Evolutions Under Way in Army Signals

September 10, 2013
By Rita Boland

One particular issue keeps Maj. Gen. LaWarren Patterson, USA, up at night—materiel. Gen. Patterson is the commanding general of the U.S. Army Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon, Georgia, and shared his concerns during AFCEA International’s TechNet Augusta on Tuesday.

“I think what we’re doing at the NIE is phenomenal,” the general stated. The NIE is the Network Integration Evaluation, a twice yearly exercise that test new technologies for the Army. “Here’s my concern—it’s too damn complex,” Gen. Patterson added. The opinion is not just his own. He has heard it from many soldiers at all levels. “You need a Ph.D. to turn some of this [stuff] on,” the general explained. Troops have too much to do to have to push multiple buttons to communicate or even turn on a device.

Young soldiers were a topic throughout the general’s presentation, during which he walked the audience through what his organizations are doing in regard to the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities, or DOTMLPF, spectrum. He pointed out that youth today will not accept education that consists of multiple PowerPoint demonstrations. Therefore, trainers must adjust to be more collaborative. New soldiers and officers also expect technology. Facilities at Fort Gordon are making that difficult, because they are outdated. Gen. Patterson shared his frustrations trying to train 21st century soldiers with obsolete equipment and infrastructure. The general reaches out to young soldiers when opportunities arise. For example, he and members of his leadership team had avatars of themselves created and placed into a video that introduces newcomers to Fort Gordon.

Though funding to update is not expected, at least cuts are not feared. Budget reductions have not impacted signals training thus far. Sequestrations cuts have been absorbed through measures such as not hiring additional personnel. Personnel will change moving forward as the Army transitions from an operational force to a preparation force. Grade plate reductions mean not only will soldier numbers decrease, but leadership levels will have to shift downward. That means, for example, that slots filled by E-8s now will move to E-7 billets. “Let there be no doubt, it’s a cost-cutter initiative,” Gen. Patterson said. The problem he identifies is that signals is a highly complex field, especially in terms of information technology, and leaders have to determine how to reduce rank positions without creating a breakdown in knowledge.

The general also spoke about Army consolidation efforts. Decision makers are debating which applications to close out even as they find more data centers than they knew existed across the service. Because of this, consolidation may come at a later date than originally forecasted.

Finally, Gen. Patterson shared what he sees as the critical technology priorities of the future. The first is to build up the infrastructure, which he said has atrophied over the last 10 to 15 years as the military turned attention to the immediate needs for tactical systems at the edge. The second is the cloud, which will save money and use resources more efficiently. Though some capabilities need to remain separate for security reasons, many should move into the cloud quickly. “We’ve got to get there fast,” Gen. Patterson said.

For more coverage from TechNet Augusta 2013, visit SIGNAL's Event eNews site.

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