156. What is the Threshold? Assessing Kinetic Responses to Cyber-Attacks

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the latest post by proclaimed Mad Scientist and returning blogger Marie Murphy.  In the future operational environment, armed conflict in the traditional sense may be less prevalent, while competition may be the driving force behind national oppositions. On the cusp between these two lies crisis.  In the following post, Ms. Murphy examines the threshold for responding to cyber-attacks with kinetic strikes during crises — Enjoy! (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Cyber-attacks are quickly manifesting as a ubiquitous feature of modern warfare. However, the consequences of launching a cyber-attack are becoming more unpredictable and dependent on the individual case. Due to the rapid progression of cyber capabilities worldwide; codified laws, ethics, and norms have not yet caught up for every situation. Clarified by recent events between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the threshold for using kinetic weapons against a cyber-threat or in response to a cyber-attack appears to be when, not if, it is appropriate to cross domains. The U.S. Army needs leaders who are capable of operating in ill-defined spaces which necessitate a decision between engaging in physical violence in response to a cyber-attack and retaliating in the same domain.

There is a small window of opportunity, aptly called the “crisis phase,” to deescalate rising competition-based tensions before the outbreak of all-out conflict in the present cycle oscillating between the two. Whereas it is more easily determined what actions are appropriate in the competition and conflict phases, the crisis phase is a delicate balance of communication, interpretation, analysis, and assumption. Cyber-attacks in general are features of all three stages; however, cyber-attacks which are followed by kinetic responses may more commonly fall into the crisis phase because there’s the possibility for escalation to physical violence – or not, if the violence serves as an effective deterrent or the initial attacker does not have the capabilities to escalate in the physical domain.

Source: IDF

On May 5, 2019 Israel responded to an attempted cyber-attack from Hamas by destroying the building which housed Hamas’ cyber operations.i There was concern in the international community that this action had changed the rules of the game by permitting a state to respond with kinetic force to a cyber-attack which had no direct physical ramifications. The significance of Israel’s decision lies in that it is the first openly-acknowledged, immediate kinetic strike in response to a cyber-attack.ii The U.S. was the first state to use physical force in response to cyber activities in an airstrike targeting Junaid Hussain, an ISIS hacker, in 2015. However, this strike was planned months in advance, while the Israeli response to Hamas appeared to be in real-time.iii  Appearances can be deceiving. There are several factors that lie under the initial shock of Israel’s retaliation:

– First, the kinetic response was not launched in the middle of a cyber-attack; it was initiated after the attack had already been neutralized.iv

– Second, it is probable that the Israelis had already collected intelligence on this target. The speed of the attack does not necessarily reflect the speed of the Israeli’s ISR technology and analysis.

– Third, Israel’s response could be viewed as a psychological operation as well, reminding the Palestinians that one side possesses overwhelming capabilities and has the will to use them.v

– Finally, this attack must be viewed within the context of wider, ongoing conflict and the power dynamic already established between the parties.

This last point is crucial. While Israel’s response was an unprecedented, even historical step, it occurred within the ongoing continuum of Palestinian/Israeli kinetic strikes and counter-strikes in Gaza. It was not an isolated incident and is not necessarily indicative of future offensive cyber actions being met with physical violence on a global scale. In the multi-domain operations conducted by actors around the world, it is to be expected that domains will begin to be crossed in a single exchange. As the character of warfare changes to become more digitally integrated and more technologically advanced (leading to increased C4ISR capabilities) the context of actions will factor in more greatly to decision-making. This means that standard, “play-book” responses may not apply to every future situation. Dynamism in all phases of conflict, specifically the crisis phase, is critical to avoid misinterpretations with global repercussions.

Cyber-attacks occur on a daily basis worldwide, but very few bleed out into the physical domain or create outbreaks of new conflict.vi There is little evidence to support a claim that cyber-warfare operations alone are likely to escalate into physical violence; responses are usually proportional to and in the same domain as the provocation.vii However, when there is a background of preexisting physical violence, like between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the chance of cross-domain operations increases. Israel’s response did change the status quo to a certain degree as kinetic measures were rapidly deployed instead of a “hack-back” response.viii There is an argument for a slightly disproportional response as a deterrent and show of force, but knowing where to draw the line is also critical.ix Israel’s actions also helped to clarify an ethical quandary about the role of hackers. The debate as to whether they are combatants seems settled: hackers are a viable target if they attack a government or military.x This leads back to the original question about defining the threshold: when to use a kinetic response?

The complexity and relative anonymity of cyber-threats makes them harder to define, but generally speaking today, the rules and norms for acceptable uses of cyber capabilities are determined by the context of the conflict they’re deployed in, what the power dynamic between the relevant parties is, and what the alternative or escalatory options are for each party involved. Every state also interprets cyber norms differently in accordance to what best suits their strategic interests. The U.S. “prefers an effects- or consequences-based interpretation of “force” or “armed attack” with respect to cyber-attacks.” Essentially, the U.S. does not want to “draw boundaries too tight” to the point where its own rules begin to interfere with its own cyber operations.xi There have been international conversations about legislating cyberspace, especially for the purposes of defining warfare and conflict-inducing activities, but nothing has been codified or ratified.xii

Source:  U.S. Navy photo / MCS 3rd Class Erwin Miciano

The U.S. Department of Defense has long maintained that it reserves the right to use any response, including a kinetic response, against a cyber-attack. The target of the cyber-attack would most likely determine the response: an attack on the U.S. economy, government, or military could warrant both a digital and a kinetic response. The decision rests on the cost-benefit analysis of action versus inaction, if there was a strong likelihood that physical retaliation could spiral into the outbreak of violent conflict, and if the cyber-attack can be positively attributed.xiii

An example of near-war cyber tactics in which the crisis is closer to the competition phase is the EternalBlue attack on Baltimore City. Hackers used this malware to hold city computers and systems hostage.  Although no official U.S. Government statement has been made, multiple press outlets, including The New York Times, allege that the program was initially an NSA asset that the organization lost control of in 2017, having utilized it for five years. The vulnerability has since been patched by Microsoft, but hundreds of thousands of computers are allegedly still at risk. This attack hits America at its most susceptible sector– its “aging digital infrastructure.”xiv It also demonstrates how the majority of cyber-attacks are not responded to with physical violence, either because the attack cannot be positively attributed or the parties involved are unwilling or unable to escalate.

Cyber-attacks are becoming normalized facets of the competition, crisis, and conflict cycle. Whether or not using physical violence in response to a cyber-attack crosses legal or ethical lines depends on the context of the relationship between the attacker and the retaliator and prior conflict. With or without established norms and standardized accepted levels of response, cyber-attacks will continue to proliferate in all phases of military interactions. In a future of multi-domain operations, decisions about conflict escalation will likely depend on actions taken that are unseen by the public, so determining what is acceptable and what is escalatory is extremely difficult without understanding the full picture. But for now, there is a precedent for kinetic responses to be acceptable in the context of ongoing conflict. The threshold for using kinetic weapons does not appear to be if, but when, and just as importantly, when not to.

In the post above, Ms. Murphy shared her insights regarding one aspect of the future operational environment.  Mad Scientist wants to hear your thoughts on The Operational Environment: What Will Change and What Will Drive It – Today to 2035?  Learn more about our current crowdsourcing exercise here and get your submissions in NLT 1700 EDT, 15 July 2019!

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

– CAPT L. R. Bremseth‘s Emerging Technologies as Threats in Non-Kinetic Engagements

– COL Stefan Banach‘s Virtual War – A Revolution in Human Affairs (Parts 1 & 2)

– Ms. Murphy‘s previous posts:

Trouble in Paradise: The Technological Upheaval of Modern Political and Economic Systems

The Final Frontier: Directed Energy Applications in Outer Space

Star Wars 2050

Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy is a rising senior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is a regular contributor to the Mad Scientist Laboratory, interned at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative last summer, and has returned as a consultant this summer.  She was a Research Fellow for William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.


i Borghard, Erica D., Jacquelyn Schneider. “Israel Responded to a Hamas Cyberattack with an Airstrike. That’s Not Such a Big Deal.” Washington Post, May 9, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/09/israel-responded-hamas-cyberattack-with-an-airstrike-thats-big-deal/?utm_term=.f51d1c1c3da0

ii O’Flaherty, Kate. “Israel Retaliates to a Cyber-Attack With Immediate Physical Action in a World First.” Forbes, May 6, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2019/05/06/israel-retaliates-to-a-cyber-attack-with-immediate-physical-action-in-a-world-first/#627141e5f895

iii Newman, Lily Hay. “What Israel’s Strike on Hamas Hackers Means for Cyberwar.” Wired, May 6, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/israel-hamas-cyberattack-air-strike-cyberwar/

iv Gross, Elias. “The Future Is Here, and It Features Hackers Getting Bombed.” Foreign Policy, May 6, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/06/the-future-is-here-and-it-features-hackers-getting-bombed/

v O’Flaherty, Kate. “Israel Retaliates to a Cyber-Attack With Immediate Physical Action in a World First.” Forbes, May 6, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2019/05/06/israel-retaliates-to-a-cyber-attack-with-immediate-physical-action-in-a-world-first/#627141e5f895

vi Newman, Lily Hay. “What Israel’s Strike on Hamas Hackers Means for Cyberwar.” Wired, May 6, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/israel-hamas-cyberattack-air-strike-cyberwar/

vii Borghard, Erica D., Jacquelyn Schneider. “Israel Responded to a Hamas Cyberattack with an Airstrike. That’s Not Such a Big Deal.” Washington Post, May 9, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/09/israel-responded-hamas-cyberattack-with-an-airstrike-thats-big-deal/?utm_term=.f51d1c1c3da0

viii Cimpanu, Catalin. “In a First, Israel Responds to Hamas Hackers with an Airstrike.” ZDNet, May 5, 2019. https://www.zdnet.com/article/in-a-first-israel-responds-to-hamas-hackers-with-an-air-strike/

ix Baker, Stewart. “Four Principles to Guide the US Response to Cyberattacks.” Fifthdomain.com, February 7, 2019. https://www.fifthdomain.com/thought-leadership/2019/02/07/four-principles-to-guide-the-us-response-to-cyberattacks/

x Gross, Elias. “The Future Is Here, and It Features Hackers Getting Bombed.” Foreign Policy, May 6, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/06/the-future-is-here-and-it-features-hackers-getting-bombed/

xi Waxman, Matthew C. “Cyber-Attacks and the Use of Force: Back to the Future of Article 2(4).” Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 36, 2011. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1674565

xii O’Flaherty, Kate. “Israel Retaliates to a Cyber-Attack With Immediate Physical Action in a World First.” Forbes, May 6, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2019/05/06/israel-retaliates-to-a-cyber-attack-with-immediate-physical-action-in-a-world-first/#627141e5f895

xiii Alexander, David. “U.S. Reserves the Right to Meet Cyber Attack with Force.” Reuters, November 15, 2011. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-cybersecurity/u-s-reserves-right-to-meet-cyber-attack-with-force-idUSTRE7AF02Y20111116

xiv Perlroth, Nicole, Scott Shane. “In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc.” The New York Times, May 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/25/us/nsa-hacking-tool-baltimore.html

