Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce that Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Mad Scientist Installations of the Future Conference this week (Tuesday and Wednesday, 19-20 June 2018) with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (OASA (IE&E)) and Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) at GTRI in Atlanta, Georgia.
Plan now to join us virtually as leading scientists, innovators, and scholars from academia, industry, and government gather to discuss:
1) Current and emerging threat vectors facing installations,
2) “Smart city” opportunities born of technology,
3) Logistics and power projection, and
4) Quality of life.
Presentations will be driven by the following research questions:
1) What are the emerging threat vectors capable of targeting installations and what are the implications to the multi-domain fight?
2) How will mission command and the concept of virtual power be enhanced by smart installations?
3) How will other trends such as localized manufacturing, augmented/virtual reality, and artificial intelligence change how Soldiers will train, sustain, and project power from smart installations?
4) What are the big impact quality of life improvements available through smart technologies?
– Review the conference agenda’s list of presentations and the associated world-class speakers’ biographies here.
– Read our Call for Ideas finalists’ submissionshere, graciously hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the following guest blog post by Mr. Lewis Jones. Originally a “Letter Home” submission to theCall for Ideasassociated with the Mad Scientist Installations of the Future Conference (see more information about this event at the end of this post), we hope that you will enjoy Mr. Jones’ vision of a mid-Twenty First Century forward deployed base.]
Hey Dad, guess who got new PCS orders! From March 2042 I’ll be assigned to Joint Base Harris in Japan. You spent your early career in Japan, right? I’ll never forget your stories about Camp Zama, a sprawling installation housing hundreds of soldiers and civilians. I used to love hearing about the 2020s, when enemy sensors, drones, and artificial intelligence first wreaked havoc on operations there.
Remember the Garrison commander whose face was 3D-scanned by a rigged vending machine near the gate? The enemy released that humiliating videoright before a major bilateral operation. By the time we proved it was fake, our partners had already withdrawn.
What about the incident at the intel battalion’s favorite TDY hotel with a pool-side storage safe? Soldiers went swimming and tossed their wallets into the safe, unaware that anembedded scanner would clone their SIPR tokens. To make matters worse, the soldiers secured the safe with a four digit code… using the same numbers as their token PIN.
Oh, and remember the Prankenstein A.I. attack? It scanned social media to identify Army personnel living off-base, then called local law enforcement with fake complaints. The computer-generated voice was very convincing, even giving physical descriptions based on soldier’s actual photos. You said that one soured host-nation relations for years!
Or the drones that hovered over Camp Zama, broadcasting fake Wi-Fi hotspots. The enemy scooped up so much intelligence and — ah, you get the picture. Overseas bases were so vulnerable back then.
Well, the S1 sent me a virtual tour and the new base is completely different. When U.S. Forces Japan rebuilt its installations, those wide open bases were replaced by miniature, self-contained fortresses. Joint Base Harris, for example, was built inside a refurbished shopping mall: an entire installation, compressed into a single building!
Here’s what I saw on my virtual tour:
• The roof has solar panels and battery banks for independent power. There’s also an enormous greenhouse, launch pads for drones and helos, and a running trail.
• The ground level contains a water plant that extracts and purifies groundwater, along with indoor hydroponic farms. Special filtration units scrub the air; they’re even rated against CBRN threats.
• What was once a multi-floor parking garage is now a motor pool, firing range, and fitness complex. The gym walls are smart-screens, so you can work out in a different environment every day.
• Communications are encrypted and routed through a satellite uplink. The base even has its own cellphone tower. Special mesh in the walls prevent anybody outside from eavesdropping on emissions— the entire base is a SCIF.
• The mall’s shops and food court were replaced by all the features and functions of a normal base: nearly 2,000 Army, Air and Cyber Force troops living, working, and training inside. They even have a kitchen-bot in the chow hall that can produce seven custom meals per minute!
• Supposedly, the base extends several floors underground, but the tour didn’t show that. I guess that’s where the really secret stuff happens.
By the way, don’t worry about me feeling cooped up: Soldiers are assigned top-notch VR specs during in-processing. During the duty day, they’re only for training simulations. Once you’re off, personal use is authorized. I’ll be able to play virtual games, take virtual tours… MWR even lets you link with telepresence robots to “visit” family back home.
The sealed, self-contained footprint of this new base is far easier to defend in today’s high-tech threat environment. Some guys complain about being stuck inside, but you know what I think? If Navy sailors can spend months at sea in self-contained bases, then there’s no reason the Army can’t do the same on land!
If you were intrigued by this vision of a future Army installation, please plan on joining us virtually at the Mad Scientist Installations of the Future Conference, co-sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (OASA (IE&E)); Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI); and Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), at GTRI in Atlanta, Georgia, on 19-20 June 2018. Clickhere to learn more about the conference and then participate in the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0830 EDT on 19 June 2018.
Lewis Jones is an Army civilian with nearly 15 years of experience in the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to his Japanese and Chinese language studies, he has earned a Masters in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University. He has worked as a headhunter for multinational investment banks in Tokyo, as a business intelligence analyst for a DOD contractor, and has supported the Army with cybersecurity program management and contract administration. Lewis writes about geopolitics, international relations, U.S. national security, and the effects of rapid advances in technology.
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist is pleased to present the following post by a team of guest bloggers from The Strategic Cohort at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC). Their post lays out a clear and cogent approach to Army modernization, in keeping with the Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Mark A. Milley’s and Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper’s guidance “to focus the Army’s efforts on delivering the weapons, combat vehicles, sustainment systems, and equipment that Soldiers need when they need it” and making “our Soldiers more effective and our units less logistically dependent.” — The Army Vision, 06 June 2018 ]
“Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new fighting technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting….” – The National Defense Strategy (2018).
While Futures Command and legislative changes streamline acquisition bureaucracy, the Army will still struggle to keep pace with the global commercial technology marketplace as well as innovate ahead of adversaries who are also innovating.
Reverse engineering and technology theftmake it possible for adversaries to inexpensively copy DoD-specific technology “widgets,” potentially resulting in a “negative return” on investment of DoD research dollars. Our adversaries’ pace of innovation further compounds our challenge. Thus the Army must not only equip the force to confront what is expected,
but equip the force to confront an adaptable enemy in a wide variety of environments. This paper proposes a framework that will enable identification of strategically relevant problems and provide solutions to those problems at the speed of relevance and invert the cost asymmetry.
To increase the rate of innovation, the future Army must learn to continually assimilate, produce, and operationalize technologies much faster than our adversaries to gain time-domain overmatch. The overarching goal is to create an environment that our adversaries cannot duplicate: integration of advanced technologies with skilled Soldiers and well-trained teams. The confluence of two high level concepts — the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Mission Engineering and Robert Leonard’s Prototype Warfare (see his Principles of Warfare for the Information Age book) — pave the way to increasing the rate of innovation by operationalizing technology faster to stay ahead of the threat, while simultaneously reducing the cost of technology overmatch.
