196. “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 Operational Environment (OE). We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!

1.The Russian Military Will Soon Assign Soldiers Based on Their ‘Genetic Passports’,” by Michael Peck, The National Interest, 12 November 2019.

Russia will begin using genetic testing to profile and assign its Soldiers’ occupations. Using their “genetic passports,” the project seeks “to find genetic predispositions among military personnel, which will allow them to be properly oriented according to military specialties,” according to Alexander Sergeyev, Chief, Russian Academy of Sciences. On the surface, this seems a natural and logical progression, given recent advances in human genetics. Since the rise of modern professional armies, nations have long sought to select and place recruits where they best fit military requirements (e.g., the tallest into elite Guards units; those with natural mechanical and mathematical aptitudes in mechanized, aviation, engineering, and artillery arms; those with extreme mental fortitude and physical endurance into special operations organizations). Per Sergeyev, “It is a question of understanding at the genetic level who is more prone to, for example, … service in the fleet, who may become a paratrooper or a tankman.

Yet in the hands of an authoritarian state, the implications for genetic profiling may have far more nefarious consequences, for both its citizens and ours. For ethnically diverse states, problematic minorities or dissident populations may find themselves vectored into units designated for initial combat operations – cannon fodder – under the guise of their “genetic fit.” It may also presage the development of personalized warfare agents, designed to target an enemies’ genome, while proving harmless to one’s own troops. This quest to be “the best of the best of the best” is just the latest manifestation of the changing character of warfare.

2. In Future Wars, the U.S. Military Will Have Nowhere to Hide, by Michael Beckley, Foreign Policy, 20 November 2019.

Chinese DF-17 carrying the DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle / Source: Bill Bostock, Business Insider Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Beckley argues that in the future the United States will not have the luxury of fighting its wars from safe havens. This change will undermine a particular American way of war that involves massive assaults from out of theater safe havens. This change is driven by new technologies that will enable near peer competitors like China and Russia to carry out precise and devastating attacks against U.S. bases and logistics nodes with new classes of hypersonic missiles and lethal drones.

Michael Beckley’s argument is compelling but does not take into account the complete challenge. Both Russian and China are transitioning to a hemispheric threat with a primary focus on challenging the U.S. Army all the way from its home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight. The U.S. can expect cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure, the use of advanced information warfare such as deep fakes targeting units and families, and the possibility of small scale kinetic attacks during what were once uncontested administrative actions of deployment. In all of these examples, there is no institutional memory for this hemispheric threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to build future readiness.

Additionally, the examples provided by Michael Beckley do not recognize the availability of these capabilities to regional powers and non-state actors. Several non-state actors have demonstrated the capability to deliver “poor man’s precision fires” using drones with saturation tactics and way point navigation against static targets like airfields and infrastructure. Also, democratization of weaponized information empowers regional hegemons and non-state actors, enabling them to target the U.S. and our allies and achieve effects at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, without risking armed conflict.

The character of warfare is rapidly changing and it will impact the traditional American way of war. The means to attack vulnerable logistics and basing will be available to a wide range of adversaries. The realities of this threat should immediately influence U.S. Army concepts like Multi-Domain Operations, its doctrine, and all training associated with deployment activities and unit and family resilience.

3.A 2020 US election simulation just ended with 32 dead and 200 injured,” by Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, 13 November 2019.

Boston-based cybersecurity firm Cybereason hosted a 2020 national election simulation that saw their “Red Team” face off against the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, DHS, and the Arlington, Virginia, Police Department. Their mission was to undermine the election without interfering with any of the actual election equipment. In the end, there were 32 deaths and 200 wounded (all simulated). The Blue Team chose to cancel the election and declare martial law. The Red Team took full advantage of an arsenal of cyber tools including deepfakes, controlling news websites and twitter accounts (Fox News and CNN), hacking elected officials’ social media accounts to spread misinformation, and remotely controlling autonomous vehicles and stoplights. The attack was too much for the authorities to handle. What’s more concerning is that, while this was a simulation, all of the capabilities and technologies used are widely available to everyone from state actors to terrorist organizations to private citizens. The Army won’t have to provide security for domestic elections, but it will face all of these threats in an OE that will be defined by weaponized information. As units prepare to deploy during periods of heightened tensions, our adversaries will employ this capability to target key personnel (and their dependents), distracting our troops from their deployment preparations and disrupting unit cohesion. Spurious videos could further sow division with our coalition partners causing them to hesitate, question, and withhold their military support. This simulation shows the overwhelming effect of these attacks, the ease of accessibility, and the speed of information warfare. How can the Army prepare for these types of non-kinetic attacks? How can we determine fact from fiction? What additional training paradigms are necessary to prepare Soldiers for this environment?

