71. Shaping Perceptions with Information Operations: Lessons for the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by Ms. Taylor Galanides, TRADOC G-2 Summer Intern, exploring how the increasing momentum of human interaction, events, and actions, driven by the convergence of innovative technologies, is enabling adversaries to exploit susceptibilities and vulnerabilities to manipulate populations and undermine national interests.  Ms. Galanides examines contemporary Information Operations as a harbinger of virtual warfare in the future Operational Environment.]

More information is available than ever before. Recent and extensive developments in technology, media, communication, and culture – such as the advent of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and smart devices – allow people to closely monitor domestic and foreign affairs. In the coming decades, the increased speed of engagements, as well as the precise and pervasive targeting of both civilian and military populations, means that these populations and their respective nations will be even more vulnerable to influence and manipulation attempts, misinformation, and cyber-attacks from foreign adversaries.

The value of influencing and shaping the perceptions of foreign and domestic populations in order to pursue national and military interests has long been recognized. This can be achieved through the employment of information operations, which seek to affect the decision-making process of adversaries. The U.S. Army views information operations as an instrumental part of the broader effort to maintain an operational advantage over adversaries. Information operations is specifically defined by the U.S. Army as “The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare further emphasizes this increased attention to the information and cognitive domains in the future – in the Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050). As a result, it has been predicted that no single nation will hold hegemony over its adversaries, and major powers and non-state actors alike “… will engage in a fight for information on a global scale.” Winning preemptively in the competitive dimension before escalation into armed conflict through the use of information and psychological warfare will become key.

Source: Becoming Human – Artificial Intelligence Magazine

Part of the driving force that is changing the character of warfare includes the rise of innovative technologies such as computer bots, artificial intelligence, and smart devices. Such emerging and advancing technologies have facilitated the convergence of new susceptibilities to individual and international security; as such, it will become increasingly more important to employ defensive and counter information operations to avoid forming misperceptions or being deceived.

Harbinger of the Future:  Information Operations in Crimea

Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014 effectively serve as cautionary examples of Russia’s evolving information operations and their perception-shaping capabilities. In Crimea, Russia sought to create a “hallucinating fog of war” in an attempt to alter the analytical judgments and perceptions of its adversaries. With the additional help of computer hackers, bots, trolls, and television broadcasts, the Russian government was able to create a manipulated version of reality that claimed Russian intervention in Crimea was not only necessary, but humanitarian, in order to protect Russian speakers. Additionally, Russian cyberespionage efforts included the jamming or shutting down of telecommunication infrastructures, important Ukrainian websites, and cell phones of key officials prior to the invasion. Through the use of large demonstrations called “snap exercises,” the Russians were able to mask military buildups along the border, as well as its political and military intentions. Russia further disguised their intentions and objectives by claiming adherence to international law, while also claiming victimization from the West’s attempts to destabilize, subvert, and undermine their nation.

By denying any involvement in Crimea until after the annexation was complete, distorting the facts surrounding the situation, and refraining from any declaration of war, Russia effectively infiltrated the international information domain and shaped the decision-making process of NATO countries to keep them out of the conflict.  NATO nations ultimately chose minimal intervention despite specific evidence of Russia’s deliberate intervention in order to keep the conflict de-escalated. Despite the West’s refusal to acknowledge the annexation of Crimea, it could be argued that Russia achieved their objective of expanding its sphere of influence.

Vulnerabilities and Considerations

Russia is the U.S.’ current pacing threat, and China is projected to overtake Russia as the Nation’s primary threat as early as 2035. It is important to continue to evaluate the way that the U.S. and its Army respond to adversaries’ increasingly technological attempts to influence, in order to maintain the information and geopolitical superiority of the Nation. For example, the U.S. possesses different moral and ethical standards that restrict the use of information operations. However, because adversarial nations like Russia and China pervasively employ influence and deceptive measures in peacetime, the U.S. and its Army could benefit from developing alternative methods for maintaining an operational advantage against its adversaries.


