[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist tracks convergence trends that are changing the character of future warfare. The democratization of technologies and the global proliferation of information is one of these trends that has expanded the arena of high-end threat capabilities beyond nation-states to now include non-state actors and super-empowered individuals. Today’s post illustrates how the democratization of one such capability, biotechnology, affects the Future Operational Environment.]
As discussed during theMad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, co-hosted with SRI International at Menlo Park, California last Spring, the broad advancement of biotechnologies will provide wide access to dangerous and powerful bioweapons and human enhancement. The low cost and low expertise entry point into gene editing, human performance enhancement, and bioweapon production has spurred a string of new explorations into this arena by countries with large defense budgets (e.g., China), non-state criminal and terrorist organizations (e.g., ISIS), and even super-empowered individuals willing to subject their bodies to experimental and risky treatments or augmentations.
China has invested billions of dollars into biotechnology – including in several U.S. biotechnology firms – and plans on focusing on their own bio revolution. Gene editing is one of the areas where China has sought to leapfrog the United States through ambitious Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) projects, editing the genes of 86 individuals, while the United States is just now approaching human trials. Additionally, Elsa Kania, an expert on Chinese emerging technology from the Center for the New American Security (CNAS), noted that China is now seeking to build its own innovation base rather than focusing on intellectual property theft and technology transfers.
Listen to Ms. Kania’s discussion addressing technological priorities and how they overlay on the Chinese government’s strategic objectives in the China’s Quest for Enhanced Military Technology podcast, hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute.
Non-state actors – mainly terrorist organizations – have focused more on weaponizing biotechnology. A personal laptop belonging to ISIS that was captured in Syria, was found to contain lessons on making bubonic plague bombs and the employment of various weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The possession of this dangerous information by the most notorious terrorist organization across the globe is a testament to the worldwide proliferation of information. This challenge of weaponized biotechnology is exacerbated by the relative ease of obtaining material to carry out such attacks.
Watch Dr. Gary Ackerman‘s presentation on Non-State Actors and their Uses of Technology from the Mad Scientist Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Autonomy: Visioning Mult-Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 7-8 March 2017.
There is a growing community of individual biohackers and “do it yourselfers” (DIYers), super-empowered individuals pushing the boundaries of DNA editing, implants, embedded technologies (embeds), and unapproved chemical and biological injections. One of the most prominent biohackers, Josiah Zayner, a former NASA employee with a biophysics PhD, who livestreamed his self-injection of CRISPR and has even started a company selling DIY CRISPR kits ranging from several hundred to over 1000 dollars, effectively enabling biohackers to cheaply change their physiology, alter their appearance, and go beyond human biological norms. None of these treatments and augmentations are approved by regulatory agencies and DIYers run the serious risk of harming themselves or unleashing destructive and disruptive biological agents upon an unwitting population.
Biotechnology is just one example of how potentially game changing capabilities that were once only within the purview of our strategic competitors will be democratized via the global proliferation of information. In the Future Operational Environment, we can also expect to see artificial intelligence, multi-domain swarming, and space capabilities in the hands of non-state and super-empowered individuals.
[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by returning blogger Ms. Marie Murphy, addressing the implication of space drones and swarms on space-based services critical to the U.S. Army. Ms. Murphy’s previous post addressed Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend.]
Drone technology continues to proliferate in militaries and industries around the world. In the deep future, drones and drone swarms may extend physical conflict into the space domain. As space becomes ever more critical to military operations, states will seek technologies to counter their adversaries’ capabilities. Drones and swarms can blend in with space debris in order to provide a tactical advantage against vulnerable and expensive assets at a lower cost.
