Small Wars Journal

Net Assessment: Threats to Future Army Acquisitions

Sat, 10/10/2015 - 9:12pm

Net Assessment: Threats to Future Army Acquisitions

Joel Lawton and Phillip Serpico, edited by Barry Wardlaw


The Net Assessment Working Group, comprised of Army science and technology (S&T) experts, formed to compare planned S&T acquisitions and investments with emerging technologies. The purpose was to assist the Army in defining potential areas where future forces may be presented with “overmatch” technologies from adversaries that may impact future forces. In March 2015, Net Assessment Working Group participants identified the following:  1) Army mobility and protection assets are at risk from the proliferation and advances of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM); 2) Army aviation assets are facing an increasing threat from area denial (AD) strategies as well as a growing range of weapons; 3) Individual Soldiers are at risk from a general reliance on position, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies and cognitive overload; 4) U.S. precision ammunition is at risk from jamming technologies that threaten the delivery of precision fires; 5) Army intelligence and electronic warfare (EW) systems are at risk from cover, camouflage, concealment, denial, and deception (C3D2) technologies and an inability to identify some advanced adversary EW systems: and 6)  Combat Service Support is susceptible to the large resource requirements required to deploy and sustain Army forces where resources may be limited.


In the near-term, mid-term (2020-2030), and far-term (2030-2040) adversarial technological advances are expected to be wide-ranging and challenging for the U.S. Army to defend against.[i]  In order to ensure the U.S. Army maintains its technological and competitive edge, it is important to categorize the potential for adversary advantage by capability portfolio management and equipment areas identified by the Long-Range Investment Requirements Analysis (LIRA) process. The LIRA is a "30 year long-range planning process" which includes the major investment areas (portfolios) of: Mission Command; Maneuver; Ammunition; Fires, Air, and Missile Defense; Protection/Chemical Biological Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE); Intelligence and Electronic Warfare (EW); Combat Service Support; Aviation; Soldier, and Mobility.[ii] Thus, the LIRA is a 30-year plan that depicts the “big picture,” linking “all capability gaps to S&T activity to fielding material, and every fielding operations, support and eventual disposal and/or replacement.”[iii]

This paper examines threat insights as they pertain to each of the LIRA's investment categories. Each of the LIRA's categories are related potential threats derived from multiple intelligence community assessments and S&T subject matter experts (SME) during a Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) S&T sponsored Net Assessment Working Group held in March 2015. The purpose of the Net Assessment Working Group was to use members of the Army S&T community to collaborate with ARCIC capability developers to address overmatch concerns. Discussions were limited to topics where potential adversaries may have a technological advantage over future U.S. investments. The insights in this paper are intended to assist the LIRA process and inform the S&T community's research and development efforts.

The Net Assessment Working Group assisted in the substantiation of several concerns impacting some technological investment categories within the LIRA. Some of the insights derived include possible vulnerabilities to space, cyberspace operations (CO), intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR), and U.S. networked Mission Command Systems (MCS). There is a potential for risk in the assessed timeframes as a result of the increased lethality and velocity of kinetic weapons such as anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), and improvised explosive devices (IED) affecting the protection, maneuver, fires, and aviation functions of the Army. Emerging electro-magnetic weapons, such as directed-energy weapons (DEW), radio frequency (RF), electromagnetic rail guns, and advanced electronic attack/jamming will undoubtedly force the Army and Joint community to adapt to these technological and threat-based trends.

This paper discusses generally the future operational environment and how threats may impact future acquisitions. Further, this paper is organized to give the reader a broad sense how the Army will be presented with diverse technologies in the future.  Finally, it associates specific threats to LIRA portfolios and concludes with recommendations that may help the Army mitigate a technological gap in the future. 

Threats to Portfolios

The possible threats identified and reviewed by the Net Assessment Working Group were matched against planned U.S. Army technological investments in the mid- and far-terms, as defined above. Major adversarial technological threats that present a challenge to investments in the LIRA are generally developed by near-peer competitors. Conversely, it is unlikely that the U.S. will come into direct confrontation with near-peers, but nations supplied or sold these technologies may pose a threat to the U.S. or its interests. This proliferation makes it possible that the U.S. will confront advanced technologies that can have an advantage over planned programs in the LIRA.     