OSD’s Mission Engineering concept, proposed by Dr. Robert Gold, calls for acquisitions to treat the end-to-end mission as the system to optimize, in which individual systems are components. Further, the concept utilizes an assessment framework to measure progress towards mission accomplishment through test and evaluation in the mission context. In fact, all actions throughout the capability development cycle must tie back to the mission context through the assessment framework. It goes beyond just sharing data to consider functions and the strategy for trades, tools, cross-cutting functions, and other aspects of developing a system or system of systems.
Consider the example mission objective of an airfield seizure. Traditional thinking and methods would identify an immediate needed capability for two identical air droppable vehicles, therefore starting with a highly constrained platform engineering solution. Mission Engineering would instead start by asking: what is the best way to seize an airfield? What mix of capabilities are required to do so? What mix of vehicles (e.g., Soldiers, exoskeletons, robots, etc.) might you need within space and weight constraints of the delivery aircraft? What should the individual performance requirements be for each piece of equipment?
Mission Engineering breaks down cultural and technical “domain stovepipes” by optimizing for the mission instead of a ground, aviation, or cyber specific solution. There is huge innovation space between the conventional domain seams.
For example, ground vehicle concepts would be able to explore looking more like motherships deploying exoskeletons, drone swarms, or other ideas that have not been identified or presented because they have no clear home in a particular domain. It warrants stating twice that there are a series of mission optimized solutions that have not been identified or presented because they have no clear home in the current construct. Focusing the enterprise on the mission context of the problem set will enable solutions development that is relevant and timely while also connecting a network of innovators who each only have a piece of the whole picture.
Prototype Warfare represents a paradigm shift from fielding large fleets of common-one-size-fits-all systems to rapidly fielding small quantities of tailored systems. Tailored systems focus on specific functions, specific geographic areas, or even specific fights and are inexpensively produced and possibly disposable.
For example, vehicle needs are different for urban, desert, and mountain terrains. A single system is unlikely to excel across those three terrains without employing exotic and expensive materials and technology (becoming expensive and exquisite). They could comprise the entire force or just do specific missions, such asHobart’s Funnies during the D-Day landings.
A further advantage of tailored systems is that they will force the enemy to deal with a variety of unknown U.S. assets, perhaps seen for the first time. A tank platoon might have a heterogeneous mix of assets with different weapons and armor. Since protection and lethality will be unknown to the enemy, it will be asymmetrically challenging for them to develop in a timely fashion tactics, techniques, and procedures or materiel to effectively counter such new capabilities.
Key technological advances present the opportunity to implement the Mission Engineering and Prototype Warfare concepts. Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP), rapid manufacturing, and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence (AI) provide ways to achieve these concepts. Each on its own would present significant opportunities. ESP, AI, and rapid manufacturing, when applied within the Mission Engineering/Prototype Warfare framework, create the potential for an innovation revolution.
Under development by the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) and U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), ESP is a physics-based persistent game network that allows Soldiers and engineers to collaborate on exploration of the materiel, force structure, and tactics trade space. ESP will generate 12 million hours of digital battlefield data per year.
Beyond the ESP engine itself, the Army still needs to invest in cutting edge research in machine learning and big data techniques needed to derive useful data on tactics and technical performance from the data. Understanding human intent and behaviors is difficult work for current computers, but the payoff is truly disruptive. Also, asrobotic systems become more prominent on the battlefield, the country with the best AI to control them will have a great advantage. The best AI depends on having the most training, experimental, and digitally generated data. The Army is also acutely aware of the challenges involved in testing and system safety for AI enabled systems; understanding what these systems are intended to do in a mission context fosters debate on the subject within an agreed upon problem space and associated assessment framework.
Finally, to achieve the vision, the Army needs to invest in technology that allows rapid problem identification, engineering, and fielding of tailored systems. For over two decades, the Army has touted modularity to achieve system tailoring and flexibility. However, any time something is modularized, it adds some sort of interface burden or complexity. A specific-built system will always outperform a modular system. Research efforts are needed to understand the trade-offs of custom production versus modularity. The DoD also needs to strategically grow investment in newmanufacturing technologies(to include 3D printing) andopen architectures with industry.
New challenges are created when there is a hugely varied fleet of tailored systems, especially for logistics, training, and maintenance. One key is to develop a well-tracked digital manufacturing database of replacement parts. For maintenance, new technologies such as augmented reality might be used to show mechanics who have never seen a system how to rapidly diagnose and make repairs.
New Soldier interfaces for platforms should also be developed that are standardized/simplified so it is intuitive for a soldier to operate different systems in the same way it is intuitive to operate an iPhone/iPad/Mac to reduce and possibly eliminate the need for system specific training. For example, imagine a future soldier gets into a vehicle and inserts his or her common access card. A driving display populates with the Soldier’s custom widgets, similar to a smartphone display. The displays might also help soldiers understand vehicle performance envelopes. For example, a line might be displayed over the terrain showing how sharp a soldier might turn without a rollover.
The globalization of technology allows anyone with money to purchase “bleeding-edge,” militarizable commercial technology. This changes the way we think about the ability to generate combat power to compete internationally from the physical domain, to the time domain. Through the proposed mission engineering and prototype warfare framework, the Army can assimilate and operationalize technology quicker to create an ongoing time-domain overmatch and invert the current cost asymmetry which is adversely affecting the public’s will to fight. Placing human thought and other resources towards finding new ways to understand mission context and field new solutions will provide capability at the speed of relevance and help reduce operational surprise through a better understanding of what is possible.
If you enjoyed this post, join SciTech Futures‘ community of experts, analysts, and creatives on 11-18 June 2018 as they discuss the logistical challenges of urban campaigns, both today and on into 2035. What disruptive technologies and doctrines will blue (and red) forces have available in 2035? Are unconventional forces the future of urban combat? Their next ideation exercise goes live today — watch the associated videohere and join the discussion here!
This article was written by Dr. Rob Smith, Senior Research Scientist; Mr. Shaheen Shidfar, Strategic Cohort Lead; Mr. James Parker, Associate Director; Mr. Matthew A. Horning, Mission Engineer; and Mr. Thomas Vern, Associate Director. Collectively, these gentlemen are a subset of The Strategic Cohort, a multi-disciplinary independent group of volunteers located at TARDEC that study the Army’s Operating Concept Framework to understand how we must change to survive and thrive in the future operating environment. The Strategic Cohort analyzes these concepts and other reference materials, then engages in disciplined debate to provide recommendations to improve TARDEC’s alignment with future concepts, educate our workforce, and create dialogue with the concept developers providing a feedback loop for new ideas.