Space was recently identified as a battlespace domain in recognition of threats increasing at an unexpected rate and, in 2013, the Army Space Training Strategy was released. The functions of the Army almost entirely depend on space systems for daily and specialized operations, particularly C4ISR and GPS capabilities. “Well over 2,500 pieces of equipment… rely on aspace-based capability” in any given combat brigade, so an Army contingency plan for the loss of satellite communication is critical.[I] It is essential for the Army, in conjunction with other branches of the military and government agencies, to best shield military assets in space and continue to develop technologies, such as outer space drones and swarms, to remain competitive and secure throughout this domain in the future.
Drone swarms in particular are an attractive military option due to their relative inexpensiveness, autonomy, and durability as a whole. The U.S., China, and Russia are the trifecta of advanced drone and drone swarm technology and also pose the greatest threats in space. In May 2018, Chinese Company CETC launched 200autonomous drones,[II] beating China’s own record of 119 from 2017.[III] The U.S. has also branched out into swarm technology with the testing ofPerdix drones, although the U.S. is most known for its use of the high-tech Predator drone.[IV]
Non-state actorsalso possess rudimentary drone capabilities. In January 2018, Syrian rebels attacked a Russian installation with 13 drones in an attempt to overwhelm Russian defenses. The Russian militarywas able to neutralize the attack by shooting down seven and bringing the remaining six down with electronic countermeasures.[V] While this attack was quelled, it proves that drones are being used by less powerful or economically resourceful actors, making them capable of rendering many traditional defense systems ineffective. It is not a far leap to incorporate autonomous communication between vehicles, capitalizing on the advantages of a fully interactive and cooperative drone swarm.
The same logic applies when considering drones and drone swarms inspace. However, these vehicles will need to be technologically adapted for space conditions. Potentially most similar to future space drones, the company Swarm Technology launched four nanosats called “SpaceBees” with the intention of using them to create a constellation supporting Internet of Things (IoT) networks; however, they did so from India without FCC authorization.[VI] Using nanosats as examples of small, survivable space vehicles, the issues of power and propulsion are the most dominant technological roadblocks. Batteriesmust be small and are subject to failure in extreme environmental conditions and temperatures.[VII] Standard drone propulsionmechanisms are not viable in space, where drones will have to rely on cold-gas jets to maneuver.[VIII] Drones and drone swarms can idle in orbit (potentially for weeks or months) until activated, but they may still need hours of power to reach their target. The power systems must also have the ability to direct flight in a specific direction, requiring more energy than simply maintaining orbit.
There is a distinct advantage for drones operating in space: the ability to hide in plain sight among the scattered debris in orbit. Drones can be sent into space on a private or government launch hidden within a larger, benign payload.[IX] Once in space, these drones could be released into orbit, where they would blend in with the hundreds of thousands of other small pieces of material. When activated, they would lock onto a target or targets, and swarms would converge autonomously and communicate to avoid obstacles. Threat detection and avoidance systems may not recognize an approaching threat or swarm pattern until it is too late to move an asset out of their path (it takes a few hours for a shuttle and up to 30 hours for the ISS to conduct object avoidance maneuvers). In the deep future, it is likely that there will be a higher number of larger space assets as well as a greater number of nanosats and CubeSats, creating more objects for theSpace Surveillance Network to track, and more places for drones and swarms to hide.[X]
For outer space drones and drone swarms, the issue of space junk is a double-edged sword. While it camouflages the vehicles, drone and swarm attacks also produce more space junk due to their kinetic nature. One directed “kamikaze” or armed drone can severely damage or destroy a satellite, while swarm technology can be harnessed for use against larger, defended assets or in a coordinated attack. However, projecting shrapnel can hit other military or commercial assets, creating aKessler Syndrome effect of cascading damage.[XI] Once a specific space junk removal program is established by the international community, the resultant debris effects from drone and swarm attacks can be mitigated to preclude collateral damage. However, this reduction of space junk will also result in less concealment, limiting drones’ and swarms’ ability to loiter in orbit covertly.
