Small Wars Journal

A Letter Home: Seeing the Future from a 2050 Soldier

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:06am

A Letter Home: Seeing the Future from a 2050 Soldier

Ralph Tillinghast

The following is presented as part of the TRADOC G2's "Soldier 2050" Call for Ideas. This material will form a compendium of thoughts and ideas that will support the exploration of future bio-convergence implications on the Army of 2050 at the Mad Scientist Conference 8-9 March 2018 at SRI International. The conference can be livestreamed at

Exhibit: Letters Home Through the Centuries

2050: The following electronic correspondence on display below is provided as a sample of the typical communication of an Army soldier in the 2050 time frame. Commentary from the museum curator has been added within the document to add historical clarification and context.

-- National Museum of the United States Army, 2075

Mom and Dad,

Hope you are all well, it has been a crazy first few weeks but finally got some time to send you a quick note. I had my first real mission yesterday with the 1st tier sniper group.

[Sniper tiers were established in 2030 by the Army based on range of engagement and weapon issued. Due to the sensor overlay on the sniper rifles, small caliber hypersonic/guided munitions, UAV spotters, and real time projectile path conditions, it was found that specialized sniper tiers or levels were required. Tier 1: short range 1-2,000 meters; Tier 2: 1,500 to 5,000 meters; Tier 3: 4,000 to 10,000 meters]

Everything went well and I got my first two confirmed. The third tier guys are crazy, it’s pretty cool that they can take in the earth rotation and solar flare activity to hit a tin-can from 5 miles away. I should be trained up to that level in a few months with my VW.  I’m really glad I opted for the VW enhancement to my NIS, it has been great.

[The VW and NIS refer to the Virtual Wingman and Neurological Information System. The NIS is the old name for the first bio-mechanical interface with the human neurological system that allowed for both transmitting and receiving on a real time basis. The NIS, equipped with memory allocation, was a significant advancement from the transmit only implants initially approved by the FDA in 2025 for medical purposes. The Army was slow to adopt the wide-spread use due to regulations and ethical considerations. It first approved for Soldiers by 2040 and by then most recruits had already had an NIS system implanted during childhood to compete academically. The Virtual Wingman (VW) represents an NIS plugin that downloads real-time soldier experience recorded from the ‘Internet of the Battlefield’ (IoB), a play on ‘Internet of Things’. The IoB was first established by the Army in the 2015-20 time frame through the Army’s Research Labs. This framework allowed for the collection and processing of all data on the battle field taken from the millions of sensors. The disruptive advantage of the VM plugin was that it synthesized tens of thousands of sniper shots taken by soldiers over approximately 20 years and logged the conditions when the shot was taken (range, weapon, target, soldier bio readings, meteorological and ground conditions, surroundings, along with mission outcome and sniper after action reports). This data was then run through primitive Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms of the time and fed back to the sniper through the VW and NIS. Effectively, this placed 20 years of experience into the soldier’s neuro system. An enhancement was made in the 2045 timeframe that included real-time updates and specific condition matching. Some snipers said it felt like they were taking their 10th shot on the same target. As expected, few missed, resulting in a 99% kill rate for all snipers on first shot.]  

I also got to play with my squad module for the NIS, but it was really weird and I’m not sure I really like hearing everyone else’s thoughts during a mission. I think it may be more distracting than helpful but we will see.

[The squad module was a mind to mind teaming module that the Army experimented with at the time of this letter. This NIS module allowed for linked soldiers to communicate through thoughts. The Army quickly discontinued operations due to issues with confusion and information overload. It was not until 5 years later, when multiple NIS implants (mNIS) were adopted, that the operator could begin to choose when to send specific messages to each other by thinking rather than an open broadcast that occurred with the entail squad module. The mNIS laid the ground for the controlled telepathy we enjoy today.]

I attached a couple of neuro recordings of some new caves the little bugs found, pretty cool to think we found a new place on earth that no one has ever seen.

[Little bugs refers to the small networked robots first fielded by the DoD in 2030. Each robot was approximately the size of a cockroach and would provide surveillance and real-time sensor data networking. Later versions of little bugs allowed for full real-time 3D mapping of the Earth. This aided in replacing the GPS network that was fully decommissioned in the 2040 time frame. Interestingly, many new discoveries were found on Earth due to this ability to map the Earth both on the ground and underwater. Approximately 90 million of these little bugs are still in operation today. The neuro recordings refer to the advancement of being able to replay and share actual memories through the NIS system, eliminating the need for video recording as a method of reviewing past events.]

I’ll keep you updated on my status. I forgot to tell you I created a new environment for Dagger’s new iRex module, a hotdog factory! He should love it! The file is all loaded and I left 10 pounds of hot dogs in the freezer with tags, for you to hide around the apartment. Send me a neuro recording from you and Dagger when he tries it, I can’t wait to see what he thinks!

[iRex was a popular enhancement for pets in the 2040-2060s. This technology allowed for an NIS to be used on pets, first established by Homeland Security for working dogs. It allowed for a similar neuro link to the pets’ brain. The ‘new environment’ was a fad for a while, converting an existing living space into any virtual environment. At the time of this letter, geo-tags could be added to objects (the hot dogs in this case for his pet dog, Dagger) and placed in the room to add further interaction. For military application, this ability to load environments proved very useful for training and situational awareness overlay on the battlefield.]

I think I’m finally settling in with my unit, a few more were added so I’m no longer the ‘new guy’.

‘New guy’ was the tag for the untrained. Due to enhanced training methods, the Army had eliminated pre-training before going to the front lines by 2045. This was achieved through the NIV with the ability to upload all basic training information. The first few weeks with the unit were to map/align the new memories with muscle coordination to reduce error.]

Tell little Anna I miss her and she should try to help as much as possible around the apartment.

Love you!  - Oliver

About the Author(s)

Ralph Tillinghast began his career outside the DOD designing and developing medical and industrial endoscopic devices. He came to ARDEC in 2001working in the Mortar Fire Control Systems Branch in WSEC.  During this time, he held various roles as design engineer, lead system engineer, project lead and Army Project Officer, all within Fire Control. Currently Mr. Tillinghast is the Science and Technology advisor for the Fire Control System & Technology Directorate and is also the director of the Collaboration Innovation Lab, which he stood up. This position is focused on identifying and developing new technologies that can positively impact the Warfighter, while creating collaborative relationships among government and commercial groups to ensure the best possible solutions are developed. Further, Mr. Tillinghast continues to be a subject matter expert on digitized fire control providing support and guidance on multiple programs.