212. A Scenario for a Hypothetical Private Nuclear Program

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s guest blog post by Mr. Alexander Temerev addressing the possible democratization and proliferation of nuclear weapons expertise, currently residing with only a handful of nation states (i.e., the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea).  We vetted this post with nuclear subject matter experts within our community of action (who wish to remain anonymous) – the following initial comments are their collective input regarding Mr. Temerev’s guest post that follows – read on!]

What is proposed below “is not beyond the realm of possibility and, with enough wise investment, rather feasible — there are no secrets left in achievement of the basic nuclear physics package, and there haven’t been for a while (the key being obtaining the necessary fissile material). A side note — I was a friend and school-mate of the apocryphal Princeton University Physics Undergraduate Student in 1978 who, as part of his final degree project, developed a workable nuclear weapons design with nothing more than the pre-Internet Science Library as a resource. They still talk about the visit from the FBI on campus, and the fact that his professor only begrudgingly gave him an A- as a final grade.”

“Considering the advances since then, it’s likewise no surprise that such a thing could be accomplished today with even greater ease, there remaining the issue of obtaining sufficient fissile material to warrant the effort. Of course, even failure in this regard, done artfully, could still accomplish a sub-critical reaction [aka “a fizzle“– an explosion caused by the two sub-critical masses of the bomb being brought together too slowly] resulting in a militarily (and psychologically) effective detonation. So, as my colleague [name redacted] (far more qualified in matters scientific and technical) points out, with the advances since the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, the opportunity to obtain the ‘Secret Sauce’ necessary to achieve criticality have likewise advanced exponentially. He has opined that it is quite feasible for a malevolent private actor, armed with currently foreseeable emerging capabilities, to seek and achieve nuclear capabilities utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based data and communications analysis modalities. Balancing against this emerging capability are the competing and ever-growing capabilities of the state to surveil and discover such endeavors and frustrate them before (hopefully) reaching fruition. Of course, you’ll understand if I only allude to them in this forum and say nothing further in that regard.”

“Nonetheless, for both good guy and bad, given enough speed and capacity, these will serve as the lever to move the incorporeal data world. This realization will move the quiet but deadly arms race in the shadows, that being the potential confluence of matured Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Quantum technologies at a point in the foreseeable future that changes everything. Such a confluence would enable the potential achievement of these, and even worse, WMD developmental approaches through big-data analysis currently considered infeasible. Conversely, state surveillance modes of the Internet would likewise profit through identifying clusters of seemingly unrelated data searches that could be analyzed to identify and frustrate malevolent actors”.

“It is quite conceivable, in this context, that the future of the Internet for our purposes revolves around one continuous game of cat and mouse as identities are sought and hidden between white hat and black hat players. A real, but unanticipated, version of Ray Kurtzweil’s singularity that nonetheless poses fundamental challenges for a free society. In the operational environment to 2050, cyber-operations will no longer be a new domain but one to be taken into account as a matter of course.”

“Once again, all credit goes to [my colleague] for providing the technical insight into this challenge, my contribution being entirely eccentric in nature. I believe the blog is worth publishing, provided that it serves as an opening for furthering discussion of the potential long-range implications such developments would pose.”

A Scenario for a Hypothetical Private Nuclear Program

Let’s assume there is a non-government actor willing to acquire nuclear weapons for some reason. Assume that the group has unlimited financing (or some significant amount of free and untraced money available — e.g., $1 billion in cryptocurrencies). What would be the best way for them to proceed, and what would be the most vulnerable points where they could be stopped?

Stealing existing nuclear weapons would probably not be an option (or will be of limited utility — see below). Modern nuclear devices are all equipped with PALs (permissive action links), rendering them unusable without unlocking codes (the key idea of PAL is removing some small amount of explosives from the implosion shell, different for each detonator – and compensating by adjusting precise timings when each detonator goes off; these timings are different for each device and can be released only by central command authority). Without knowing the entire set of PAL timings and the entire encrypted protocol between PAL controller and detonators, achieving a bona fide nuclear explosion is technically impossible. Some countries like Pakistan and perhaps North Korea do not possess sophisticated PAL systems for their devices; to compensate, their nuclear cores are tightly guarded by the military.

Fat Man Casing, Trinity Site / Source: Flickr by Ed Siasoco via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Therefore, even if weapon-grade nuclear materials are available (which is of course another near impossible problem), designing the nuclear explosive device de novo is still unavoidable. The principal design of nuclear weapons is not secret, and achieving the nuclear explosion is a clearly defined problem (in terms of timing, compression and explosion hydrodynamics) that can be solved by a small group of competent physicists. Indeed, the “Nth Country Experiment” by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1964 has shown that three bright physicists (without previous nuclear expertise) can deliver a plausible design for a working nuclear weapon (they were building an analogue of the Fat Man device, which is bulky and nearly undeliverable; today, more compact options should be pursued instead). A heavily redacted report is available online.

With modern computers, open information about nuclear weapons, some OSINT, and determination, the same feat could probably be accomplished in less than a year. (Some open source software and libraries that can be useful in such an endeavor, e.g., Castro for explosion hydrodynamics; there is also a guidebook for anyone with a deep interest in the field.) Many ideas for the critical part of the device – the neutron initiator — are also discussed in the open literature (here I will refrain from mentioning exact books and papers, but the information is still publicly available). Again, the task is clearly formulated — injecting the neutrons at the very precise moment during the explosion — this is only an engineering problem.

Assembling the device itself is no easy task; it requires precision engineering and the casting of high explosives, which cannot be done without significant pre-existing expertise. However, the brightest mechanical engineers and even explosives technicians can be legally hired on the open market, if not for the direct participation in the project, then for training and knowledge transfer for the project team. Private organizations have achieved even more complicated engineering feats (e.g., rocket engines at SpaceX), so this part looks feasible.

