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SPRINGFIELD – As the Army undergoes the largest modernization of its cyber-network in decades, technically skilled Soldiers may be placed in jobs outside their career fields to help push it forward, according to the service branch’s vice chief of staff.

“Talent management is one of the biggest things we’re doing behind the scenes in the Army right now,” said Gen. James C. McConville while speaking at an Army signal conference in Springfield March 12.

Currently, the Army has three separate personnel systems for the National Guard, Army Reserve and active duty component.

Part of the service’s larger talent management strategy includes providing commanders with a tool – known as the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army – that allows them to identify special skills across the total force. IPPS-A is being tested by the Pennsylvania National Guard.

By 2020, the goal is to implement the system Army-wide, making it easier for leaders to better manage Soldiers based on their knowledge, skills and behavior. Individuals with needed talents will have additional position and duty location options, regardless of their military occupational specialty.

McConville said the system could benefit Soldiers who have backgrounds in signal, cyber-networking and intelligence.

“If you have specific talents, you may be promoted ahead of your peers,” he acknowledged. “You may get special compensation for your skills, or you may go to graduate school so we can expand your talent as we go forward.”

Earlier this year, the Army stood up the Artificial Intelligence Task Force at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It engages with academia and industry partners to further develop AI technology.

While building that organization, McConville said it took weeks to find the right people to bring on board since the service still uses an “industrial-age” personnel management system. The general, though, was impressed when the Army finally found Soldiers with AI experience, even some with doctorate degrees, hidden in other career fields.

“We have people in the Army who have all these capabilities,” he said, “except that they’re masked by their MOS.”

McConville also credited the Army Signal Corps for spearheading past modernization efforts that improved communication on the battlefield. “You've always been the stewards of innovation in our Army,” he said. “You’ve always embraced change, and you used every method available to get the message through.”

Also speaking at the March 5 conference, Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, Army chief information officer/G-6, said last year’s National Defense Strategy sent a message to the Army – that it must change the way it fights from irregular warfare to great power competition with near-peer competitors.

To do so, the Army network modernization strategy aims to develop a unified cyber-system and common operating environment, increase interoperability, and boost the mobility and survivability of command posts.

“Our quest is to deliver a network that is fundamentally different in many facets than the one we have today,” Crawford said.

One goal from these initiatives is to allow units to operate quicker in contested environments.

“This future network we envision has to not only come back and be resilient enough to overcome the threat,” he said, “but it also has to dramatically increase the speed of decision making.”

Tangible actions by the Army are expected in the next four-to-five months to help resolve data challenges associated with these efforts. “We’ve made great progress, but given this era of great power competition, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Crawford said.

In the future, McConville said he sees the Army using a wireless mesh network. That sort of technology could be more resilient and self-healing compared to standard systems that rely on a central point of connectivity.

The Army also could learn from technology found in smartphones, he said, which sometimes perform better in combat areas than military systems.

“The iPhone has the type of communication capability we want,” McConville said. “They’re very easy to use, they’re agile and they’re adaptable.”

Bottom line, he said, if Soldiers cannot communicate in combat, they can’t win.

“And for the Army, winning matters,” he said. “When we send the Army somewhere, we don’t go to participate. We go to win, because there’s no second place or honorable mention in combat.”