Adversarial nations can also take advantage of “the [Western] media’s willingness to seek hard evidence and listen to both sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion” by “inserting fabricated or prejudicial information into Western analysis and blocking access to evidence.” The West’s free press will continue to be the primary counter to constructed narratives. Additionally, extensive training of U.S. military and Government personnel, in conjunction with educating its civilian population about Russia and China’s deceitful narratives may decrease the likelihood of perceptions being manipulated:  “If the nation can teach the media to scrutinize the obvious, understand the military, and appreciate the nuances of deception, it may become less vulnerable to deception.” Other ways to exploit Russian and Chinese vulnerabilities could include taking advantage of poor operations security, as well as the use and analysis of geotags to refute and discredit Russian and Chinese propaganda narratives.

A final consideration involves the formation of an interagency committee, similar to the Active Measures Working Group from the 1980s, for the identification and countering of adversarial disinformation and propaganda. The coordination of the disinformation efforts by manipulative countries like Russia is pervasive and exhaustive. Thus, coordination of information operations and counter-propaganda efforts is likewise important between the U.S. Government, the Army, and the rest of the branches of the military. The passing of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, was an important first step in the continuing fight to counter foreign information and influence operations that seek to manipulate the U.S. and its decision-makers and undermine its national interests.

For more information on how adversaries will seek to shape perception in the Future Operational Environment, read the following related blog posts:

Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda

Virtual War – A Revolution in Human Affairs (Part I)

Personalized Warfare

Taylor Galanides is a Junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying Psychology. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the G-2 Futures team.

57. Our Arctic—The World’s Pink Flamingo and Black Swan Bird Sanctuary

[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 has previously 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 are familiar 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.

Source: CNBC

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.[1]

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.

Source: The Drive

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].’”[2]

Source: Foreign Policy Magazine
Source: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

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.[3]

Source: NY Daily News, Vadim Saviskii/Sputnik via AP)

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.

Source: Digital Trends

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 Command with 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.[4]  From this strategic position, they maintain multiple black swan options, for which the West will have little to challenge.

Source: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers

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.[5] This position is 86km from Alaska and the installation uses similar reactor technology to that of Russian icebreaker ships.[6] 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.

Source: How We Get to Next / airbase.ru

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.

Source: Gamezone

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 NorwayUS 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.

Source: Wall Street Pit

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.

Source: NOAA

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.

Source: NOAA
Source: Scenic Tours

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.

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[1] CNN Money, July 19, 2012, http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/17/news/economy/Arctic-oil/index.htm

[2] The Washington Post, Aug 29, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/29/putin-thinks-of-the-past-when-talking-ukraine-but-the-arctic-is-where-he-sees-russias-future/

[3] Minutes of Arctic Circle Conference, Reykjavik Iceland, Oct 2014.

[4] The Guardian, 21 October 2014, http://theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/21/russia-arctic-military-oil-gas-putin

[5] NPR, April 30, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/30/607088530/russia-launches-floating-nuclear-power-plant-its-headed-to-the-arctic

[6] Live Science, May 21, 2018, https://www.livescience.com/62625-russia-floating-nuclear-power-arctic-alaska.html

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.

24. Britain, Budgets, and the Future of Warfare

(Editor’s Note: The Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our first international guest blog post from Mr. Hal Wilson of Great Britain. His post provides us with an international perspective of how speed, scope, and convergence — addressed earlier this month in blog post 22 — will affect our allies’ efforts to modernize military capabilities. It also emphasizes the necessity of bi- and multi-lateral cooperation in developing future military technologies and the importance of closely integrated coalitions in preparing for a robust common defense.)

Ministry of Defence Building, “Britain’s Pentagon”
The outlook for Britain’s armed forces is, at best, uncertain. What is more certain is the growing inadequacy of its inventory: the legacy of recurring governments in Westminster “pathologically incapable of taking and sticking to credible long-term plans on defence.” But while there is some scope for optimism on funding, this near-term review highlights a key question: how will Britain fund its forces through to 2035 and beyond?

