Techcraft on display in Ukraine
    Analysis by War on the Rocks

    WORLD  19 May 2024 - 22:00

    The War on the Rocks analysis platform carries an article describing how the integration of cutting-edge technology into military strategy has emerged as a decisive factor in Ukraine's resilience and adaptability. Caliber.Az reprints the piece.

    Tactics are a science, but applying tactics in combat is an art. A military force wins by seeing how general principles apply to a specific situation and being creative with combat solutions.

    For two years, Ukrainians have been defending their country with creative combinations of tactics and technology. Ukraine was thrown into a conflict full of juxtaposed old and new tech, but in part because Ukraine’s tech-savvy population volunteered to serve, they were able to survive Russia’s assault and even make gains, especially in 2022. We call these tactical and technical talents of applying modern technology on the battlefield “techcraft.” American soldiers should go into battle with the same advantage. Fieldcraft means using what is available to survive in the field. By techcraft, we mean the field-expedient use of technology in war.

    A multi-echelon, grass-roots approach is needed across the U.S. Army to allow soldiers to display and develop their techcraft. For example, think back to the time where radar technicians, highly specialized dedicated personnel, were critical and decisive in combat reconnaissance. Now the Army has evolved the role of such technicians to adapt to the changing landscape, which includes advanced technology like uncrewed control systems and sensor technology. Gone are the days when mastery of a specific technological device remains the key to tactical success. They face an operational environment where they must integrate technological solutions as rapidly as industry makes them. Soldiers can continue to contribute to tactical success in the Army by expanding their skillsets, and Army leaders can be deliberate in growing their soldiers’ techcraft. Leaders should invite soldiers to the table when developing solutions, enable them with resources, lead them through innovation processes, and share ideas with others.

    Techcraft may sound futuristic, but soldiers have always used technology in unexpected ways on the battlefield. Techcraft, as a concept, is being named so we can collectively punctuate its importance and deliberately acknowledge its ever-increasing significance. While training Ukraine soldiers, U.S. Army Europe and Africa observed a significant level of techcraft, manifesting as battlefield innovation, in an environment where Ukrainian soldiers’ technology and vocational aptitude enabled them to employ, maintain, and repair available military equipment such as the M777 artillery, Stryker armored vehicles, M2 Bradley fighting vehicles, or M1 Abrams tanks. Those on the ground took their skills one step further however, adapting available civilian tech like hobby drones, robots, and radio-controlled vehiclesto gain tactical advantage. The Ukrainian army’s encouragement on their personnel being innovative should be seen as a force multiplier, something that enables transformation in contact and could be decisive in the fight.

    The war in Ukraine has amplified the necessity to broaden baseline soldier proficiencies to retain land dominance. Two of us serve in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, under U.S. Army Europe and Africa, where we had the opportunity to develop and foster techcraft through training informed by lessons gleaned from the war in Ukraine. Our analysis of the battlefield has indicated that technology innovations, using resources that are immediately available, both enable and protect the warfighter on the ground. This highlights the importance of techcraft at the tactical edge of the modern battlefield.

    The integration of small unmanned aerial systems and 3D printed attachments is critical to the training we develop. These include quadcopter reconnaissance drones and manually operated first-person view drones. U.S. Army Europe and Africa units have experimented with several Ukrainian adaptations of custom-built drone attachments that provide soldiers the capability to deliver payloads from the unmanned device. For example, in a dedicated techcraft fabrication center, U.S. soldiers printed and assembled an unmanned system removable mechanism that can carry a variety of different sized inert munitions and can deliver to a target with great accuracy. Based on the critical role first-person view drones have assumed in the war in Ukraine, the U.S. Army stood up a section dedicated to training new drone operators through simulation and live flights. To further increase the function and capability of drones, soldiers have crafted custom-designed attachments that include landing legs or payload holding mechanisms, all inspired by real world-designs being used in Ukraine.

    The presence of soldier-applied techcraft has also influenced deep area targeting, not just close-range operations. Traditional long-range fires and heavy artillery have been a decisive element in the war in Ukraine. The United States provided over 30 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to assist in weakening Russian capabilities. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy credited these as critical in the successful operation to regain control of Kherson, a city that Russia had occupied for eight months. But the battlespace has morphed due to the proliferation of technology, such as modified and equipped drones. Historically, key targets for long-range precision fires were command centers or anti-aircraft systems. Yet, as the efficacy of soldier ingenuity and applied techcraft has become more apparent, forward drone pilot training centers and drone fabrication nodes have become a greater priority for elimination. As these targets are often several kilometers into the battlespace, identifying them accurately presents a unique problem set. U.S. Army Europe and Africa and V Corps developed capabilities to solve this problem through the use of 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s regimental observer control-teams, who use solar-panel equipped electric bikes and can conduct in-depth reconnaissance. Innovative ideas like regimental observer control-teams, and the equipment they employ, are just the beginning of what leaders at the lowest levels can accomplish when empowered by their seniors to apply techcraft and solve complex problems on the battlefield.

