Talking lethality with Army's senior non-commissioned officer
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 10, 2014) -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III discussed the future of lethality with Army Technology Magazine.
Army Technology: Even with all the firepower and lethality science and technology can offer, what is the Army's best weapon?
Chandler: The best weapon we have in the Army is still the U.S. Soldier. He or she is also the most precise weapon that the Army has because of a combination of skills, experience and knowledge. A combination of the technology and the Soldier makes us superior on the battlefield, and that's what makes the Army strong.
Army Technology: How have you seen lethality evolve during your Army career?
Chandler: I'm a tanker by background, and when I came into the Army in 1981, I was on an M60A3 Passive Tank, and then I got upgraded to an M60A3 Thermal. When I went to Fort Carson (Colorado) after three years in the Army, I was on a 1964 model-year tank. There was the onset of M1 series, then the [Bradley Fighting Vehicle.] Digitization has been one of the most significant upgrades that we've made in armor. I can recall being at Fort Hood (Texas) in the 4th Infantry Division, when Force XXI came about with its digitization. However, I believe we need to do a better job of exercising digitization in the Army; we've only scratched the surface. There's much more that we can do.
If you look at something as simple as gunnery for Bradleys and tanks, we don't force the system to use the full capabilities of the Bradley or Abrams (tank) to ensure we place accurate and timely fires, [nor do we] utilize the capabilities of the architecture that is in the systems.
Army Technology: Do you see the role of armor changing as we focus on increasing Soldier and squad lethality?
Chandler: I think we have a pretty good platform now in the armor community, with the M1A2 SEP Version 2. We're looking at a SEP Version 3, which provides even greater capabilities. I think the focus on the Soldier is correct, because we have all of this technology in our armor platforms where it's easiest to carry and manipulate. But, in the Infantry Brigade Combat Team, we have a lot more work to enable the network within the individual warfighter.
I know we are working to give individual Soldiers some of the firepower formerly available only from armor or crew-served weapons, but there will always be a need for armor. Over the past 13+ years, we've become very good at counter-insurgency operations, but doctrine says we must also conduct unified land operations. We need to remain proficient as an Army with combined-arms maneuver -- going out and fighting near-peer competitors with tanks, Bradleys and artillery. We cannot assume that our next war will be fought the same way as the last one.
Army Technology: Why is there a need to keep increasing lethality?
Chandler: Our Army is going to draw down, which means the number of Soldiers we can put on the ground at any given time will also decrease. That's why technology and lethality must deliver overmatch against our adversaries. Science and technology can help deliver that decisive edge. We can do a lot with the power of the Soldier when it is accurately matched to technology that provides the outcome we want to achieve.
In addition to lethality, we also need to increase our precision. We can see the results of indiscriminant use of weapons and how that can turn the tide of public sentiment, both in a host nation and at home. We have made great strides in precision technologically, but the most precise weapon we have on the battlefield is the American Soldier. It's the person that makes the final decision to shoot or not to shoot. Combining our Soldier awareness and the technology that is available, we will be even more accurate and more lethal on the battlefield.
An example of that type of emerging capability is the developmental Hand Held Precision Targeting Device, a targeting system that will allow Soldiers to engage targets with precision munitions and provide digital connectivity to related units. This capability from PEO Soldier is being tested now at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
Army Technology: How will Soldiers adapt to the coming improvements?
Chandler: When it comes to being agile and adaptive, our Soldiers' preeminence is unquestioned around the world. We've got to solidify the gains we've made over the past 13 years and look for ways to empower our most junior Soldiers to continue to be critical thinkers who understand the network and its ability to provide rapid and timely information.
For example, technological advances will enable extended range with precise and affordable weapons. Experts predict an individual Soldier of the future armed with a 40mm grenade may have the same lethal effects as 155mm artillery. But, as we add these additional technologies to every career field, I think our future challenges in this area will be our ability to recruit qualified candidates who meet both the educational and physical demands, and [who posses] the moral and ethical capabilities to understand and employ these more advanced tools. If our potential recruitment population continues to shrink, and the propensity to serve decreases, we must work with communities to ensure we are able to recruit young people who can meet the demands of the Army and feel comfortable with the technology and the lethality it represents.
Army Technology: How does training ensure that Soldiers understand new equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures?
Chandler: Training from time immemorial has provided Soldiers with the abilities to rehearse, exploit and learn as they become more familiar with the device or the weapon. I go back to my earlier experiences as a tanker for an example, and what training did for me and my unit. When we started, we had immature capabilities. We could operate the vehicle and employ it on limited scale, but over time we became experts with the system and were able to harness all of its capabilities to project power when needed. We had to rehearse and train, experiment and try new things. As we move forward, we need to focus on training like this as we push the technological envelope to become immersed in the technological platforms of the system.
Even if we go through some tough fiscal times for training over the next few years, we know that the squad is the building block for the Army. If we can sustain and improve squad-level proficiency, not only as individual, but also members of a team, and if we use the technology to its maximum ability at the squad level, when it's time to surge or when we do get added dollars, we'll be better prepared to build platoons and companies and battalions and brigades. We'll be able to accelerate to the highest levels of readiness that much easier. That is the key.
However, when I arrived at my first duty station in Germany, the key to my successful training and understanding of the lethality of my equipment was not a manual, a training film or a beefed-up budget. It was my NCO. He was a Vietnam-era Soldier who had real-world experience, and he took the time to share that information with me and the other Soldiers he led. To this day, I credit him for making me a better Soldier, and eventually, a better leader. Every NCO in our Army today needs to do the same. If that doesn't happen, then the investments in technology and our potential lethal overmatch will be for naught.
Army Technology: Do you think there's a better way, or a greater need for Soldiers to get their technology feedback and requirements back to the researchers?
Chandler: It's very important to get hands-on Soldier feedback from those who use the equipment. It's crucial to its development, and then fielding it to the force. Many of the things we did with the Future Combat System program within Brigade Modernization Command through [Network Integration Evaluations] has really helped us get it to the Soldiers, and then the feedback loop to the developers, so we can move forward. It's crucial that we do this in the future.
The examples of our successes with Program Executive Offices and the ability of our educational system to overcome an evolving enemy and its tactics, underscore the importance of that feedback from the Soldiers on the front line. It literally saved lives and helped us be more capable.
Army Technology: What do you want Army researchers to know?
Chandler: First of all, Soldiers appreciate the kit that they have gotten over the past 12-13 years. There may have been some things that didn't meet the researchers' and the developers' idea of what was going to be successful, but by and large, what Soldiers have been given has been first class. More importantly, it has saved lives, and that needs to be recognized. Also, the further collaboration between Soldiers and other users with researchers and programs is important and should be sustained as far as we can into the future, perhaps in new ways that capitalize on the evolving paradigms of teamwork and development, such as STEM-based research communities.
Army Technology: How optimistic are you about building the Army of 2025 and beyond?
Chandler: Obviously there are some things that are not going to be in the Army's control, especially from a budgetary perspective and how that affects programs. But, I am confident we are going to do the best that we can with the resources that we have been given, in collaboration with our Soldiers, to get to where the Chief of Staff [of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno] has said is our standard in 2025. I believe working with industry and recognizing the challenges we face will mitigate an uncertain budgetary future. Anything that is going to help a Soldier survive on the battlefield and accomplish their mission is what I am all about, so I am really looking forward to see what the Army of 2025 will look like.
This article appears in the September/October 2014 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on lethality. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.