[Editor’s Note: The Operational Environment (OE) is the start point for Army Readiness – now and in the Future. The OE answers the question, “What is the Army ready for?” Without the OE in training and Leader development, Soldiers and Leaders are “practicing” in a benign condition, without the requisite rigor to forge those things essential for winning in a complex, multi-domain battlefield. Building the Army’s future capabilities, a critical component of future readiness, requires this same start point. The assumptions the Army makes about the Future OE are the sine qua non start point for developing battlefield systems — these assumptions must be at the forefront of decision-making for all future investments.]
There are no facts about the future. Leaders interested in building future ready organizations must develop assumptions about possible futures and these assumptions require constant scrutiny. Leaders must also make decisions based on these assumptions to posture organizations to take advantage of opportunities and to mitigate risks. Making these decisions is fundamental to building future readiness.
1. Contested in all domains (air, land, sea, space, and cyber). Increased lethality, by virtue of ubiquitous sensors, proliferated precision, high kinetic energy weapons and advanced area munitions, further enabled by autonomy, robotics, andArtificial Intelligence (AI)with an increasing potential for overmatch. Adversaries will restrict us to temporary windows of advantage with periods of physical and electronic isolation.
2. Concealment is difficult on the future battlefield. Hiding from advanced sensors — where practicable — will require dramatic reduction of heat, electromagnetic, and optical signatures. Traditional hider techniques such as camouflage, deception, and concealment will have to extend to “cross-domain obscuration” in the cyber domain and the electromagnetic spectrum. Canny competitors will monitor their own emissions in real-time to understand and mitigate their vulnerabilities in the “battle of signatures.” Alternately, “hiding in the open” within complex terrain clutter and near-constant relocation might be feasible, provided such relocation could outpace future recon / strike targeting cycles. Adversaries will operate among populations in complex terrain, including dense urban areas.
3. Trans-regional, gray zone, and hybrid strategies with both regular and irregular forces, criminal elements, and terrorists attacking our weaknesses and mitigating our advantages. The ensuing spectrum of competition will range from peaceful, legal activities through violent, mass upheavals and civil wars to traditional state-on-state, unlimited warfare.
4. Adversaries include states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals, with non-state actors and super empowered individuals now having access to Weapons of Mass Effect (WME), cyber, space, and Nuclear/Biological/ Chemical (NBC) capabilities. Their operational reach will range from tactical to global, and the application of their impact from one domain into another will be routine. These advanced engagements will also be interactive across the multiple dimensions of conflict, not only across every domain in the physical dimension, but also the cognitive dimension of information operations, and even the moral dimension of belief and values.
5. Increased speed of human interaction, events and action withdemocratized and rapidly proliferating capabilities means constant co-evolution between competitors. Recon / Strike effectiveness is a function of its sensors, shooters, their connections, and the targeting process driving decisions. Therefore, in a contest between peer competitors with comparable capabilities, advantage will fall to the one that is better integrated and makes better and faster decisions.
These assumptions become useful when they translate to potential decision criteria for Leaders to rely on when evaluating systems being developed for the future battlefield. Each of the following questions are fundamental to ensuring the Army is prepared to operate in the future.
1. How will this system operate when disconnected from a network? Units will be disconnected from their networks on future battlefields. Capabilities that require constant timing and precision geo-locational data will be prioritized for disruption by adversaries with capable EW systems.
2. What signature does this system present to an adversary? It is difficult to hide on the future battlefield and temporary windows of advantage will require formations to reduce their battlefield signatures. Capabilities that require constant multi-directional broadcast and units with large mission command centers will quickly be targeted and neutralized.
3. How does this system operate in dense urban areas? The physical terrain in dense urban areas and megacities creates concrete canyons isolating units electronically and physically. Automated capabilities operating in dense population areas might also increase the rate of false signatures, confusing, rather than improving, Commander decision-making. New capabilities must be able to operate disconnected in this terrain. Weapons systems must be able to slew and elevate rapidly to engage vertical targets. Automated systems and sensors will require significant training sets to reduce the rate of false signatures.
4. How does this system take advantage of open and modular architectures? The rapid rate of technological innovations will offer great opportunities to militaries capable of rapidly integrating prototypes into formations. Capabilities developed with open and modular architectures can be upgraded with autonomous and AI enablers as they mature. Early investment in closed-system capabilities will freeze Armies in a period of rapid co-evolution and lead to overmatch.
5. How does this capability help win in competition short of conflict with a near peer competitor? Near peer competitors will seek to achieve limited objectives short of direct conflict with the U.S. Army. Capabilities will need to be effective at operating in the gray zone as well as serving as deterrence. They will need to be capable of strategic employment from CONUS-based installations.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the following items of interest:
Join SciTech Futures‘ community of experts, analysts, and creatives on 11-18 June 2018 as they discuss the logistical challenges of urban campaigns, both today and on into 2035. What disruptive technologies and doctrines will blue (and red) forces have available in 2035? Are unconventional forces the future of urban combat? Their next ideation exercise goes live 11 June 2018 — click here to learn more!
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish our latest iteration of “The Queue” – a monthly post listing the most compelling articles, books, podcasts, videos, and/or movies that the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Mad Scientist Initiative has come across during the previous month. In this anthology, we address how each of these works either informs or challenges our understanding of the Future Operational Environment. We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!]
There are no facts about the future and the future is not a linear extrapolation from the present. We inherently understand this about the future, but Leaders oftentimes seek to quantify the unquantifiable. Eliot Peper opens his Harvard Business Review article with a story about one of the biggest urban problems in New York City at the end of the 19th century – it stank! Horses were producing 45,000 tons of manure a month. The urban planners of 1898 convened a conference to address this issue, but the experts failed to find a solution. More importantly, they could not envision a future 14 years hence, when cars would outnumber horses. The urban problem of the future was not horse manure, but motor vehicle-generated pollution and road infrastructure. All quantifiable data available to the 1898 urban planners only extrapolated to more humans, horses, and manure. It is likely that any expert sharing an assumption about cars over horses would have been laughed out of the conference hall. Flash forward a century and the number one observation from the 9/11 Commission was that the Leaders and experts responsible for preventing such an attack lacked imagination. Story tellingand the science fiction genre allow Leaders to imaginebeyond the numbers and broaden the assumptions needed to envision possible futures. Story telling also helps Leaders and futurists to envision the human context around emerging technologies. For more on Science Fiction and futuring, watch Dr. David Brin‘s Mad Scientistpresentation.