155. “The Queue”

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our latest edition of “The Queue” – a monthly post listing the most compelling articles, books, podcasts, videos, and/or movies that the U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative has come across during the previous month. In this anthology, we address how each of these works either informs or challenges our understanding of the Future Operational Environment (OE). We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!]

1. Boston Dynamics prepares to launch its first commercial robot: Spot,” by James Vincent, The Verge, 5 June 2019.

Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Road, by J.L. Bourne, Gallery Books, 2016, 241 pages.

Metalhead,” written by Charlie Brooker / directed by David Slade, Black Mirror, Netflix, Series 4, Episode 5.

Spot the Robot / Source: Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics, progenitors of a wide range of autonomous devices is now poised to retail its first robotic system — during an interview with The Verge at Amazon’s re:MARS Conference, Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert announced that “Spot the robot will go on sale later this year.” Spot is “a nimble robot that handles objects, climbs stairs, and will operate in offices, homes and outdoors.” Its “robot arm is a prime example of Boston Dynamics’ ambitious plans for Spot. Rather than selling the robot as a single-use tool, it’s positioning it as a “mobility platform” that can be customized by users to complete a range of tasks.” Given its inherent versatility, Mr. Raibert likens Spotto … the Android [phone] of Androids,” with the market developing a gamut of apps, facilitating new and innovative adaptations.

But what about the tactical applications of such a device in the Future OE? Two works of fiction explore this capability through storytelling, with disparate visions of the future….

In the his fourth installment of the Day By Day Armageddon series, J. L. Bourne imagines one man’s trek across a ravaged America in search of the cure to a zombie apocalypse, and effectively explores the versatility of a Spot-like quadrupedal robot. Stumbling across the remains of a special operator, his protagonist Kil discovers the tablet and wrist band controls for a Ground Assault Reconnaissance & Mobilization Robot (GARMR) that, across the passage of the novel, ultimately anthropomorphizes into his “dog” named Checkers. After mastering the device’s capabilities via a tutorial on the tablet, Kil programs and employs Checkers as a roving ISR platform, effectively empowering him as a one-man Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) “bubble.” Conducting both perimeter and long-range patrols, it tirelessly detects and alerts Kil to potential threats using its machine vision, audio, and video sensor feeds. Bourne’s versatile GARMR, however, is dependent on man-in-the-loop input and though capable of executing pre-programmed autonomous operations, Checkers remains compliant with current DoD policy regarding autonomy.

Netflix’s Black Mirror Metalhead episode, however, imagines its eponymous quadruped robot as a lethal autonomous system run amok, relentlessly hunting down humanity’s remnants in a post-apocalyptic Britain. Operating in wolf packs, these man-out-of-the-loop devices sit passively until a human target is acquired, whom they then tirelessly track, run to ground, and kill. The Metalhead episode riffs on the Skynet trope with another defense program gone rogue, this time an armed and deadly next-gen Spot. U.S. defense policy-makers would be wise to reconsider and plan accordingly for the coming commercialization and inevitable democratization of quadrupedal lethal autonomy – in light of recent drone attacks in Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen – a new killer genie is about to be unleashed from its bottle!

2.Small Businesses Aren’t Rushing Into AI,” by Sara Castellanos and Agam Shah, The Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2019.

While sixty-five percent of firms with more than 5,000 workers are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or planning on it, only twenty-one percent of small businesses have similar plans. The upfront costs of AI tools, data architecture improvements, and the scarcity of people capable of implementing AI tools outpace the ability of small businesses. While the U.S. Army is not a small business, it faces many similar obstacles.

First, the U.S. Army is not “AI Ready.” While Google and Microsoft are working on AI tools that are not overly reliant on large data sets, today’s tools are trained and fueled by access to reliant big data. Key to enabling AI and the Army realizing the advantages of speed and improved decision-making is access to our own data. The Army is a data rich organization with information from previous training events, combat operations, and readiness status, but data rich does not mean data ready. Much of the Army’s data would be characterized as “dark data” — sitting in a silo, accessible for limited single-use purposes. To get the Army AI Ready, we need to implement a Service-wide effort to break down the silos and import all of the Army’s data into an open-source architecture that is accessible by a range of AI tools.

Second, the size and dispersed nature of the Army exasperates our ability to acquire and retain a high number of people capable of implementing AI tools. This AI defined future requires the creation of new jobs and skillsets to overcome the coming skills mismatch. The Army is learning as it builds out a cyber capable force and these lessons are probably applicable to what we will need to do to support an AI-enabled force. At a minimum, we must address a new form of tech literacy to lead these future formations.

While Google and Microsoft work to reduce the reliance on big data for training AI and lessen the need for AI coding, the Army should begin to improve its “AI Readiness” by implementing new data strategies, exploring new skillsets, and improving force tech literacy.

3.Have Strategists Drunk the ‘AI Race’ Kool-Aid?” by Zac Rogers, War on the Rocks, 4 June 2019.

When technological change is driven more by hubris and ideology than by scientific understanding, the institutions that traditionally moderate these forces, such as democratic oversight and the rule of law, can be eroded in pursuit of the next false dawn.”

In this article, Dr. Zac Rogers cautions those who are willing to leap headfirst into the technological abyss. Rogers provides a countering narrative to balance out the tech entrepreneurs who are ready to go full steam ahead with the so-called AI race, breaking down the competition and producing a robust analysis of the unintended effects of the digital age. The full implications of advancing AI offer a sobering reality, replete with warning of the potential breakdown of sociopolitical stability and of Western societies themselves. While countries continue to invest billions in AI development and innovation, Rogers reminds us that beneath the high-tech veneer of the 21st century we are still “human beings in social systems – to which all the usual caveats apply.” As asserted by Mr. Ian Sullivan,  our world is driven largely by thoughts, ideals, and beliefs, despite the increasing global connectivity we experience every day. To forget that we are, as put by Dr. Rogers, “always human” would be to lose touch with the very reality we are augmenting.

Rogers cautions against “idealized cybernetic systems” and implores those spearheading the foray into the technological unknown to take pause and remember what, ultimately, we stand to gain from these developments – and what we stand to lose.

4.For the good of humanity, AI needs to know when it’s incompetent,” by Nicole Kobie, Wired, 15 June 2019

Prowler.io is an AI platform for generalized decision-making for businesses aiming to augment human work with machine learning. Prowler.io considers four questions as it sets up the platform:  1) when does the AI know for certain that it’s right; 2) when does it know it’s wrong; 3) when does it know that it’s about to go wrong — timing is key, so humans in the loop have time to react; and 4) “how are we even sure the AI is asking the right questions.” For Prowler.io, keeping humans-in-the-loop is necessary due to the current lack of trust in machine-based decision-making.

The article points out that understanding why your AI-driven fund manager lost money is less useful than preventing bad buys in the first place. Explainable AI is not enough, you have to have trusted AI – and for that to happen, you need to have human decision-making in the loop.” One failing of AI is that it doesn’t inherently understand its own competency. For example, if a human worker needs help, they can ask for it. The dilemma is how will “understanding of personal limitations [be] built into code?” A worst case example of this was two deadly 737 Max crashes — “In both crashes, the commonality was that the autopilot did not understand its own incompetence.”

Correct and timely decisions are paramount for the Army and military applications of AI on the battlefield, now and in the future. “Even if there’s a human-in-the-loop that has oversight, how valuable is the human if they don’t understand what’s going on?” One disconnect is that the military and code writers equally have a blind spot in how they think about technological progress toward the future. That blind spot is thinking about AI largely disconnected from humans and the human brain. Rather than thinking about AI-enabled systems as connected to humans, we think about them as parallel processes. We talk about human-in-the-loop or human-on-the-loop largely in terms of the control over autonomous systems, rather than a comprehensive connection to and interaction with those systems. Having the idea that a human always has to overrule or an algorithm always has to overrule is not the right strategy. It really has to be focusing on what the human is good at and what the algorithm is good at, and combining those two things together. And that will actually make decision-making better, fairer, and more transparent.”

5.Garbage In, Garbage Out,” by Clare Garvie, Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology, 16 May 2019.

