For most of civilization, “security,” in military terms, meant the safety and protection of physical borders and infrastructure. Now, in the Age of Information, the definition has expanded to include guarding digital networks. As industries continue to digitalize, upgrades to both physical and digital infrastructure are increasingly complex, but critical to resilience and security. The US Army recently announced its new Army Installation Strategy (AIS) to advance and support Army operations. In a recent webinar hosted by Zpryme, Honorable Alex Bheeler, Assistant Secretary for Army Installations; Major General Robert Harter, Chief of Staff, Army Materiel Command; and Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience gave an overview of the new AIS. Moderated by Edward Salzberg, Director of Professional Education at George Washington University’s Environmental and Energy Management Institute, and joined by Scott Manson, SEL’s Engineering Services Technology Director and Joyce Deuley, Zpryme’s Sr. Research Analyst, the webinar stressed the importance of new partnerships to ensure both installations and the surrounding communities are safe. 

In the US alone, the Army owns over 24,000 square miles of land with installations impacting the lives of over three million people, including soldiers and their families, civilian workers, and contractors. Communities across the country, whether they are cities or more rural areas, are embracing technology and transitioning to smart, digital communities. Residents are able to access information about things that impact their daily lives like weather, traffic, and public safety hazards in real-time. The new AIS calls for installations to “modernize at pace with civilian sector smart cities initiatives.” The move towards modernization and digitalization further integrates an installation with its surrounding community, and will require close collaboration, including developing strong private and public sector partnerships.

The AIS, which will guide strategy for the next 15 years, outlines four key goals (or in military speak – Lines of Effort). They include:

  • Take care of people: ensuring quality of life for soldiers and their families. This means having access to childcare, sufficient housing, recreational areas, etc. The Army realizes that especially newer recruits have become accustomed to living with smart city technologies like ride hailing apps and food/goods delivery service. The AIS includes modernizing installations so soldiers have access to these services. 
  • Strengthen Readiness and Resilience: being able to preserve critical capabilities, assets, and activities. Key networks – water, energy, transportation – cross defense lines and will need to be made resilient in concert with their public sector partners. Working with the surrounding communities, including private companies and municipalities, will support Army operations and allow the Army to leverage connected technologies that can make installations more resilient.
  • Modernize and Innovate: making installations cyber-secure and leveraging technologies that allow for a distributed but connected network of installations. The AIS calls for deployment of next-gen communications networks (like 5G) that can handle large amounts of data “with near real-time production.” With a connected network, if one installation goes down, it’s operations could be picked up by another. The Army also plans to employ use of AI and machine learning technology to allow for simulations and virtual training. Partnering with the private sector to test new technologies and run pilot programs can help installations innovate and harness the benefits of emerging technologies.
  • Promote Stewardship: preserving natural assets (land and water), promoting environmental sustainability, and protecting soldiers and their families from contaminants. The Army must comply with environmental laws and sustainable design requirements. Engaging with stakeholders and creating strong community partnerships will help navigate complex environmental and cultural landscapes that apply to natural resources and assets.

The webinar participants pointed out that the Army has identified $40 billion in deferred maintenance, but that only $17 billion has been allocated over the next 10 years, highlighting how critical partnerships will be for upgrading. Currently, there are strong ties with housing, utility management, and maintenance organizations, but Maj. General Harter stated where the Army will really benefit from leveraging private industry and technology is at their industrial facilities.

One of the Army’s strong technology partners is SEL, a manufacturer of smart grid equipment. Scott Manson spoke about how their work is currently benefiting Army installations by keeping critical infrastructure running with protective relays that can stop multiple points of failure. Scott described the concept of “complexity reset,” when several older devices are replaced with one new, more efficient device (smart phones, for example, being a one-stop shop for anything from personal note taking to photography to banking). He posits that complexity reset is necessary for the mass deployment of any new technology, with the example of Energy Packet Controls replacing algorithms that have been used since before World War II. Energy Packet Controls make microgrids and power systems much more resilient while also reducing costs. The power system is critical for all communities, but it would be a matter of national security if it were to fail at one or multiple Army installations. Partnerships like SEL’s are necessary for installation modernization.

As Zpryme’s Joyce Deuley stated at the conclusion of the webinar, the public and private sectors don’t always speak the same language, even if they have the same goals. There are challenges to partnerships, from organizational cultural differences to technological incompatibility. A small, but obvious  example: the webinar participants from the military were not able to access the webinar platform by computer/video – they had to dial in by phone. But with digitalization, the public and private worlds are only coming closer together. Modernizing infrastructure and augmenting services won’t be easy, however, these needed upgrades provide an opportunity to enhance partnerships and strengthen community ties.

For more information on the new Army Installation Strategy and how they are planning to leverage community partnerships, check out the full webinar.