4.Apple Plans Standalone AR and VR Gaming Headset by 2022 and Glasses Later,” by Mark Hurman, Bloomberg, 11 November 2019.

Tech giant Apple is aiming to release a number of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices over the next three to four years. It will begin with an iPad geared more towards AR leading to a combined VR/AR headset for gaming, videos, and virtual meetings, culminating in less obstructive AR glasses that will provide information fed from a user’s iPhone, Apple watch, or similar device.

This last technology, non-obstructive AR glasses, is potentially the most impactful on the operational environment and the future of warfare. AR glasses that “wear” similar to normal glasses or sunglasses may lead users away from being “tethered” to mobile devices they have to carry and shift to strictly wearables. Such devices have been conceived of in works of fiction like Spiderman: Far From Home and Black Mirror.

While AR has been envisioned for some time in science fiction, its mass adoption – over half the U.S. mobile market share belongs to Apple – would dramatically change how content is presented, how humans interact with each other and their surroundings, and if immersive enough, what is “reality.” Additionally, the Army, and larger DoD, will have to grapple with how to integrate this technology into training, operations, and even leadership practices, while defending its exploitation as a new threat vector for weaponized information.

5.The Weirdness Is Coming A glimpse of the near future as seen through the recent past,” by the editors, with additional reporting by Brock Colyar, Gabriel Debenedetti, Jane Drinkard, Bridget Read, and Matt Stieb, New York Magazine Intelligencer, The Future Issue, 13 November 2019.

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed” — novelist William Gibson

This article is a collection of news stories (rather than analyses) spanning 2019 that signal the emergence of future trends. All-inclusive social-credit scores blanketing Xi Jinping’s China, antibiotic-resistant superbugs cropping up in India before spreading as far as the Arctic, UAVs used in assassinations and infrastructure attacks, and advertisers knowing more about us than our own doctors.

As we advance in The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035), the United States could face a true strategic competitor. These fast moving changes reflect the pace of human progress and its impact on the OE. This challenge is compounded by our reliance on coalition warfare with allies and partners who might not be able or willing to modernize at the same pace as the U.S., while our competitors might modernize at a faster pace than us.  Advances in biotechnology and health will see major advances; yet competitors may not adopt the same legal regulations or ethics for enhancement as the U.S., resulting in asymmetry between us and those choosing to operate below our defined legal and ethical thresholds. Passive sensing, especially when combined with artificial intelligence and big-data techniques, may routinely outperform active sensors, leading to a counter-reconnaissance fight between autonomous sensors and countermeasures – “a robot-on-robot affair.” As the world becomes ever more digitized, states will share their strategic environments with networked societies. The articles mirror trends that the Mad Scientist Laboratory has been forecasting (i.e., robotics, quantum computing, space, and other disruptive technologies) through 2050.

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

195. The Operational Environment in 2035: Mad Scientist Writing Contest

[Editor’s Note: Crowdsourcing is an effective tool for harvesting ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals, helping to diversify thought and challenge conventional assumptions. Mad Scientist is pleased to announce the first of our FY20 writing contests — Read on!]

The Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative wants to harness your diverse intellects to mine new knowledge and imagine the possibilities of the Operational Environment in 2035.

Deadline for submission is 1 March 2020.


Nonfiction only.

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

• Maximum 2000 words/12 point font.

• Team or individual entries welcome.


• What new skills and talent management techniques will be required by the Army in 2035?

• What does the information landscape look like in 2035? Infrastructure? Computing? Communication? Media?

• What can we anticipate in the Competition phase (below armed Conflict) and how do we prepare future Soldiers and Leaders for these challenges?