Utilizing drone swarms in space may also present legal challenges. The original governing document regarding space activities is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty specifically prohibits WMDs in space and the militarization of the moon and other celestial bodies, but is not explicit regarding other forms of militarization, except to emphasize that space activities are to be carried out for the benefit of all countries. So far, military space activities have been limited to deploying military satellites and combatting cyber-attacks. Launching a kinetic attack in space would carry serious global implications and repercussions.
Such drastic and potentially destructive action would most likely stem from intense conflict on Earth. Norms about the usage of space would have to change. The Army must consider how widely experimented with and implemented drone and swarm technologies can be applied to targeting critical and expensive assets in orbit. Our adversaries do not have the same moral and ethical compunctions regarding space applications that the U.S. has as the world’s leading democracy. Therefore, the U.S. Army must prepare for such an eventuality. Additionally, the Army must research and develop a more robust alternative to our current space-based GPS capability. For now, the only war in space is the one conducted electronically, but kinetic operations in outer space are a realistic possibility in the deep future.
Marie Murphy is a rising junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative.
[Editor’s Note: Now that another month has flown by, Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our June edition 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 past 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!]
I know — I cheated and gave you two articles to read. These “dueling” articles demonstrate the early state of our understanding of the role of humans in decision-making. The Harvard Business Review article describes findings where human – Artificial Intelligence (AI) partnerships take advantage of the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of humans with the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of AI. This is basically the idea of “centaur” chess which has been prevalent in discussions of human and AI collaboration. Conversely, the MIT Technology Review article describes the ongoing work to build AI algorithms that are incentivized to collaborate with other AI teammates. Could it be that collaboration is not a uniquely human attribute? The ongoing work on integration of AI into the workforce and in support of CEO decision-making could inform the Army’s investment strategy for AI. Julianne Gallina, one of our proclaimed Mad Scientists, described a future where everyone would have an entourage and Commanders would have access to a “Patton in the Pocket.” How the human operates on or in the loop and how Commanders make decisions at machine speed will be informed by this research. In August, the Mad Scientist team will conduct a conference focused on Learning in 2050 to further explore the ideas of human and AI teaming with intelligent tutors and mentors.
2. Origin: A Novel, by Dan Brown, Doubleday, October 3, 2017, reviewed by Ms. Marie Murphy.
Dan Brown’s famous symbologist Robert Langdon returns to avenge the murder of his friend, tech developer and futurist Edmund Kirsch. Killed in the middle of presenting what he advertised as a life-changing discovery, Langdon teams up with Kirsch’s most faithful companion, his AI assistant Winston, in order to release Edmund’s presentation to the public. Winston is able to access Kirsch’s entire network, give real-time directions, and make decisions based on ambiguous commands — all via Kirsch’s smartphone. However, this AI system doesn’t appear to know Kirsch’s personal password, and can only enable Langdon in his mission to find it. An omnipresent and portable assistant like Winston could greatly aid future warfighters and commanders. Having this scope of knowledge on command is beneficial, but future AI will be able to not only regurgitate data, but present the Soldier with courses of action analyses and decision options based on the data. Winston was also able to mimic emotion via machine learning, which can reduce Soldier stress levels and present information in a humanistic manner. Once an AI has been attached to a Soldier for a period of time, it can learn the particular preferences and habits of that Soldier, and make basic or routine decisions and assumptions for that individual, anticipating their needs, as Winston does for Kirsch and Langdon.
Mad Scientist Laboratory readers are already familiar with the expression, “warfare at machine speed.” As our adversaries close the technology gap and potentially overtake us in select areas, there is clearly a “need for speed.”
“… speed matters — in two distinct dimensions. First, autonomy can increase decision speed, enabling the U.S. to act inside an adversary’s operations cycle. Secondly, ongoing rapid transition of autonomy into warfighting capabilities is vital if the U.S. is to sustain military advantage.” — Defense Science Board (DSB) Report on Autonomy, June 2016 (p. 3).