All current nuclear devices require periodic maintenance and re-casting of their plutonium pits with additional weapon-grade plutonium added every few years; otherwise their neutronic profile will gradually become too unfavorable to achieve a full nuclear explosion. If the group has acquired nuclear materials by stealing them, they will have to make use of them during the following few years. Nuclear programs of sovereign states, of course, have the entire weapon-grade plutonium production pipelines at their disposal, so the fresh plutonium is always available. This will be a much harder feat to achieve for a non-state actor. Ironically, the plutonium could be provided by disassembling PAL-equipped stolen or captured nuclear devices, which are less heavily guarded. While it is true that PAL will prevent their full scale explosion, they still can be the priceless source of weapon-grade plutonium.

Source: Nick Youngson via Picpedia, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Conclusion: Safeguarding weapon-grade nuclear materials is the highest priority, as the design details of nuclear devices are hardly a secret these days, and can be readily reproduced by many competent and determined organizations. Emergence of nuclear production pipelines (isotope separation, SILEX [Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation], plutonium separation, plutonium-producing reactors) should be monitored everywhere. Even PAL-equipped weapons need to be closely guarded, as they can be the sources of these materials. Groups and non-state actors willing to acquire nuclear capabilities without building the full production pipeline need to act fast and have the design and device prototypes (sans cores) ready before acquiring nuclear materials, as their utility is diminishing every year since acquisition.

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REMINDER: Don’t forget to join us tomorrow on-line at the Mad Scientist GEN Z and the OE Livestream Event! This event is open to all, on any device, anywhere (but is best streamed via a commercial, non-DoD network) — plan on joining us at 1330 EST on 21 February 2020 at: www.tradoc.army.mil/watch and engage in the discussion by submitting your questions and comments via this site’s moderated interactive chat room. You can also follow along on Twitter @ArmyMadSci. For more information, click here!

ALSO:  Help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the Operational Environment (OE) — join the 662 others representing 46 nations who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

FINALLY:  Don’t forget to enter The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest and share your unique insights on the future of warfighting — click here to learn more (submission deadline is 1 March 2020!)

Mr. Alexander Temerev is a consultant in complex systems dynamics and network analysis; he is CEO and founder of Reactivity – a boutique consulting company in Geneva, Switzerland.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

211. GEN Z and the OE Livestream Event

Join the U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative on 21 February 2020 as we collaborate with The College of William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) Program to broaden our aperture on the Operational Environment (OE). Starting at 1330 EST, we will livestream two moderated panels where PIPS Research Fellows discuss the ramifications of their respective research topics on the OE and the changing character of warfare.

The PIPS Program, co-directed by Drs. Amy Oakes and Dennis Smith, is designed to bridge the gap between the academic and foreign policy communities in the area of undergraduate education. PIPS Research Fellows identify emerging international security issues and develop original policy recommendations to address those challenges.

This livestream event is open to all, on any device, anywhere (but is best streamed via a commercial, non-DoD network) — join us at: www.tradoc.army.mil/watch on 21 February 2020 and engage in the discussion by submitting your questions and comments via this site’s moderated interactive chat room. Or watch it here…

You can also follow along on Twitter @ArmyMadSci. For more information, click here!

Event Agenda:

1330-1340 Welcome and Opening Remarks: Thomas Greco, G-2, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

1340-1425 Panel 1: Development and Security Implications of Cutting-Edge Technologies

Ian Sullivan, Panel Moderator and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, ISR and Futures, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

Clara Waterman, Class of 2020, Major: Government; Minor: Arabic
Research Thesis: The DoD’s current approaches to data collecting, cleaning, and sharing is impeding its ability to achieve its artificial intelligence goals.

Caroline Duckworth, Class of 2021, Major: International Relations; Minor: Data Science
Research Thesis: As biotechnology innovation accelerates globally, asymmetric ethical regulations between countries could put the United States at a disadvantage.

Megan Hogan, Class of 2021, Majors: International Relations, Economics
Research Thesis: The underlying cost-benefit analysis associated with the U.S. developing and maintaining Deepfake technologies as a capability to deter, deny, or defeat any adversary that seeks to harm U.S. national interests.

1425-1440 Break

1440-1525 Panel 2: Geopolitical Strategy of Authoritarian Regimes and Near-Peer Competitors Utilizing Technology

Marie Murphy, Moderator, Class of 2020, Major: International Relations; Minor: Arabic, Proclaimed Mad Scientist and Academic Outreach Coordinator

Katherine Armstrong, Class of 2020, Majors: International Relations, Sociology
Research Thesis: Regimes are increasingly reaching over their borders to track, hack, blackmail, and assassinate emigrants using a technologically based and facilitated repertoire. Authoritarian states are beginning to use these capabilities, developed for use against co-ethnics and co-nationals, to target extraterritorial actors who are more central to U.S. security.

Lincoln Zaleski, Class of 2020, Major: International Relations; Minor: Arabic
Research Thesis: Technology-enabled disinformation campaigns threaten liberal democratic society by targeting exploitable population-based vulnerabilities inherent to the democratic system.

Michaela Flemming, Class of 2020, Majors: Government, Economics
Research Thesis: China’s strategic export of its surveillance state will improve Chinese intelligence, creating stronger but more dependent allies for China, while contributing to democratic backsliding worldwide.

1525-1530 Concluding Remarks: Lee Grubbs, Director, Mad Scientist Initiative and ACE Chief, G-2, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

The purpose of this event is to continue to explore the technological and geopolitical trends that disrupt the OE and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the OE — join the 650 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

Don’t forget to enter The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest and share your unique insights on the future of warfighting — click here to learn more (submission deadline is 1 March 2020!)

210. “The Convergence” – Episode 3: Modernizing the Future Army with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, Director of the Futures and Concepts Center, Army Futures Command. Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

In the latest episode of “The Convergence,” we talk with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, currently the Director of the Futures and Concepts Center, U.S. Army Futures Command, at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Lt. Gen. Wesley has served in numerous operational units throughout his 34 year career, as well as on the National Security Council at the White House as the Director for Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy, and on the Army Staff as Deputy Director for Program Analysis and Evaluation (PAE) for the Army G8. Prior to taking over the Futures and Concepts Center, Lt. Gen. Wesley was the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. In this episode of “The Convergence,” we discuss multi-domain operations, modernization, and the future Army with Lt. Gen. Wesley.