2. “Automated Valor,” by August Cole, Proceedings Magazine, U.S. Naval Institute, May 2018.
Fellow Mad Scientist August Cole’s short story, commissioned by the British Army Concepts Branch, explores the future of urban warfare from a refreshingly new, non-US perspective. Sparking debate about force development and military operations in the 2030s, this story portrays a vivid combat scenario in a world where autonomous weapons have proliferated. Mr. Cole’s story embraces a number of Future Operational Environment themes familiar to Mad Scientists, including combat leadership andteam identity(Soldier and machine),human trust of AI decision-making, virtual and earned citizenship,deep fakes, small unittactical operations, and multi-national Joint operations against an expansionist Chinese super power. Visualizing the future fight from this British Commonwealth perspective provides a new twist in story telling, describing what it will mean to be a Soldier on the battlefield in 2039, depending on machine teammates in the close fight.
3. Altered Carbon, Netflix series, 2018 (based upon a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan) — submitted by Mad Scientist Pat Filbert.
Set 300+ years in a futuristic Earth, the show’s main character, or more to the point, his “cortical stack” (alien technology, reverse-engineered for human use that records the sum total of an individual’s consciousness) has been “imprisoned” for 250 years and is “released” back into the general population to solve a mysterious murder. At this time, AI exists in and fully interactswith both the physical and cyber domains. The show incorporates a number of aspects related totrust in AI and technology. Such aspects enable a future where combat is fought by “stored soldiers” on distant worlds using advanced technological capabilities. Some humans have accepted AI projections as near-peers, so the trust factor comes up repeatedly between the humans who accept and embrace this technology and those who remain skeptical, like Will Smith’s character inI, Robot. The implications of AI becoming sentient and capable of violence are at the core of the morality argument against AI technology. The popular acceptance of AI possessing human-like qualities would definitely be a “leap forward” in more than just technology. For additional insights on this topic, watch Mad Scientist Linda MacDonald Glenn‘s presentation.
4. “SOCOM’s Top 10 Technologies“ Podcast, National Defense Magazine, National Defense Industry Association, 3 May 2018 — submitted by Marie Murphy.
This podcast provides a summary of some of the primary emerging technologies that the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Department of Defense are developing for military application. In the immediate future — exoskeletons and commercial drone use; in the deep future — quantum computing and China‘s rise to dominate the microelectronics market by 2030 are highlighted in the list. Stew Magnuson, Editor-in-Chief of National Defense Magazine, states that technology is nearing the end of the applicability of Moore’s Law. Due to this, a major consideration for the development of new scientific and technical advancements is private, profit-driven industry, which will certainly be responsible for future cutting-edge technologies. Given that many innovations the military uses or seeks to apply now stem from private sector innovation, what happens when Moore’s Lawexpires and technology moves too quickly for military research and adaptation?
Researchers analyzed the decision-making habits of gamers that play League of Legendsin order to identify and build mental models. Identifying these models will help understand how they are built and, more importantly, how they change over time as players gain proficiency from novice to expert. The researchers analyzed survey responses based on the game and compared the differences between novices, journeymen, and experts. There were clear differences in the way the mental models were organized based on experience, with experts making abstract connections and even showing signs of subnetworks. The researchers plan to use this information for better game design and the development / tailoring of training programs. The Army could leverage the potential of these mental models with neural feedback to accelerate Soldier learning, breaking the tyranny of the 10,000 hour rule of expertise. That said, this information could also prove to be a weapon in the hands of an adversary. What happens to game theory if the adversary knows how your mind works, what your proclivities are, and what courses of action you are likely to favor? What happens if the adversary can identify, based on your actions, who in your unit is a novice and who is an expert, and targets them accordingly (i.e., focusing on defeating the experts first, while leaving the less experienced)? Accessing this information could provide an adversary with an advantage that may prove the difference between success and defeat. Learn more about cognitive enhancement in fellow Mad Scientist Dr. Amy Kruse’s podcast, Human 2.0, hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have exploited mainstream commercial Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants (e.g., Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant) in order to secretly send commands. The researchers were able to send secret messages to the devices that were embedded in an existing audio track that were undetectable to the human ear. The track could be played and the AI could be told to do any number of things, from transferring money, to adding an item to a shopping list, or opening a malicious website. The adversarial applications of this are immense and abundant. A nefariousactor could surreptitiously activate a device, mute it, and then send and receive information stored on it or even use it to unlock doors, start cars, or call other devices. As the Army becomes more reliant on AI and automation, its vulnerability toPersonalized Warfareattacks via these axes will increase. Will the Army ever be able to use voice activated devices that can be so easily compromised by an undetectable source?
At a recent workshop, the Mad Scientist community was informed of the constraints associated with neural embedded man-machine interfaces – namely, conventional electrode materials will degrade relatively quickly via corrosion brought on by the human brain’s inflammatory immune system response. This challenge may have been overcome by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who have developed a “flexible, squishy silicon-based hydrogel that sticks to neural tissue, bringing non-invasive electrodes to the brain’s surface.” As a tissue analog, this hydrogel is less likely to trigger the brain’s natural defensive response, thus potentially revolutionizing the integration of prosthetics and medical devices with patients’ brains. As with most disruptive technologies, preliminary niche applications (in this case, medical) may jump, initially to the edge, then possibly ripple throughout society. The advent of hydrogel-based electrodes has the potential to accelerate the current transhumanism movement and facilitate direct brain-machine interfaces, as envisioned in Mr. Howard Simkin’s Sine Paripost. Projected forward, the possibility of an Internet of Everything and Everyone may prove to be a two-edged sword, facilitating both the direct upload of knowledge on demand, and the direct hacking of individuals.
If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the Future Operational Environment, please forward it (along with a brief description of why its potential ramifications are noteworthy to the greater Mad Scientist Community of Action) to our attention at: email@example.com — we may select it for inclusion in our next edition of “The Queue”!
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following post by returning guest blogger Mr. Frank Prautzsch, addressing the Black Swans and Pink Flamingos associated with our last terrestrial frontier — the Arctic. Mr. Prautzsch haspreviously posted on how the future of vaccines is in nano-biology and convergence with the immune system of the body.]
By now, all Mad Scientists and understudies of history arefamiliar with the conditions for the unknown, unknowns (i.e., Black Swans) and the known, knowns (i.e., Pink Flamingos). Perhaps no place has a greater collection of these attributes than the Arctic. The Arctic Region remains arguably our last international frontier. Over the last 20 years, climate change, unexplored energy reserves, short transpolar navigation, eco-tourism, and commerce (with and without indigenous populations) are taking center stage among stakeholders. This focused international interest in the Arctic has pronounced security implications.