• What does strategic, operational, and tactical (relative) surprise look like in 2035?

• What does Multi-Domain Command and Control look like on the battlefield in 2035?

• How do we prepare for the second move in a future conflict?

• Which past battle or conflict best represents the challenges we face in the future and why?

• What technology or convergence of technologies could provide a U.S. advantage by 2050?

The author of the winning submission will be invited to present at a Mad Scientist event in 2020. Select semi-finalists will be published on the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog site or on one of our partner sites.

NOTE: NO Department of Defense affiliation is required for submission. This Community is open to EVERYONEHelp shape the Army’s view of future Multi-Domain Operations and perspectives on the future OE.

Looking for ideas? Start here at the Mad Scientist Laboratory using the SEARCH function (found on the right hand side of this screen, or down below this post if viewing it on your PED). Enter a keyword, then review the associated blog posts for inspiration.

Send your submissions and questions to:

194. CRISPR Convergence

[Editor’s Note: In today’s post, returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Howard R. Simkin addresses the ramifications of democratized genomic engineering in the Operational Environment (OE). Comparing the genetic engineering tool Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) to the internet in terms of its revolutionary potential, Mr. Simkin examines three scenarios where this capability could be harnessed for nefarious purposes. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

The Future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson, science fiction author who coined the word cyberspace in 1984.1


This paper briefly examines the convergence of trends in technology as they affect CRISPR2 technology through the lens of three possible users of the technology – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a future Aum Shinrikyo3 -like entity, and a Unabomber-like4 super-empowered individual.

What does the Future Operating Environment (FOE) tell us?

Figure 1. Exponential Convergence – Five converging technologies that will drive the exponential development of increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A survey of the two most commonly available, authoritative sources on the FOE points to an ever-increasing rate of technological change, the growth of mega-cities, and the diffusion of cutting-edge technology into the hands of both state and non-state actors as well as super-empowered individuals.5 Over the next ten to twenty years, the world will experience dramatic changes in technology. Governments and businesses are investing billions of dollars into research programs and tech startups associated with all five of the technological fields shown in Figure 1.6

The convergence of these technologies, impelled by increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive change that will approximate that of Moore’s Law – doubling in power while halving in cost every two years. Our adversaries – states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals – will undoubtedly seek to harness these trends to accomplish their ends. To examine the many implications of these changes is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, this post will concentrate on one specific technology – CRISPR.


CRISPR may be the next Internet – in terms of the impact it will have on society. CRISPR only became approved for use on humans in 2015. However, its applications to gene editing have already become significant.7 As the web magazine Futurism observed, “As the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the system became more and more apparent, researchers and pharmaceutical companies jumped on the technique, modifying it, improving it, and testing it on different genetic issues.”8 This tool could lead to gene editing techniques that could strengthen disease resistance and improve strength and mental abilities. It could also lead to designer diseases for humans, plants, and animals.

What was formerly only available at the cost of billions of dollars and years of research can now be achieved by a single individual at a nominal cost. The original human genome project took ten years, employed a large research team with state-of-the-art laboratories, and cost a billion dollars. Now, you can get your complete genome sequenced for about $10,000 in about six weeks. If you just want specific information, the cost is as little as $100.

To the point, in 2017 Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta revived an extinct horsepox virus using synthetic DNA strands ordered for about $100,000. While not a trivial effort, the research lead Dr. David Evans admitted that he undertook the project to prove that it could be done. And to prove that it wouldn’t necessarily require a lot of time, money, and even biomedical skill or knowledge. His effort opened up new possibilities for researchers looking to make better vaccines, but also those looking to use these viruses as bioweapons9 including smallpox.10


This causes a number of questions to spring to mind. What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops? Can we prevent its use? How do we recover once it is used?

What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops?

The sort of enemy who would employ CRISPR to design bioweapons fits one of three profiles, each of which has their own present day or historical example. The first is a nation state – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The second is an Aum Shinrikyo-like non-state actor. The third is a Unabomber-like super-empowered individual. The DPRK is a clear and present danger. The other two historical examples are not evident yet, but the potential for them to spring to life is there.