A system relies on the information it is given. Feed it poor or questionable data and you will get poor or questionable results, hence the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out.” With facial recognition software becoming an increasingly common tool, law enforcement agencies are relying more heavily on a process that many experts admit is more art than science. Further, they’re stretching the bounds of the software when trying to identify potential suspects – feeding the system celebrity photos, composite sketches, and altered images in an attempt to “help” the system find the right person. However, studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Michigan State University concluded that composite sketches produced a positive match between 4.1 and 6.7 percent of the time. Despite, these figures relaying dubious or questionable results, some agencies are still following this process. As the Army becomes a more data-centric organization, it will be imperative to understand that “data” itself does not necessarily mean “good data.” If the Army feeds poor data into the system it will get poor results that may lead to unnecessary resource expenditure or even loss of life. Modernization will rely on accurate forecasting underpinned by a robust data set. How can the Army ensure it has the right data it needs? What processes need to be put in place now, to avoid potentially disastrous shortcuts?

6.Deepfakes, social media, and the 2020 election,” by John Villasenor, Brookings TechTank, 3 June 2019.

“…deepfakes are the inevitable next step in attacking the truth.”

The point of deepfakes is not necessarily to convince people that public figures said something that they did not. They’re designed to introduce doubt and confusion into people’s minds, wreaking havoc on the information-saturated environment Americans are accustomed to operating in. As this type of digital deception becomes more refined, social media platforms will face greater technological and logistical challenges in identifying and removing false information, not to mention walking the fine legal line of subjective content monitoring.

BuzzFeed released a video illustrating the power of deepfakes, showing the image of former US President Barack Obama uttering words voiced by director and actor Jordan Peele / Source: Jordan Peele, BuzzFeed, and Monkeypaw Productions

Deepfakes are also of concern outside of the social media arena: our strategic competitors can use this tool to manipulate information, delegitimizing or mischaracterizing American military actions and operations in the views of local actors in conflict zones and the wider global population. In addition to the weaponization of information by state actors, any individual with basic technological skill and access to a computer and the internet can create a video that drastically alters the perceptions of millions. So, that leads us to wonder: what happens when we can no longer trust the information right in front of our eyes? How can we make decisions when we have to question all of our evidence?

7.Space Exploration and the Age of the Anthropocosmos,” by Joi Ito, Wired, 30 May 2019.

Space is the final frontier – and it’s here. Joi Ito likens the current utopian, free-for-all stage of human/space interactions with the initial years of publicly-accessible internet. To encapsulate this era, Ito coins a new term, anthropocosmos, for this phase of human development in which people have a measurable impact on non-terrestrial environments. However, he cautions that if expansion into and use of space is left unchecked, then a “tragedy of the commons” situation will begin to arise. Moribah Jah alluded to the tragedy of the commons regarding orbital “space debris” congestion by suggesting that this phenomenon is already occurring in Earth’s orbital pathways. Ito continues his comparison by highlighting that, much like the internet, space in the future will be used for all sorts of purposes unimaginable to us today. He envisions a world where space becomes increasingly commercialized, monitored, and restricted by various actors trying to secure their own domains (such as governments) or turn a profit. Space can be a cooperative arena, but if it’s not, people on Earth and beyond the planet will feel the negative consequences of exploiting this newly-accessible environment.

8.Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,” by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell, Penguin Random House, 12 May 2015.

This 2015 book on leadership, engagement, and teamwork primarily authored by retired General and JSOC Commander Stan McChrystal addresses the tension point between how military teams (and teams in the workforce in general) are traditionally organized and led and the emerging digital age and info/data-centric character of modern warfare.

The book highlights the need for conventional and special forces to transform their centralized and largely rigid ways of warfare into something more adaptive, fluid, and agile to counter the growing insurgency in Iraq in 2004. As forces in Iraq tackled a boiling sectarian civil war in hot spots like Fallujah, McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command morphed into a team of teams that efficiently leveraged intelligence experts, informant networks, interagency task forces, special operators, and a host of support personnel to kill, capture, and disrupt what had become al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). This network built to defeat a network saw their efforts and metamorphosis culminate in the June 2006 airstrike on AQI leader and most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The lessons gleaned from this book are not only applicable to special operations forces involved in manhunts or even to military operations as a whole, but to teams across the globe in all areas of business, academia, and service. The rapid nature of changing circumstances, enormity of big data, and pervasiveness of hyper-connectivity mean that organizations must shift away from being executive-centric, hierarchical, and rigid and become cross-functional, openly communicating, and mutually respecting teams of teams. The growing integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the workplace (that will likely include levels of, or assistance to, decision-making) will exacerbate the need for cross collaboration and a better top-to-bottom understanding of how the team of teams functions as a whole.

If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the Future OE, please forward it (along with a brief description of why its potential ramifications are noteworthy to the greater Mad Scientist Community of Action) to our attention at: usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil — we may select it for inclusion in our next edition of “The Queue”!

154. Takeaways from the Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019

[Editor’s Note: At the conclusion of another successful Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest, we had received over 75 highly imaginative short stories. In addition to listing and linking you to the contest’s winning submission (as well as those of our finalists), today’s post reports back on the major cross-cutting themes we were able to distill from your collective creativity and provides effective writing tips from Dr. David Brin, our contest’s senior judge and multiple award-winning science fiction author. Enjoy!]

The U.S. Army finds itself at a historical inflection point, where disparate, yet related elements of an increasingly complex Operational Environment (OE) are converging, creating a situation where fast moving trends are rapidly transforming the nature of all aspects of society and human life – including the character of warfare. It is important to take a creative approach to projecting and anticipating both the transformational and enduring trends that will lend themselves to the depiction of the future. In this vein, the Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative sought out the creativity, unique ideas, and intellect of the nation (and beyond!) to describe a battlefield that does not yet exist.

Mad Scientist launched this science fiction writing contest with the following prompt:

On March 17th, 2030, the country of Donovia, after months of strained relations and covert hostilities, invades neighboring country Otso. Donovia is a wealthy nation that is a near-peer competitor to the United States. Like the United States, Donovia has invested heavily in disruptive technologies such as robotics, AI, autonomy, quantum information sciences, bio enhancements and gene editing, space-based weapons and communications, drones, nanotechnology, and directed energy weapons. The United States is a close ally of Otso and is compelled to intervene due to treaty obligations and historical ties. The United States is about to engage Donovia in its first battle with a near-peer competitor in over 80 years…

In this venture, we received over 75 submissions from an incredibly diverse audience — ranging from programmers to school teachers to career military officers. The submissions were incredibly rich and Mad Scientist was able to glean a great many lessons learned from all of them.

Our contest winner and finalists’ submissions were published by our colleagues at the Modern War Institute at West Point:

Winner:

AN41, by COL Jasper Jeffers

Finalists:

Starfire, by Mary Madigan

Uncle Sam Takes a R.E.S.T., by Melanie Page

Jonathan Roper, Traveling Consultant, by Hal Wilson

An additional number of submissions were published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

Five cross-cutting themes emerged from across the collective submissions:

1) Machine Speed Information / Processing / Assessment and Real-time Connectivity and Reaction – Actions and reactions are occurring in such a truncated timeline that human operators have difficulty in comprehending or keeping up with these dynamic interactions.

2) Mixed or eXtended Reality (MR/XR) – Augmented, virtual, and synthetic realities are prevalent not only on the battlefield but throughout life. They enhance our warfighters’ situational understanding and play a critical part in how humans work together and collaborate, not only with themselves but with the machines with whom they relate. The pervasiveness of this technology is analogous to the intuitive familiarity people have today with the countless data interface screens encountered in contemporary living.

3) Human-machine Interface and/or Interconnectivity – Humans and machines not only teamed, but melded or wholly integrated at certain points in all of the stories. There comes a certain point where humans and robots (or their respective actions) cannot be distinguished from one another.

4) Disruptive Technologies – There were many novel and disruptive technologies featured in the stories (e.g., anti-tank drones, exoskeletons, active camouflage, nanite capsules, micro-drones, space vehicles, quantum cryptography, and quadruped bots), as well as seemingly innocuous technologies manipulated and repurposed for nefarious activities (e.g., farming robots used for surveillance).

5) Artificial Intelligence – AI is prevalent across the stories, not only as an aid in decision-making and a driver of autonomy, but also as an overlay of the social and political environment. It is often presented as a double-edged sword that both informs, guides, and aids humans, but is also prone to contextual misunderstandings or overreliance on data.

The collective body of submissions presented us with a myriad of lessons learned. These will help the Army to frame and ultimately shift the paradigm of how we think about the Future OE. We are extremely grateful to all of our participants and encourage everyone to continue to go boldly into the future!

While writing science fiction can be a fun and thoughtful endeavor, it can also prove challenging. Here are some great insights from Dr. David Brin (Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and Campbell award winning science fiction author) who served as our contest’s senior judge. Many thanks for the tips, Dr. Brin!

    • By far the most important pages are the first ones, when you hook the reader. And you need a great first paragraph to get them to read the first page. Starting with the Point of View’s name is certainly okay… even Heinlein did it now and then. But it would be better to start with an italicized internal thought, or an ironic observation or spoken words or actions. (See the example below)
    • Many readers are hard on writers who give info dumps from the narrator’s point of view. It’s better to reveal info as efficiently as possible via conversation, action, and the point of view character’s internal thoughts.
    • Many readers hate “repeatitis” where a word gets repeated a lot. English is so rich with synonyms and alternate ways of saying the same thing that you can usually avoid it, unless repetition is a deliberate poetical device. This stricture has no strong reason for it, and indeed, authors like Hemingway violated it a lot. But most professionals cater to this common reader irritation and hence, you’ll pick up a habit of minimizing even too many close repeats of “the.”
    • A more important habit to acquire, with stronger reason, is to feel uncomfortable with “was” and “had.”  Oh, sure — “had”, “were” and “was” are permitted and sometimes necessary, but always regrettable… each time should cause a wee bit of pain!  Because ‘had’ – and to a lesser extent “was” – often indicate the narrator, instead of the point of view character (POV), is telling instead of showing. If you look at my books, you’ll find I include lots of ideas and background of past events, but I pace them in with movement, action, conversation…
    • POV (point of view) is the hardest thing for a new writer to master. It gives your characters a “voice” and presence, and offers the reader a sense of vesting in the protagonist’s feelings and needs and will. This is all destroyed by authorial data-dumps that make you feel lectured-to by a narrator.
    • Prologues can be nice. But often they serve as crutches.

