After 10 years of conferences, TechNet Augusta has grown into the Georgia city’s second largest event, after the Masters golf tournament. The conference, held this year Aug. 14-17 at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, typically draws about 5,000 people, including members of U.S. Army Cyber Command, the Army Office of the Chief Information Officer and program executive offices. 

Designed to encourage communication and collaboration on the cyber domain among the military services and industry, TechNet Augusta includes technology demonstrations on the exhibition floor, where 288 GovCon exhibitors presented their solutions. This year’s theme was “Enabling a Data-Centric Army.” 

Acquisition Adjustments  

Several speakers offered insight into new procurement approaches and their wish lists. For instance, Col. Gary Brock, Army capabilities manager for electronic warfare at the Cyber Capability Development and Integration Directorate, said the Army is looking for software that doesn’t have to be tied to specific hardware, integrated solutions and the ability to work with partners at the tactical edge. 

Machine learning is one area of particular interest, Brock noted, adding that the Army is interested in small, swarming unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for electronic warfare; electromagnetic attack technologies; and microelectromechanical tech that can disrupt communications, radar or navigation. 

Lt. Gen. John Morrison, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for planning and implementing communication strategies and cyber operations (Retrieved from AFCEA SIGNAL)

Lt. Gen. John Morrison, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for planning and implementing communication strategies and cyber operations, also asked for help with the tactical edge.  

“At the tactical edge, you will hear a lot about the Army moving towards this notion of sensitive but unclassified encrypted because we have to move away from where perishable information is at play, from our traditional Type-1 radios, which give off a signature to something that hides far easier inside the noise floor,” Morrison said.  

Jennifer Swanson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, stressed the importance of continuous integration/continuous delivery (CICD) practices, given that military systems today are largely software-driven. Additionally, the service is wrapping up development of the Unified Data Reference Architecture, of which hybrid cloud computing will be a central element, she added. 

Fortifying for the Future Fight  

Man vs. machine? Not so much. Today it’s about how humans and machines can work together.  

Gen. James Rainey, commander of U.S. Army Futures Command, said that the ethical integration of humans and machines will be the most disruptive advancement in the next five to 10 years.  

“That’s going to get into AI-driven warfare,” Rainey said. “It’s going to lead to the physical connections of those systems, standard controllers, open architectures. Those kinds of challenges, I think, will be a focal point that we can leverage industry, academia and the military to work together.” 

To do this, the military needs to take a data-centric approach. “Even if all those things were possible now, we, the United States military and the Army, could not take advantage of that fully because the data is all over the place,” Rainey said. “It’s not standard. We don’t have access to it. We don’t have it labeled.” 

Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of Army Futures Command’s Network Cross-Functional Team (Retrieved from AFCEA SIGNAL)

The service recognizes that. “The way we create data in the future has to change,” said Maj. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of Army Futures Command’s Network Cross-Functional Team. “Maybe early in the process it’s an automated capability that tags and labels that data for us. In the past, we were able to write a script for it, tag and label it and get it out of the way and let’s move on. But the way we create it in the future must change, or we’re going to be having this discussion 10 years from now.” 

Training Trends 

In an environment where threats and ways to defend against them change almost by the minute, it’s not surprising that the importance of education and training became a common refrain at the conference.  

Lt. Gen. Maria Barrett, head of Army Cyber Command, noted that although warfare is still a physically violent endeavor, “failure to defend the networks that our warfighters use absolutely will cause us to lose.” She called for national training centers to add areas of study around offensive cyber, information advantage and electronic warfare.  

Meanwhile the Defense Information Systems Agency is preparing to publish an implementation plan for training employees, particularly on critical thinking and data. 

“If we focus solely on the technology required to do this and forget about the people who operate it, we will become stagnant and outpaced,” DISA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner said. 

Additionally, Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton, commander of the Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence, said the service plans to expose every warfighter to electromagnetic warfare through a partnership between the center and the infantry and armor schools at the Maneuver Center of Excellence.  

They are “going out and exposing the infantry and armor students to the effects of jamming, to the effects of geolocation through the EMS [electromagnetic spectrum],” Stanton said.  

“What we’ve noticed from our own lessons learned, through [combat training center] rotations, through observations in the world right now, is that if an organization, a unit, is experiencing an electromagnetic attack, that means the adversary has identified you. They have located you. They have targeted you. And they have chosen to radiate you. They could have just as well chosen to eradicate you,” added Todd Boudreau, deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Cyber School. 

We look forward to finding out what they learn at the next TechNet Augusta conference!