The DPRK is extremely xenophobic. Their culture views North Koreans as the pinnacle of human development. All other cultures and races are, by definition inferior. In that sense, they are culturally akin to pre-World War II Japan or Germany. They are also materialists, in the sense that they ascribe a spiritual dimension to human affairs. With such underlying beliefs, the end justifies the means when dealing with inferiors.11 It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the DPRK would have no moral or ethical problems with creating an asymptomatic, race-specific, highly contagious and deadly disease.

Kasumigaseki Station, one of the many stations affected during the Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo / Source: Wikimedia Commons

The emergence of an Aum Shinrikyo-like organization in the near future is not beyond the realm of the possible. The original organization employed Sarin in the Tokyo subway in 1995 but it also conducted extensive research and testing into bioweapons to include anthrax, botulinum toxin, and the Ebola virus in 1992 – 1995.12 This was possible because the Aum had recruited a number of highly capable scientists. At its inception, Aum had been indistinguishable from a number of contemporary – and harmless – cults in Asia. However, it morphed into a violent doomsday cult without the Japanese authorities detecting the change. While such a failure in 1995 led to a few dozen deaths, the increasing availability of CRISPR technology could make such a failure a catastrophic event.

The final threat – the super-empowered individual – may not emerge until the latter part of the timeframe covered by this paper. Theoretically, enabled by AI and quantum computing, it will be possible to create a bioweapon that would target only specific genomic types. It is not beyond the realm of probability to envision a hate-filled racist developing and using such a highly specific bioweapon.

Can we prevent its use?

Jennifer Doudna, a University of California biochemist who helped invent CRISPR technology in 2012, calls for the “appropriate regulation” of human germline editing in her recent editorial entitled CRISPR’s unwanted anniversary in the journal Science:  “Consequences for defying established restrictions should include, at a minimum, loss of funding and publication privileges. Ensuring responsible use of genome editing will enable CRISPR technology to improve the well-being of millions of people and fulfill its revolutionary potential.”

However, prevention is highly problematic when a technology is cheap, widely available, and relatively easy to use. CRISPR meets both of the first two criteria. Although inexpensive CRISPR kits are available online, the knowledge necessary to employ to create malignant products resides at the PhD level. In all probability, it would require a team of PhDs to produce a bioweapon. However, if current trends of open-source knowledge dissemination13 continue, the knowledge threshold for employment may lower significantly. The future may require the power of AI, data science, big data, and quantum computers to identify and track potential threats.

Cuiker and Mayer-Schoenberg observe that, “Using big data will sometimes mean forgoing the quest for why in return for knowing what.”14 In other words, it involves a shift from understanding causation to seeking a correlation derived from big data to provide a proxy for what you are trying to understand. A correlation is simply a relationship between two data values. As such, it can serve to focus attention on a previously unsuspected connection and lead to discovery of causation. It can also provide warning when the strength of a correlation reaches a predetermined level requiring executive attention.

To illustrate, in 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) approached Google with a problem on catching flu outbreaks as early as possible. The new H1N1 strain had been identified and CDC was concerned the outbreak might be as severe as that of the 1918 Spanish Influenza. As things stood, CDC only received warning of a flu outbreak an average of one to two weeks after its onset. The reason was simple – the data the CDC used to determine an outbreak were hospital admissions and emergency room data. Although they understood flu had broken out, they were in a constant catchup mode – not the desired mode for a possible H1N1 pandemic.

Google agreed to try to solve the puzzle. They used the “n = all” approach, querying their entire search database for the last (2007-2008) flu outbreak. Google ran over 50 million search terms through 450 million algorithms before arriving at a list of 45 search terms that – if entered with a certain frequency in any geographic area – strongly correlated with a flu outbreak. Using this approach, Google was able to detect warning signs within one or two days of an outbreak, pinpoint the geographic area, and even estimate the percentage of the population affected. They deployed this capability in time to assist the CDC in coping with the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.15,16

How do we recover once it is used?