Adversaries will continue to target U.S. vulnerabilities and try to negate technological areas where the U.S. has the advantage. In the mid- and far­terms, access to progressively more advanced technology will give adversaries increased advantage in: range, inventory, and precision of rockets and missiles; space capabilities; counter-precision capabilities, and an increase in the lethality within small units.[iv] These future threats require comprehensive solutions to mitigate due to pervasive characteristics of the operational environment (OE), which include: increased velocity and momentum of human interaction and events; potential for overmatch; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; spread of advanced cyberspace and counter-space capabilities; ease of technology transfer to state and non-state actors; transparency and ubiquitous media, and demographics and operations among populations, in cities, and in complex terrain.[v][vi] Ergo, the characteristics of future adversaries will be complex, dynamic, innovative, and determined to match or supplant historical U.S. technological advantages.

The proliferation and distribution of new and emerging technologies makes it important that the Army develop a comprehensive concept and capability development program through collaboration with the public and private S&T communities. The ambiguity about technological advances of potential near-peer adversaries and the proliferation of those technologies to non-state groups presents a challenging future OE, and along with ominous DoD budget cuts, makes prioritized S&T investments critical. Former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, stated in his 2014 Defense Innovation Initiative Memorandum that the U.S. must accelerate innovation through “identify[ing], develop[ing], and field[ing] breakthrough technologies and systems that sustain and advance the capability of U.S. military power” in order to assure “America’s continued strategic dominance.”[vii]  Conclusively, the Net Assessment insights help the Army think about the evolution of the OE and the effects of all aspects of technology on the future of armed conflict.

Net Assessment Insights

The proliferation of technology in the near-, mid-, and far-terms puts planned Army investments at risk. Programmed technologies in the LIRA address some concerns through near-term (i.e., until 2020). Near-peer adversaries are currently investing heavily in capabilities, technologies, and concepts in order to mitigate perceived U.S. advantages on the battlefield. Their investments will likely create a technological gap throughout the mid- and far-terms, confronting the Army with commensurate or superior technologies. Joint and Army investments throughout the far-term will have to address the concerns of the future through developing advanced technologies and concepts in order to minimize adversarial advances in weapon and technology effects.

Mobility and Protection. The LIRA’s Mobility and Protection portfolios are at risk throughout the far-term from several threats exhibited currently. The most stressing threat to the portfolio is the proliferation of and advances in ATGMs. Trends indicate advances in ATGM effects have accelerated partner-nations’ investments in protection systems. The use of protection systems by partners have had great success in recent conflicts, increasing the survivability of many armor platforms. Such advancements include Israel’s development and deployment of the Trophy Active Protection Systems (APS) used during the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict. However, LIRA investments do little to advance or invest in APS.

Another stressing threat is system survivability and protection against IED blasts. IEDs are easily made and adapted by both state and non-state adversaries. Presently, the Army has invested in IED protections (e.g., heavy armor packages for vehicles, electronic counter-measures, and body armor for dismounted troops), but due to pervasiveness and adaptability of the IED threat, protection and mobility will continue to be at risk throughout the far-term. The LIRA does not sufficiently invest in capabilities to defend against the impacts of IED technologies without impacting mobility (i.e., size, weight, and power considerations).

An additional threat to the portfolios is the use of chemical and biological weapons by state and non-state actors. The LIRA does not invest in areas of CBRNE, presenting a threat to future land forces. As the recent cases of the use of chemical weapons in Syria has shown the DoD, state and non-state actors will exploit the low cost of CBRNE weapons as an effective alternative to expensive advanced weapon systems. Near-peer adversaries are making advances in fourth-generation chemical and biological agents that will likely be weaponized by unpredictable non-state actors. Current protection equipment is currently not adequate for use against all types of CBRNE attacks. This makes the Protection portfolio vulnerable to new or modified CBRNE technology (e.g., inoculations, protective gear, decontamination; etc.) and risks Mobility through degraded maneuver in a CBRNE environment.

Aviation. The Aviation portfolio is facing an increasing threat from area denial (AD) strategies as well as growing range of weapons. Such as the proliferation of MANPADS, programmable fusing munitions, long-range air defense systems, and air-to-air missiles, which increases the threat to aircrafts and their associated mission sets. Within the LIRA and tech base (i.e., technologies available, but not programmed) there are programs looking at increasing the capability of airframes to defend against advances in these weapons. However, the Net Assessment Working Group was aware of few technologies that could counter the threat posed by MANPADS due to a general lack of research and development directed towards counter technologies.

