68. Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-hosted the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International on 8–9 March 2018 at their Menlo Park campus in California. This conference explored bio convergence, what the Army’s Soldier of 2050 will look like, and how they will interact and integrate with their equipment. The following post is an excerpt from this conference’s final report.]

Source: U.S. Army photo by SPC Joshua P. Morris

While the technology and concepts defining warfare have continuously and rapidly transformed, the primary actor in warfare – the human – has remained largely unchanged. Soldiers today may be physically larger, more thoroughly trained, and better equipped than their historical counterparts, but their capability and performance abilities remain very similar.

These limitations in human performance, however, may change over the next 30 years, as advances in biotechnology and human performance likely will expand the boundaries of what is possible for humans to achieve. We may see Soldiers – not just their equipment – with superior vision, enhanced cognitive abilities, disease/virus resistance, and increased strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As a result, these advances could provide the Soldier with an edge to survive and thrive on the hyperactive, constantly changing, and increasingly lethal Multi-Domain Battlespace.

Source: The Guardian and Lynsey Irvine/Getty

In addition to potentially changing the individual physiology and abilities of the future Soldier, there are many technological innovations on the horizon that will impact human performance. The convergence of these technologies – artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality, brain-machine interface, nanotechnologies, and biological and medical improvements to the human – is referred to as bio convergence. Soldiers of the future will have enhanced capabilities due to technologies that will be installed, instilled, and augmented. This convergence will also make the Army come to terms on what kinds of bio-converged technologies will be accepted in new recruits.

The conference generated the following key findings:

Source: RodMartin.org

• The broad advancement of biotechnologies will provide wide access to dangerous and powerful bioweapons and human enhancements. 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.

Source: Shutterstock

• Emerging synthetic biology tools (e.g., CRISPR, Talon, and ZFN) present an opportunity to engineer Soldiers’ DNA and enhance their performance, providing  greater  speed, strength, endurance, and resilience.  These tools, however, will also create new vulnerabilities, such as genomic targeting, that can be exploited by an adversary and/or potentially harm the individual undergoing enhancement.  Bioengineering is becoming easier and cheaper as a bevy of developments are reducing biotechnology transaction costs in gene reading, writing, and editing.  Due to the ever-increasing speed and lethality of the future battlefield, combatants will need cognitive and physical enhancement to survive and thrive.

Source: Getty Images

• Ensuring that our land forces are ready to meet future challenges requires optimizing biotechnology and neuroscience advancements.  Designer viruses and diseases will be highly volatile, mutative, and extremely personalized, potentially challenging an already stressed Army medical response system and its countermeasures.  Synthetic biology provides numerous applications that will bridge capability gaps and enable future forces to fight effectively. Future synthetic biology defense applications are numerous and range from sensing capabilities to rapidly developed vaccines and therapeutics.

Source: Rockwell Collins / Aviation Week

• Private industry and academia have become the driving force behind innovation. While there are some benefits to this – such as shorter development times – there are also risks. For example, investments in industry are mainly driven by market demand which can lead to a lack of investment in areas that are vital to National Defense but have low to no consumer demand. In academia, a majority of graduate students in STEM fields are foreign nationals, comprising over 80% of electrical and petroleum engineering programs. The U.S. will need to find a way to maintain its technological superiority even when most of the expertise eventually leaves the country.

Source: World Health Organization

• The advent of new biotechnologies will give rise to moral, regulatory, and legal challenges for the Army of the Future, its business practices, recruiting requirements, Soldier standards, and structure. The rate of technology development in the synthetic biology field is increasing rapidly. Private individuals or small start-ups with minimal capital can create a new organism for which there is no current countermeasure and the development of one will likely take years. This potentiality leads to the dilemma of swiftly creating effective policy and regulation that addresses these concerns, while not stifling creativity and productivity in the field for those conducting legitimate research. Current regulation may not be sufficient, and bureaucratic inflexibility prevents quick reactive and proactive change. Our adversaries may not move as readily to adopt harsher regulations in the bio-technology arena. Rather than focusing on short-term solutions, it may be beneficial to take a holistic approach centered in a world where bio-technology is interacting with everyday life. The U.S. may have to work from a relative “disadvantage,” using safe and legal methods of enhancement, while our adversaries may choose to operate below our defined legal threshold.

