Army chief envisions software coders defeating ‘camouflage of the future’

The U.S. military should expect adversaries to try to fool its artificial intelligence systems that are used for detection, Gen. James McConville said.
Army Futures Command's Software Factory operations taking place on March 22, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)

Anticipating a cat-and-mouse game where military forces will try to fool their adversaries’ artificial intelligence systems, the U.S. Army’s chief of staff sees a need for coders that can quickly reprogram algorithms so they won’t be tricked.

Concealment has long been a key tool for survival on the battlefield, and armed forces around the world have employed tactics and technologies to help hide themselves and detect their foes. But in the evolving digital age, soldiers need to be prepared to defeat “the camouflage of the future,” Gen. James McConville told reporters during a Defense Writers Group meeting on Thursday.

“Right now, we use all this green stuff, we paint our face, we put trees on us and do all this different type [of] thing. But in the future, you’re going to have maybe a tank that you want to make look like a bus against an algorithm [designed to find and identify enemy forces for targeting or other purposes]. So how do you do that? You stick something on the side, and then someone will go, ‘Hey, they stuck something up on the side,’ so you’ve got to write a code that, hey, if they stick something on the side of the tank, it’s actually still a tank, you know, it’s not a bus or [something else]. So all those type things are going to play out in the future,” McConville said.

The Defense Department is trying to train and build up its organic software talent. McConville noted the work being done at the Army Software Factory, which was opened about two years ago at Austin Community College near the Army Futures Command’s headquarters in Austin, Texas.


Unlike some of the U.S. military’s other software factories, the Army Software Factory is primarily led by troops.

Many of the service’s younger soldiers are “incredibly tech savvy,” McConville noted.

“We have … great young men and women in our software factory, the coders. One of these specialists we have — he’s an E-4 [enlisted rank]. He codes at the PhD level and he’s never had any formal training, you know. And so you’re gonna see a different type of person on the battlefield of the future because as we start to get on artificial intelligence and we start using all these type systems, you’re gonna have to code because the camouflage of the future” will need to be defeated with that expertise, he said.

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