Participants also noted counter-tactics such as avoidance that will do little to thwart this threat and will likely diminish effectiveness by adding to, for example, loiter and response times. Concepts and technology together must begin to address the increasing AD threat and allow the Army to maintain its advantage in the air domain.

Soldier. Technology threats and cognitive overload pose risk to the Soldier portfolio. Initially, the targeting of U.S, position, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems will be the most stressing threat. Soldiers will likely face degraded or denied PNT throughout the far-term when faced with adversarial employment of jamming and spoofing technologies. Current PNT systems rely on 1970’s technology enabled by the Global Position System (GPS); which has limited defenses. In the future, PNT must be available in environments where GPS is unavailable. The Net Assessment Working Group believed LIRA investments are adequate to ensure the effects from jamming or spoofing will be limited and the Army can operate in a GPS denied or degraded OE. However, provisions and requirements must be made within the acquisition and S&T communities to ensure access to PNT in any environment.

Cognitive overload is another risk that Soldiers may be presented with when challenged with managing numerous Mission Command Systems, operating in complex environments, and analyzing all variables of the OE. The LIRA does have some programs to optimize cognitive performance via emphasizing “Agile and Adaptive Leaders.”[viii] Agile and Adaptive Leaders is a “position of intellectual advantage over a situation or adversary that fosters proactive agility over reactive adaptation, facilitating the ability to anticipate change before it occurs.”[ix] This will allow for Soldiers, leaders, and decision-makers to make timely judgments and maneuver through complex areas of operation. Training in the mid- and far-terms must assimilate new techniques to foster competencies in cognitive dominance to deal with the complexities and countless variables where Soldiers will have to make decisions.  

Ammunition. The Ammunition portfolio is another category where jamming technologies pose risk to the delivery and range of munitions. Specifically, precision-guided munitions (PGM) are enabled by PNT technologies and may be vulnerable to GPS denial systems. Denial of GPS through jamming or spoofing could reduce or degrade the Army’s ability to deliver precision fires. Alternative PNT technologies (i.e., other than GPS) need to be integrated into PGM development programs to ensure the delivery and accuracy of munitions in the future. The LIRA and tech base does little to address the development of alternatives to traditional PNT technologies within PGMs. The development of future munitions similarly should address their survivability in AD environments. 

Intelligence and EW. The Intelligence and EW portfolio is at risk from cover, camouflage, concealment, denial, and deception (C3D2) technologies as well as an inability to identify some advanced adversary EW systems. Near-peer adversaries currently have advanced C3 that is designed to conceal the locations of air defense systems or advanced decoys used to deceive oppositional forces. C3D2 technologies are comparatively inexpensive to produce and provide protection to both ground and air defense systems. The LIRA or tech base does little to invest in systems to help the Army distinguish between actual or decoy systems.

A second area of concern is that the DoD has invested much into the interoperability of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, but greater compatibility of systems will be needed throughout the far-term. The Net Assessment Working Group believed that EW and intelligence systems are not integrated well. This impacts how information and data is disseminated throughout the intelligence community (IC) as well as between military IC components. Future Intelligence and EW investments will have to address the interoperability through a systems-of-systems (SoS) approach and procedurally systematize the integration of EW with intelligence functions.  

Combat Service Support. The Combat Service Support portfolio is susceptible to the large resource requirements required to deploy and sustain Army forces where in-theater resources may be limited. Power and energy resources (e.g., fuel, electric power generation; etc.) are the most contentious resource constraints. Increasing power and energy consumption of the future force may limit response times and sustainment of land and air systems. The Army has invested in lighter and more efficient systems (e.g., solar power, fuel efficient vehicles; etc.), nonetheless improvements are needed to facilitate a smaller, lighter, and versatile supply chain. Throughout the far-term, it is expected that DoD budgets will be constrained, thus requiring an efficacious approach to power and energy consumption.    

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Army will undoubtedly be challenged with a diverse and challenging future OE. This will require “the U.S. Army to innovate to ensure that forces are prepared to accomplish future missions.”[x] The Net Assessment Working Group is part of many efforts throughout the Army intended to help to “anticipate the demands of future armed conflict.”[xi] Specifically, this event and other concurrent efforts will help the Army maintain a technological edge and maintain its position of “overmatch” over adversaries through prioritizing investments, determining capability gaps, and organizing a greater community of interest.