Bio Convergence is incredibly important to the Army of the Future because the future Soldier is the Bio. The Warrior of tomorrow’s Army will be given more responsibility, will be asked to do more, will be required to be more capable, and will face more challenges and complexities than ever before. These Soldiers must be able to quickly adapt, change, connect to and disconnect from a multitude of networks – digital and otherwise – all while carrying out multiple mission-sets in an increasingly disrupted, degraded, and arduous environment marred with distorted reality, information warfare, and attacks of a personalized nature.

For additional information regarding this conference:

• Review the Lessons Learned from the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference preliminary assessment.

• Read the entire Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report.

• Watch the conference’s video presentations.

• See the associated presentations’ briefing slides.

• Check out the associated “Call for Ideas” writing contest finalist submissions, hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

 

64. Top Ten Takeaways from the Installations of the Future Conference

On 19-20 June 2018, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Mad Scientist Initiative co-hosted the Installations of the Future Conference with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (OASA (IE&E)) and Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).  Emerging technologies supporting the hyper-connectivity revolution will enable improved training capabilities, security, readiness support (e.g., holistic medical facilities and brain gyms), and quality of life programs at Army installations. Our concepts and emerging doctrine for multi-domain operations recognizes this as increasingly important by including Army installations in the Strategic Support Area. Installations of the Future will serve as mission command platforms to project virtual power and expertise as well as Army formations directly to the battlefield.

We have identified the following “Top 10” takeaways related to our future installations:

Source: Laserfishe

1. Threats and Tensions.Army Installations are no longer sanctuaries” — Mr. Richard G. Kidd IV, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Strategic Integration. There is a tension between openness and security that will need balancing to take advantage of smart technologies at our Army installations. The revolution in connected devices and the ability to virtually project power and expertise will increase the potential for adversaries to target our installations. Hyper-connectivity increases the attack surface for cyber-attacks and the access to publicly available information on our Soldiers and their families, making personalized warfare and the use of psychological attacks and deep fakes likely.

2. Exclusion vs. Inclusion. The role of and access to future Army installations depends on the balance between these two extremes. The connections between local communities and Army installations will increase potential threat vectors, but resilience might depend on expanding inclusion. Additionally, access to specialized expertise in robotics, autonomy, and information technologies will require increased connections with outside-the-gate academic institutions and industry.

Source: pcmag.com

3. Infrastructure Sensorization.  Increased sensorization of infrastructure runs the risk of driving efficiencies to the point of building in unforeseen risks. In the business world, these efficiencies are profit-driven, with clearer risks and rewards. Use of table top exercises can explore hidden risks and help Garrison Commanders to build resilient infrastructure and communities. Automation can cause cascading failures as people begin to fall “out of the loop.”

4. Army Modernization Challenge.  Installations of the Future is a microcosm of overarching Army Modernization challenges. We are simultaneously invested in legacy infrastructure that we need to upgrade, and making decisions to build new smart facilities. Striking an effective and efficient balance will start with public-private partnerships to capture the expertise that exists in our universities and in industry. The expertise needed to succeed in this modernization effort does not exist in the Army. There are significant opportunities for Army Installations to participate in ongoing consortiums like the “Middle Georgia” Smart City Community and the Global Cities Challenge to pilot innovations in spaces such as energy resilience.

5. Technology is outpacing regulations and policy. The sensorization and available edge analytics in our public space offers improved security but might be perceived as decreasing personal privacy. While we give up some personal privacy when we live and work on Army installations, this collection of data will require active engagement with our communities. We studied an ongoing Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) support concept to detect gunshot incidents in Louisville, KY, to determine the need to involve legislatures, local political leaders, communities, and multiple layers of law enforcement.

6. Synthetic Training Environment. The Installation of the Future offers the Army significant opportunities to divest itself of large brick and mortar training facilities and stove-piped, contractor support-intensive Training Aids, Devices, Simulations, and Simulators (TADSS).  MG Maria Gervais, Deputy Commanding General, Combined Arms Center – Training (DCG, CAC-T), presented the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE), incorporating Virtual Reality (VR)“big box” open-architecture simulations using a One World Terrain database, and reduced infrastructure and contractor-support footprints to improve Learning and Training.  The STE, delivering high-fidelity simulations and the opportunity for our Soldiers and Leaders to exercise all Warfighting Functions across the full Operational Environment with greater repetitions at home station, will complement the Live Training Environment and enhance overall Army readiness.

Source: The Goldwater

7. Security Technologies. Many of the security-oriented technologies (autonomous drones, camera integration, facial recognition, edge analytics, and Artificial Intelligence) that triage and fuse information will also improve our deployed Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The Chinese lead the world in these technologies today.