To start our Arctic flamingo category, potential energy reserves take center stage. The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds 18-23% of the untapped oil reserves remaining on the planet. Alaska and West Siberia are estimated to hold 30% of the world’s remaining gas reserves. Russia has attained strategic deals with Exxon Mobil, Eni, and Statoil for securing up to $500B in investment over the next 30 years. Shell paid $2.1B for 275 blocks of off-shore drilling plots northwest of Alaska, but has encountered difficulties in the harsh climate. The United States and Norway are building stronger partnerships on Arctic drilling.
Perhaps the largest flamingo, and also the leader of the flock (or flamboyance), is the Russian military. Most of the Arctic Ocean littoral states are modernizing their military forces in the Arctic. With countries rebuilding their Arctic military capabilities, in concert with vague territorial zones, rich natural resource options, and no real enforcement of maritime law, some concern should be paid to any Russian attempt to have prime sectors of the Arctic become a “new Crimea”. This is a particularly acute topic should Russia model its behaviors after China and the lack of a concerted international community response to China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
In August of 2007, two Russian mini-subs planted a Russian flag on a titanium mast 14,000 feet below the North Pole. This was tied to their interpretation of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allowing nations to claim sub terrain beyond 200 nautical miles if they prove that such a location is part of their continental shelf.
In the summer of 2014, “Putin broke away from talking about the Ukraine, and indicated that Russia’s future really didn’t lie to its west, but instead in the north. ‘Our interests are concentrated in the Arctic…. And of course, we should pay more attention to issues of development of the Arctic and the strengthening of our position [there].’”
For the past 4 years, Norway, Finland, and Sweden joined much of the international community to overtly criticize Russian representatives and share their disappointment over Russian violation of international and maritime law by invading Crimea and the Ukraine. Finland and Sweden are exploring NATO membership. The volume of Russian TU-97 Bear C4ISR over flights of Finland’s and Sweden’s waters has gone up exponentially. The bombers are flying C4ISR missions but could easily be armed to follow through with their primary mission.
The day after sanctions were placed on Russia for the invasion of Crimea and their activities in the Ukraine, President Putin moved an expeditionary naval fleet into the Arctic. The ships were dispatched to deliver personnel, equipment, and supplies to the New Siberian Islands where a permanent base was constructed. Central to this operation are revitalized military bases at Kotelny and Wrangel Islands, which were abandoned in 1993. Kotelny now has an airbase and is permanent home of the 99th Arctic Tactical Group. Another new air base was commissioned at Cape Schmidt. Additionally, an expanded airstrip at Novaya Zemlya can now accommodate fighters supporting the Northern Fleet. These moves have prompted serious criticism from Canada.
In addition to Kotelny, the Russian Northern Fleet has expanded operations from the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk, which is 50km from the Finnish border. Large portions of the rest of the Northern Fleet are now there with a full complement of 39 ships and 45 submarines. Alakurtti is the new garrison for the Russian Arctic Commandwith 6000 + Arctic-trained ground troops. Russia maintains a fleet for 54 icebreakers and 78 icebreaker-hulled oil/gas supertankers, while the US maintains one heavy breaker and has hopes of acquiring three more. Russia feels that they have to move to the Arctic Ocean to secure their energy future, and to protect the economic interests of their country. The Russians intend to “homestead”, realizing that global energy supplies will again favor their geographical posture someday. From this strategic position, they maintain multiple black swan options, for which the West will have little to challenge.
Reinforcing these energy efforts in the Arctic, Russia deployed its first floating nuclear power plant in April 2018. Moving slowly from St. Petersburg, its final destination is Pevek on the Arctic coast, where it will replace a land-based nuclear power source. This position is 86km from Alaska and the installation uses similar reactor technology to that of Russian icebreaker ships. The primary concern of the international community is the potential for a nuclear accident, but this new power plant could serve a broader Russian purpose in sequestering and dominating the Arctic and its resources.
One of the baby black swans in the Arctic is our unknown ability to generate a clear national will and investment for heavy icebreakers. The US Coast Guard seeks to build three heavy and three medium icebreakers of US lineage. The entire world (including Russia) seeks the help of Finland in icebreaker building and development. With a lack of port construction facilities and a Request for Proposal for three heavy icebreakers from untested US designs, this cygnet will fight for survival against cost, schedule, performance, and risk. While it all looks good on paper, the operational risks to Arctic operations between now and 2025 are pronounced. At the end of the day, the US should consider modular multi-role heavy icebreaker oil/gas tanker hulls that could be tailored to support multiple US missions and interests, including ship escort duty, refueling, C4ISR, vertical lift support, contingency maneuver asset delivery, oil recovery, medical, SAR, and scientific missions…not just icebreaking.
Another indigo black swan is the US Army’s and its Sister Services’ cold weather climate equipment and training. We must improve our survival techniques, mobility and transport, and combat capabilities in cold weather. In a recent Arctic exercise, the US Marine Corps borrowed arctic tentage and soldier wearables from Sweden and Norway. US Arctic tentage has not changed since the mid 1950s. A recent Request for Information introduces the USMC to its first change in cold weather hats and gloves in decades. It is also important to understand the lack of available C4ISR, the performance of commercial off the shelf C4ISR systems subjected to heating and condensation cycles, and the effects of cyber on C4ISR and transportation. Failure in any of these mission areas will render a highly capable force almost useless.
Finally, the most enormous black swan on the planet resides in the Arctic tied to climate change. The introduction of pronounced Arctic sheet ice melting over the past eight summers has opened up the potential for at least seasonal trans-polar shipping and also selected air routes. While we are in love with pretty pictures of polar bears on ice floes and satellite imagery of an ever-shrinking mass, the true story is 3D. We soon will not have Arctic ice of any accumulated age. This is due to warm subsurface ocean thermoclines and high densities of chlorophyll not before seen. Certain NOAA models predict “Ice Free” Arctic Summers by 2047. The impact on climate, fish/wildlife, weather severity, sea levels, and of course human beings is far from being understood. The ice shelves of Greenland are losing one cubic mile of fresh water per week. This is the equivalent of all of the drinking water consumed by Los Angeles in a year.
So, what do we know going into the unknown? (National Geographic, April 2017)
1. The earth’s temperature goes up and down, but it’s gone up 1.69 deg. F consistently since the end of WWII.
2. CO2 warms the planet and we have increased the amount of CO2 by almost half since 1960.
3. 97% of scientists and 98% of authors fault humans for global warming.
