Tapping Robust Technology to Enable Proactive Force Readiness

MG Edmond “Miles” Brown
U.S. Army Combat Capabilities
Development Command (DEVCOM)

From Armor & Mobility, Fall 2021

MG Miles Brown assumed command of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) on July 9, 2021. As DEVCOM’s Commanding General, Brown leads a world-class team of science and technology experts fully focused on empowering the future American Soldier with advanced Army capabilities made possible by cutting-edge technology forecasting, research and development.

Brown is a native of Honea Path, South Carolina and was commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer after graduation from The Citadel. He has served in Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan with stateside duty at Fort Stewart (Georgia); Fort Hood (Texas); Fort Riley (Kansas); Fort Carson (Colorado); Fort Eustis (Virginia); and Washington, DC. His staff and joint assignments include Aide[1]de-Camp to the Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq; Chief of Staff, 4th Infantry Division; Deputy Commanding General Support, 1st Cavalry Division; and Deputy Director/Chief of Staff, Futures and Concepts Center, U.S. Army Futures Command. Brown’s commands include an Artillery Battalion in Iraq, a Brigade Combat Team in Kuwait, and the Train, Advise, Assist Command-South (TAAC-S) in Afghanistan. He has served eight tours in South Asia during Operations Desert Fox, Intrinsic Action, Desert Spring, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Spartan Shield, Eager Lion and Resolute Support.

Armor & Mobility spoke recently with MG Edmond “Miles” Brown, Commander, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), regarding efforts to provide the Army and Joint Force with enhanced solutions amidst the demands of ever-shifting global threats to U.S. national security.

A&M: You recently took command of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM. What are your initial impressions of its role and value to Army Futures Command (AFC) and Army Modernization?

MG Brown: Since I took command of DEVCOM in July, I’ve really focused on getting to know the command, getting out to meet the workforce whenever possible given COVID-19 safety protocols, and learning about our past successes, current challenges and how we see ourselves moving forward.

I’ve visited nearly all of our centers and labs and my first impression – to be quite frank – is that DEVCOM is one of the most complex commands within the Army. No other Army command has such an expansive, highly technical civilian workforce. No other Army command operates the way DEVCOM does. No other Army command has such a complex set of varying yet integrated mission areas like DEVCOM does.

DEVCOM is unique, and I say that with an appreciation for the fact that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. What is already clear to me, however, is that DEVCOM is absolutely critical to AFC and Army Modernization. There is no Army Modernization without DEVCOM, and the science and technology expertise of our team is unparalleled. Our subject matter experts are helping ground Army concepts in scientific reality, exploring theories of emerging science, developing new autonomous technologies, engineering improved Combat Capabilities and driving data analysis to enable the Army of the Future.

A&M: How does your previous experience influence your approach to leading the command that executes the Army’s science and technology development?

MG Brown: Each of my predecessors brought a unique skillset to the table when leading this command, when it was known as RDECOM, or now as DEVCOM. I plan to build upon their hard work and successes moving forward. I think I bring a good amount of operational experience to DEVCOM. Since I assumed command, I’ve told our workforce it’s important to remember that we are one of the few Army units with the word “Combat” in our name. Why is that important? Because the science we’re exploring, the technologies we’re developing, and the capabilities we’re enabling – they are meant for Soldiers to train for or fight in combat. The harsh realities of combat, the speed with which decisions must be made in combat, the complexities of combat, and the sacrifices combat demands of our Soldiers must always be at the top of our minds.

Every day we are pushing the boundaries of scientific research and development, and transitioning technologies to provide current and future Soldiers with the better, faster and more lethal combat capabilities they need to compete and win in the unforgiving crucible of ground combat. There is no other reason we are here – this is our primary mission.

DEVCOM leaders will continue to put even greater emphasis on the role that early and consistent prototyping, developmental experimentation and testing, and Soldier feedback plays in DEVCOM’s technology maturation process.

A&M: You just mentioned Soldier feedback — in the past year, there has been a lot of emphasis on what the Army calls “Soldier-Centered Design” and “Soldier Touchpoints.” How has DEVCOM changed its approach to technology development to involve Soldiers earlier in the process?