Example:

Lieutenant Jade Mahelona hated the noise and confusion of crowds, yet now she was stuck on crowd control in a busy tunnel-street of Deep Indianapolis while her carrier ship was in airdock for repairs. She’d joined Solar Defense Force to get away from Earth cities, and she’d loved every minute of her month of relative quiet on pirate patrol in the asteroids.

Try this instead:

Damn I hate crowd control duty. Over the tunnel noise and throng confusion of Deep Indianapolis, Jade could barely hear her sergeant growl in agreement, as if reading her mind.

“How long till the ship is fixed, lieutenant? I didn’t join SDF for this shit.”

Of course it was a coincidence – Mulcraft didn’t have her electric-empath sense… “Belay that,” She snapped. “We’ll be back out there on comfy pirate patrol in no time.”

Do you see how I dumped in far more information via internal (italicized) thoughts, sensory input, and conversation, without once using “had” or even “was”?  Now throw in some action… someone in the crowd throws something, and you’ve started rolling along, supplying lots of background info without an intruding narrator dump!

    • Find a dozen openings of novels you greatly admire and RE-TYPE THEM! Just re-reading them will not work.  I guarantee you will only understand how those authors did it if you retype the opening scene. And you’ll grasp that establishing POV early while minimizing data-dumping is the hardest thing for neos to learn, and absolutely essential to learn. No matter how wonderful your ideas are, they are useless unless you master how to hook.

Talk this over with your colleagues. Read aloud together and critique the first 5 paragraphs of lots of writers. Do nothing else in your workshop, till you all understand how to establish both the scene/situation and POV laced into conversation, action, and internal thoughts.

Alas, that’s all I have time for. But I hope it’s useful. Remember to read carefully my “advice article.” And above all keep at it! That’s the key to success.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see Ground Warfare in 2050: How It Might Look, by Dr. Alexander Kott…

… the following imaginative blog posts about warfare in the Future OE:

Demons in the Tall Grass, by Mr. Mike Matson

Biostorm: A Story of Future War, by Mr. Anthony DeCapite

Omega, by Mr. August Cole and Mr. Amir Husain…

… and previous submissions from our 2017 Science Fiction Writing Contest at Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050.

153. Critical Projection: Insights from China’s Science Fiction

We can talk quite glibly about ‘cognitive domains’ – but understanding contexts, especially social and cultural, is vital to discern motivation or intent’ Air Marshal Stringer, Director General Joint Force Development

[Editor’s Note: Per the author of today’s post, Lt Col Dave Calder, British Army, “This post looks at how science fiction (SF) can provide some critical utility to militaries. My first article looked broadly at where it can help us see the world differently; making parts of it seem strange so to highlight how it can be changed.  For this piece, I wanted to push the boundaries of where I believe SF can give us an intellectual edge. By assuming its critical utility is universal, I have tried use SF to gaze into the cultures of others to draw out insight that might shape, temper, or aid our decision making. By looking at China’s canon, I believe it is possible to get a sense of the scale of their ambition, the challenges to its rise as a global power, and understand Beijing’s view of the West. Enjoy Lt Col Calder’s post!]

Cixin Liu is a nine-time winner of the Galaxy Award, winner of the 2015 Hugo Award and the 2017 Locus Award as well as a nominee for the Nebula Award / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, Chinese SF enjoys a global audience, mainly thanks to the popularity of Cixin Liu’s Hugo Award-Winning Three Body Problem and the recent release of The Wandering Earth – China’s highest grossing SF film. This exposure, while welcome, eclipses a rich and well-established tradition which is over 100 years old. Writers like Lu Xun, for example, use SF as a means of political commentary and paint a dark picture of the Late Qing period and colonialism. Scholars of Chinese SF draw clear links between early works, like Huangjiang Diasou’s Tales of the Moon Colony, and the so-called ‘New-Wave’ of writing which has appeared over the past decade. One of their sharpest observations relates to how power can be derived from commoditising and rationing scientific knowledge. Where the colonial powers (and Jesuits before them) effectively influenced and subjugated China through the control of specific technologies, China today may be practising learned behaviours.1 Its overt (and covert) hoarding of intellectual property and desire to dominate disruptive technologies like AI and quantum computing might be seen as an attempt to assure its rise to a position of global leadership. Whether intentional or not, the tools of colonial modernity are today being played back on the West to China’s potential benefit.

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (aka Chang’e Project), is an ongoing series of robotic Moon missions by the China National Space Administration. / Source: Wikipedia

The nature of ‘New-Wave’ SF very much reflects China’s complexity and its future aspirations. Hopes and fears are intertwined and framed by a sense of destiny. Over the past 12 years, the themes of China’s SF canon have moved away from concerns of everyday life to far loftier, and literally celestial, aspirations. Cixin Liu’s short story, The Sun of China,2 captures a sense of a nation capable of realising its own goals rather than have its place in the world determined by others.3 This resonates with a national vision which has been expressed in terms of Jintao’s ‘Chinese Dream’, the more philosophical aspects of Xi Jinping‘s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, and the Chang’e lunar programme. China casts itself as an agent in its future and seems to have the ideological and financial capital to realise its visions.

Conversely, SF is such that the aspirational can never be divorced from the critical. Margaret Atwood once remarked that “utopia and dystopia are essentially flip-sides of the same form, and that every utopia has a dystopia concealed within it.4  There is a growing realisation that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is distinct from its American predecessor and arouses a “nightmarish unconscious of a dream that does not necessarily belong to an individual but rather to a collective entity.”5 This increasing sense of alarm is starkly reflected in China’s SF:  Zhang Ran’s Ether, for example, is a blunt attack on the increasing ubiquity of surveillance in China and is a clear protest against censorship.6   Equally, Han Song’s My Fatherland Does not Dream is deeply critical of the Chinese Government’s inability to recognise where the limits of central government control and privacy lie and suggest its aspirations will fail to materialise unless such concerns are addressed.7 Permitting the publication of such subversive notions in what we take to be an oppressive society, keen to minimise dissent, is interesting in itself.

The relationship between the Chinese SF scene and the state is complex. Chinese authors enjoy relative immunity from censorship as SF is seen as a means to address China’s creativity deficit. China’s top SF magazine Science Fiction World is widely available, and many of the genre’s literary conventions are state-sponsored. Party officials wish to move China from being a state which replicates the World’s technology to one which invents it.8 At the same time, SF’s comparative obscurity as a literary genre means it lacks the popularity which would have it classed as ‘protest literature’. This willingness to balance subversion against economic reward arguably highlights the risk China is willing to take to mitigate deep concerns over its ability to meet the aspirations of the ‘Chinese Dream’. It also demonstrates the premium China places on innovation as a recipe for fueling future growth.

‘New-Wave’ SF also provides the West with a mirror which can be used to look back at ourselves through Chinese eyes. In works like Han Song’s 2066: Red Star over America, the U.S. (and by implication the West) appears morally intransigent and unwilling to compromise on those issues which might affect how power and influence are wielded in the international system. We come across as protective and very much defined as status quo-seeking powers. While we share common values, the natures of our imagined utopias are fundamentally different. Ours is driven by individual rather than societal happiness. This point of divergence represents a key factor which must be addressed to avoid future confrontation and conflict.

In conclusion, China’s SF has the potential to yield interesting social insights which might drive external behaviours. Like any state, China’s history remains relevant in framing its actions today. SF gives us a lens to appreciate such dynamics and compare them to what is happening today: the commoditization of scientific and technical knowledge and using it to exert influence is a learned rather than invented technique. This does not excuse China’s apparent disregard for intellectual property norms, but it helps explain it and put our reactions in context. In looking at today’s SF, we find a complex mix of aspirational themes and subversive undercurrents. Both help us understand China a little more. The ‘New-Wave’ allows us to weigh their ‘destiny’ in one hand, and their challenges in another. Lastly, SF’s objectivity allows us to stare back at ourselves through the lens of Chinese literature. Knowing how we are seen should influence our decision making, just as much as our characterisation of China does. This also allows us to compare ourselves to one another at a philosophical level. While we share some common values, we are currently moving down two different paths towards fundamentally different conceptions of utopia. At some point, we must re-converge if we are to avoid confrontation and conflict. That said, a clash is not inevitable. Understanding one another is the first step to accommodation: SF can play a role here to complement our more traditional methods of assessing strategic culture and deciphering Bejing’s intentions. It will not provide all the answers, but it might help find some.

If you enjoyed this post, please also read:

Lt Col Calder‘s first post, Science Fiction’s Hidden Codes

– Proclaimed Mad Scientist Elsa Kania‘s post, Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield? as well as China’s Drive for Innovation Dominance, drawn from her presentation at the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference at SRI International, Menlo Park, 8-9 March 2018.  Her podcast from this event, China’s Quest for Enhanced Military Technology, is hosted by Modern War Institute.

Ms. Cindy Hurst‘s post, A Closer Look at China’s Strategies for Innovation: Questioning True Intent

Lt Col David Calder is currently studying on the UK’s Advanced and Command Staff Course and is a Chief of Defence Staff Scholar. He is also undertaking a Masters by Research in Defence Studies with King’s College London; this is exploring how science fiction can be used to change military perspectives. He is an armoured engineer and has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Estonia in recent years. (Twitter @drjcalder81)


1 Nathaniel Isaacson. “Science Fiction for the Nation: Tales of the Moon Colony and the Birth of Modern Chinese Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 40, no. 1 (2013): 33-35.