    Techcraft is present in our formations, but it is up to us to identify and grow it. Leaders can take inspiration from the types of innovation happening in Ukraine, and support soldiers who use technology in effective and innovative ways to accomplish their mission. There are some significant roadblocks within the existing oversight and certification systems for the U.S. Army, which has constrained the growth potential of techcraft and innovation in our formations. For example, modified technology proposals must go through several authorities and exceptions to policy in order to conduct tests. While innovation happens at the lowest level, modification of regulation should occur at upper levels to facilitate this innovation culture and process. We learned that leaders can encourage growth in techcraft by increasing unit exposure to technology and being less risk-averse with equipment experimentation in the field. Here are our recommendations on how to do that.

    Leaders need to get to know their soldiers and the skills they possess outside of their military occupational specialty or duties. Indicators that a soldier has an aptitude for techcraft include an interest in computers, video gaming, electronics, STEM education, and, obviously, hobby drones. Leaders should invite soldiers at all ranks, regardless of their military occupational specialty, to help solve challenging problems faced during training and mission execution. The most important characteristic is the drive to change the Army and provide a tactical capability to warfighters that will help fight and win the nation’s wars. Soldiers with techcraft skills are excited to get involved and drive change, as they are motivated by the tangible progress they can observe in the Army.

    Leaders should follow up the invitation with providing the necessary resources and time to execute and test the brainstormed solutions. For example, leadership acquired exceptions to policy for soldiers to work on drones in the 7th Army Training Command’s Innovation Lab. The 2nd Cavalry Regiment regimental commander authorized and acquired electric bikes for the regimental observer control-teams to experiment and train on. Soldiers were given the time to tinker and test and empowered to make designs, and they created innovative adaptations of technology that were used to train and iterate on. This environment has paved the way for real and rapid innovation that produced usable creations in a lightning fast 24 to 96-hour design cycle. Leaders can deliberately set conditions, allocate time, and set funding to acquire the necessary equipment needed to grow and encourage techcraft within their formations.

    Leaders’ presence with soldiers in the techcraft space will be required to navigate the risks and challenges that will inevitably arise. For example, leader experience in understanding risk, and risk mitigation, will allow for breakthroughs in tactical edge innovation, design, development, and implementation in training and operations. Yet, leading in this space requires leaders with at least a notional level of technical acumen and techcraft attributes. We should invest in our officer, warrant officer, and non-commissioned officer professional military education to develop and educate those that we will be immersed in a technologically infused battlespace that demands this skill in techcraft. Leaders should grasp and identify the inherent risk with design iteration and experimentation, and assume this risk so that soldiers may operate freely without unreasonable and stifling restrictions. With risk tolerance, we discover ways to build capability, so risk should be better understood and assumed. If we are too risk-averse, we cannot enable the warfighter.

    Additionally, leaders should provide specific examples of what needs to be solved, such as “we need to ensure our Stryker, with a dismounted infantry squad, can make it to the probable line of contact under threat of a swarm of first-person-view drones.” Techcraft and fieldcraft trained and educated soldiers can use their skills to better enable counter-drone or robotic capabilities to create the conditions needed for the Stryker and dismounts to make contact with human-machine integrated formations and be best positioned to win the initial contact, trading first contact with the enemy by a soldier with a robot instead. We should, however, be careful to not hinder our basic warfighting capabilities while building techcraft proficiencies and attributes in our tactical formations.

    Leaders should share these lessons across the force through writing articles, sharing designs they have created with each other, and sharing knowledge on how to create and employ their designs. The importance of techcraft has grown increasingly apparent as maneuver commanders observe lessons learned from the battlefield in Ukraine, yet a critical function to success is a unified effort across the Army as a whole. Soldiers applying their techcraft in one unit may design and create a useful tool that gives them an enhanced capability. Holding it, however, within their own formation could potentially lead to a waste of resources in duplicative efforts. It is imperative that when soldiers are empowered to innovate, they are also given the opportunity to then share their developments across the force, providing the capability at scale with potential to be improved through an iterative design cycle. This concept mimics the unified efforts that we can observe in Ukraine, where tech-savvy volunteers have gathered ideas together to better their country’s fighting force.

    Overall, leaders should measure their efforts in techcraft against a key outcome: enabling the success of the warfighter on the ground. The character of warfare is evolving rapidly. The ongoing Army transformations, particularly punctuated by events in Ukraine, indicate a significant shift in operations that the Army must be ready to conduct. The increasingly critical presence of drones and sensors has been decisive. U.S. Army Europe and Africa units have integrated Ukraine war lessons, learned rapidly, and leaders across the Army can do their own part in growing their soldiers’ techcraft by inviting, enabling, leading, and sharing. It is crucial for us to recognize this dynamic landscape and maintain an adaptive techcraft mindset, as the pace of technological change shows no signs of slowing down.

     

     

    Caliber.Az

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