Source: TechViz

8. Virtual Prototyping. The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is developing a computational testbed using virtual prototyping to determine the best investments for future Army installations. The four drivers in planning for Future Installations are:  1) Initial Maneuver Platform (Force Projection); 2) Resilient Installations working with their community partners; 3) Warfighter Readiness; and 4) Cost effectiveness in terms of efficiency and sustainability.

9. Standard Approach to Smart Installations. A common suite of tools is needed to integrate smart technologies onto installations. While Garrison Commanders need mission command to take advantage of the specific cultures of their installations and surrounding communities, the Army cannot afford to have installations going in different directions on modernization efforts. A method is needed to rapidly pilot prototypes and then determine whether and how to scale the technologies across Army installations.

10. “Low Hanging Fruit.” There are opportunities for Army Installations to lead their communities in tech integration. Partnerships in energy savings, waste management, and early 5G infrastructure provide the Army with early adopter opportunities for collaboration with local communities, states, and across the nation. We must educate contracting officers and Government consumers to look for and seize upon these opportunities.

Videos from each of the Installations of the Future Conference presentations are posted here. The associated slides will be posted here within the week on the Mad Scientist All Partners Access Network site.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the following:

• Watch Mr. Richard Kidd IV discuss Installations of the Future on Government Matters.

• Read Mad Scientist Ed Blayney’s takeaways from the Installations of the Future Conference in his article, entitled We need more Mad Scientists in our Smart Cities.

• See the TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise’s:

–  The Changing Character of Future Warfare video.

–  Evolving Threats to Army Installations video.

• Review our Call for Ideas winning submissions Trusting Smart Cities: Risk Factors and Implications by Dr. Margaret Loper, and Day in the Life of a Garrison Commander by the team at AT&T Global Public Sector — both are graciously hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

• Re-visit our following blog posts: Smart Cities and Installations of the Future: Challenges and Opportunities and Base in a Box.

61. Base in a Box

[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 the Call for Ideas associated 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.

Source: John Lamb/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Remember the Garrison commander whose face was 3D-scanned by a rigged vending machine near the gate? The enemy released that humiliating video right 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 an embedded 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.

Source: CNN
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!

Source: The Cinephile Gardener

Here’s what I saw on my virtual tour:

  • Source: Gizmodo UK

      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.

  • Source: tandemnsi.com

      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.

Source: fortune.com

  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.

Source: Gizmodo Australia

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!

Love,
Your Daughter

 

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.  Click here 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.

51. Black Swans and Pink Flamingos

The Mad Scientist Initiative recently facilitated a workshop with thought leaders from across the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, other Government agencies, industry, and academia to address the unknown, unknowns (i.e., Black Swans) and the known, knowns (i.e., Pink Flamingos) to synthesize cross-agency thinking about possible disruptions to the Future Operational Environment.

Black Swans: In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s original context, a black swan (unknown, unknowns) is an event or situation which is unpredictable, but has a major effect. For this conference, we used a looser definition, identifying possibilities that are not likely, but might have significant impacts on how we think about warfighting and security.

Pink Flamingos: Defined by Frank Hoffman, Pink Flamingos are the known, knowns that are often discussed, but ignored by Leaders trapped by organizational cultures and rigid bureaucratic decision-making structures. Peter Schwartz further describes Pink Flamingos as the “inevitable surprise.” Digital photography was a pink flamingo to Kodak.

At the workshop, attendees identified the following Black Swans:

Naturally Occurring Disaster: These events (i.e., Carrington Event — solar flare frying solid state electronics, super volcano eruptions, earthquake swarms, etc.) would have an enormous impact on the Army and its ability to continue to operate and defend the nation and support national recovery operations. While warning times have increased for many of these events, there are limited measures that can be implemented to mitigate the devastating effects of these events.


Virtual Nations: While the primacy of Westphalian borders has been challenged and the power of traditional nation-states has been waning over the last decade, some political scientists have assumed that supranational organizations and non-state actors would take their place. One potential black swan is the emergence of virtual nations due to the convergence of blockchain technologies, crypto-currency, and the ability to project power and legitimacy through the virtual world. Virtual nations could be organized based on ideologies, business models, or single interests. Virtual nations could supersede, supplement, or compete with traditional, physical nations. The Army of the future may not be prepared to interact and compete with virtual nations.


