As commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, Brig. Gen. Randal A. Dragon has a unique perspective on a broad range of modernization efforts. DMN senior writer Scott Gourley spoke with Dragon at White Sands Missile Range during the recent Network Integration Evaluation 12.1.
Scott R. Gourley: Why should the warfighter in Afghanistan today care about what’s happening here at White Sands during these semi-annual NIE events?
Brig. Gen. Randal A. Dragon: The warfighter in Afghanistan is our primary focus. It’s that soldier who is out there today; it is the soldier who is going to deploy in the future.
We have the ability to learn lessons here and evaluate capabilities before we put those capabilities in the hands of a soldier forward. We also have the ability to integrate capabilities that need to work with other systems and need to be integrated with those other systems prior to putting them into a commander’s hands ‘downrange.’ So here at the NIEs we can figure out how to do that.
We can determine how to configure it here properly so that when it gets downrange it fits in and has an immediate impact, and in the end helps them accomplish their mission, save lives, protect the populace, and just helps them move forward in Afghanistan and in other places as we continue to evolve.
There are cynics out there who call the Army’s brigade modernization ‘What’s left of FCS’ [Future Combat Systems]. What are your thoughts on that?
We have learned a number of things through our development of the Future Combat Systems that help us in this environment. In fact, I was just talking to an individual who was involved in some of the Limited User Tests from FCS earlier. And I think what you see today is that this is an evolutionary step, but it is a revolutionary methodology.
What we are trying to do here is employ an agile process that looks very closely at the top requirements that we have and then looks toward both our own governmental solutions and industry solutions to be able to fill those gaps rapidly with capability that already exists; get it into the hands of soldiers; get those soldiers to provide us with feedback – and they do that openly and candidly; and then use that feedback to adjust requirements, determine what works and what doesn’t work; and then move the things forward that do work right now so that we can have an immediate impact on the force.
So I think there may be an opportunity here that we haven’t had in the past, where we have got a Brigade Combat Team [2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division] dedicated to this mission.
We can bring in a certain amount of emerging technologies, integrate those, put the soldiers in a tactical situation, determine how well they perform using that equipment, how it increases their mission effectiveness, get their feedback, and then either move the system forward, adjust a requirement, or improve a system and bring it back into a subsequent NIE to take another look at it. Because all of the things that we have out here fill a capability gap that we have got.
Any takeaway messages that you would care to share across the elements of DOTMLPF [Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel and Facilities]?
I think you’re on a key point there, because every system we have out here has doctrinal, organizational, training, leader development, personnel, and facilities requirements – every system that we are looking at. So we are not just looking at the materiel. We are looking across the DOTMLPF to determine what needs to be adjusted. How do you ‘lead’ a system with leader development, for instance, so when that system appears in the force we have already got the leaders sensitized to what the requirements are going to be and how to employ that system effectively?
WIN-T Increment 2 is a perfect example. Increment 2 brings us from more of a static capability – an ‘at the halt’ command and control capability – to more of an ‘on the move’ capability. Under Increment 1 we had the ability for 11 separate nodes, where we could pass large quantities of information and data. In Increment 2 we now expand to 48 ‘points of presence.’ That is significant in and of itself, because now you have changed the dynamics for how you operate; how you perform mission command; the types of information available to soldiers; how much information you can provide to that soldier at the edge. And that’s important.
What has been your biggest surprise out here at the NIE?
Actually I am absolutely amazed at the soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. In my three months with this organization I have witnessed the approach these soldiers take and how important their feedback is, and how they understand truly how important that feedback is to the future of our Army.
So I think if I was looking for one thing that is not the most surprising but the most enlightening and the most heartening, it is the attitude, the approach, the confidence and the competence of the American soldier and the way that they can integrate a new capability, show us how well it works or doesn’t work, and provide candid feedback to us.
Where is the biggest challenge to modernization going forward?
I think it’s a mix of things. We know that we have fiscal constraints that we are going to have to work within, so we have to be very precise about the way that we integrate new capabilities into our force.
But we also need to take a look at our requirements and ask ourselves, ‘What is truly required?’ Do I need something that travels at 40 miles an hour or is 35 miles an hour going to be good enough? Do I need to be able to pass 50 megabyte files through the system or is 25 megabytes a minute later going to be sufficient to command and control and to perform mission command on the current and the future battlefields?