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Between services and the technologies used to access them, the Army believes today’s military bases will look very different 20 years from now. Officials are just beginning to explore how to establish the technological underpinnings of what they term “installations of the future.”
The premise was born two years ago out of the realization that ongoing pressure on the military’s installations budgets may mean the Army can’t sustain the service delivery models it uses today. But now officials are actively looking at the specific technologies they want to employ to make bases more efficient. The Army aims to deliver services in new ways, and perhaps, in some cases, to stop providing certain services altogether.
Piloting ‘smart cities’
Over the next 12 to 18 months, the Army plans to launch a series of pilot programs, including ones that employ “smart city” technologies already being used by municipal governments, kicking off with an industry day tentatively planned for November.
First though, it’s gathering input from soldiers about what sorts of services they actually want, and how they want them delivered, said Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, the Army’s assistant chief of staff for installation management.
“We’ve teamed up with [Training and Doctrine Command] to go to all of the centers of excellence to be able to have town halls and actually talk with our millennials and post-millennials who will use this to really get after what it is they see for our installations of the future,” she said at a conference hosted by TRADOC. “Today’s soldiers want to be able to have service at their phone tips, so to speak, an app for everything.”
In some cases, Bingham said, those technologies might connect with services that aren’t provided on the base at all. That could lead to outsourcing at least some services to private sector providers outside the gates.
“What services could be provided off-post rather than on the installation? Right now, for example, our child care referrals, they are all currently done online, so the question could be can we expand that to our housing referral, social interest groups, grocery delivery and other opportunities outside of our communities,” she said. “Our belief, again, is that there is an app for everything, and our junior soldiers expect that. So we want to partner with academia, with industry to use those best practices, and divest of those missions that are not core to our Army missions.”
But the Army definitely also plans to pursue technologies that will change the way it operates its own services. Richard Kidd, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for strategic integration, said that mostly means adopting approaches that are already emerging in the municipal government space.
“Smart city technologies, the Internet of Things, is changing the ways our cities interact with their citizens and the public,” he said. There’s a tremendous ability to design and operate communities that are more responsive to the needs of the citizens, more energy resilient, a better preservation of the environment, integrated infrastructure that can withstand and recover from shocks and adversity. This is what our citizens are coming to expect – it’s what cities are doing right now – so we have a strategic issue here in the Army.”
Kidd said those whom the Army wants to recruit in the future are growing up in smart cities today, meaning they likely will not want to move to a “dumb” installation. Preparing installations to withstand threats and deliver public goods and services in a cost-effective manner will be crucial, he said.
Envisioning sensor integration
But as a starting point, Kidd said the Army knows it needs to start changing the way it gathers and integrates information from its existing base infrastructure. That includes adding sensors to its systems, then ensuring the data though sensors produce feeds into a common “data lake” that can be analyzed by artificial intelligence and help with decision making.
“That’s what we believe is sort of going to be the technological backbone, and the applications that hang off of that backbone could be varied,” he said. “Lots of cities like Atlanta and elsewhere are doing smart city technology for traffic management and parking. We really don’t have a big problem with parking, but we do have problems such as detecting drone overflight, or securing the perimeter, or in terms of waste disposal or energy or smart lighting or WiFi.”
The “sensor grid” the Army envisions includes not just the equipment that makes up the physical plant on a base, but the soldiers, families and other personnel who live and work there.
“We all have a sensor platform we carried in our in our pocket, so the soldier is a sensor,” Kidd said. “That soldier is data-enabled – what they eat, how they exercise, and tailored mental and physical conditioning for those soldiers. And you can look at the unit, you look at the sleep profiles of the soldiers. Are the units able to do their job? So if we look to the future, we see this sort of connection from the individual soldier through their unit organization and installation up to the enterprise.”
But a vision of sensor integration at that level is most likely decades away. In the meantime, the Army is taking other steps to make itself more efficient using the outdated infrastructure it already has, such as changing the way it contracts for services provided by the private sector.
Bingham said the DoD reform initiative includes adopting the concept of category management within facilities and our infrastructure.
“The notion is that if 17 or 18 different entities on a base each have a contract – say it’s for waste pickup – if you could aggregate that at an installation level, we can recoup dollars,” she said. “Similarly, imagine being able to have contracts at the regional level or even at the Installation Management Command level, it’s a way of capturing or recapturing buying power. Basically the end goal is to get the best value for every dollar that we spend.”