4. Arctic sea ice is shrinking and glaciers are receding worldwide.
5. The number of climate-related disasters has tripled since 1980.
6. Retreat and extinction of various plants and animals is starting to occur.
7. Albeit noble, the switch to renewable energy does not offset the world appetite for energy.
While the green-think world worries, commerce is casting an eye on how the Northwest Passage can cut shipping distances between Asia and Europe by up to 3500-4500 miles. A French cruise line is preparing for trans-polar cruises during optimal weather and navigation times. Russia will seek transit and escort fees over its sovereign territories. Reykjavik, Iceland is labeled as the Singapore of 2050. The truth is we will all have to challenge the unknowns of this great swan over time, and we are ill prepared for this confrontation. While Russia looks like a flamingo, its Arctic behaviors can be totally swan-like. If we are looking into the future, we must fear our drift towards fair-weather Clausewitzian warfare while the rest of the planet sees otherwise. Enjoy the birds!
In his current role as President of Velocity Technology Partners LLC, Mr. Frank Prautzsch (LTC, Ret. Signal Corps) is recognized as a technology and business leader supporting the government and is known for exposing or crafting innovative technology solutions for the DoD, SOF, DHS and Intelligence community. He also provides consult to the MEDSTAR Institute for Innovation. His focus is upon innovation and not invention. Mr. Prautzsch holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a distinguished graduate of the Marine Corps Signal Advanced Course, Army Airborne School, Ranger School, and Command and General Staff College. He also holds a Master of Science Degree from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California with a degree in Systems Technology (C3) and Space.
The Mad Scientist team participates in many thought exercises, tabletops, and wargames associated with how we will live, work, and fight in the future. A consistent theme in these events is the idea that a major barrier to the integration ofrobotic systems into Army formations is a lack of trust between humans and machines. This assumption rings true as we hear the media and opinion polls describe how society doesn’t trust some disruptive technologies, like driverless cars or the robots coming for our jobs.
In his recent book,Army of None, Paul Scharre describes an event that nearly led to a nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. On September 26, 1983,LTC Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet Officer serving in a bunker outside Moscow was alerted to a U.S. missile launch by a recently deployed space-based early warning system. The Soviet Officer trusted his “gut” – or experientially informed intuition – that this was a false alarm. His gut was right and the world was saved from an inadvertent nuclear exchange because this officer did not over trust the system. But is this the rule or an exception to how humans interact with technology?
The subject of trust between Soldiers, Soldiers and Leaders, and the Army and society is central to the idea of the Army as a profession. At the most tactical level, trust is seen as essential to combat readiness as Soldiers must trust each other in dangerous situations. Humans naturally learn to trust their peers and subordinates once they have worked with them for a period of time. You learn what someone’s strengths and weaknesses are, what they can handle, and under what conditions they will struggle. This human dynamic does not translate to human-machine interaction and the tendency to anthropomorphize machines could be a huge barrier.
We recommend that the Army explore the possibility that Soldiers and Leaders could over trust AI and robotic systems. Over trust of these systems could blunt human expertise, judgement, and intuition thought to be critical to winning in complex operational environments. Also, over trust might lead to additional adversarial vulnerabilities such as deception and spoofing.
In 2016, a research team at the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed the resultsof a study entitled “Overtrust of Robots in Emergency Evacuation Scenarios”. The research team put 42 test participants into a fire emergency with a robot responsible for escorting them to an emergency exit. As the robot passed obvious exits and got lost, 37 participants continued to follow the robot and an additional 2 stood with the robot and didn’t move towards either exit. The study’s takeaway was that roboticists must think about programs that will help humans establish an “appropriate level of trust” with robot teammates.
InFuture Crimes, Marc Goodman writes of the idea of “In Screen We Trust” and the vulnerabilities this trust builds into our interaction with our automation. His example of the cyber-attack against the Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges highlights the vulnerability of experts believing or trusting their screens against mounting evidence that something else might be contributing to the failure of centrifuges. These experts over trusted their technology or just did not have an “appropriate level of trust”. What does this have to do with Soldiers on the future battlefield? Well, increasingly we depend on our screens and, in the future, our heads-up displays totranslate the world around us. This translation will only become more demanding on the future battlefield with war at machine speed.
So what should our assumptions be about trust and our robotic teammates on the future battlefield?
1) Soldiers and Leaders will react differently to technology integration.
2) Capability developers must account for trust building factors in physical design, natural language processing, and voice communication.
3) Intuition and judgement remain a critical component of human-machine teaming and operating on the future battlefield. Speed becomes a major challenge as humans become the weak link.
4) Building an “appropriate level of trust” will need to be part of Leader Development and training. Mere expertise in a field does not prevent over trust when interacting with our robotic teammates.
5) Lastly, lack of trust is not a barrier to AI and robotic integration on the future battlefield. These capabilities will exist in our formations as well as those of our adversaries. The formation that develops the best concepts for effective human-machine teaming, with trust being a major component, will have the advantage.
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post by MAJ Chris Telley, U.S. Army, assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School, addressing how Artificial Intelligence (AI) must be understood as an Information Operations (IO) tool if U.S. defense professionals are to develop effective countermeasures and ensure our resilience to its employment by potential adversaries.]
AI-enabled IO present a more pressing strategic threat than the physical hazards ofslaughter-bots or even algorithmically-escalatednuclear war. IO areefforts to “influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries;” here, we’re talking about using AI to do so. AI-guided IO tools can empathize with an audience to say anything, in any way needed, to change the perceptions that drive those physical weapons. Future IO systems will be able to individually monitor and affecttens of thousands of people at once. Defense professionals must understand the fundamental influence potential of these technologies if they are to drive security institutions to counter malign AI use in the information environment.
Programmatic marketing, using consumer’s data habits to drive real time automated bidding onpersonalized advertising, has been used for a few years now. Cambridge Analytica’sFacebooktargeting made international headlines using similar techniques, but digital electioneering is just the tip of the iceberg. An AI trained with data from users’ social media accounts, economic media interactions (Uber, Applepay, etc.), and their devices’ positional data can infer predictive knowledge of its targets. With that knowledge, emerging tools — likeReplika — can truly befriend a person, allowing it to train that individual, for good or ill.
Substantive feedback is required to train an individual’s response; humans tend to respond best to content and feedback with which they agree. That content can be algorithmically mass produced. For years, Narrative Science tools have helped writers create sports stories and stock summaries, but it’s just as easy to use them to create disinformation. That’s just text, though; today, the AI can create fake video. A recent warning, ostensibly from former President Obama, provides an entertaining yet frightening demonstration of how Deepfakes will challenge our presumptions about truth in the coming years. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding aproject this summer to determine whether AI-generated Deepfakes will become impossible to distinguish from the real thing, even using other AI systems.