2 This is a tale of a lowly window cleaner that is assigned to maintaining a solar shield (which is designed to reduce the effects of global warming) but succeeds in transforming it into a solar sail, enabling him to explore the stars.

3 Cixin, Liu. “Chinese Science Fiction and Chinese Reality.” Clarkesworld, no. 110 (2015).

4 Atwood, Margret, interview by David Barr Kirtley. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast #94 (December 2013).

5 Song, Mingwei, and Theodore Huters, The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. Introduction.

6 Ran, Zhang. “Ether.” Edited by trans. Clarkesworld (trans. Carmen Yiling Yan, Ken Liu) 100 (Jan 2015). Here omnipotent surveillance in a near-future China leads to the language being reduced to a limited and utilitarian vocabulary and the development of a complex and subversive method of communication using messages written on people’s hands.

7 Rojas, Carlos and Andrea Bachner. The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 551-553. My Fatherland was banned until 2007. It depicts a population of an authoritarian state which has been using drugs to optimise production and erase memories of past atrocities. The state’s sleepwalking population are unknowingly manipulated into delivering the state’s economic revolution but do not share in the benefits this advancement generates for an ‘un-sleeping’ elite.

8 Neil Gaiman. “The Genre of Pornography, or the Pornography of Genre.” In The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. London: HarperCollins, 2017.

152. Setting the Army for the Future (Part III)

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the conclusion of our three-part series on setting the Army for the Future.  In today’s post, we address specific actions TRADOC can take in converging the Institutional Army with the Operational Force to ensure that our Soldiers in the MDO Force of 2028 are prepared to both prevail in Competition and win decisively in Armed Conflict — Enjoy!]

A largely self-imposed, artificial barrier exists between the Institutional Army and the Operational Force. This organizational seam could become a hindrance to the transformation required to “Set the Army for the Future.” The Army should converge its Institutional Army and the Operational Force to ensure that we develop the requisite Future Ready Leader, provide immediate access to Army expertise without consideration to geolocation or current assignment, and more rapidly transfer knowledge throughout the force.

The effort to converge these two parts of the force requires a re-envisioning of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and its role in educating and providing initial entry training to the force. TRADOC cannot just be the place you go several times during a military career to prepare for the next level of responsibility. The Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) Force of 2028 will need immediate access to TRADOC’s resident expertise and TRADOC will need to rapidly learn from the experiences of the Operational Force, incorporating these lessons in on-going force-wide education and training experiences. This immediate access to specialized expertise and rapid incorporation of operational learning in force-wide training will be critical in competing with and, failing deterrence, during combat operations with a rapidly adapting adversary. Our experiences with the counter-IED fight — rapidly learning and adapting tactical defensive and offensive capabilities — was not a one-off but a weak signal of what future conflict will look like.

To set the Army and TRADOC for this future, here are a few ideas:

1) Envision a TRADOC with fewer bricks and more clicks. The world is moving from the physical to the digital/virtual. A similar transformation to move TRADOC to a more digital/virtual learning platform will require a shift in investment priorities to connectivity (maybe a near term/mid-term move to 5G) and a data strategy that connects our silos of data into one architecture improving content and future AI integration.

 

2) Remove a few rocks and put “TRADOC in your ruck.” Personal Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants could bring Commanders and their staffs all of the collected expertise of today’s Institutional Force. Conducting machine speed collection, collation, and analysis of battlefield information will free up warfighters and commanders to do what they do best — fight and make decisions, respectively. AI’s ability to quickly sift through and analyze the plethora of input received from across the battlefield, fused with the lessons learned data from thousands of previous engagements, will lessen the commander’s dependence on having had direct personal combat experience with conditions similar to his current fight when making command decisions.

3) Start learning in our formations like we learn at home. If you have a plumbing problem at home, it is a fair bet that you will turn to YouTube to learn the best techniques for fixing your problem. This technique of crowdsourcing expertise and allowing the herd to select best methods enables the rapid transfer of knowledge, and geolocation is not important. We have a globally engaged Army and we need to connect our global expertise to the force. Today the best squad leaders from the Combat Training Centers (CTCs) should be able to share their experiences and have videos of their actions shareable across a learning platform available to all NCOs, at any location. The best fuel handlers in the Army should be able to share their Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) in near real time. Sharing content and interacting with expertise is how Millennial and Gen Z Soldiers learn at home. We need to bring these ideas to how we develop them in their formations.

4) Bring recent training and operational data to the classroom. A more virtual TRADOC does not mean an end to classrooms, but can the MDO Force of 2028 get by with the Professional Military Education (PME) of today? Gamification and simulation in the classroom must become the norm. TRADOC has explored capabilities like virtual tutors, living doctrine, and knowledge delivery, but the effort requires resources and a strategy for implementation. A start point should be a data strategy that makes available to our Leaders the curated lessons learned data at the Center for Army Lessons Learned with the training data sets at our CTCs. The Army is a data rich organization with information from previous training events, combat operations, and readiness status; but data rich does not mean data ready. Much of the Army’s data could be characterized as “dark data,” sitting in a silo ready for single-use purposes. The Captain of 2028 should have gaming and micro-simulation tools to experiment with tactics and learn what worked and what did not in ongoing real world operations and at our ongoing CTC rotations.

Converging the Institutional Army and the Operational Force is a complex endeavor, but it is clear that increasing connectivity, transitioning from physical to digital/virtual infrastructures, and making the Army’s wealth of data accessible will provide the MDO Force of 2028 with advantages over our adversaries during Competition and Conflict. We just need to re-envision our Army and connect our greatest resource, the Soldier.

I hope you have enjoyed the series, “Setting the Army for the Future.” What are your ideas?  Feel free to use our current crowdsourcing writing contest as a forum to share.

If you enjoyed this post, please read:

Setting the Army for the Future (Part I) by Mr. Gary Phillips, and Part II

TRADOC 2028

The Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference Final Report

151. Setting the Army for the Future (Part II)

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the second in a three-part series addressing how best to set the Army for the future. Ever since 1973, when the Continental Army Command (CONARC) was divided into two separate and distinct Army Commands (i.e., Forces Command [FORSCOM] and Training and Doctrine Command [TRADOC]), a largely self-imposed, artificial barrier has existed between the Institutional Army and the Operational Force. As we set the Army for the future to successfully compete with, and when required, combat and decisively defeat our future adversaries, this artificial and largely cultural distinction must be torn asunder. The Army should converge its Institutional Army and the Operational Force to ensure that we grow the requisite Future Ready Leaders, that we are an “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ready” Force, and build the Smart Installations required to successfully execute Multi-Domain Operations.]

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Canton, notable futurist and author, persistently challenges the Army to get “Future Ready.” The Army describes the future it is preparing for in the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept. Central to this concept is the idea that the Army must be ready for competition and conflict, to include large scale ground combat operations. So what will it take to set the Army for this future?

Abrams MBTs departing the cantonment area, heading out to “The Box” during a rotation at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California

AirLand Battle drove the Army’s last major transformation in the 1980s — from doctrine to organizations and equipment. In 1991, the United States defeated Iraqi Ground Forces in 100 hours. This tactical and operational excellence was not only the result of effective doctrine and the acquisition of the “Big 5” weapon systems, but also due to the development of the Combat Training Centers (CTCs) and Leader Development platforms like the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System and the School of Advanced Military Studies. What does our Army need to do today to complement the Army’s modernization priorities and the Multi-Domain Operations Concept and set the future?

1. Acquire and Develop Future Ready Leaders. The Chief of Staff of the Army of 2035 is a Battalion S-3 today. Future Platoon and First Sergeants are just now entering the force. Developing these Leaders and acquiring the right talent must start now and is critical to future readiness.

Developing Leaders. Two topics continually come up when discussing the preparation of our Leaders for the Future Operational Environment. First, the speed of conflict, the digitization of information warfare, and access to augmented intelligence decision support tools will require more capable critical thinkers. Teaching critical thinking skills and developing challenging training that will exercise these brain skills should start with initial entry and continue throughout our Leaders’ service. Second, emerging technologies and the race to integrate them into our societies and on the battlefield are outpacing our laws, policy, regulations, and training. The integration of these technologies and specifically the integration of autonomy in the decide, detect, and deliver phases of targeting will place additional stressors on decision-making. A key component in developing future Leaders will be applying the Army’s ethical standards on the future battlefield. The ambiguity that exists between Competition and Armed Conflict (referred to as Crisis in Part I of this series) challenges the Army’s current ethical framework. Setting ourselves for this future requires a reassessment of our ethics education and the integration of ethical dilemmas in our training through the lens of emerging technologies across the MDO spectrum.

Acquiring Talent.The future will further define and compel the creation of new jobs and skillsets that have not yet been articulated or even imagined.” This is one of the findings from the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference. While these skills and future MOSs are yet unknown, the Army faces a potential skills mismatch between whom we recruit and what might be required for the future force. The emergence of a number of new technologies – AI, autonomy, immersive mixed reality, robotics, and bio engineering – will require changes in some MOSs and the creation of new ones. At a minimum, we must address a new form of tech literacy to lead these future formations. These changes probably require a re-assessment of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), as well as research into identifying the attributes required for a 2028 Multi-Domain capable force. Industry is addressing talent identification and human capital development with cutting edge neuroscience. During the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence Conference, Dr. Amy Kruse presented on neuro feedback training that improved the development of expert marksmen. JP Morgan Chase is attempting to broaden their pull of applicants by using neuroscience-based video games to assess candidates’ social, cognitive, and behavioral attributes. Setting the Army will require new emphasis on determining and then identifying the right future talent mix.

