Commanding the Future Mission

U.S. Army researchers endeavor to develop a package of decision-supporting applications known as the Commander’s Virtual Staff and a Tactical Computing Environment that offers advanced computer-human interfaces, a collaborative data environment, intelligent mobility and a common user experience across computing platforms.

The Army’s goal is to enable an expeditionary force capable of deploying at a moment’s notice to austere locations around the world with troops that can carry out their missions immediately upon arrival. Commanders and their staffs will need to efficiently plan, execute and assess multiple missions involving multiple types of threats, and they will have to constantly switch between different decision contexts in a fast-paced environment, explains Nick Palmer, lead computer scientist within the Mission Command Capabilities Division of the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC). That is why Palmer and his team in the Command, Power and Integration Directorate are developing the Commander’s Virtual Staff (CVS), which blends cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and computer automation to support tactical decision making for Army commanders and their staffs.

Think of a hybrid of Siri, IBM’s Watson and Google Now designed for battle command purposes. “With the CVS, we’re trying to help with that cognitive burden by providing flexible decision-support tools and automation for specific tasks,” Palmer adds.

The CVS science and technology project kicked off this year. Researchers, who have made significant progress in providing data to commanders, now are focused on transforming that data into usable information and knowledge as well as providing decision-aiding tools.

Studies conducted at the Mission Command Center of Excellence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, show that Army battalion commanders are unhappy with the volumes of data they must process and the number of systems they must consult to make decisions. To achieve situational understanding, commanders must interact with a large number of support staff members and examine different computer systems, all while they fuse large data sets to make informed decisions.

The CVS project will provide computer automation targeted to commanders and their close staff members by exploring commercial technologies and advances in artificial intelligence that offer users proactive suggestions, advanced analytics and natural interaction tailored to their unique needs and preferences. CERDEC officials are considering some different approaches to artificial intelligence, some of which have been developed under other projects or programs.

“We’re not trying to automate any decisions. We’re trying to automate the processing and al