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AFC Gearing Up to Tackle 5 Key Challenges for the Army of 2040, Says Deputy to the Commanding General William Nelson

Established in 2018, the Army Futures Command is dedicated to looking far beyond the present to ensure that the U.S. Army is properly equipped to reach its current goals and compete on the future battlefield. 

While working to deliver on the more near-term Army of 2030 initiative, the AFC is also drawing a blueprint for the service branch’s next major modernization strategy: the Army of 2040. In doing so, the command has identified five key challenges it must tackle to prepare the service branch for future success across all warfighting domains, according to William Nelson, deputy to the commanding general of the AFC.

During his keynote address at the Potomac Officers Club’s 8th Annual Army Summit on Tuesday, Nelson highlighted the employment of a formation-based approach as one area the AFC is focusing on as it looks ahead.

“We build and acquire platforms, but we fight as an Army in formations – and that’s important. I think it is an important distinction that, frankly, often gets missed,” he said.

Nelson said it is “absolutely essential” for the Army to modernize its equipment “in a holistic way.” He noted several components – doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel facilities and policy – as areas that must be considered when developing and deploying new technology.

In line with his holistic approach to technology deployment, human-machine integration is a top priority for Nelson.

“We know that humans and machines must operate proficiently together so that soldiers are empowered to execute their missions while we minimize the risk of bodily harm,” he said.

“These efforts will not replace humans – at least not during my lifetime – but they certainly, uh, will help better protect our soldiers and increase our operational capability,” he said, adding that commanders will “always direct activity and own moral decisions.”

The AFC also aims to increase the lethality and survivability of light formations and reduce the logistical requirements necessary for heavy formations, which Nelson said is “particularly crucial given the immense challenge presented by contested logistics.”

Decision dominance can be improved with data, which marks the fifth challenge on Nelson’s list. In creating a data-centric Army, the service branch is “rebuilding from a clean slate” to develop a reliable data-centric system capable of protecting the U.S. information advantage as well as collecting and analyzing decision-enabling data across the warfighting domains – including the increasingly contested electromagnetic spectrum – to “empower” commanders to make decisions more quickly, according to Nelson.

On a broader scale, the AFC has made people a top priority in the development of the future force. 

“We are moving away from the simple personnel distribution to more deliberately identifying and managing developing talent,” Nelson shared. “We are also leveraging unique, non-material processes to ensure soldiers are trained and employed in key areas of emerging technology.”

These efforts, he said, support soldiers’ career growth in the Army in new ways while also helping the service branch’s formations meet their human capability demands.

“We also recognize that our core and Army service component command formations need software, product teams, data science, engineering abilities and artificial intelligence and machine learning implementations to address emerging needs and to assure the Army can fight and win,” Nelson added.

“As such, we’re committed to a talent pipeline to deliver software and data capabilities at the tactical edge for and with our formations,” he said.

Don’t miss the Potomac Officers Club’s next DOD-focused event – the Integrating for Mission Success Forum. On August 10th, this event will bring together defense experts to discuss the importance of interoperability in the evolving battlespace. To learn more and register to attend the forum, click here.

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