Lt. Gen. Wesley’s military education includes the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Armor Officer Advanced Course, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the National War College, earning a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Lt. Gen. Wesley also holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Troy State University.

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests… our next episode will feature Michael Kanaan, Director of Operations, U.S. Air Force / MIT Artificial Intelligence.

The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the operational environment — join the 642 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

Don’t forget to enter The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest and share your unique insights on the future of warfighting — click here to learn more (submission deadline is 1 March 2020!)

209. Takeaways from the Mad Scientist Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist would like to thank everyone who participated in the Mad Scientist Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference on 29 January 2020 — from our co-hosts at the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) International Army Programs Directorate (IAPD); to TRADOC’s Foreign Liaison Officer community and the U.S. Army liaison officers overseas who helped us identify and coordinate with international subject matter experts; to each of the briefers who presented their respective nations’ insightful perspectives on a diverse array of topics affecting the Operational Environment (OE); to our audience who attended virtually via the TRADOC Watch page’s interactive chat room and asked penetrating questions that significantly helped broaden our aperture on the OE and the changing character of warfare. Today’s post documents the key takeaways Mad Scientist captured from the conference — Enjoy!]

Our first Mad Scientist Virtual Conference focused on global perspectives of the operational environment. While our presenters represented only a small part of the globe, these countries do account for a significant percentage of global defense expenditures and have international defense related engagements and responsibilities.

As expected, we heard many similarities between the Operational Environment described by the United States Army and the presenters from France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Canada, and our NATO Panel. We also identified some interesting nuances in how potential challenges and threats are described and which ones are emphasized.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference — if they pique your interest, check out this conference’s Mad Scientist APAN (All Partners Access Network) page for the associated slides and video presentations (to be posted)!

1) Interoperability is key but increasingly difficult with uneven modernization and different policies for emerging technologies. Each country emphasized the future of coalition operations, but they also described interoperability in different ways. This ranged from the classic definition of interoperability of radios, firing data, and common operating pictures to tactical integration with a country’s units inside another country’s formations. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) add another level of difficulty to interoperability. Each country will develop their own AI policies outlining legal levels of autonomy and coding standards for identifying biases and ensuring transparency. How these different AI capabilities will interact in fast pace machine-to-machine collaboration is not clear.

2) Asymmetry of Ethics is a Pink Flamingo (known challenge without program to address it) Each country mentioned the developing and differing standards for AI. It was commonly understood that competition and conflict is speeding up but there is no clear consensus on what the tactical and operational advantages could be for an adversary that chooses to integrate AI in a more permissive manner than accepted by western armed forces. Also, lagging policy, regulations, and laws in the West create a possibility for overmatch by these potential adversaries. This is an area where experimentation with differing AI policies and approaches might identify the risks of strategic and technological surprise.

3) Weaponization of information to attack societies and their armed forces is the #1 described threat and it wasn’t even close. This is understandable as our European allies are closer geographically to the persistent Russian competition activities. The emphasis of this threat differs from the United States Army where we have focused and experimented around the idea of a return to high intensity conflict with a near–peer competitor. While each presenter discussed ongoing organizational, doctrinal, and capability changes to address the information environment, it was widely understood that this is a military problem without a military solution.

4) Climate change and mass migration are the conflict drivers of most concern. Human migration as a consequence of climate change will create new security concerns for impacted countries as well as neighboring regions and, due to European geography, seemed to be of greater concern than our focus on great power conflict.

5) Virtual training is increasingly important for Armies with decreasing defense budgets and the demand to improve training proficiencies. As realistic synthetic training becomes a reality, we can more readily transition troops trained for a host of contingencies in the virtual world to the rigors of diverse operations in the physical world. This Synthetic Training Environment may also facilitate Joint and inter-coalition training of geographically-disparate assets and formations, with the concomitant issue of interoperability to conduct combined training events in the future.

6) As society evolves and changes, so does warfare. Our presenters described several pressures on their societies that are not part of or are only tangentially mentioned in the U.S. Army’s operational narrative:

    • Declining demographics in western nations pose potential recruitment and reconstitution challenges.
    • Nationalism is rising and could result in an erosion of rules-based international order. If these systems break down, smaller nations will be challenged.
    • Authoritarian systems are rising and exporting technology to support other authoritarian governments. At the same time democratic systems are weakening.
    • Aging populations and slow growth economies are seeing a global shift of economic strength from the West to the East.

In the future, we will host another global perspectives conference that will include presenters from Asia and South America to further broaden our perspectives and identify potential blind spots from these regions. For now, we encourage the international community to continue to share their ideas by taking our Global Perspectives Survey. Preliminary findings were presented at this conference. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will publish the results of this survey in a series of assessments, starting in March…

… don’t forget to enter The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest and share your unique insights on the future of warfighting — click here to learn more (deadline for submission is 1 March 2020!)…

… and a quick reminder that the U.S. Army Mission Command Battle Lab Futures Branch is also conducting its Command Post of the Future – 2040-2050 Writing Contest. Click here to learn more about suggested contest writing prompts, rules, and how to submit your entry — deadline for their writing contest is also 1 March 2020!

208. Guns of August 2035 – “Ferdinand Visits the Kashmir”: A Future Strategic and Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post by guest bloggers Mike Filanowski, Ruth Foutz, Sean McEwen, Mike Yocum, and Matt Ziemann (collectively, Team RSM3 from the Army Futures Study Group Cohort VI in 2019), effectively uses storytelling to illustrate a conflict scenario in a Future Strategic and Operational Environment. Read on to learn how Team RSM3 developed this vignette, and the events that transpire to morph a hypothetical limited Asian conflict into one that ultimately embroils the U.S. Army in Large Scale Combat Operations with a near-peer competitor!]

Prologue

Drone swarm! Let’s go!” The sudden eerie whoop of the drone attack sirens urged LTC Mark Barnowski and his driver, SPC Pat Deeman, to hasten throwing their gear into their truck. The Indian Army units Barnowski was advising had fought well, but the Chinese with their vastly superior equipment had devastated them. Barnowski doubted his old infantry battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division would have fared much better against the Chinese drones, missiles, and exo-skeletoned soldiers helping Pakistan humiliate India.