Given that malign actors can now employ AI to lie “at machine speed,” they still have to get the story to an audience. Russianbot armies continue to make headlines doing this very thing. The New York Times maintains about a dozen Twitter feeds and produces around 300 tweets a day, but Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) regularly puts out25,000 tweets in the same twenty-four hours. The IRA’sbots are really just low-tech curators; they collect, interpret, and display desired information to promote the Kremlin’s narratives.
Next-generation bot armies will employ far faster computing techniques and profit from an order of magnitudegreater network speedwhen 5G services are fielded. If “Repetition is a key tenet ofIO execution,” then this machine gun-like ability to fire information at an audience will, with empathetic precision and custom content, provide the means to change a decisive audience’s very reality. No breakthrough science is needed, no bureaucratic project office required. These pieces arealready there, waiting for an adversary to put them together.
The DoD is looking at AI but remains focused on image classificationandswarming quadcopterswhile ignoring the convergent possibilities of predictive audience understanding, tailored content production, and massive scale dissemination. What little digital IO we’ve done, sometimes called social media “WebOps,” has been contractor heavy and prone to naïve missteps. However, groups like USSOCOM’sSOFWERX and the students at the Naval Postgraduate School are advancing the state of our art. At NPS, future senior leaders are working on AI, now. A half-dozen of the school’s departments have stood up classes and events specifically aimed at operationalizing advanced computing. The young defense professionals currently working on AI should grapple with emerging influence tools and form the foundation of the DoD’s future institutional capabilities.
MAJ Chris Telley is an Army information operations officer assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School. His assignments have included theater engagement at U.S. Army Japan and advanced technology integration with the U.S. Air Force. Chris commanded in Afghanistan and served in Iraq as a United States Marine. He tweets at @chris_telley.
This blog post represents the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position of the Army or the United States Government.
[Editor’s Note: The following post addresses the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050) and is extracted from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, published last summer. This seminal document provides the U.S. Army with a holistic and heuristic approach to projecting and anticipating both transformational and enduring trends that will lend themselves to the depiction of the future.]
Changes encountered during the Future Operational Environment’s Era of Accelerated Human Progress (the present through 2035) begin a process that will re-shape the global security situation and fundamentally alter the character of warfare. While its nature remains constant, the speed, automation, ranges, both broad and narrow effects, its increasingly integrated multi-domain conduct, and thecomplexityof the terrain and social structures in which it occurs will make mid-century warfare both familiar and utterly alien.
During the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050), great powers and rising challengers have converted hybrid combinations of economic power, technological prowess, andvirulent, cyber-enabled ideologiesinto effective strategic strength. They apply this strength to disrupt or defend the economic, social, and cultural foundations of the old Post-World War II liberal order and assert or dispute regional alternatives to established global norms. State and non-state actors compete for power and control, often below the threshold of traditional armed conflict – or shield and protect their activities under the aegis of escalatory WMD, cyber, or long-range conventional options and doctrines.
It is not clear whether the threatsfaced in the preceding Era of Accelerated Human Progress persist, although it is likely that China and Russia will remain key competitors, and that some form of non-state ideologically motivated extremist groups will exist. Other threats may have fundamentally changed their worldviews, or may not even exist by mid-Century, while other states, and combinations of states will rise and fall as challengers during the 2035-2050 timeframe. The security environment in this period will be characterized by conditions that will facilitate competition and conflict among rivals, and lead to endemic strife and warfare, and will have several defining features.
• The nation-state perseveres. The nation-state will remain the primary actor in the international system, but it will be weaker both domestically and globally than it was at the start of the century. Trends of fragmentation, competition, and identity politics will challenge global governance and broader globalization, with both collective security and globalism in decline. States share their strategic environments with networked societies which increasingly circumvent governments unresponsive to their citizens’ needs. Many states will face challenges from insurgents and global identity networks – ethnic, religious, regional, social, or economic – which either resist state authority or ignore it altogether.
• Super-Power Diminishes. Early-century great powers will lose their dominance in command and control, surveillance, and precision-strike technologies as even non-state actors will acquire and refine their own application of thesetechnologies in conflict and war. Rising competitors will be able to acquire capabilities through a broad knowledge diffusion, cyber intellectual property theft, and their own targeted investments without having to invest into massive “sunken” research costs. This diffusion of knowledge and capability and the aforementioned erosion of long-term collective security will lead to the formation ofad hoc communities of interest. The costs of maintaining global hegemony at the mid-point of the century will be too great for any single power, meaning that the world will be multi-polar and dominated by complex combinations of short-term alliances, relations, and interests.
This era will be marked by contested norms and persistent disorder, where multiple state and non-state actors assert alternative rules and norms, which when contested, will use military force, often in a dimension short of traditional armed conflict.
For additional information on the Future Operational Environment and the Era of Contested Equality:
• Listen to Modern War Institute‘spodcast where Retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend and Mr. Ian Sullivan address Technology and the Future of Warfare
(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present a new post by returning guest blogger and official Mad Scientist Dr. Richard Nabors, addressing the importance of DoD Manufacturing Technologies (MANTECH). In this future-focused story, critical decision points are interspersed throughout the narrative, illustrating the ramifications of DoD MANTECH investment decisions in ensuring military superiority for future operations.
Dr. Nabors’ previous guest posts discussed how:
•Integrated sensor systemswill provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces;
•Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for these integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments); and
• The recently completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program can serve as a use case for successful future innovation via four key practices.)
Four men crouched behind an air conditioning unit mounted on the roof of the townhouse, guns aimed and ready. US Army Sergeant Johnson, the unit leader, could sense the others’ tension as a truck drove down the street below them. He glanced toward Rodriguez, the fifth man of the team, who lay belly down on the roof in front of the air conditioner box, peering over the edge. The enemy truck appeared a tempting target, but the continuous, live reporting Johnson was receiving from the Soldier Support Artificial Intelligence Unit (SOSIA) that they had just spent the morning setting up indicated there were civilians in the area. “Hold,” he whispered into his helmet mike.
SOSIA was a powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI)computer program that connected to an Integrated Sensor Architecture of millions of commercial and military sensors which processed and sent real-time analysis and imagery directly to soldiers. SOSIA used everything from city overhead street cameras, to in-the-road seismic sensors, and the tens of thousands of military sensors fielded, such as Sargent Johnson’s personal Short-Wave InfraRed (SWIR) imager. The bone conducting speaker in Johnson’s helmet chirped the vital statistics of the truck as it approached. Johnson activated his mic again and whispered, “SOSIA says the truck is full. Too many for us to take on without compromising the mission. Also, there are civilians in the area.”