Competition in Venues Other than Warfare (Economic, Technological, Demographic, etc.) Achieving Primacy: In the near future, war in the traditional sense may be less prevalent, while competitions in other areas may be the driving forces behind national oppositions. How does the Army need to prepare for an eventuality where armed conflict is not as important as it once was?


Alternate Internet — “Alternet”: A distinct entity, separate from the general commercial internet, only accessible with specific corresponding hardware. This technology would allow for unregulated and unmonitored communication and commerce, potentially granting safe haven to criminal and terrorist activities.

At the workshop, attendees identified the following Pink Flamingos:

Safe at Home: Army installations are no longer the sanctuaries they once were, as adversaries will be able to attack Soldiers and families through social media and other cyberspace means. Additionally, installations no longer merely house, train, and deploy Soldiers — unmanned combat systems are controlled from home installations -— a trend in virtual power that will increase in the future. The Army needs a plan to harden our installations and train Soldiers and families to be resilient for this eventuality.


Hypersonics: High speed (Mach 5 or higher) and highly maneuverable missiles or glide vehicles that can defeat our air defense systems. The speed of these weapons is unmatched and their maneuverability allows them to keep their targets unknown until only seconds before impact, negating current countermeasures.


Generalized, Operationalized Artificial Intelligence (AI): Artificial intelligence is one of the most prominent pink flamingos throughout global media and governments. Narrow artificial intelligence is being addressed as rapidly as possible through ventures such as Project MAVEN. However, generalized and operationalized artificial intelligence – that can think, contextualize, and operate like a human – has the potential to disrupt not only operations, but also the military at its very core and foundation.


Space/Counterspace: Space is becoming increasingly congested, commercialized, and democratized. Disruption, degradation, and denial in space threatens to cripple multi-domain warfare operations. States and non-state actors alike are exploring options to counter one another, compete, and potentially even fight in space.


Quantum Sciences: Quantum science – communication, computing, and sensing – has the potential to solve some intractable but very specific problem sets. Quantum technology remains in its infancy. However, as the growth of qubits in quantum computing continues to expand, so does the potentiality of traditional encryption being utterly broken. Quantum sensing can allow for much more precise atomic clocks surpassing the precision timing of GPS, as well as quantum imaging that provides better results than classical imaging in a variety of wavelengths.


Bioweapons/Biohacking: The democratization of bio technology will mean that super-empowered individuals as well as nation states will have the ability to engineer weapons and hacks that can augment friendly human forces or target and degrade enemy human forces (e.g., targeted disease or genetic modifications).


Personalized Warfare: Warfare is now waged on a personal level, where adversaries can attack the bank accounts of Soldiers’ families, infiltrate their social media, or even target them specifically by their genetics. The Army needs to understand that the individual Soldier can be exploited in many different ways, often through information publicly provided or stolen.

Source: ommbeu / Fotolia
Deep Fakes/Information Warfare: Information warfare and “fake news” have played a prominent role in global politics over the last several years and could dominate the relationship between societies, governments, politicians, and militaries in the future operational environment. Information operations, thanks to big data and humanity’s ever-growing digital presence, are targeted at an extremely personal and specific level. One of the more concerning aspects of this is an artificial intelligence-based human image/voice synthesis technique known as deep fakes. Deep fakes can essentially put words in the mouths of prominent or trusted politicians and celebrities.


Multi-Domain Swarming: Swarming is often thought about in terms of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), but one significant pink flamingo is swarming taking place across multiple domains with self-organizing, autonomous aerial, ground, maritime (sub and surface), and even subterranean unmanned systems. U.S. defense systems on a linear modernization and development model will not be capable of dealing with the saturation and complexity issues arising from these multi-domain swarms.


Lethal Autonomy: An autonomous system with the ability to track, target, and fire without the supervision or authority of a human in/on the loop. The U.S. Army will have to examine its own policy regarding these issues as well as our adversaries, who may be less deterred by ethical/policy issues.


Tactical Nuclear Exchange: While strategic nuclear war and mutually assured destruction have been discussed and addressed ad nauseam, not enough attention has been given to the potential of a tactical nuclear exchange between state actors. One tactical nuclear attack, while not guaranteeing a nuclear holocaust, would bring about a myriad of problems for U.S. forces worldwide (e.g., the potential for escalation, fallout, contamination of water and air, and disaster response). Additionally, a high altitude nuclear burst’s electromagnetic pulse has the potential to fry solid state electronics across a wide-area, with devastating results to the affected nation’s electrical grid, essential government services, and food distribution networks.