Barnowski’s boss, BG McNewe, had recalled him to the American advisory base further south (to be evacuated?). Fortunately 20th Century landlines still worked — pretty much no other commo did. Barnowski said his goodbyes to his counterparts and headed south post-haste.

As Barnowski and Deeman sped out of the outpost, they were stunned anew by timeless scenes of military collapse. Piles of dead bodies mixed with rows of wounded soldiers waiting for help. As the sirens sounded, soldiers began to panic as officers struggled for control; all this blended with the indecipherable din and stench of war. Lines of soldiers intermixed with the occasional truck straggled out of the outpost, away from the advancing Chinese, silently, in utter defeat, staring thousands of yards ahead at nothing.

.50 Cal M2 MG firing tracer / Source, FUNKER530 via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzlvF–6bPI

As the duo exited the wire, the unmistakable roar of American-supplied M2 .50 caliber machine guns took center stage as the Indians attempted resistance. Soldiers cheered as tracers arced not only toward the drones but also Chinese soldiers cresting the ridges outside the wire. The Chinese moved implausibly fast, but the angles of their exo-skeletons exposed them against the softer curves of the Himalayan foothills in Kashmir.

The Chinese sounded morale-boosting bugles and started firing. In response, the machine guns tore into them, sending up brown-dirt geysers tinted occasionally by red spray as armor piercing bullets ripped through exoskeletons into the soft humans beneath.

Barnowski and Deeman couldn’t resist a pause to enjoy the guns’ handiwork. Somewhat cheered, they exchanged grins. “It might be 2035, but some things never change.” “Yessss, ssssir!” “Now let’s get the #!@! out of here!” “Yes, sir!” Deeman accelerated the truck to join the flow heading south.

Introduction

How did Barnowski get there? In the 2030’s, America could battle a technologically and numerically superior adversary (China) per the U.S. Army’s current operating concept (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028). Army officers and soldiers from the centennial generation could face another Asian land war as future leaders; this time against a more capable foe.

But what will be the conflict’s nature? Where and how does our next war start? The U.S. Army’s Futures Studies Group (AFSG) spent over six months answering these questions using cutting-edge strategy analysis techniques.

This post highlights some of that analysis in the form of a future strategic and operational environment (FSOE). The FSOE found the most likely flashpoint for war with China involves Islamist militant havens in Pakistan. The Army could face combat there against numerically superior opponents with an asymmetric advantage in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Global power convergence among China, India, and America creates the conflict framework, in a world where China and America are superpowers, albeit in decline. America and China’s technologically advanced militaries are progressively drawn into a conflict with questionable strategic ends that strenuously tests the boundaries of “limited” war.

Students of history will recognize in this analysis past parallels, futurists will identify the collision of dominant trends, and technologists will see today’s emerging technologies realized in military application. These predictions rest on credible, cutting edge analytical techniques used by the best in the field, as the rest of this article describes.

Background

The AFSG developing this FSOE combined qualitative and quantitative analysis to reach its conclusions, combining this information with quantitative trend analysis models. Most notable of these was the International Futures (IFs) model from the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver. It uses hundreds of socio-economic-military variables to produce forecasts for 186 countries through 2100. The team assessed multiple IFs variables that propel significant change (for example, demography and energy) to identify global factors correlated to relevant change, such as increases in military or political power (“drivers”). The team then coupled drivers with qualitative information to identify actors with a stake in areas of interest. This analysis further enabled identification of likely future real world events (“signposts”) catalyzing driver change, thus generating the predicted future.

This analysis revealed the overarching importance of relative economic success between China and America in determining important global secondary factors, such as political stability and military growth. Using this observation, the team narrowed its analysis to four alternative futures: strong Chinese/ strong American economy, strong Chinese /weak American economy, weak Chinese /strong American economy, and weak Chinese/weak American economy.

In scenario four, the team noticed a convergence of global power among China, America, and India that hinted at conflict in an area (the Indo-Chinese border) rife with political tensions even today. However, what leads to declining American and Chinese economies in 2035?

Future Strategic Environment

America and China resolve their trade disputes before the end of President Trump’s first term, creating a mutually beneficial economic boom. Historically low energy prices follow Maduro’s overthrow in Venezuela, adding impetus to the boom.

The economic trends continue into President Trump’s second term, during which he negotiates for OPEC to include Russia and Kazakhstan (OPEC+) in an attempt to stabilize those countries. Meanwhile, China reaps huge monetary and military technological returns on robotics investments, mitigating its transition into a post-mature demography, an erstwhile drag on their economy. Technology investments are the only feasible economic escape from their demographic destiny.

Iran is left behind by global economic growth. Continued sanctions combined with the resurgence of a newly democratic Venezuela (inspiring oppressed Iranians) spark a civil war in Iran in 2025. President Pence, elected to continue President Trump’s economic policies, joins Xi Jinping in the UN Security Council to create a French-led UN task force to restore Iranian governance.

Disappointed by this acquiescence to the West, and following Xi’s “accidental” death, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elects a hard-liner nationalist in 2028 to renegotiate terms for foreign investment and influence in a free Iran. As Iran becomes more democratic, foreign investment floods the country to exploit the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and meet skyrocketing global energy demands. This renews Chinese and American economic competition.

Although an aged Vladimir Putin is “retired” from public life at this point, he is still Russia’s power broker. Joining OPEC+ was step one in a long play to disintegrate OPEC and establish Russian oil market dominance. America’s decision to curb shale and green-energy investments has only strengthened world dependence on OPEC oil.

Sensing the opportunity in Iran to drive a wedge between the US and China, Russian global gray zone warfare intercedes to disintegrate OPEC+ during the 2029-2033 domestically-focused US presidential term. Attempting to survive the fallout of social security default and renewed anger on U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the U.S. Congress passes “NOPEC” legislation. OPEC+ is thus rendered ineffectual if not outright disbanded.

The oil market becomes hyper-volatile without the predictability of OPEC+ market strategies. America turns inward to jumpstart shale production but suffers delays due to the limited availability of an experienced workforce.