2. Building an “AI Ready” Force. We live in a world driven by “narrow” artificial intelligence. AI is managing our retirement accounts, diagnosing our illnesses, recommending music to us in our homes, and in many cases educating our children. These capabilities are moving to the battlefield, initially in data analytics and object recognition tools. These are only a weak signal for the comprehensive role AI will play during competition and conflict. Key to enabling AI and realizing the advantages of speed and improved decision-making is access to the “new oil” – data. The Army is a data rich organization with information from previous training events, combat operations, and readiness status, but data rich does not mean data ready. Much of the Army’s data would be characterized as “dark data” — sitting in a silo, accessible for limited single-use purposes. To get the Army AI Ready and set for the future, we need to implement a Service-wide effort to break down these silos and import all of the Army’s data into an open-source architecture that is accessible by a range of AI tools and ultimately the Leader conducting training or engaged in combat operations. For example, the data from every CTC rotation should be available to all Captains at the Centers of Excellence, Majors experimenting with operational design at Fort Leavenworth, and Platoon Sergeants rehearsing platoon operations at home station in preparation for their rotation and deployment. Data and AI Ready organizations arm their teams with the information needed to drive the tactical and operational innovation we require.

3. Smart Installations. Successful Multi-Domain Operations require installation modernization, from the Strategic Support Area forward to the Close Area. With the advent of 5G telecommunications networks, today’s Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly morphing into the Internet of Everything (IoE), with concomitant revolutions in infrastructure, power grid, communications, and operations and maintenance technologies. The Army’s installations face a dilemma similar to Army modernization in that we are heavily invested in legacy facilities and need to simultaneously upgrade to reap the benefits associated with 5G and the IoE. These installations, from home station garrisons to deployed units operating from Forward Operating Bases, will face a new tension between the openness needed to innovate and security required to defend against the many cyber threats targeting our installation infrastructures, Soldiers, and their families. The Mad Scientist Installations of the Future Conference identified several initiatives needed to prepare for the future. First, infrastructure sensorization, while increasing vulnerable electronic surface areas, will help our Commanders improve the resiliency of the infrastructure required for training and deployment operations. Second, the Army will need to re-envision the infrastructure required to fully implement the Synthetic Training Environment, the revolution in autonomy and robotics, and the opportunities provided by virtual and 3D prototyping. This assessment might provide opportunities to divest legacy infrastructure and re-invest in setting the Army’s CONUS-based deployment platform.

Unlike Rip Van Winkle, we can’t afford to doze away the coming decades and then wake up one day to the future. As Army Futures Command executes the CSA’s modernization priorities and further develops the concept and doctrine of Multi-Domain Operations, the rest of the Army must focus on setting their commands and responsibilities for the future, converging efforts to acquire and develop Future Ready Leaders, implement new ways to identify and acquire talent, ensure that the force is AI and data ready, and build smarter installations. When the Army’s most recent modernization story is recounted, what “other” actions will the storytellers describe?

If you enjoyed this post, please also read:

Setting the Army for the Future (Part I) by Mr. Gary Phillips

Takeaways Learned about the Future of the AI Battlefield and the entire Crowdsourcing the Future of the AI Battlefield paper

TRADOC 2028

150. Setting the Army for the Future (Part I)

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the first of a three-part series addressing how best to set the Army for the future. Today’s post, by guest blogger Mr. Gary Phillips, addresses Multi-Domain Operations and the cusp — or Crisis — that exists between Competition and Armed Conflict.  Focusing on how our Leaders need to set military conditions in Competition while simultaneously maintaining their decisive combat edge to deter Armed Conflict, Mr. Phillips prescribes four things that the Army can do over the next decade to set the Army for the 2030’s.  Enjoy!]

Shooting an azimuth / Source: dvids

The Army has chosen the concept of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) to provide an azimuth for the future. Although not common knowledge, concepts are aspirational while doctrine is about how the Army uses what is currently in the force to conduct effective combat operations. This relationship is important as it ideally provides a seamless transition from today’s Army versus today’s enemies to tomorrow’s Army with the capability to fight and win future wars. Much like land navigation, the concept provides an azimuth to an objective and doctrine allows one to deal with the immediate obstacles along that azimuth.

MDO postulates that there are two fundamental time frames or periods. The period of competition and the conflict period. Although this may seem simplistic, it is actually a very elegant way to capture all the activities that nations do in their interactions, from cooperation, to friendly competition, to hostile activities in pursuit of objectives. One additional consideration, not specified in the MDO concept, is the idea of a period between competition and conflict, a transition time that could be labeled “crisis.” Crisis is an odd beast; one might consider it the ultimate hostile competition or the initial stages of conflict. During crisis, the outcome is undecided and the actions by all the participants will define whether the crisis slides back to competition or accelerates into violence inherent in conflict. Setting the Army for the future should be framed by those two periods with special consideration for the transition space between them called crisis.

The Army’s mission is to “deploy, fight and win the nation’s wars…This mission statement captures the idea that the nature of war is coercion — the threat of force or the use of force to set a military condition that allows a favorable political conclusion. What it neglects is the necessity for a different perspective in the competition period described in MDO. Sun Tzu opined that the acme of generalship is winning without fighting. Setting the Army for the future must be built around the idea of an Army fully capable of influence and persuasion during competition, while maintaining the ability to compel and coerce in conflict.

While conflict clearly has the direst consequences in terms of the cost of blood and treasure in accomplishing national objectives, it is actually the more unlikely state of the world. Competition below the level of armed conflict, sometimes just below that level, has become the new norm. Why? As adversaries and potential adversaries examine U.S. military capabilities, it becomes clear that U.S. forces are extraordinarily capable and competent, making direct confrontation undesirable. What appears as a weakness to our adversaries is U.S. political will and policy. Thus, the choice to pursue national interests by operating under the perceived U.S. policy for the application of military forces seems like a good strategy to nations with interests inimical to the U.S. There are a number of historical data points of U.S. political leadership declaring “red lines” and then doing little when those lines were crossed. The size of the gray area between competition and conflict depends not on stated national policy about undesirable order or disorder in the world, but U.S. actions when confronted with situations contrary to stated policy. When an entity has crossed a policy line and U.S. action is imminent, one enters the crisis period. Forces and authorities not available in competition may be allocated to U.S. Army elements as tools to deter and set the stage to re-enter acceptable competition conditions or to prepare for the crisis moving toward conflict.


To set the Army for the Future we need to prepare a force that is prepared to set “military conditions” in the competition period while maintaining the edge to continue to make conflict undesirable for current and future adversaries. Just as important is teaching Army leaders how to master new forces and authorities suddenly granted to them during a crisis. The first time an Army leader considers how to apply new means of signaling U.S. disfavor or coercion should not be at the height of tension in a crisis. In most cases, one would imagine that U.S. political leaders would prefer a military de-escalation, vice a miscalculation that begins an irreversible move toward conflict.

One might ask, what does this mean in terms of action? What does the Army need to do to get past admiring the problem and doing something about it to set the Army for the future? There are four things that the Army can do over the next decade to set the Army for the 2030’s.

U.S. Army Leaders engaging with civilians in Ethiopia / Source: dvids

First, prepare our Leaders for an information environment where adversaries will use all of their capability to portray U.S. Army activities in way to diminish prestige and influence. Leaders in this information environment must be savvy on how to shape a narrative that overcomes adversary attempts to paint events in a negative fashion. Action versus reaction must become the norm for information engagement. The Army is the only armed force that directly and repeatedly must interact with foreign populations. As such, the opportunity for positive and negative information engagement is monumental; an opportunity that should not be neglected. This can be especially critical during crises.

Second, modernize the Army such that the ”Internet of Battle Things” (IOBT) is secure and free from foreign software access points that could corrupt information used by these networked systems. As the U.S. Army increases its reliance on devices that independently share information, harness Artificial Intelligence (AI), and act even semi-autonomously, capability and decision speed increase. However, vulnerability also grows as each node on the network provides a potential attack surface for the adversary. This is especially critical in a coalition environment where the interface between U.S. and allied units may require “middleware” or hardware that is less protected. Commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions, while cost effective, also increase potential vulnerabilities. China’s advocacy for certain standards for Internet of Things and the proliferation of Chinese produced devices and electronic components in commercial equipment threaten the security of U.S. Army’s IOBT.

U.S. and Singapore troops conducting a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX) in Hawaii last year

Third, increase U.S. Army engagement and connection to allies and potential allies. Although the Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) initiative met with mixed success, the idea is sound. U.S. Army leaders and soldiers must build relationships with their allied counterparts. These relationships include a fundamental understanding of the ally’s culture and language. This understanding will be critical to the realization of successful information engagement called for in earlier paragraphs. These connections are invaluable during a crisis, preventing an adversary from exploiting small disconnects and fractures in allied forces and leadership.

Fourth, recognize that countries will try to move combat “upstream” in the information space to avoid kinetic combat.1   Develop Leaders, build formations, and advance capabilities that give U.S. Army units significance in the competition period beyond simply conducting training events with allies or potential allies. This must include the ability to rapidly shift to conflict with ample capacity to make the decision calculus unfavorable to an enemy.

Soldiers with 2ABCT, 1AD assume a defensive position during a live-fire exercise with their Polish counteroarts at Drasko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, 29 March 2019.

Currently the U.S. Army is gearing up for Large Scale Ground Combat Operations (LSGCO) — and while necessary, this is insufficient to set the Army for the 2030’s. The U.S. Army’s role in the competition period as deterrent, as a friend to our allies, and as a representative of United States cannot be underestimated. Setting the Army for the future is about balancing investments in time and dollars between competition and conflict. Winning a war without fighting is done during competition, and that is what the Army mission needs to include.