Leaders must anticipate these future possibilities in determining the character of future conflicts and in force design and equipping decisions. Using a mental model of black swans and pink flamingos provides a helpful framework for assessing the risks associated with these decisions.

For additional information on projected black swans for the next 20+ years, see the RAND Corporation’s Discontinuities and Distractions — Rethinking Security for the Year 2040.

25. Lessons Learned in Assessing the Operational Environment

(Editor’s Note: The Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post from Mr. Ian Sullivan.)

During the past year, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 has learned a great deal more about the Future Operational Environment (OE). While the underlying assessment of the OE’s trajectory has not changed, as reported in last year’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, we have learned a number of critical lessons and insights that affect Army doctrine, training, and modernization efforts. These findings have been captured in Assessing the Operational Environment: What We Learned Over the Past Year, published in Small Wars Journal last week. This post extracts and highlights key themes from this article.

General Lessons Learned:

We have confirmed our previous analysis of trends and factors that are intensifying and accelerating the transformation of the OE. The rapid innovation, development, and fielding of new technologies promises to radically enhance our abilities to live, create, think, and prosper. The accelerated pace of human interaction and widespread connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT), and the concept of convergence are also factors affecting these trends. Convergence of societal trends and technologies will create new capabilities or societal implications that are greater than the sum of their individual parts, and at times are unexpected.

This convergence will embolden global actors to challenge US interests. The perceived waning of US military power in conjunction with the increase in capabilities resulting from our adversaries’ rapid proliferation of technology and increased investment in research and development has set the stage for challengers to pursue interests contrary to America’s.

We will face peer, near-peer, and regional hegemons as adversaries, as well as non-state actors motivated by identity, ideology, or interest, and individuals super-empowered by technologies and capabilities once found only among nations. They will directly attack our national will with cyber and sophisticated information operations.

Technologies in the future OE will be disruptive, smart, connected, and self-organizing. Key technologies, once thought to be science fiction, present new opportunities for military operations ranging from human operated / machine-assisted, to human-machine hybrid operations, to human-directed / machine-conducted operations; all facilitated by autonomy, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, enhanced human performance, and advanced computing.

Tactical Lessons Learned:

The tactical lessons we have learned reveal tangible realities found on battlefields around the globe today and our assessments about the future rooted in our understanding of the current OE. Our adversaries already are using weapons and systems that in some cases are superior to our own, providing selective overmatch of some US capabilities, such as long-range fires, air-defense, and electronic warfare. Commercial-off-the shelf (COTS) technologies are being used to rapidly create new and novel methods of warfare (the most ubiquitous are drones and robotics that have been particularly successful in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine). Our adversaries will often combine technologies or operating principles to create innovative methods of attack, deploying complex combinations of capabilities that create unique challenges to the Army and Joint Forces.

Adversaries, regardless of their resources, are finding ways to present us with multiple tactical dilemmas. They are combining capabilities with new concepts and doctrine, as evidenced by Russia’s New Generation Warfare; China’s active defensive and local wars under “informationized” conditions; Iran’s focus on information operations, asymmetric warfare and anti-access/area denial; North Korea’s combination of conventional, information operations, asymmetric, and strategic capabilities; ISIS’s often improvised yet complex capabilities employed during the Battle of Mosul, in Syria, and elsewhere; and the proliferation of anti-armor capabilities seen in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, as well as the use of ballistic missiles by state and non-state actors.

Our adversaries have excelled at Prototype Warfare, using new improvised capabilities that converge technologies and COTS systems—in some cases for specific attacks—to great effect. ISIS, for example, has used commercial drones fitted with 40mm grenades to attack US and allied forces near Mosul, Iraq and Raqaa, Syria. While these attacks caused little damage, a Russian drone dropping a thermite grenade caused the destruction of a Ukrainian arms depot at Balakleya, which resulted in massive explosions and fires, the evacuation of 23,000 citizens, and $1 billion worth of damage and lost ordnance.

Additionally, our adversaries continue to make strides in developing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) capabilities. We must, at a tactical level, be prepared to operate in a CBRN environment.