China’s Eurasian land bridge through Kazakhstan remains strongly subject to Russian influence and China shifts focus to transporting oil through the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Renewed competition and missed gross domestic product projections between China and America ushers in renewed tariffs and competition for expensive oil.

China also must deal with internal discord. Although the CCP has retained control of the country, the Chinese middle class, temporarily placated by the growth of robots, economic boom, and global peace, pressures the CCP anew to deliver the “China Dream” during a slowing economy.

Hong Kong Shatin anti-extradition bill protest / Source: Studio Incendo via Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Historically-high levels of ethnically Han dissent on the Chinese coast lead the Han to coordinate with inland ethnic groups to oppose the CCP due to its slowness on delivering the dream. A younger faction of the weakest-ever CCP seeks military action to drive nationalist party support. In early 2035, they succeed in replacing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leader with a nationalist hard-liner.

Meanwhile, India is able to engage in “realpolitik” with all the key global players and benefit from the advantages each offers. This, coupled with its younger demographic profile, excellent education system, and access to technology, allows it to converge into almost near-peer status with the two dominant powers.

Future Operational Environment

This strategic environment enables a 2035 operational environment possessing clear continuities and contrasts with the past. An emergent India, combined with a declining China and U.S., sets the stage for a conflict between America and China during an escalating war between India and Pakistan.

This conflict’s hallmark is the tendency of limited wars to escalate; a clear continuity with historical precedent. The primary contrast between history and the proposed operational environment is the incorporation of AI and robotic technology into conventional ground combat.

Reopening a 20th Century wound, an Islamic extremist terrorist attack in Kashmir in 2035 sparks conflict. The assassination of India’s Kashmir governor by Pakistan-based Islamic terrorists in the summer results in a massive military response. The Indian Army dismantles terrorist networks on Indian Territory in the Northwest.

Simultaneously, Indian Special Forces raid terrorist support zones across the international border into Pakistan’s portion of the Chenab River Valley. The Indian Army rapidly achieves its limited objectives and initiates a ceasefire, but the Pakistan government, sensing their poor negotiating position, escalates by involving their regional benefactor, China.

China has multiple reasons for involvement. A Pakistani alliance allows them to support a key regional partner and safeguard their economic investment in CPEC. A successful limited war with India would cement them as the regional hegemon. Finally, the Chinese have the “justification” to seize historically important territory, helping fulfill the Chinese Dream by 2050. China is thus compelled to intervene.

Chinese intrusion quickly escalates the conflict in unanticipated ways. China initiates a joint navy/air force strike, including cyber-attacks, to neutralize the Indian strategic nuclear deterrent. Chinese space forces disrupt Indian telecommunication, resulting in widespread confusion and panic in the Indian government.

In response, the Indian Prime Minister orders the mobilization of the northern army, but poor communication cripples this effort. The Chinese see the mobilization as an escalation and begin mobilizing the PLA along their southern border. Effective communication and a thoroughly professionalized military force allows the PLA to mobilize in days while the Indian Army struggles just to move. The Chinese justify their subsequent attack into Indian-controlled territory as pre-emption of India’s mobilization.

The Chinese offensive in August 2035 routs the Indian Army and demonstrates a major leap forward in their military technology. Chinese soldiers enjoy equipment augmented with AI and robotics advances gleaned from industry. PLA forces equipped with robotic exoskeletons move rapidly through previously denied mountainous terrain. Their newfound mobility allows the PLA to flank Indian defenses and destroy them with AI-controlled drones and missiles.

The Indian Army collapses and retreats south in the face of the Chinese “blitz”. The Chinese attack seizes the disputed border areas and shocks the Indian Army a la the German 1940 offensive. However, the stunning success of China’s technology leads to further escalation.

Shaheen Bagh protests. 15 Jan 2020 / Source: DTM via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The Indian people blame their government for the defeat and the Indian Army’s lack of preparedness due to their antiquated 20th century strategies and technologies. They subsequently threaten to replace India’s democratic government with a military dictatorship.

The Indian government reacts decisively to save the remaining Indian forces and demonstrate their resolve. India’s Prime Minister accepts a proposed plan to employ remaining tactical nuclear weapons on an isolated portion of the Chinese forces.

India then plays their trump card and delivers an ultimatum to the country with which it has built increasingly close military ties, America: enter the conflict or risk nuclear war. America again faces inexorable entry into yet another “limited conflict” in Asia that threatens to spin out of control.

Conclusion

Who knows if all this will occur as described? However, everything presented here is well grounded in known facts and credible forecasts.

Regardless, over the next 16 years it seems likely ground combat will remain the primary means with which warring entities will exert their will on each other. Furthermore, mobility, protection, and firepower will remain the foundations of ground combat. Technological advances will alter methods but technology can’t alter these fundamental concepts of ground combat success.

In all those regards, history will more than likely “rhyme with itself” in yet another conflict on China’s periphery. Finally, “limited” war will remain politically irresistible, but as warfighters have known immutably since at least Clausewitz’s time, they unleash relentless momentum toward “unlimited” war.

Epilogue

Barnowski reported immediately upon arriving at the American advisory base. He was barely in the general’s office before BG McNewe barked at him without looking up from his work. “Where in the hell have you been?” Barnowski contemplated relating the hell he had seen, but thought better of it.

Unpack your bags, you’re my new three.” “Sir?” “Are you deaf AND slow? I said unpack your bags, you’re my new three.” Still no response, so McNewe looked up. “I said unpack, you’re my new ops guy. The advisory team is now responsible for setting up a joint reception and staging area. The ready brigade arrives tomorrow.  Looks like we’re in it for the long haul.”

Barnowski turned to go but BG McNewe locked eyes with him. “Mark, we’ve got a lot to do….but I know you’re up to it…..let’s get after it!

What are your thoughts about competition and conflict in the operational environment?  Take a few minutes and share your insights by completing our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned for future blog posts at the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors….