While these three threats are possible, their solution will arise from the same technological forces that created them. Some components of the solution – like a robust public health system – are already in place in the U.S. The future public health system will rapidly identify the bioweapon and begin to develop treatments. The government will enforce such measures as social distance, allowing virulent strains to ‘burn out.’ In the future, the scientific community will use AI and quantum computing to run simulations that come up with novel approaches to mitigating the effects of any bioweapon. CRISPR and Nanotechnology will allow for the employment of payloads that counter the bioweapon. It will still be a classic game of move and countermove.


The advent of easily accessible CRISPR technology poses a real and present danger to the world. In the hands of a rogue nation, a terrorist organization, or a super-empowered individual, it could unleash old diseases such as smallpox or new diseases with no known treatment. With the right knowledge, the entry threshold is less than a quarter or a million dollars. We must possess the means to identify, track, and counter these threats – preferably before they are employed at scale.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Howard R. Simkin is a Senior Concept Developer in the DCS, G-9 Concepts, Experimentation and Analysis Directorate, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He has over 40 years of combined military, law enforcement, defense contractor, and government experience. He is a retired Special Forces officer with a wide variety of special operations experience. Within the G9 he analyzes and defines the future operating environment and required capabilities Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) in support of future concepts development. His subject matter expertise includes analyzing and evaluating historical, current and emerging technology as well as Combined, Joint, Multi-Service, Army and ARSOF organizational initiatives, trends, and concepts to determine the implications for ARSOF units. Mr. Simkin holds a Masters of Administrative Science from the Johns Hopkins University. He is a proclaimed TRADOC Mad Scientist as well as a certified Project Management Professional. He has written several articles that have recently been published in Naval History, Small Wars Journal, or on the TRADOC Mad Scientist Blog.

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

1 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson (Accessed 18 April 2017).

2 CRISPR is a gene editing technique. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats; it is DNA used in the immune systems of prokaryotes. The system relies on the Cas9 enzyme and guide RNA’s to find specific, problematic segments of a gene and cut them out. In 2015, researchers discovered that this technique could be applied to humans.

3 Aum Shinrikyo was an apocalyptic Japanese cult that carried out a Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo Subway on 20 March 1995. See Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

4 Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski was the Unabomber. He carried out a series of bombings from 1978 to 1995 to protest the growing influence of technology in society. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kaczynski (Accessed 06 October 2017).

5 The FOE depicted in this paper is a synthesis of the National Intelligence Council Global Trends (2035) Paradox of Progress, National Intelligence Council, Washington DC, January 2017, see: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/global-trends-home, and the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Staff J7, Washington, DC, 14 July 2016.

6 Taken from a PowerPoint presentation entitled “AI Futures” given by fellow Proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Canton at the USASOC Futures Forum, 8 August 2017.

7 11 Incredible Things CRISPR Has Helped Us Achieve in 2017 https://futurism.com/11-incredible-things-crispr-has-helped-us-achieve-in-2017/ (Accessed 06 October 2017).

8 CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (Accessed 16 August 2017)

9 Researchers Brought Back a Pox Virus Using Mail-Order DNA and it Only Cost $100,000. https://futurism.com/researchers-brought-back-a-pox-virus-using-mail-order-dna-and-it-only-cost-100000/ (Accessed 10 October 2017).

10 People Could Make Smallpox from Scratch in a Lab, Scientists Warn. https://www.livescience.com/59809-horsepox-virus-recreated.html (Accessed 10 October 2017), and Scientists synthesize smallpox cousin in ominous breakthrough. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/07/07/scientists-synthesize-smallpox-cousin-in-ominous-breakthrough/?utm_term=.2c1b343dd4ec (Accessed 10 October 2017).

11 USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013, 15 – 16.

12 Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996, 51 – 57; 96 – 7; 94 – 6.

13 The Canadian researchers mentioned earlier in this paper published an open source paper which details how they resurrected horsepox.

14 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 36.

15 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 29.

16 Mayer Schoenberger, Viktor and Cukier, Kenneth: Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, pp. 1-3. Twitter was also used to mine “flu”, and correlate results on a map. This allowed CDC to watch flu bloom on a map in near real time.


Cuiker, Kenneth, and Victor Mayer-Schoenberg. “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World.” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3, May/June 2013.

Department of Defense. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, J7, As of March 2017.

Futurism.com. CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. March 13, 2017. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (accessed July 2017, 2017).

Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Mayer-Schoenberg, Victor, and Kenneth Cuiker. Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

National Intelligence Council. Global Trends, Paradox of Progress. Washington, DC: National Intelligence Council, January 2017.

The Joint Staff. Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World. Washington, DC: Joint Staff J7, 14 July 2016.

USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013.

193. Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Science Laboratory is pleased to excerpt below the Executive Summary from a DoD Biotechnologies for Health and Human Performance Council (BHPC) study group report entitled, Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD. This report, authored by Peter Emanuel, Scott Walper, Diane DiEuliis, Natalie Klein, James B. Petro, and James Giordano (proclaimed Mad Scientist); and published by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC CBC), culminates a year-long assessment to forecast and evaluate the military implications of machines that are physically integrated with the human body to augment and enhance human performance over the next 30 years. This report summarizes this assessment and findings; identifies four potential military-use cases for new technologies in this area; and makes seven recommendations on how the U.S. should proceed regarding human/machine enhancement technologies. Enjoy!]

A DoD BHPC study group surveyed a wide range of current and emerging technologies relevant to assisting and augmenting human performance in many domains. The team used this information to develop a series of vignettes as case studies for discussion and analysis including feasibility; military application; and ethical, legal, and social implication (ELSI) considerations.

Ultimately, the team selected four vignettes as being technically feasible by 2050 or earlier. The following vignettes are relevant to military needs and offer capabilities beyond current military systems:

    • ocular enhancements to imaging, sight, and situational awareness;
    • restoration and programmed muscular control through an optogenetic bodysuit
      sensor web;
    • auditory enhancement for communication and protection; and
    • direct neural enhancement of the human brain for two-way data transfer.

Although each of these technologies will offer the potential to incrementally enhance performance beyond the normal human baseline, the BHPC study group analysis suggested that the development of direct neural enhancements of the human brain for two-way data transfer would create a revolutionary advancement in future military capabilities. This technology is predicted to facilitate read/write capability between humans and machines and between humans through brain-to-brain interactions. These interactions would allow warfighters direct communication with unmanned and autonomous systems, as well as with other humans, to optimize command and control systems and operations. The potential for direct data exchange between human neural networks and microelectronic systems could revolutionize tactical warfighter communications, speed the transfer of knowledge throughout the chain of command, and ultimately dispel the “fog” of war. Direct neural enhancement of the human brain through neuro-silica interfaces could improve target acquisition and engagement and accelerate defensive and offensive systems.

Although the control of military hardware, enhanced situational awareness, and faster data assimilation afforded by direct neural control would fundamentally alter the battlefield by the year 2050, the other three cyborg technologies are also likely to be adopted in some form by warfighters and civil society. The BHPC study group predicted that human/machine enhancement technologies will become widely available before the year 2050 and will steadily mature, largely driven by civilian demand and a robust bio-economy that is at its earliest stages of development in today’s global market. The global healthcare market will
fuel human/machine enhancement technologies primarily to augment the loss of functionality from injury or disease, and defense applications will likely not drive the market in its later stages. The BHPC study group anticipated that the gradual introduction of beneficial restorative cyborg technologies will, to an extent, acclimatize the population to their use.

The BHPC study group projected that introduction of augmented human beings into the general population, DOD active duty personnel, and near-peer competitors will accelerate in the years following 2050 and will lead to imbalances, inequalities, and inequities in established legal, security, and ethical frameworks. Each of these technologies will afford some level of performance improvement to end users, which will widen the performance gap between enhanced and unenhanced individuals and teams. The BHPC study group analyzed case studies and posed a series of questions to drive its assessment of the impact to DOD programs, policies, and operations. The following are the resulting recommendations (not listed in order of priority):

1. DOD personnel must conduct global assessments of societal awareness and perceptions of human/machine enhancement technologies. A generalized perception exists in the United States that our adversaries are more likely to adopt technologies that U.S. populations are reluctant or unwilling to field because of ethical concerns. However, the attitudes of our adversaries toward these technologies have never been verified. Societal apprehension following the introduction of new technologies can lead to unanticipated political barriers and slow domestic adoption, irrespective of value or realistic risk. Assessment of global attitudes will predict where it may be difficult to introduce new technologies because of sociopolitical barriers to adoption and when adversarial adoption of offset technologies may likely be more readily accepted.