Recommendation 1. The LIRA’s portfolios will remain contested throughout the far-term. The S&T community, through research and development efforts, can present a range of viable and sustainable solutions to counter threats to U.S. systems and capabilities. One potential approach may be to seek partner nation technologies as well as work with the trusted international communities to foster new and innovative solutions.  Solutions must also be broad and agile enough to adapt to changes in the OE and emerging technologies.

Recommendation 2. The Army should initiate a phased approach to research and development, acquisition, and Joint Force collaboration. In the interim, the Army S&T community should continue to explore, develop, and expand existing technologies by adding to the tech base. During this period, Mobility and Protection portfolio technologies should receive priority; followed by Soldier and Aviation portfolios. Also, programs funded through LIRA investments that provide little value to sustaining or advancing Joint Force capabilities should be reallocated to areas of high risk within the portfolios. Following realignment and prioritization of efforts, the Army should take strides to work with the Joint Force and Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics [OSD (AT&L)] to develop a Joint Net Assessment. The purpose of a Joint Net Assessment would be to examine technologies across the services and to prioritize capability gaps requiring improvement or expansion.

Recommendation 3. Use of TRADOC G-2’s Mad Scientist line of effort and ARCIC’s Technology Industry Exchange (TIE) to better integrate private sector, academic, and the S&T community of interest with LIRA planning initiatives. Mad Scientist, enables continuous dialogue to help the “Army think about the evolution of the OE and the effects of all aspects of technology on the far future of Armed Conflict.”[xii] Mad Scientist and TIE can be used as a venue to help prioritize investment/acquisition activities by linking them to specific technologies, capabilities, and concepts.

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors, and may not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Army, or TRADOC.

End Notes

[i] ARCIC S&T. “Balancing S&T Efforts and Innovation for the Deep Future.” October 2014. Overall document classification is: SECRET//NOFORN.  Extracted content is: UNCLASSIFIED

[ii] Department of the Army. Army Equipment in Support of Presidents Budget 2015. May 2014. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[iii] Matrisciano, Vince. “Thirty-Year Plans: What They Are and Why We Need Them.” Defense AT&L: January-February 2014. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[iv] TRADOC G-2. “The Potential for Adversary Advantage in the Operational Environment.” Overall document classification is: SECRET//NOFORN. Extracted content is: UNCLASSIFIED.

[v] Department of the Army 2014. The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World 2020-2040. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. 31 October, 1-12. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[vi] TRADOC G-2. “The Potential/or Adversary Advantage in the Operational Environment.” Overall document classification is: SECRET//NOFORN. Extracted content is: UNCLASSIFIED.

[vii] Hagel, Chuck, U.S. Secretary of Defense 2014. “The Defense Innovation Initiative.” Memo OSD013411-14. 15 November. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[viii] Gen Mark A. Milley redfined the term “Cognitive Dominance” with Agile and Adaptive Leaders in 2015. See “STAND-TO” article “Cognitive Dominance Education Program” for more information.

[ix] Nabi, Farzana PhD. “Culture of Learning, Innovation & Human Dimension.” TRADOC Human Dimension Task Force. 20 December 2014, 10. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[x]  Department of the Army 2014. The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World 2020-2040. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. 31 October, 8. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED

[xi] Ibid.

[xii]  Hutchinson, Kira PhD. “Mad Scientist Conference: Human Dimension 2025 and Beyond.” TRADOC G-2. Information Paper, 19 August 2015. Overall document classification is: UNCLASSIFIED


Categories: Mad Scientist

About the Author(s)

Major Phillip Serpico is an Army Field Artillery Officer with experience in targeting and planning joint fires. His most recent deployment was to Regional Command South (RC-S) Afghanistan in 2010, where he served as the Assist Division Fire Support Coordinator. His other published works include a 2011 Center for Army Lesson Learned (CALL) article titled Joint Fires in Regional Command, South. MAJ Serpico also served as a military transition team advisor in Iraq in 2006-2007. He is currently serving as a military analyst for the Science and Technology (S&T) Division within the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC).

Joel Lawton <> ( is a former member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). His work with HTS included working in the U.S. and two tours to Afghanistan, where he conducted socio-cultural research management, collection, and support; as well as open-source intelligence analysis and qualitative data collection and analysis. Joel served in the USMC, deploying to southern Helmand Province in 2009 in support of combat operations. Further, Joel is an advocate of qualitative analysis and its use in military intelligence collection efforts. He currently works as an intelligence analyst for the Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).