Mike Filanowski is an Infantry Officer assigned to Headquarters Department of the Army G3. Ruth Foutz is an Army Public Health Center Safety and Occupational Health Manager assigned to Army Futures Command Headquarters. Sean McEwen is an Artillery Officer assigned to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Mike Yocum is a supervisory Operations Research/Systems Analyst assigned to the U.S. Army Manpower Analysis Agency, and Matt Ziemann is a physicist assigned to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Collectively, they are “Team RSM3”, one of the teams that completed a 6-month developmental assignment with Army Futures Study Group Cohort VI in 2019.

Disclaimer: The views and analysis expressed in this article are solely their own and do not represent those of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Government, or the Pardee Center for International Studies at the University of Denver.

207. China Issues New Plan to Address Aging Population

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post, excerpted from this month’s OE Watch, addresses China’s new plan to redress its most pressing socio-economic predicament — a declining population of working age citizens (the legacy of its national “One-Child Policy”) who must simultaneously care for an aging population while trying to stem a decline in real economic growth (down from a high of 14.3% in 2007 to a reported 6.1% last year). As previous guest bloggers Collin Meisel and Dr. Jonathan D. Moyer, from the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, have observed in On Hype and Hyperwar, how our near-peer adversary tackles this persistent, declining trend is just as relevant to future warfighters preparing for competition and conflict in the operational environment as is artificial intelligence, quantum computing, or any other potential game changing technology. How China resolves this issue will determine if it will surpass Russia as our most capable threat in the latter half of the Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035) — Read on!]

China Population Pyramid – 2018 / Source: The World Factbook, CIA, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html

China’s government is issuing a new plan to address population aging. While many countries’ population growth have begun to slow down, China’s aging is on track to be particularly dramatic. In 2016, over 230 million Chinese were over 60, and that number is expected to rise to 487 million (35% of the population) by 2055. As explained in the translated readout of the new Plan, the Chinese Communist Party and State Council view population aging as having a direct impact on every aspect of the Chinese economy and China’s “comprehensive national power.” The plan sets deadlines for developing a framework for dealing with population aging by 2022, instituting the policies by 2035, and having complete and mature policies in place by 2050.

Despite strong economic growth since the 1980s, China’s government and economy will likely have trouble when faced with slowing growth and rising healthcare and pension costs. China’s total debt ratio to GDP hit a record high in the summer of 2019, topping 300 percent for the first time, a consequence of lending that helped fuel its economic growth.

“Please for the sake of your country, use birth control” — Government sign found in Nanchang (Tangshan Village, De’an County, Jiujiang, Jiangxi) / Source: China One Child Policy, by Lori Scott via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

China loosened the One-Child Policy in January 2016, but the new two-child policy and financial incentives appear to have limited success. High costs of living, and pressure from educational and work cultures and other factors have disincentivized new parents from having multiple children, so the Chinese government will have to take steps to avoid further problems.

The Plan, therefore, lays out five areas of action: First, social security funds for retirees are to be consolidated and expanded. Second, promote more effective pre-natal screening and education to create a high-quality population. Third, create a high-quality system of services and products for the elderly, with an emphasis on better health care, including preventative care. Fourth, refocus scientific and technological development to address population-aging related issues. The fifth section notes that additional work is needed to ensure legal frameworks to protect the elderly, which have increasingly been the target of various scams and other crimes in China. As emphasized in the fourth directive, Chinese leaders understand that population aging will have a significant impact on the economy. While the service industry now makes up over 50 percent of the economy, many sectors will likely see shortfalls in workers, requiring prompt investment in automation and other smart technologies to increase productivity while reducing reliance on workers. Educating the workforce, and reforms to the mandatory retirement age could allow workers to defer retirement.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative / Source: Lommes via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Interestingly, the article ends with a note that China plans to use international cooperative agreements, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative to help address population aging. While this includes cooperation in scientific studies and sharing lessons on effective policies, it is possible that China may seek to encourage migration to help reduce the domestic burden of the elderly—something that appears to be happening informally already. End OE Watch Commentary (Peter Wood)

Population aging has far-reaching impacts on the entire economy, society, culture and even comprehensive national strength and international competitiveness.

Source: 中共中央 国务院印发《国家积极应对人口老龄化中长期规划 (CCP Central Committee and State Council issue Medium and
Long-Term Plan for Proactive Response to Population Aging), Xinhua, 21 November 2019.

To proactively address population aging, and in accordance with the Party’s 19th Congress Work Report, recently the CCP Central Committee and State Council issued the Medium- and Long-Term Plan for Proactive Response to Population Aging (hereafter, “Plan”). The Plan is a strategic, comprehensive and guiding document for China to actively respond to population aging by the middle of this century, with a long-term outlook to 2050, from the near to mid-term components covering 2022-2035.

Source: http://cc.nphoto.net/view/2008/12597.shtml via Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 China Mainland, by 芝崖

The Plan points out that population aging is an important trend of social development, the embodiment of the progress of human civilization, and the basic national conditions of our country for a longer period of time. Population aging has far-reaching impacts on the entire economy, society, culture and even comprehensive national strength and international competitiveness.

The Plan emphasizes that actively responding to population aging is a basic requirement for implementing the ‘people-centric development concept,’ a necessary guarantee for the realization of high-quality economic development, and an important measure to safeguard national security and social harmony and stability. In accordance with the requirements of high-quality economic development, we should adhere to the main line of supply-side structural reform, build a long-term institutional framework, formulate major policies that are effective, adhere to the basic principles of active response, joint construction, and sharing, moderate capacity, innovation and openness, and develop a response to population aging with Chinese characteristics.

Chinese characters “Chinese Dream” in South Lake Park, Panzhou, Guizhou, China / Source: Huangdan2060 via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

The Plan defines the strategic objectives of actively responding to population aging, namely, the continuous consolidation of the institutional basis for actively responding to the population aging, the increasing abundance of wealth reserves, the continuous improvement of human capital, more powerful support of science and technology, the rich quality of products and services, the livable and friendly social environment, and the continuous adaptation of economic and social development to the process of population aging. We will successfully build a socialist modern power and realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. By 2022, China’s institutional framework for actively dealing with population will be initially established, by 2035, the institutional arrangements for actively dealing with population aging will be more scientific and effective, and by the middle of this century, the institutional arrangements for dealing with population aging, which are compatible with a strong modern socialist nation, will be mature and complete.

