Solar panel arrays form a canopy at a construction site at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., March 12, 2013. The post was previously selected by the Army to be net zero energy, meaning it would create as much energy as it uses. The Army is currently planning to modernize its 156 installations through 2035, as part of a strategy that aims to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and families, combat climate change, and deter would-be attacks by adversaries. (John Prettyman)
Army installations set to modernize through 2035
By Thomas Brading, Army News Service December 16, 2020
The Army plans to modernize its 156 installations through 2035, as part of a strategy that aims to improve the quality of life for Soldiers and families, combat climate change, and deter would-be attacks by adversaries.
The Army Installations Strategy, or AIS, will be a blueprint for how the service will adopt modernized platform capabilities to all its installations with technologies found in data-driven “smart cities,” said Richard G. Kidd IV, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for strategic integration.
Over the next 15 years, AIS will connect Army installations to an enterprise-level of information needed in multi-domain operations, Kidd said, while also taking advantage of the latest capabilities found in modern cities around the world where new infrastructure has improved the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing of their communities.
Current and emerging trends forced Army leaders to examine infrastructure and installations “through a new lens,” the strategy said, and “will revise doctrine, training, and investments accordingly” based on those shifts.
“The fence line is now the frontline and emerging trends require the Army to examine installations through a new lens,” said Alex A. Beehler, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, or ASA (IE&E). "Installations are the platforms from which the Army builds culture, trains and projects power.
“The AIS addresses a range of emerging requirements related to multi-domain operations and the Army people and modernization strategies,” he added. This “will harness the full capabilities of installations to help the Army compete, deter and win in an increasingly complex security environment.”
‘No longer a sanctuary’
One of those emerging trends is cybersecurity, said Kidd, whose role falls under ASA (IE&E). As installations become more connected to the digital world, it has come with a price.
Army personnel, including families, are increasingly more vulnerable to emerging threat vectors like social media, cyberattacks, and disinformation campaigns. “These new threats have changed the dynamic of how installations can and should be viewed,” Kidd said.
The overwhelming assumption is many believe Army installations are off-limits to adversaries. “The biggest challenge we face, in terms of the risks against our country is a cultural one -- both within the Army and as a nation,” he said.
This cultural change is evident in how the supply-chain integrity of communications networks from other countries has impacted the United States. Even things as simple as cell phone apps have become potentially dangerous.
“U.S. adversaries are deploying products that spy on our communications in a way I never imagined possible,” he said. “We must assume that commercial technologies can be a vector of attack.”
In other words, “we need to treat Army installations as warfighting assets, and look at them in terms of the capabilities they provide,” he added. “Our homeland is no longer a sanctuary and our installations are increasingly vulnerable.”
Putting people first
In addition to safety, Kidd believes future Soldiers and their families should receive the amenities they deserve.
“We must meet the changing needs of our Soldiers and their families,” he said. “Whether it’s [modernizing] local gymnasiums, community centers, or housing,” improving their quality of life is the most pressing matter.
To do this, officials plan to use data to quickly deliver public goods and services, he said. For example, if a Soldier notices a pothole in the road, the repair could be as easy as taking a photograph and sending it to public works.
After submitting the photo, georeferenced data embedded in it would help workers pinpoint where the repair is required.
But change is only possible with the support of local communities, he said.
The majority of Army installations were built decades ago, some dating back to the 1800s, and communities have grown around them. Back then, Kidd said, “bases were on the frontier with no settlements for hundreds of miles, but now installations are part of a broader network.”
How communities upgrade their towns will directly impact how quickly the Army marches into the 21st century. For example, things like 5G Wi-Fi and autonomous transportation, are more attainable where nearby cities have them.
In the future, Soldiers could one day commute to work on electric, autonomous buses equipped with facial recognition technology that checks a rider’s ID and clears them onto post without stopping, Kidd said.
Battling climate change
The quality of life benefits are only part of the bigger picture, he stressed. The strategy also “touches on readiness and resilience, in context to warfighters, but also in combatting natural disasters.”
In addition to deliberate and directed attacks from near-peer competitors and mirroring “smart cities,” military installations also exist within a natural environment increasingly characterized by the effects of climate change, extreme weather, pandemics, and environmental degradation, he said.
“The unifying theme that connects climate change response and mission assurance is resilience,” he added. “We need resilient installations. The great thing is the same features that you need to protect installations from adversary actions, also provide benefits against climate change.”
For instance, if an adversary cuts off an installation from the broader power grid that installation would still be able to do its mission if it had on-site power generation and storage as well as a secure micro-grid.
Readiness “means more solar panels, more batteries, distributed natural gas, and a whole variety of technologies that make the base more resilient,” Kidd said. “At the same time, all the technologies reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
In the end, holistically upgrading installations is an inevitable part of modernization, Kidd said, adding installations are expected to keep pace with other Army modernization efforts.
The strategy is the first step in the process. Further analysis will determine the capabilities and requirements needed to move the Army toward operationalizing installations in an MDO-ready environment, he said.
Depending on where future modernization efforts go, like new long-range cannons or vertical lift capabilities, the decisions on which locations will modernize first is yet to be determined, Kidd said.
For now, decisions are being made on a year-by-year basis. It’s a strategy intended to “harness the full capabilities of installations in a changing, increasingly complex operational environment,” Kidd said.
In the strategy’s forward, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said ultimately it is about taking care of people.
“Installations must be in a position to allow the Army to do its job,” he wrote. “As we transform the Army, we have to transform installations along with it.”