2. U.S. leadership should use existing and newly developed forums (e.g., NATO) to discuss impacts to interoperability with allied partners as we
approach the year 2050.
This will help develop policies and practices that will maximize interoperability of forces.
The rapid development pace of cyborg technologies has implications for interoperability of military forces. The DOD requirement to maintain interoperability with allied partners within NATO and other global alliance frameworks warrants the undertaking of efforts to align cyborg assets with existing allied partnership doctrine.

3. DOD should invest in the development of dynamic legal, security, and ethical frameworks under its control that anticipate emerging technologies. The current legal, security, and ethical frameworks are insufficient because of the speed at which these technologies are developing in the United States and other nations around the world (allied and adversarial). Therefore, the DOD should support the development of forward-leaning policies (internal and external) that protect individual privacy, sustain security, and manage personal and organizational risk, while maximizing defined benefits to the United States and its allies and assets. Because operationalization of technology for national security is at the core of the DOD mission, these frameworks should be structured to be agile and responsive to new technologies developed within the United States or elsewhere.

4. Efforts should be undertaken to reverse negative cultural narratives of enhancement technologies. Across popular social and open-source media, literature, and film, the use of machines to enhance the physical condition of the human species has received a distorted and dystopian narrative in the name of entertainment. A more realistic and balanced (if not more positive) narrative, along with transparency in the government’s approach to technology adoption, will serve to better educate the public, mitigate societal apprehensions, and remove barriers to productive adoption of these new technologies.*   A more informed public will also help illuminate valid social concerns, such as those surrounding privacy, so that DOD personnel can develop mitigation strategies, whenever possible. Although not intrinsically a DOD mission, defense leadership should understand that negative public and social perceptions will need to be overcome, if these technologies are to be fielded.

Source: CIO Australia / Royal Australian Air Force

5. DOD personnel should conduct tabletop wargames and targeted threat assessments to determine the doctrine and tactics of allied and adversarial forces. Wargames are an established mechanism to gauge the impact of asymmetric technologies on tactics, techniques, and procedures. Tabletop exercises exploring varied scenarios of the integration and use of human/machine technologies by the United States or its adversaries will predict offset advantages, identify NATO and other allied organizational interoperability friction points, and inform senior military strategists and science and technology investors. DOD personnel should support these efforts using targeted intelligence assessments of this emerging field.

6. The U.S. Government should support efforts to establish a whole-of-nation approach to human/machine enhancement technologies versus a whole-of-government approach. Federal and commercial investments in these areas are uncoordinated and are being outpaced by Chinese research and development efforts, which could result in a loss of U.S. dominance in human/machine enhancement technologies within the projected timeframe of this study. Near-peer dominance in the commercial sector will place U.S. interests in the defense sector at a disadvantage and could lead to an offset disadvantage in the realm of human/machine enhancement by the year 2050. A national effort to sustain U.S. dominance in cyborg technologies is in the best interests of the DOD and the nation.

7. The DOD should support foundational research to validate human/ machine fusion technologies before fielding them and to track the long-term safety and impact on individuals and groups. The benefits afforded by human/machine fusions will be significant and will have positive quality-of-life impacts on humankind through the restoration of any functionality lost due to illness or injury. The military community will also see capability opportunities that will impact operations and training. As these technologies evolve, it is vital that the scientific and engineering communities move cautiously to maximize their potential and focus on the safety of our society. Commensurate investments in these areas will work to mitigate the misuse or unintended consequences of these technologies.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD complete report here.

… read the following related MadSci Lab blog posts:

… watch Dr. Alexander Kott‘s presentation The Network is the Robot, presented at the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, & Autonomy: Visioning Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference, at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, 8-9 March 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia.

… and see Hank Greely‘s presentation on Future Legal and Ethical Implications of Bio Technology from the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, at SRI International, 8-9 March 2018 in Menlo Park, California.

Disclaimer: The findings in this report are not an official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

* Wurzman R.; Yaden D.; Giordano J. Neuroscience Fiction as Eidola: Social Reflection and Neuroethical Obligations in Depictions of Neuroscience in Film. Camb Q Health Care Ethics-Neuroethics Now 2017, 26 (2), 292-312.