MG Brown: Historically, Soldiers were brought in to tinker with and break technology much later in the technology maturation process than what we’re seeing today. That change is a direct result of Army Futures Command’s unfaltering commitment to doing things differently.

At DEVCOM, there’s been a shift in our mindset and processes. It’s not enough to wait until a technology is nearing transition to a program of record to finally get Soldier feedback. We are taking our technologies out of the lab and into the field earlier and more often, to gather Soldier insight and truly meaningful feedback as early and as often as possible. This is the cornerstone of Soldier-Centered Design for AFC.

The earlier we put a prototype technology in the hands of an end user, the faster we can get relevant and superior combat capabilities into the hands of our Soldiers to meet their tactical and operational needs. By taking our technologies from the lab and into the field, we can expedite the process, observing how Soldiers would use a prototype technology in an operational setting, troubleshooting issues in real-time and identifying concerns or limitations early on.

In 2021 alone, we will have more than 200 experimentations and Soldier Touch Points. That offers us 200 opportunities to improve technologies and ensure we’re transitioning capabilities our Soldiers and our Army need to deter and defeat our adversaries.

A&M: How does DEVCOM look beyond 2035 and the current Army Modernization priorities to ensure the Army is prepared for the conflict after next?

MG Brown: While our support to the Modernization Priorities is critical, a huge part of DEVCOM’s mission to continually deliver capabilities is accomplished through proactive and intentional exploration of basic and foundational research that will have impacts beyond 2035, for – as you said – the conflict after next.

We do this through established Priority Research Areas, primarily explored by our Army Research Laboratory and its global network of academic partners. These Priority Research Areas aim to deliver knowledge to guide developmental research, point to new possibilities, and shape previously unimagined warfighting concepts. They provide Army Senior Leaders with options for future directions that will inform strategic decisions through which the Army’s modernization can persist far into the future.

The Army’s current Priority Research Areas include: Disruptive Energetics; RF Electronic Materials; Quantum; Hypersonic Flight; Artificial Intelligence; Autonomy; Synthetic Biology; Material by Design; and Additive Manufacturing.

AFC and DEVCOM give Priority Research Areas particular significance due to their alignment with warfighting gaps and the belief that areas of inquiry are likely to yield knowledge that will unlock new warfighting capabilities.
It’s important to note that AFC has established a culture conducive to innovation with its commitment to doing things differently and going all-in when it comes to developing technology for the future force. Scientific work is fundamentally different in character from development and engineering work. Rarely is it unidirectional in its progress and it does not always arrive at its expected destination. AFC’s culture empowers DEVCOM scientists to take calculated risks when pursuing good science with great vigor, and trusts that such work will benefit the Army.

A&M: Army Futures Command aims to ensure the Army can fight as part of the Joint Force and perhaps more importantly, the Combined Force. What is DEVCOM’s role in this effort?

MG Brown: Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) and Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) are major focuses for AFC, the Army and the Defense Department as a whole. More than ever, it is important Soldiers can operate seamlessly with our sister services and with our coalition partners.

Ultimately, how AFC enables the Army to fight as part of the Joint and Combined Forces starts with the part of AFC that owns the Future Operational Environment. Every day, they are exploring a multitude of potential future scenarios that critically reinforce the need for our forces to be adaptable and flexible, particularly when those who will be fighting alongside us can and will change based on the conflict. We must be ready at a moment’s notice to plug and play with our sister services and our allied partners – and with whatever technologies or capabilities they bring to the table.

DEVCOM has foundationally changed our approach to working with FCC through our Ignite Strategy. Ignite brings together concept writers, scientists, technologists, Soldiers and other specialists working in a fully integrated manner to develop the concepts, organizations and capabilities that both push boundaries and remain grounded in strategic and technical realities. Together, this group identifies future warfighting concepts from recent scientific discoveries; ensures capability requirements are grounded in feasible technological advancements; and uses data and analytics to build a common language across the Army. Joint and Combined Interoperability underscores all Ignite efforts because both the Future Operating Environment and the Army Modernization Strategy recognize the Army will never again fight alone.