For more on the future of Information Operations, see The Death of Authenticity: New Era Information Warfare

… and with the advent of the IOBT, learn how the U.S. Army must sanitize its information signatures while simultaneously exploit those presented by our potential adversaries in Nowhere to Hide: Information Exploitation and Sanitization.

Mr. Gary E. Phillips was commissioned from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Southern Mississippi in February 1974 and entered active duty in April 1974. During his tenure in the military, Mr. Phillips served in a myriad of intelligence and operational assignments, ending his Army career as the Commander of the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since his selection as a Department of the Army Civilian, Mr. Phillips acted as the Director of TRADOC G2 Threats Directorate where he oversaw the development and publication of the Army’s Operational Environment (OE) Estimate in 2000, 2004, 2009 and 2012. In 2006 Mr. Phillips established the Operational Environment Models and Simulations (M&S) Laboratory to insure that the complexities of the OE were represented in Army M&S. This effort has been awarded five Excellence in M&S awards by the Department of the Army and the DOD Award for innovation in gaming. In 2009 Mr. Phillips was selected as a Defense Intelligence Senior Level (DISL) and joined the Senior Executive Service as the Director of the TRADOC G2 Intelligence Support Activity. In 2014 Mr. Phillips became the Senior Intelligence Advisor and Assistant TRADOC G2.


1 Understanding the Information Environment to Win the Next Conflict Without Firing a Shot, Klipstein, Minter, Pittman, 8 March 2019, pg 1. https://nsiteam.com/social/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ACI-Information-Environment-Final-8Mar19R.pdf

149. The Death of Authenticity: New Era Information Warfare

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post, heralding the advent of the post-truth era with the convergence of deepfakes, AI-generated bodies and faces, and AI writing technologies.  These tools are revolutionizing the nature of competition and could have a devastating impact on nations’ will to fight once competition has transitioned into armed conflict — Beware!  (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” – Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha

Even this quote is not entirely truthful. What the Buddha really said was, “Monks, there are these three things which shine forth for all to see, which are not hidden. Which three? The disc of the moon shines for all to see; it is not hidden. The disc of the sun does likewise. The Dhamma-Discipline [dhamma-vinaya] of a Tathagata [Buddha] shines for all to see; it is not hidden. These are the three things.”

But what if the truth becomes increasingly hard to discern? What if authenticity (i.e., full trustworthiness) is actually dying? The advent of the Internet brought with it the global spread of a myriad of hoaxes, urban myths, and the dreaded fake news. During the first decade in the twenty-first century, it was a recurrent weekly theme to see a fake celebrity death spread like wildfire.

While propaganda, deception, and information warfare has existed in some form or fashion from ancient times through modern history (e.g., Soviet maskirovka), the convergence of technology and these political/warfare areas has truly weaponized disinformation on social media and throughout the political arena. This employment of new era information warfare seeks not to necessarily change opinions, but erode trust in conventional institutions, induce trepidation and doubt, and instill a sense of indecisiveness that allows adversaries and nefarious actors the chance to achieve their ends, fait accompli.

The emergence of weaponized social media, as typified in P.W. Singer’s “LikeWar — The Weaponization of Social Media,” is potentially just the tip of the iceberg compared to the emergence of some disruptive technologies in the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) sector. There are three specific AI/ML applications that could bring about the Death of Authenticity:

 

1) Deepfakes – Videos that are constructed to make a person appear to say or do something that they never said or did (similar to the appearances of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon with Forrest Gump in the 1996 eponymous movie). AI has improved this capability so greatly that it is extremely difficult to discern deepfakes from real video by the naked eye and ear – as seen in recent examples such as acclaimed director Jordan Peele’s video of President Obama. Deepfakes are alarming to national security experts as they could trigger accidental escalation, undermine trust in authorities, and cause unforeseen havoc. Significant efforts are underway to use the same technologies enabling deep fakes – AI/ML – to detect and counter them.

2) AI-Generated Bodies and Faces – AI-driven Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) are being used to generate entirely original and fake faces and even whole bodies. While this technology has commercial applications in such areas as video game design, online clothing sales, and human resources, it also has a profound impact on information warfare. Troll and bot armies are of increasing concern to military and government officials who worry about their effects on political environments and electoral outcomes. Imagine if you will this same threat to the political and governmental landscape with amplified psychological effects from realistic bodies and faces that humanize such bots.

Image by Simon Liu / Source: Flickr

3) AI Writing – A text generation tool created by OpenAI, a research institute based in San Francisco, can now compose original text in realistic prose. The tool is continuing to improve, generating convincing headlines, posts, articles, and comments, entirely free from human input.  AI’s ability to generate new, fictional material is not in and of itself a significant concern – humans can and do do this now (see The Onion and other satirical sites).  What is worrying is the scale at which this can be accomplished. What if AI were to generate hundreds of thousands, if not millions of comments or posts, geared at either supporting or undermining a specific issue or cause?

The convergence of these three technologies could spell the death of authenticity. How will the masses struggle with being flooded with a steady stream of AI-generated deepfakes constantly conveying mixed messages and troll armies that are indistinguishable from their fellow citizens, students, and Soldiers? A constant bombardment of messages by false media and fabricated personalities has the potential to erode the relationship between governments and their citizens, provoking severe reactions throughout the world and leading people to question the very reality they believe.

If you enjoyed this post, please read:

MAJ Chris Telley‘s post on the strategic threat presented by AI-enabled Information Operations in Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda.

– Our review of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s two part series on deepfakes and the Deep Video Portraits video from SIGGRAPH 2018 in the October 2018 edition of “The Queue” (see the first entry).

– Our review of Mad Scientist P.W. Singer and co-author Emerson T. Brooking’s book LikeWar — The Weaponization of Social Media.

– COL Stefan J. Banach‘s complementary posts on Virtual War – A Revolution in Human Affairs (Parts I and II).

CNN‘s Special Report on how Finland is winning the war on fake news. What it’s learned may be crucial to Western democracy.

… and crank up The EurythmicsWould I Lie to You?

148. Crowdsourcing Topic – The Operational Environment: What Will Change and What Will Drive It – Today to 2035?

The Army Mad Scientist Initiative wants your ideas about The Operational Environment – Today to 2035. What is driving changes in competition and conflict?

GUIDELINES:

– Submission Deadline:  NLT 1700 EDT, 15 July 2019

Nonfiction only

– Maximum length:  1000 words / 12 point font

– Submissions must be unclassified, unpublished, and cleared by your public affairs office and operations security managers (USG & as applicable)

– Team or individual entries welcome

TOPICS OF INTEREST (not limited to):

– Technology

– Climate

– Politics

– Society

– Demographics

– Economics

– Moral/Ethical Dilemmas in Future Warfare

– Mixed Reality

– Space

– Information

Looking for additional ideas?  Browse through our 148 MadSci blog posts to date!  And if you have not already subscribed to receive blogs via your email, please do so now!

HOW TO SUBMIT:  Send your submissions and questions…

… via email at:

 

usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil

 

 

 

… or via Twitter:

 

@ArmyMadSci   #ChangingOE

 

NOTE:   No Department of Defense affiliation required for submission. This Community is open to EVERYONE.  Members shape the Army’s view of future Multi-Domain Operations & perspectives on the future Operational Environment.

 

147. BrAIn Gain > BrAIn Drain: Strategic Competition for Intellect

[Editor’s Note: In the future Operational Environment (OE), strategic success in both the competition and combat (i.e., penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit) phases of Multi-Domain Operations will depend, in part, on our Nation’s continued ability to attract, educate, and retain the requisite global talent to achieve and sustain exponential convergence in science and technology (S&T).  This convergence is already leading to revolutionary achievements with respect to sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware. These advances in turn enable machine learning to include reinforcement learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Exponential convergence will afford strategic advantage to those who recognize and leverage it.  The critical strategic resource undergirding this exponential convergence is brain power — the global pool of scientists, engineers, and academicians whose insights, research, and lab work are at the “bleeding edge” of S&T.]

The U.S. is at an inflection point where competition for game changing technology is bringing to light the speed and complexity of the future Operational Environment (OE). Central to the successful development and implementation of game changing technology is the underlying human capital. The next generation of warfighters may be at risk due to the lack of development and investment in technological education. “Urgent threats require urgent responses. One of the most important ways policymakers can deal with the dangers of AI is to boost funding for AI safety research.”1

In a field as nascent as AI, few are sufficiently qualified to do something so complex. This has led companies to turn to academia, pillaging the sector for talent by offering dramatically higher salaries. High profile examples include Andrew Ng, who left Stanford University to become chief scientist at Chinese internet search company Baidu. Uber poached a team of 40 researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. According to the National Science Foundation, 57% of new computer-science doctoral graduates in the United States leave academia for industry jobs, up from 38% a decade ago.2

Brain Drain is “the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions.”3 The U.S. needs to attract, support, and retain international talent in order to maintain its scientific edge. To do otherwise presents consequences for the U.S. in tech development, national security, defense, and the economy. The U.S. risks losing many of those it has educated at its best universities to other nations,4 with commensurate adverse impacts to our innovative and disruptive technology R&D efforts (e.g., AI).

Brain Gain is “the movement of skilled workers internationally … [to] countries that reap their skills and experience, and brain drain for their countries of origin.”5 Today the race for brain gain is in game changing technologies like AI, quantum, and hypersonics. The key component of this race is human talent that provides the breakthroughs developed by national research and used to establish university spin offs and start-ups—human talent is the key to success.