HMS Queen Elizabeth (shown here with its objective complement of F-35B aircraft) and its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, are the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy.
Another key concern is the suggestion that the costs of hegemony “at the mid-point of the century will be too great for any single power.” 1 What would such a cost spiral mean for the Britain of 2035, even though its aims are more modest than hegemony?


British armored unit joining NATO battle group in Estonia.
Such questions are pivotal not least because British personnel will face growing threats as well as growing costs. Indeed, threats blending both traditional and newer forms of warfare are already part of today’s military landscape.


In the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, for example, Russian cyber operations coordinated attacks against Ukrainian artillery, in just one case of a “really effective integration of all these [cyber] capabilities with kinetic measures.2 To translate into plain English, Russia has successfully combined traditional weapons of land warfare (such as artillery) with the new potential of cyber warfare. Such capabilities will only advance and proliferate in coming decades: sooner or later, they will surely be used in anger against British forces.


Britain’s answer to both the questions of future costs and threats should be simple. Specifically, Britain and its allies should deploy seed financing for future key capabilities. Small investment projects across industry, focusing on disruptive technologies, could deliver outsized dividends – not least assuring the resilience of key supply chains at home, as well as of future forces when deployed.

Fortunately, a recent Ministry of Defence policy paper suggests an “increased interest in the resilience and competitiveness of supply chains…” Similarly, British seed-corn investments are already yielding some notable successes: in early 2017, a £30m contract was passed to the Dragonfire Consortium – a group of leading British aerospace firms

The Dragonfire Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator is set to be built by MBDA UK Ltd and a prototype delivered by 2019.
to begin work on developing a sovereign UK laser weaponry capability, and a full-scale demonstration is now due in 2019. If successful, 2035’s British warships could be shooting down hostile anti-ship missiles at a fraction of the cost of current defences.

That said, a devil’s advocate will rightly argue such efforts alone are not enough.

Instead, Britain will have to coordinate with its allies for future cost synergies. Yet the litany of failures in recent pan-European defence acquisition highlights ample risks of dealing with multiple cost-shy European partners.

Brimstone is an advanced, rocket-propelled, radar-guided weapon that can seek and destroy armored targets at long range.
More direct bilateral efforts offer the future template here: at an annual cost of EUR13m (£11.5m), Britain supports the Materials & Components for Missiles Innovation & Technology Partnership with France, sustaining key weapons in the UK arsenal such as the highly successful Brimstone 2 missile.




More ambitiously, British industry is supporting the future Turkish stealth fighter programme, intended for service through to the 2070s.
Turkey is designing and developing the TF-X, with support from BAE Systems, to replace the Turkish Air Force’s aging F-16s.
So not only could the Britain of 2035 continue to hold arguably the most advanced aerospace sector outside the US in Low Observable (LO) technology — building on the fact it already produces 15% of every F-35 made 3 – but also leverage fresh design experience for future cost-downs elsewhere.

Britain stands to gain plenty by these steps – and much to lose by ignoring them. But the question remains: will today’s leadership have the foresight to consider tomorrow?

For more on the challenges facing the British Defense Establishment, please see Defense Cuts Leave Britain Vulnerable to Russia, Army Chief Says.

Hal Wilson has been published by the Small Wars Journal, and has written finalist entries for fiction contests with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, as well as the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project. Hal graduated with first-class honours in War Studies and History from King’s College, London, and is studying an MA on the Great War. He lives in Britain, and works in the aerospace industry.

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1 The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, p.14

2 Keir Giles, Handbook of Russian Information Warfare, (Rome: NATO Defence College, 2016), p.68

3 Industry for Defence and a Prosperous Britain: Refreshing Defence Industrial Policy, (2017) p.29