(Bloomberg) -- U.S. forces participating in a multinational war game were tested with a barrage of cyber attacks, electronic-warfare jamming and drones that confirmed major gaps in capabilities that must be remedied, according to a leader of an office dedicated to deploying new technologies quickly.
“We need this type of assessment,” Major General Walter Piatt, operations director of the Army’s new Rapid Capabilities Office, said of the exercise last month. It was critical “to set this up in the dirt of West Texas and the hands of real soldiers,” he added.
Army soldiers, Marines and special operations forces were joined by Australian and Canadian counterparts for the 11 days of mock warfare in Texas and New Mexico. The war game simulated a conflict in the Pacific that was heavy on electronic warfare against an adversary force intent on disrupting communications and navigation. Italian troops overseas linked in via satellite.
The new office is designed to harness promising technologies that can be deployed within five years of identifying a combat need, an initiative aimed at blunting an erosion in capabilities and countering improvements by Russia, China and other adversaries.
The project may find favor in Donald Trump’s administration. The president-elect has called for rebuilding the Army to 540,000 soldiers from about 475,000 today, reversing plans to reduce the force to 450,000 in the next fiscal year.
The war game evaluated 41 concepts and capabilities including robotics, electronic warfare, defensive cyberspace operations, expeditionary mission command and systems to counter drones.
“We know that our adversaries have this capability,” Piatt said in an interview. “We’ve seen it in Crimea and Ukraine” so “that’s an area we knew we would have to operate in,” he said of the new modes of combat demonstrated during the exercise. It ended Oct. 28 at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands, New Mexico.
The war game’s results will be melded with feedback from industry gleaned by a new emerging technologies director and insights from recent visits to universities such as Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.
The Army needs to maneuver in a battlefield of jammed Global Positioning System satellites, radio and data networks “but if the enemy is zapping our communications, denying us our navigation and timing so we don’t know where we are” and blocking the capability to call for artillery and rocket fire “then we don’t have the advantage,” Piatt said.
Piatt said the lessons learned in the exercise may result in a list of technologies to buy, rethinking the use of existing technologies, or bringing forward part of a developing technology through rapid prototyping.
No ‘Clear Sense’
Still, questions remain about the office, analysts said.
“The most tangible evidence of success would be to get some programs on contract and fielded,” Byron Callan, a defense analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said in an e-mail.
“We don’t have a clear sense of what specifically they’re going to work on” or “what methods they’re doing to use to acquire those systems, or how their acquisition efforts tie back to the rest of the Army,” Ben Fitzgerald, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security, said in an e-mail.
By early next year the Army hopes to outline to industry “what kind of problems we are trying to solve,” Piatt said. “That allows industry to be innovative.”
Asked what the Army leadership must demonstrate to keep the office running in the next administration, Piatt said: “You give them the threat updates and they’ll see it.”
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