The Plan deploys specific tasks to address population aging in five areas.

First, consolidate social security reserves that deal with population aging. By expanding the total amount, optimizing the structure and improving the efficiency, the economic development is adapted to population aging. By perfecting the national income distribution system, optimizing the distribution pattern between government, enterprises and residents, we will steadily increase the reserve of retirement benefits. A more equitable and sustainable social security system will continue to promote the well-being of all people.

Second, improve the effective supply of labor under the background of population aging. Improve the overall quality of China’s human resources by improving the quality of the new population, improving the quality of the new labor force, and building a lifelong learning system for learning. We will promote the utilization of human resources development, achieve higher quality and full employment, and ensure that the total amount and quality of human resources actively cope with population aging are sufficient and high quality.

Beijing Haidian Hospital / Source: AddisWang via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Third, create high-quality services and product-supply systems for the elderly. We will actively promote the construction of a healthy China and establish and improve a comprehensive and continuous system of health care for the elderly, including health education, preventive health care, disease diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation care, long-term care and peaceful care. We will improve the multi-level old-age service system based on homeownership, community-based, full institutional development, a natural combination of medical care, expand the supply of elderly-appropriate products and services in various channels and fields, and improve the quality of products and services.

Fourth, strengthen the capacity of scientific and technological innovation to cope with population aging. Deepen implementation of innovation-driven development strategies, with technological innovation as the first driving force and strategic support to actively respond to population aging, and comprehensively improve the smart technology-level of the national economic industrial system. Improve the level of science and technology and informationization of services for the elderly, increase the support of health science and technology for the elderly, and strengthen the research and development and application of assisted technologies for the elderly.

Fifth, build a social environment emphasizing elder-care, filial piety, and respect for the elderly. Strengthen the rule of law to deal with population aging and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the elderly. Build a family support system, build a friendly society for the elderly, and create a good atmosphere for the elderly, family, society and the government to participate together.

President Xi / Source: U.S. Department of State

The Plan calls for adhering to the Party’s leadership in actively responding to population aging, adhering to the overall responsibility of the principals of the Party and government, strengthening all levels of government’s ability to implement the plan, and further improving the organizational coordination mechanisms. We will promote international cooperation and policy dialogue and project interface with the Belt and Road countries to address population aging…

If you enjoyed this post, please see the OE Watch, January 2020 issue, by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), featuring this piece and other articles of interest…

… don’t forget to take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors….

206. “The Convergence” – An Army Mad Scientist Podcast

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with Dr. Margarita Konaev. Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

The second episode of “The Convergence” is out now! In this latest episode, we talk to Dr. Margarita Konaev, research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). Dr. Konaev has written extensively on such topics as Russian military innovation in emerging technologies, urban warfare in the Middle East, Russia, and Eurasia, as well as military applications of artificial intelligence.

Previously, Dr. Konaev was a Non-Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, a post-doctoral fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House. Before joining CSET, Dr. Konaev worked as a Senior Principal in the Marketing and Communication practice at Gartner. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University, and a B.A. from Brandeis University

Click here to listen to Dr. Konaev in our latest podcast episode of “The Convergence,”…

… stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests,…

…  and listen to our premier episode of “The Convergence” with Dr. Sean McFate.

  • The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the operational environment — join the 549 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference SurveyCheck out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

205. Mad Scientist Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference

In our on-going effort to broaden our aperture on the Operational Environment (OE), the U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative is co-hosting the Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference with the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) International Army Programs Directorate (IAPD) this Wednesday, 29 January 2020.

Recognizing that future engagements are likely be fought within a larger coalition of allied and partner nations, Mad Scientist appreciates the fact that we must understand diverse, international perspectives regarding the OE and the changing character of war.  This is fundamental to our continued ability to successfully conduct future military operations together and to preclude us from falling victim to our own confirmation biases, risking total surprise by something lurking just over the horizon, beyond our own line of sight!

Working with TRADOC’s Foreign Liaison Officer community, Mad Scientist has invited international subject matter experts to present their respective nations’ perspectives on a diverse array of topics affecting the OE — check out the conference agenda here!

Mark your calendar now and plan on joining us at the conference on-line via live-streaming audio and video at www.tradoc.army.mil/watch, starting at 0830 EST this Wednesday, 29 January 2020. You can participate in the conference by submitting your questions and comments via this site’s moderated interactive chat room and follow along on Twitter @ArmyMadSci

In conjunction with this conference, Mad Scientist is conducting an on-line survey querying your thoughts about the OE. If you are one of the hundreds of individuals that have already completed this survey — please accept our hearty “Thank you!”  If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet — no worries!  Please take about 5 minutes to complete this short survey here — we want to capture your unique thoughts and insights to help expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the OE!

Note that we will provide a Survey Quick Look of our preliminary findings at the outset of Wednesday’s conference, so don’t miss out!

… and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we will have gleaned from this conference and survey regarding what the international community is thinking about potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

 

204. Major Trends in Russian Military Unmanned Systems Development for the Next Decade

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory has previously described how unmanned systems, including advanced battlefield robotic systems acting both autonomously and as part of a wider trend in man-machine teaming, will account for a significant percentage of combatant forces in the future. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army awarded contracts for four Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-L) and four RCV-Medium (RCV-M) prototypes for testing in late 2021. In today’s post, returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Sam Bendett explores three trends associated with Russian battlefield autonomous systems — read on to learn how this near-peer competitor is embracing this game changing technology!]

The next 10 years will be significant for the Russian military, as it will begin to capitalize on the fruits of its previous decades of labor – the investment in new technologies, testing and evaluation of new weapons and systems, and conceptualizing the future of warfare and Russia’s place in the rapidly evolving art of war. There are three major Russian trends to observe in the next ten years. The first is the emphasis on Russia’s development and use of unmanned combat systems.

