• An Army M1A2 Abrams tank participates in training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in January 2020. Army researchers are integrating the FIRESTORM AI-enabled decision-making aid with the Abrams, as well as a host of other systems.  Army Sgt. Joshua Wooten
     An Army M1A2 Abrams tank participates in training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in January 2020. Army researchers are integrating the FIRESTORM AI-enabled decision-making aid with the Abrams, as well as a host of other systems. Army Sgt. Joshua Wooten
  • The FIRESTORM system will use a decision tree with multiple options to determine the best weapon system to attack any given target.  polygraphus/Shutterstock
     The FIRESTORM system will use a decision tree with multiple options to determine the best weapon system to attack any given target. polygraphus/Shutterstock

FIRESTORM AI System Prepares for Joint Role

July 1, 2021
By George I. Seffers
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Researchers enhance the system for Project Convergence.

With only months remaining before this fall’s Project Convergence 2021, U.S. Army researchers aim to integrate roughly 20 systems with the service’s fledgling artificial intelligence-enabled targeting technology known as FIRES Synchronization to Optimize Responses in Multi-Domain Operations.

The artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled system, more commonly called FIRESTORM, is still in the science and technology phase and is not yet a formal program of record. It ingests data from sensors and other systems, uses One World Terrain to map the battlefield and recommends the best weapon system to engage specific targets, saving commanders precious time for making decisions. Prior technologies took almost 20 minutes to relay data back to warfighters. FIRESTORM takes 32 seconds.

FIRESTORM was the megastar of last year’s Project Convergence and has been highly praised by Army officials helping to determine the service’s future, including Gen. John Murray, USA, commanding general, Army Futures Command, and Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, USA, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team. Gen. Coffman has suggested the system could fundamentally change the way the Army fights in the future.

Now, with the next Project Convergence just around the corner, Patel’s team is pushing to make major improvements, including integration with an array of other systems. That includes the Air Battle Management System (ABMS), an Air Force solution for the Joint All-Domain Command and Control Concept. ABMS allows a joint force to use cutting-edge methods and technologies to rapidly collect, analyze and share information and make decisions in real time, according to an Air Force press release.

It also includes the Army’s Air and Missile Defense Workstation, a staff planning and battlespace situational awareness tool. It provides the user with an air defense picture and supports the Surface-Launched Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile air defense system by providing an automated defense planning capability for deployed units.

“There’s a lot of integration work that’s happening to make sure we can receive data from all kinds of systems that are fielded—or emerging technologies—and have interoperability with them,” reports Ketula Patel, FIRESTORM program manager and Intelligence Systems branch chief with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armament Center, Picatinny Arsenal. “We’re probably integrating to, I’d say, about 20 technologies for Project Convergence. We’re extending our interfaces to work with a lot of those different, newer platforms.”

She notes that FIRESTORM can work for commanders at higher echelons, including joint task forces, or at the tactical level for individual tank or helicopter crews. “The platforms, such as the ground tank commander, could utilize the system all the way to the joint task force. So, we’re also integrating with the Abrams since Abrams is at the tactical edge.”

The system will benefit overwhelmed tank commanders. “It’s not going to get involved with a direct fire mission. If a commander sees a target, he’ll continue to engage as he sees is the best for him to minimize any kind of fratricide and also a self-defense kind of scenario,” Patel explains. “Where it helps is if that specific tank platoon is getting an overwhelming number of targets. Firestorm will continue to communicate with all the other inorganic assets that could support those fire missions.”

For example, FIRESTORM could alert the commander of unseen dangers. “Let’s say a target that came from a higher echelon, or an intel system saw a target that was beyond line of sight of that platform, that could be alerted to that commander,” Patel adds.

FIRESTORM already has been partially integrated with the Army’s Tactical Assault Kit and Nett Warrior and also is available on Linux-based laptops. “The Android capability, I would say, is not as mature from a decision-aiding and algorithm perspective. It’s really mainly on the Linux laptop,” Patel says. “We will continue to develop other technologies, such as Microservices, to have it working with cloud and all the other newer, modernized architectures that the joint partners, as well as the Army, are developing.”

In addition to the technology piece, researchers must consider differing policies and doctrine. “Once we establish what we’re sharing between the systems and we all are on the same page between us and all the developers, then it becomes a little bit easier. I think we are still figuring out what it is that makes sense from a commander’s perspective that they would want to see … across different warfighting functions,” Patel explains.

Other enhancements are in the works as well. “We’re improving everything from working at scale to being able to handle a lot of the data that we’re getting … given that we will be at the different echelons, there is a lot of that work getting implemented to scale it up,” she adds.

FIRESTORM will face more of a challenge at this year’s Project Convergence. For example, soldiers will get their hands on the system for the first time. That will be their chance to provide feedback on what works and to suggest changes.

Also, the system will consider more factors before making decisions. Last year, the system had only one so-called decision node. “This year, we’re going to have a lot more decision-aid nodes … to validate the decision tree and whether it is making the decision based on a decision tree, which has many, many factors. You need to look at all of those factors to see if it provided the right recommendation.”

Beyond Project Convergence, the Picatinny researchers intend to improve FIRESTORM in other ways as well. Future enhancements likely will include even more advanced AI and automation algorithms. Some eventual enhancements also will be tailored to the needs of commanders. Feedback from commanders will help researchers refine some capabilities, such as targeting, predicting air clearance processes and deconflicting air space.

“Project Convergence gets it ready for a lot of different kinds of use cases, but it doesn’t consider everything. Going beyond, we would be working with a lot of the [combat command] partners and active duty, like III Corps, or even divisions, to make sure we’re incorporating a lot of that feedback into FIRESTORM,” Patel says.

Patel suggests her team could work directly with combatant commands, or COCOMS, in the Indo-Pacific region or Europe to better meet their needs. “We’re trying to connect with some of the COCOMs. As the software matures, I think we’ll be able to support a lot more COCOM events, probably in the later part of 2021 or 2022 for sure.”

While reducing the decision-making time from 20 minutes to 32 seconds is impressive, Patel stresses optimization as another crucial benefit. “We’re optimizing the target assets that we want to utilize and not just using any available asset that could be the shooter. We’re looking for the best shooter and the best effects for any target,” she says.

That benefit cannot yet be quantified. “Right now, we don’t have quantified data. We will as we build out use cases and run out simulations in fiscal year 2022. We will scale it up where we will ingest a lot of targeting data and utilize what might be all the effects and see which ones were selected and come up with a cost metric. I don’t mean cost from a money perspective but from an optimization perspective,” Patel explains.

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