Rodriguez wriggled back to the shelter of the air conditioning unit and glared at Johnson. “SOSIA says,” he growled, sarcasm dripping from each word. “Is SOSIA in command, Johnson?”
Johnson studied him a minute, and then each of the others before responding. He knew that the waiting and inactivity were telling on the men. They wanted action. They had seen too many of their buddies fall, too many dead civilians, too many wounded children. They wanted to destroy the base from which the enemy operated.
“What’s eatin’ you, Rod? Don’t you trust all of the techno stuff we’ve been deploying?” Johnson asked as calmly as he could, given his own tension.
“Sure,” Rodriguez shrugged. “I just don’t like a bunch of electrons and wires tellin’ a thinking human bein’ what to do.”
“You know that I am in command of this mission.” Johnson glared at him with an icy stare. “I am the thinking human being behind every decisive action we take. Don’t ever forget it.”
Rodriguez dropped his eyes. “Sorry, Sarge,” he mumbled.
The plan to attack the enemy’s temporary command post by a small assault team was totally contingent on the element of surprise. Their mission was dependent upon the information generated by the sensors they had laid around the enemy’s post. They had to know what they were getting into. Were the enemy holed up in the post or were individual outposts spread out in the surrounding structures? The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drones that had already been deployed in combination with their compact lidar imagery systems had swept the landscape for enemy and friendly sensors while creating a 3D terrain of the urban space around the enemy’s command post. Johnson had been briefed on the data and the maps were available on his helmet display. Now SOSIA’s data had been added to mix.
What next was his judgement call. Command Central had given unit leaders the ability and responsibility to be autonomous and to make decisions based on the immediate situation. The lives of his men, the enemy, and the civilians between them depended on what he called next. Outside of the truck below, the sensor data indicated that the area had been cleared of all enemy combatants. Should he trust the data from the sensors and proceed with the original plan?
No: Because the number of sensors available for the US Army to use were limited, Johnson could not trust that the area was clear and that his small team would have the element of surprise they would need to survive an assault on the base. Without this confidence, the risks were too high and the mission would need to be abandoned.
Yes: Because of DoD Manufacturing Technology investments into sensor manufacturing, the US Army was able to field an incredible volume of low-cost, complex sensors across the battlespace, ensuring that systems like SOSIA and Johnson had enough information about global awareness to feel confident with the real-time data that they had access to. Being able to trust in the sensor network that provided critical, in the moment information enabled Johnson to manage the risks and make the call.
Johnson jerked his head and motioned the men to go down the staircase off of the roof. “All data indicates that the area is clear,” he stated firmly. “SOSIA is tracking the truck to the possible base site. Any questions before we go?”
“Sarge,” Boskar piped up hesitantly, “how do we know that the data is not compromised? Are we certain the enemy isn’t hacking into our systems and feeding us false information like we did to them?”
Johnson nodded. The scenario was possible. The sky was full of satellites, spying on each other. Whose was the most updated? It did seem a bit odd that the scans did not find many enemy security and/or sensors to prevent hostile forces from sneaking up on their base. Maybe their security was depending on the anonymity of being embedded in a residential area of townhouses and small stores. But was our technology protected from a hacker? he thought. Was the information he received accurate? Should he trust it?
No:With majority of sensors and networking components being manufactured outside the USA, security could definitely be an issue with compromises pre-built into the technology, not to mention the risk of possible hacking.
Yes:Because of investments into US sensor and networking manufacturers, technology from USA manufacturers has been continually updated with reliable safeguards against possible hacking or intrusion.
“Nothing is a certainty,” Johnson stated flatly. “But we can be confident that everything possible has been done to ensure the security and reliability of our intel. All any soldier can do is to trust the instructions he has been given,” Johnson reminded himself as well as his men.
“Besides, we have a surprise for them.” Reaching into the pouch at his waist, Johnson removed two small objects, one a micro-drone the size of a large beetle, the other a small touch pad. Carefully he thumbed the pad on his palm. The micro-drone darted off to follow the truck, setting down on the canopy just as the truck turned the corner and was lost from sight. “It’s embedded with an electronic disruption device,” he explained. “We’ll activate it when we are ready to go in.”
Moving quietly in their armored suits, they quickly followed the truck to the base site. Each suit had its own power pack which supplied power to all their communication and sensor devices.
The unique optical communication signals between their powered suits allowed continuous communications even when under electronic jamming attacks by the enemy.
The intel from the drones and SOSIA had been right. There was no complex network of perimeter sensors, at least nothing sounded an alarm, as the team got into their hold position just a short distance from the base. They took cover in an abandoned storefront building that was still home to a number of civilian refugees. “Landis, set up our jammers and get this area under a communications blackout,” Johnson commanded. “Once that is done, Boskar and Simon, round up the civilians and get them to the safe area we identified, quickly and quietly. We want them out of here before any enemy shows up. Oh, and immediately confiscate any electronic devices, just in case,” he added with a grim smile.
After the men had secured the area, Johnson once again reviewed the plan. The plan was simple. For weeks, Central Command had leaked false information that they still had no idea where the enemy command post was. Intercepted enemy communications gave every indication that they believed the false reports. Now a small attack team was to approach the base, evacuate any civilian population still in the area, and then destroy the base. All without the enemy noticing what they were doing and all without injury to or protests by civilians. What could be simpler than that?
Although the attack team had the advantage of the latest in armored suits, the enemy had the advantage of numbers and being in a defensive position. Using security codes that had been hacked from the enemy’s satellite phone system, they planned to open the base doors. Their explosives expert, Rodriguez, would proceed to lay explosives around the building while the rest of the team were to protect him by taking out any threat.
Johnson looked around at his men. Could they, the five of them, do it? They had the will. Did they have the technology to achieve this objective? There was still time to take the civilians with them and make a dash for the Command Post. Should they proceed?
No:What limited sensor intel they had could not provide the confidence necessary that a small team would be successful in overcoming the odds and disadvantages stacked against them. Without real-time information that could be acted on immediately by the squad and its leadership, it would be far too dangerous to attempt any type of decisive action where flexibility and adaptability would be required.
Yes: Because of sustained investments in high performance sensor development and manufacturing within the USA. The US Army has maintained global technology overmatch and superiority in fielding critical intelligence at the farthest echelons. Teams such as Johnson’s can trust that they will maintain combat overmatch even while outnumbered and working in complex environments because of the situational understanding achieved through the use of sensors and their enabling technologies.
“We belong to the best military in the world. We have the best weaponry, the best intel, the best technology,” Johnson said, “and we have the best men. Let’s go!”
[Editor’s Note: The narrative above is a work of fiction; the names of the individuals portrayed in it are not based on real people.]
Dr. Richard Nabors is Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Deputy Director, Operations Division, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.