Orion UAV / Source: http://vitalykuzmin.net via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Russia’s Syria experience — and monitoring the U.S. use of unmanned systems for the past two decades — convinced the Ministry of Defense (MOD) that its forces need more expanded unmanned combat capabilities to augment existing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems that allowed Russian forces to observe the battlefield in real time. The next decade will see Russia complete the testing and evaluation of an entire lineup of combat drones that were in different stages of development over the previous decade. They include the heavy Ohotnik combat UAV (UCAV); mid-range Orion that was tested in Syria; Russian-made Forpost, a UAV that was originally assembled via Israeli license; mid-range Korsar; and long-range Altius that was billed as Russia’s equivalent to the American Global Hawk drone. All of these UAVs are several years away from potential acquisition by armed forces, with some going through factory tests, while others graduating to military testing and evaluation. These UAVs will have a range from over a hundred to possibly thousands of kilometers, depending on the model, and will be able to carry weapons for a diverse set of missions.

Uran-9 UGV / Source: http://vitalykuzmin.net via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

The Russian ground forces have also been testing a full lineup of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), from small to tank-sized vehicles armed with machine guns, cannon, grenade launchers, and sensors. Today, the MOD is conceptualizing how such UGVs could be used in a range of combat scenarios, including urban combat. And at sea, Russia is looking to field a lineup of Unmanned Underwater and Surface Vehicles (UUVs/USVs) that will give Russian vessels and maritime assets greater ISR range and capability, along with key ASW, de-mining, and even combat characteristics. In fact, there are potential plans to equip naval ships with air, surface, and subsurface unmanned systems, making each vessel in the Russian Navy a carrier and user of unmanned technology.

Russian Minister of Defense Shoigu briefs President Putin on the ERA technopark in 2018 / Source: en.kremlin.ru

Another significant trend is the gradual shift from manual control over unmanned systems to a fully autonomous mode, perhaps powered by a limited Artificial Intelligence (AI) program. The Russian MOD has already communicated its desire to have unmanned military systems operate autonomously in a fast-paced and fast-changing combat environment. While the actual technical solution for this autonomy may evade Russian designers in this decade due to its complexity, the MOD will nonetheless push its developers for near-term results that may perhaps grant such fighting vehicles limited semi-autonomous status. The MOD would also like this AI capability be able to direct swarms of air, land, and sea-based unmanned and autonomous systems. To get to the right solutions, the MOD has opened centers and institutions tasked with hi-tech weapons development and testing. This includes Russia’s own DARPA-like agency, the Advanced Research Foundation, where AI and swarming technologies are developed; and the ERA technopark that is managed by the MOD.

Orlan-10 UAV / Source: Mil.ru (Russian Federation MOD) via Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Finally, in the coming decade the Russian defense industry will start competing with leading military exporters in offering their own unmanned/autonomous military solutions to potential customers. While the Russian Federation may be the world’s second largest arms exporter, only a handful of states today have a current lock on the unmanned systems market – they include the United States, Israel, and China. There are hints that certain Russian UAV and UGV systems may be offered to potential customers in the Middle East and elsewhere. For example, there is a supposed interest from Brazil to domestically manufacture Russia’s Orlan-10 UAV – the workhorse of the Russian UAV fleet. Russia will be keen to capitalize on the growing security trend in unmanned systems acquisitions, as more and more militaries around the world are realizing the benefits of fielding unmanned systems in place of more expensive manned technologies.

These trends are in line with major developments in unmanned military technology across the world, as key players and customers are testing and evaluating new concepts and weapons. The Russian Federation has entered the 2020s with a modernized and experienced military that has been battle-tested in recent conflicts. The next decade will see Russia seeking to absorb the lessons learned from these conflicts, acquire new technology to fight the next war, and to potentially market their solutions to willing customers and allies.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Have an opinion on battlefield autonomous systems, man-unmanned teaming, and lethal autonomy? Please take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey; plan on livestreaming our Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment virtual conference next Wednesday, 29 January 2020, at www.tradoc.army.mil/watch starting at 0830 EST (note that this link is not live until 27 Jan 20); and stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey and conference regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

Samuel Bendett is a Researcher at CNA and a Fellow in Russia Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is also a proud Mad Scientist.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

203. “The Convergence” – An Army Mad Scientist Podcast

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the premier episode of “The Convergence” podcast.  Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

The Army Mad Scientist Initiative is launching our very own podcast — “The Convergence.” After several years of successfully partnering on podcasts with West Point’s Modern War Institute, we were inspired to found our own with a distinct focus on divergent viewpoints, a challenging of assumptions, and insights from thought leaders and subject matter experts.

This podcast is another component of our wider effort to reach out to diverse groups and really open the aperture of our analysis and understanding of the operational environment. The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to get a diversity of opinions on the character of warfare. Like the Mad Scientist Laboratory and our conferences, the podcast will feature disruptive thinkers and world-class experts to expand the thinking and analysis of our Community of Action.

Dr. Sean McFate / Source: HarperCollins Publishers, photo by Will O’Leary

Our first episode features Dr. Sean McFate, foreign policy expert, author, and novelist. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Additionally, he serves as an Advisor to Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.

Source: HarperCollins Publishers

Dr. McFate’s newest book is The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder, which was picked by The Economist as one of their best books of 2019. It has been called “The Freakonomics of modern warfare.” In our podcast, Dr. McFate provides his opinions on the changing character of warfare, the rise of private military contractors, information warfare, and the effects these trends will have on the operational environment.

Dr. McFate’s career began as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he graduated from elite training programs such as the Jungle Warfare School in Panama and was also a Jump Master. He then became a private military contractor where, among his many experiences, he dealt with warlords in the jungle, raised armies for U.S. interests, rode with armed groups in the Sahara, conducted strategic reconnaissance for the extractive industry, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and helped prevent an impending genocide in east Africa.

Dr. McFate holds a BA from Brown University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lives in Washington, DC. For more information, see www.seanmcfate.com.

Click here to listen to Dr. McFate in our premier podcast episode of “The Convergence,”…

… stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests,…

… listen to the following MWI podcasts with these Mad Scientists:

… and don’t forget to take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.