Operational Lessons Learned:

Operational lessons learned are teaching us that our traditional—and heretofore very successful—ways of waging warfare will not be enough to ensure victory on future battlefields. Commanders must now sequence battles and engagements beyond the traditional land, sea, and air domains, and seamlessly, and often simultaneously, orchestrate combat effects across multi-domains, to include space and cyberspace. The multiple tactical dilemmas that our adversaries present us with create operational level challenges. Adversaries are building increasingly sophisticated anti-access/area denial “bubbles” we have to break; extending the scope of operations through the use of cyber, space, and asymmetric activities; and are utilizing sophisticated, and often deniable, methods of using information operations, often enabled by cyber capabilities, to directly target the Homeland and impact our individual and national will to fight. This simultaneous targeting of individuals and segments of populations has been addressed in our Personalized Warfare post.

We will have to operationalize Multi-Domain Battle to achieve victory over peer or near-peer competitors. Additionally, we must plan and be prepared to integrate other government entities and allies into our operations. The dynamism of the future OE is driven by the ever increasing volumes of information; when coupled with sophisticated whole-of-government approaches, information operations — backed by new capabilities with increasing ranges — challenge our national approach to warfare. The importance of information operations will continue, and may become the primary focus of warfare/competition in the future.

When adversaries have a centralized leadership that can send a unified message and more readily adopt a whole-of-government approach, the US needs mechanisms to more effectively coordinate and collaborate among whole-of-government partners. Operations short of war may require the Department of Defense to subordinate itself to other Agencies, depending on the objective. Our adversaries’ asymmetric strategies blur the lines between war and competition, and operate in a gray zone between war and peace below the perceived threshold of US military reaction.

Strategic Lessons Learned:

Strategic lessons learned demonstrate the OE will be more challenging and dynamic then in the past. A robust Homeland defense strategy will be imperative for competition from now to 2050. North Korea’s strategic nuclear capability, if able to range beyond the Pacific theater to CONUS, places a renewed focus on weapons of mass destruction and missile defense. A broader array of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction-armed adversaries will compel us to re-imagine operations in a CBRN environment, and to devise and consider new approaches to deterrence and collective security. Our understanding of deterrence and coercion theory will be different from the lessons of the Cold War.

The Homeland will be an active theater in any future conflict and adversaries will have a host of kinetic and non-kinetic attack options from our home stations all the way to the combat zone. The battlefield of the future will become far more lethal and destructive, and be contested from home station to the Joint Operational Area, requiring ways to sustain operations, and also to rapidly reconstitute combat losses of personnel and equipment. The Army requires resilient smart installations capable of not only training, equipping, preparing, and caring for Soldiers, civilians, and families, but also efficiently and capably serving as the first point of power projection and to provide reach back capabilities.

Trends in demographics and climate change mean we will have to operate in areas we might have avoided in the past. These areas include cities and megacities, or whole new theaters, such as the Arctic.

Personalized warfare will increase over time, specifically targeting the brain, genomes, cultural and societal groups, individuals’ personal interests/lives, and familial ties.




Future conflicts will be characterized by AI vs AI (i.e., algorithm vs algorithm). How AI is structured and integrated will be the strategic advantage, with the decisive edge accruing to the side with more autonomous decision-action concurrency on the “Hyperactive Battlefield.” Due to the increasingly interconnected Internet of Everything and the proliferation of weapons with highly destructive capabilities to lower echelons, tactical actions will have strategic implications, putting even more strain and time-truncation on decision-making at all levels. Cognitive biases can shape our actions despite unprecedented access to information.

The future OE presents us with a combination of new technologies and societal changes that will intensify long-standing international rivalries, create new security dynamics, and foster instability as well as opportunities. The Army recognizes the importance of this moment and is engaged in a modernization effort that rivals the intellectual momentum following the 1973 Starry Report and the resultant changes the “big five” (i.e., M1 Abrams Tank, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter, UH-60 Black Hawk Utility Helicopter, and Patriot Air Defense System) wrought across leadership development and education, concept, and doctrine development that provided the U.S. Army overmatch into the new millennium.

Based on the future OE, the Army’s leadership is asking the following important questions:

• What type of force do we need?

• What capabilities will it require?

• How will we prepare our Soldiers, civilians, and leaders to operate within this future?

Clearly the OE is the starting point for this entire process.

For additional information regarding the Future OE, please see the following:

Technology and the Future of War podcast, hosted by the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment, posted on Small Wars Journal.

OEWatch, an monthly on-line, open source journal, published by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO).

Ian Sullivan is the Assistant G-2, ISR and Futures, at Headquarters, TRADOC.