Army emphasizes outcomes, 'human dimension'

When the Army Science Conference opened today in Orlando, Fla., most of the speakers made a point of emphasizing the importance of basic research. But Gen. William Wallace, commanding general of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said he isn't interested in science and technology for its own sake.

'I'm interested in outcomes,' Wallace said.

He discussed the research areas he thinks can be translated into practical improvements on the battlefield in the next 10 years and later said his views could be reconciled with the scientific community's emphasis on basic research 'because otherwise you never get there.'

The five key areas in which he believes the emphasis should be on near-term results are:
  • Battle command ' The Army needs to improve the quality of the information network that supports commanders and field-unit leaders, particularly in terms of making it more mobile and less dependent on the characteristics of fixed locations, such as high bandwidth.
  • Technology that counters improvised explosive devices ' The Army needs better ways of detecting and neutralizing IEDs, which adversaries have been deploying to limit the freedom of action and movement of U.S. forces.
  • Power and fuel efficiency ' In addition to financial considerations, cutting fuel consumption means reducing the number of convoys that transport fuel and the number of soldiers put at risk on dangerous roads. Meanwhile, improving battery and fuel-cell technology is important for reducing the amount of weight soldiers must carry in the form of electronic equipment.
  • The human dimension ' Understanding people, including soldiers and the people they fight with and seek to make allies, is increasingly important given the nature of current conflicts.
  • Training ' The Army should make better use of simulation, gaming and virtual environments to train soldiers.

Wallace said cognitive science is one area that has received too little attention in the past.

'We tend to focus on gizmos and not the people who use them,' he said.

Fighting and peacemaking in the urban environments that have characterized recent conflicts require a high degree of cognitive skill, and the Army needs a better understanding of how to train its people to successfully handle those challenges, he added.

For example, the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder might be reduced if Army training better prepared soldiers for the kinds of traumatic experiences they might face in battle, possibly by using virtual environments, he said.

He added that he used to be skeptical of the value of virtual training experiences. 'I've changed my mind,' he said, adding that current virtual environments have grown realistic enough to allow soldiers to experience 'very complex synthetic environments that we cannot replicate at our training centers and schools.'

Wallace said he sees great potential for that technology to be combined with a better understanding of the cognitive skills that lead to optimal leadership and decision-making skills, but it's still just potential, he said.

'We haven't connected the dots, in my judgment, between the basic research and the outcomes we're looking for,' he added.

About the Author

David F. Carr is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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