It’s also important to note that you can’t talk about MDO or JADC2 without discussing the gravity of AI, machine learning and quantum computing – all of which are Ignite focus areas as well. To integrate effects across all domains in near-real-time, you need incredible speed to operate, process data and make logical connections. AI and quantum computing will make this possible, and researchers and analysts across DEVCOM are exploring how to advance AI and data processing to the benefit of the Army.

Finally, DEVCOM leads AFC’s global partnership mechanisms through our expansive global network. Our Forward Element and International Technology Offices provide a direct connection from combatant commands across the globe to our laboratories, explore new partnership opportunities, scout potentially useful foreign technology solutions and promote interoperability among our allies.

A&M: DEVCOM is primarily a civilian based organization working within the confines of the federal government. How do you maintain an advantage when competing for technical talent with industry around the globe?

MG Brown: AFC serves as a catalyst to modernize not just equipment and capabilities across the Army, but also the specialized talent needed to manage and conquer future warfare. Following their lead, DEVCOM released its Talent Management Strategy in March 2020 which focuses on establishing a dual system of evolving, adaptive talent pools and the agile employment of multi-talented teams.

Obviously, the world has changed significantly since March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to an entirely new way we could operate as a federal entity. My civilian deputy, John Willison, has spearheaded our effort to modernize how we approach the traditional workplace. With support from Kate Kelley, the human capital director at AFC, DEVCOM is exploring what “Future of Work” can mean for an Army organization, particularly one with a predominantly civilian workforce.

In February of this year, we released our Future of Work concept paper, which ultimately is our indefinite commitment to a more flexible workplace with an emphasis on remote work when it makes sense. We want to enable our teams to work when and where they are most productive – and that looks different for different teams, and at different times. Our critical laboratory work cannot be executed from a home office, but there are plenty of tasks that can be accomplished remotely.

So, what does this have to do with recruiting? As you mentioned, there is a fierce, global competition for technical talent. I don’t think it’s any secret that the federal government hasn’t been viewed traditionally as the cutting-edge, hip workplace for young people. Our commitment to greater flexibility in our workplace gives us the opportunity to better compete with industry for STEM professionals, particularly those who wouldn’t have otherwise considered a federal job.

Some potential employees may not want to uproot their entire lives in order to move within commuting distance of an Army installation. Previously that would have removed them from our realistic pool of talent. But now, with Future of Work, if we can say to a candidate, “work from where you are – wherever that is – and once a month we’ll need you to come to the office, or a few times a month we’d like to you to travel to our regional hub at X location,” we can then expand our talent pool.

This benefits the Army because it means we’re able to hire a more diverse workforce –in every sense, from background and educational paths to areas of expertise – and a diverse workforce brings fresh perspective, new solutions to challenges, and ultimately better technology and capabilities to our Soldiers.

A&M: When you’re not competing with industry for talent, you’re working alongside them to develop technology. How has DEVCOM’s approach to working with industry and academia changed in recent years?

MG Brown: Science is inherently a collaborative endeavor. Rarely is any notable technological advancement achieved alone, which means our experts need and expect to collaborate with other researchers and developers.

We’re constantly looking for new partners and ways to make it easier for those external to the Army to partner with us. In the past few years, we’ve explored pitch competitions and technology searches where we put out a problem statement and ask small businesses, academia, or non-traditional industry companies to bring us their ideas in exchange for a cash prize and the opportunity to further develop that technology alongside us in our labs. xTechSearch is a great example of this, and one we’ve collaborated with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) on for several years.

The Open Campus initiative spearheaded by DEVCOM’s Army Research Laboratory is another great example of a new approach to collaboration. Open Campus regional sites are strategically located across the country near hubs of innovation, with the intent to co-locate our scientists with experts in industry and academia and create enduring partnerships that accelerate the discovery, innovation and transition of science and technology.

Under AFC, the Army Applications Lab is another venue to reach non-traditional industry partners. As I mentioned earlier, finding a diverse set of perspectives – particularly from those who have never worked with the Army before – means we might find a solution to a problem we never would have dreamt of on our own.

We have also spent some time reevaluating how we characterize our traditional partnership mechanisms including Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, known as CRADAs. How do we make them less cumbersome? How do we make it easier to collaborate, without sacrificing intellectual property or security? Making it easier to partner with DEVCOM, AFC and the Army leads to better, faster and more effective capabilities for our Soldiers.