In his monograph, however, author and former Clinton Administration Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig contends that “superiority is not synonymous with security;” citing the technological proliferation that almost inevitably follows technological innovations and the associated risks of unintended consequences resulting from the loss of control of military technologies. Contending that speed is a form of technological roulette, former Secretary Danzig proposes a control methodology of five initiatives to help mitigate the associated risks posed by disruptive technologies, and calls for increased multilateral planning with both our allies and opponents. Unfortunately, as with the doomsday scenario played out in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, it is “… the little ones, the Irresponsibles…” that have propagated much of the world’s misery in the decades following the end of the Cold War. It is the specter of these Irresponsible nations, along with non-state actors andSuper-Empowered Individuals, experimenting with and potentially unleashing disruptive technologies, who will not be contained by any non-proliferation protocols or controls. Indeed, neither will our near-peer adversaries, if these technologies promise to offer a revolutionary, albeit fleeting, Offset capability.
This article illustrates how the Pentagon’s faith in its own technology drove the Department of Defense to trust it would maintain dominance over the electromagnetic spectrum for years to come. That decision left the United States vulnerable to new leaps in technology made by our near-peers. GEN Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has concluded that the Pentagon must now keep up with near-peer nations and reestablish our dominance of electronic warfare and networking (spoiler alert – we are not!). This is an example of apink flamingo (a known, known), as we know our near-peers have surpassed us in technological dominance in some cases. In looking at technological forecasts for the next decade, we must ensure that the U.S. is making the right investments in Science and Technology to keep up with our near-peers. This article demonstrates that timely and decisive policy-making will be paramount in keeping up with our adversaries in the fast changing and agile Operational Environment.
Researchers at MIT have discovered a way to “see” people through walls by tracking WiFi signals that bounce off of their bodies. Previously, the technology limited fidelity to “blobs” behind a wall, essentially telling you that someone was present but no indication of behavior. The breakthrough is using a trained neural network to identify the bouncing signals and compare those with the shape of the human skeleton. This is significant because it could give an added degree of specificity to first responders or fire teams clearing rooms. The ability to determine if an individual on the other side of the wall is potentially hostile and holding a weapon or a non-combatant holding a cellphone could be the difference between life and death. This also brings up questions about countermeasures. WiFi signals are seemingly everywhere and, with this technology, could prove to be a large signature emitter. Will future forces need to incorporate uniforms or materials that absorb these waves or scatter them in a way that distorts them?
A study performed by the University of Maryland determined that people will recall information better when seeing it first in a 3D virtual environment, as opposed to a 2D desktop or mobile screen. TheVirtual Reality (VR) system takes advantage of what’s called “spatial mnemonic encoding” which allows the brain to not only remember something visually, but assign it a place in three-dimensional space which helps with retention and recall. This technique could accelerate learning and enhance retention when we train our Soldiers and Leaders. As the VR hardware becomes smaller, lighter, and more affordable, custom mission sets, or the skills necessary to accomplish them, could be learned on-the-fly, in theater in a compressed timeline. This also allows for education to be distributed and networked globally without the need for a traditional classroom.
This book is fascinating for two reasons: 1) It utilizes one of the greatest science fiction series (almost a genre unto itself) in order to brilliantly illustrate some military strategy concepts and 2) It is chock full of Mad Scientists as contributors. One of the editors, John Amble, is a permanent Mad Scientist team member, while another, Max Brooks, author of World War Z, and contributor, August Cole, are officially proclaimed Mad Scientists.
The book takes a number of scenes and key battles in Star Wars and uses historical analogies to help present complex issues like civil-military command structure, counterinsurgency pitfalls, force structuring, and battlefield movement and maneuver.
One of the more interesting portions of the book is the concept of ‘droid armies vs. clone soldiers and the juxtaposition of that with the future testing of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concepts. There are parallels in how we think about what machines can and can’t do and how they think and learn.
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: 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.
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