as much fuel, Williams said.
“We’re getting heavier — bloated. On top of that, based on the Marine operations concept, we traveling greater distances and are disaggregated in smaller numbers across the battle space. And the world is more chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous,” Williams said.
The solutions are out there, either in the inventory or waiting to enter it, he said. Additive manufacturing — 3-D printing — will revolutionize inventory performance. Unmanned vehicles are getting better too. If a robot went down during the Iraq war, it had to be sent back to Balad Air Base for repair. In the near future, a front-line Marine with a drone would be able to print a replacement part in close proximity to his or her location.
“Tech work is dull, dirty and dangerous, but ultimately must allow one human to prevail over another,” said Marine Corps Col. James Jenkins, the director of Science and Technology, Equipment Division and Rapid Technology Office.
For full integration to take place, training must be realistic and involve many repetitions, Jenkins said. Virtual-reality trainers will play a heavy role — creating scenarios that replicate the mental, moral and physical stress Marines would experience in combat.
“We call that professionalizing the individual Marine,” Jenkins said. “One hundredth of a second can make the difference between success and failure, life and death.”
Smaller communities also are facing considerable hurdles in order to accommodate new technologies. Ashley Johnson, technical director at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head EOD Technology Division, and Rear Adm. Michael J. Haycock, the Coast Guard’s director of Acquisition Programs, described how they have to incorporate changing technologies with systems that are still in use despite their age.
As the Coast Guard is bringing on the National Security and Fast Response cutters, he said, adding that their presence is directly responsible for the service’s record number of illegal-drug seizures on the open seas. By contrast, they are bringing C-130 and C-27 aircraft from the bone yard to meet mission requirements.
Still, Haycock said, “The potential is there for innovation and creative solutions. But we have to temper that. We are a fraction of the size of our [other service] counterparts. We don’t have the budgets or resources to manage high-tech, leading-edge work. We try to leverage the work of the Navy … for that.”
Johnson talked about having to “work magic” to get the message across about the need for increased attention to energetics — the myriad of components that provide propulsion and pyrotechnics to every system in the Navy and Marine Corps.
“We’re viewed as a commodity — like electricity, when you plug into a wall. Obviously, that doesn’t happen by magic. A great deal of development and planning is required,” Johnson said.
“Energetics is viewed as a technology that is frozen, with Industrial-Age components. This is simply not true,” Johnson said.
Citing recent energetics investments by other countries, Johnson said, “Opportunities are there now to improve readiness performance in all domains.”