Snowball Effect.International students are America’s ‘golden goose,’ providing billions of dollars to the economy and helping to subsidize the education of U.S. students. They are a key source of talent contributing to American tech companies.”6

Brain drain snowballs in a way that impacts university programs directly and their status as centers of research. Without the requisite number of graduate students to sustain their programs, professors who utilize them to conduct research at these academic institutions could leave the university system to work for industry. Losing these professors would greatly reduce the role of American universities as centers of research.7 AI professionals already trained in other countries could be recruited by American industry, reducing its dependence on poaching talent from universities.8 The 2018 National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) shows that full-time international graduate students make up 81 percent of electrical engineering students and 79 percent of computer science students.9 The pressures of obtaining H1-B temporary visas represent one difficulty a high-skilled foreign national, whether an international student or individuals educated abroad, face in seeking to work long-term in the United States.10

Lack of R&D spending puts American overmatch at risk. For the Army, there are a host of future jobs and skill sets that do not exist / have not been created yet— but will be required by the modernized force (e.g., we will need Soldiers who are AI programmers, drone creators / maintainers, and 3-D printing specialists). The 2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength conveys that challenges are growing and the “American-led order” is under stress, its leadership role remains in question, and its security interests are under significant pressure.11

China R&D Ascendant — Gross domestic expenditures on R&D, by the United States, the EU, and selected other countries: 1981–2015 / Source: National Science Foundation

What makes this worse is the lack of U.S. spending on R&D, limiting the number of international students and talented workers in the country. The Pentagon “is facing an unprecedented threat to its technological and industrial base,” as the U.S.’s “open society” has “offered China and others access to the same technology and information that is crucial to the success of our future war-fighting capabilities.”12 The students received their education in the U.S. and went back to their respective countries. Meanwhile, since 2016, China has opened a new university every week.13 In 2013, 40 percent of Chinese graduates completed STEM educations— that’s double the U.S. rate. By 2030, China and India could account for 60 percent of STEM graduates in major economies versus four percent for the U.S and eight percent for Europe.14 China’s “Thousand Talents” program, which started in 2008, is aimed at gathering human talent from the U.S. and other Western countries to bring them to Chinese institutions — it is a “toolkit for foreign technology acquisition.”15

Allure. It easy to recognize why AI talent would leave academia for private enterprise, offering salaries as much as five times higher. Those with high-demand talent may never consider entering Military service. Newly minted PhDs can earn USD $300,000+, while top-ranked senior academics can expect multimillion-dollar, multiyear contracts.16 Universities and government cannot reasonably expect to match / compete with companies like Apple on salary, but they can offer other benefits — for example, many PhD students lack the business knowledge needed, and many serving or recruited to the Army can say the same. Offering them free access to external training and associated business schools to broaden their knowledge could prepare them for leadership roles in their careers.17

Ways to Brain Gain

Suggestion 1: R&D needs a jump-start. To attract talent, the U.S. Government could subsidize salaries for academic talent in the fields of potential game changing technologies as they do in China. China often offers its foreign-trained talent better employment propositions than in the U.S. For example, Linsen Li, a Chinese-born, 30-year-old specialist in advanced batteries who earned a postdoc in MIT’s material science and engineering program. Axios wrote, ‘He received his PhD in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, in all spending the last seven years in the U.S. Li received no teaching offers in the U.S., he accepted a $65,000-a-year teaching slot at Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University, along with the equivalent of $900,000 in research funding, in addition to $250,000 to buy a house.”18

Suggestion 2: Public Science Investment. MIT professors Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson recommend jump-starting the economy with science. They assert reviving U.S. support of science and technology is one of the best ways to generate economic growth.19 The Human Genome Project in the late eighties provides us with an effective model of success, when our Federal Government created a $3 billion, 15-year project to sequence the human genome. In 2012, human genome sequencing accounted for an estimated 280,000 jobs, $19 billion in personal income, $3.9 billion in federal taxes, and $2.1 billion in state and local taxes— $2 per year per U.S. resident.20 Gruber and Johnson also recommend that the American people should receive a kind of annual innovation dividend — a return on their tax dollars. In effect, this would be a scaled-up version of the dividend that Alaskans receive on that state’s energy revenues. Public investment in science and technology could create overall growth and better jobs throughout the economy, beyond Boston, Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.21

Suggestion 3: Develop special relationships with academia. The Government could attract recruits or current students interested in military service by developing special relationships with universities. For example, the U.S. Air Force has developed a special relationship with Carnegie Mellon University and is embedding Airmen at the university.22 Carnegie Mellon University and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (ARL) announced the award of a new Cooperative Agreement totaling $72 million over 5 years. Carnegie Mellon will lead multiple universities that will work in collaboration with ARL to accelerate the research and development of Advanced Algorithms, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence (A4I) to enhance National Security and Defense.23

The Army’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance (RCTA) brings together government, industrial, and academic institutions to address R&D required to enable the deployment of future military unmanned ground vehicle systems / Source:  ARL

Conclusion:  Consequences will be obvious. In 2020, the U.S. and the European Union will only account for 25 percent of the world’s college-educated people.24 The U.S. needs to do all it can to ensure it reaps the economic and military benefits of the talent that our nation’s academic institutions are educating.25 The consequences of taking active measures to preserve American scientific leadership and innovation will become obvious in five to ten years.26 Retaining this strategic talent means that the U.S. will win the on-going innovation and technology race with our near-peers.

To do nothing to redress brain drain will create a new vulnerability for the U.S. with respect to the technological landscape of the future. As the world becomes more connected, personalized, and interoperable, it will transform how we live. Not investing in U.S. brainpower will negatively impact both the nation and our Army. As we have learned from Dr. James Canton, the things we think might happen 30 years from now will end up happening eight to 10 years earlier. “Technologies that sound radical today will soon be mainstream.”27 The Soldier in the Future Operational Environment of 2028 will be the product of what the U.S. invests in STEM education and R&D now and our ability to recruit and retain the associated talent in the country. If we cannot attract these talented individuals to remain in the U.S., then we will lack the requisite strategic brainpower to maintain overmatch in the Future OE.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.


1 Paul Scharre, “Killer Apps, The Real Dangers of an AI Arms Race” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2019. Accessed 9 May 2019. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2019-04-16/killer-apps

2 James Ovenden, “How to Solve the AI Brain Drain.” Innovation Enterprise Chanel. 4 January 2019. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://channels.theinnovationenterprise.com/articles/how-to-solve-the-ai-brain-drain

3 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “ Brain Drain Definition.” Accessed May 8, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brain%20drain

4 Shane Savitsky, “The U.S. is risking an academic brain drain.” AXIOS, August 20, 2017. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.axios.com/the-us-is-risking-an-academic-brain-drain-1513304933-3005f8ba-f4d4-4f1e-a653-0bd4a778f38a.html

5 Migration Policy Institute, “Brain Gain Definition.” Accessed 8 May 2019. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/topics/brain-drain-brain-gain

6 Stuart Anderson, “Guess Who’s Not Coming to America? International Students,” Forbes. March 2, 2018. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2018/03/02/guess-whos-not-coming-to-america-international-students/#1f13d61c3c3e

7 Anderson, “Guess Who’s Not Coming to America?” Forbes. March 2, 2018.

8 Ovenden, “How to Solve the AI Brain Drain.” Innovation Enterprise Chanel. 4 January 2019.

9 National Foundation for American Policy (NAFP), “Declining International Student Enrollment at U.S. Universities and its Potential Impact.” February 2018, Accessed April 30, 2019. https://nfap.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Decline-in-International-Student-Enrollment.NFAP-Policy-Brief.February-2018-2.pdf

10 NFAP Policy Brief, July 2018.

11 The Heritage Foundation, “2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength.” Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, 5 October 2018. Accessed 30 April 2019. https://www.heritage.org/military-strength

12 South China Monitoring Post, “China’s ‘Thousand Talents’ plan key to seizing US expertise, intelligence officials say.” 22 June 2018, Accessed 30 April 2019. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2152005/chinas-thousand-talents-plan-key-seizing-us-expertise

13 Andreas Schleicher, “China opens a new university every week.” BBC News, 16 March 2016. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-35776555

14 Schleicher, “China opens a new university every week.” BBC News, 16 March 2016.

15 Anthony Capaccio, “U.S. Faces ‘Unprecedented Threat’ From China on Tech Takeover.” Bloomberg, June 22, 2018. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-22/china-s-thousand-talents-called-key-in-seizing-u-s-expertise

16 Ovenden, “How to Solve the AI Brain Drain.” Innovation Enterprise Chanel. 4 January 2019.

17 Ibid

18 Ibid

19 Peter Dizikes, “Jump-starting the economy with science.” MIT News Office, April 17, 2019. Accessed 7 May 2019. http://news.mit.edu/2019/public-investment-science-jump-starting-america-0417

20 Dizikes, “Jump-starting the economy.” MIT News Office, April 17, 2019.

21 Ibid

22 Nicholas Thomson, “Why the Airforce is Embedding Airmen at Carnegie Mellon.” Wired, May 1, 2019. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/air-force-heather-wilson-carnegie-mellon/

23 Carnegie Mellon University News, “Carnegie Mellon University and Army Research Lab Announce $72 Million Cooperative Agreement.” March 11, 2019. Accessed May 8, 2019. https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2019/march/army-agreement.html

24 Scott Maxwell. “Why the AI Brain Drain Won’t Last.“ Inc, April 24, 2017. Accessed 7 May 2019. https://www.inc.com/scott-maxwell/why-the-ai-brain-drain-wont-last.html

25 Ovenden, “How to Solve the AI Brain Drain.” Innovation Enterprise Chanel. 4 January 2019.

26 Craig Axford, “The Great American Brain Drain,” Medium, June 11, 2018. Accessed 30 April 2019. https://medium.com/@craig.axford/the-great-american-brain-drain-b0da9eb7ed2

27 Dr. James Canton, “Mad Scientist Disruption and the Future Operational Environment.” Conference proceedings, Austin, TX. 25 April 2019.