192. New Skills Required to Compete & Win in the Future Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) recruits, trains, educates, develops, and builds the Army, driving constant improvement and change to ensure that the Army can successfully compete and deter, fight, and decisively win on any battlefield. The pace of change, however, is accelerating with the convergence of new and emergent technologies that are driving the changing character of warfare in the future Operational Environment (OE).  Preparing to compete and win in this future OE is one of the toughest challenges facing the Army. TRADOC must identify the requisite new Knowledge, Skills, and Behaviors (KSBs) that our Soldiers and leaders will need to compete and win, and then program and implement the associated policy changes, improvements to training facilities, development of leader programs, and the integration of required equipment into the Multi-Domain force.]

The future OE will compel a change in the character of warfare driven by the diffusion of power, economic disparity, and the democratization and convergence of technology. There are no longer defined transitions from peace to war, or from competition to conflict. “Steady State” now consists of continuous, dynamic, and simultaneous competition and conflict that is not necessarily cyclical. Russia and China, our near-peer competitors, confront us globally, converging capabilities with hybrid strategies to expand the battlefield across all domains and create hemispheric threats challenging us from home stations to the Close Area. They seek to achieve national objectives through competition short of conflict and synthesize emerging technologies with military doctrine and operations to deploy capabilities that create multiple layers of multi-domain stand-off. Additionally, regional competitors and non-state actors such as Iran, North Korea, and regional and transnational terrorist organizations, will effectively compete and fight in similar ways shaped to their strategic situations, but with lesser scope and scale in terms of capabilities.

The convergence and availability of cutting-edge technologies will act as enablers and force multipliers for our adversaries. Artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information sciences, and the Internet of Things will flatten decision making structures and increase speed on the battlefield, while weaponized information will empower potential foes, enabling them to achieve effects at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, without risking armed conflict. Space will become a contested domain, as our adversaries will enhance their ability to operate in that domain while working to deny us what was once a key area of advantage.

Preparing for this new era is one of the toughest challenges the Army will face in the next 25 years. A key component of this preparation is identifying the skills and attributes required for the Soldiers and Leaders operating in our multi-domain formations.

The U.S. Army currently has more than 150 Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), each requiring a Soldier to learn unique tasks, skills, and knowledge. The emergence of a number of new technologies – drones, AI autonomy, immersive mixed reality, big data storage and analytics, etc. – coupled with the changing character of warfare means that many of these MOSs will need to change, while new ones will need to be created. This already has been seen in the wider U.S. and global economy, where the growth of internet services, smartphones, social media, and cloud technology over the last ten years has introduced a host of new occupations that previously did not exist.

Acquiring and developing the talent pool and skills for a new MOS requires policy changes, improvements to training facilities, development of leader programs, and the integration of required equipment into current and planned formations. The Army’s recent experience building a cyber MOS offers many lessons learned. The Army needed to change policies for direct entry into the force, developed cyber training infrastructure at Fort Gordon, incorporated cyber operations into live training exercises at home station and the Combat Training Centers, built the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, and developed concepts and equipment baselines for cyber protection teams. This effort required action from Department of the Army and each of the subordinate Army commands. Identifying, programming, and implementing new knowledge, skills, and attributes is a multi-year effort that requires synchronizing the delivery of Soldiers possessing the requisite skills with the fielding of a Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)-capable force in 2028 and the MDO-ready force in 2035.

The Army’s MDO concept offers a clear glimpse of the types of new skills that will be required to win on the future battlefield. A force with all warfighting functions enabled by big data and AI will require Soldiers with data science expertise and some basic coding experience to improve AI integration and to maintain proper transparency and biases supporting leader decision making. The Internet of Battle things connecting Soldiers and systems will require Soldiers with technical integration skills and cyber security experience. The increased numbers of air and land robots and associated additive manufacturing systems to support production and maintenance means a new series of maintenance skills now only found in manufacturing centers, Amazon warehouses, and universities. There are many more emerging skill requirements. Not all of these will require a new MOS, but in some cases, the introduction of new skill identifiers and functional areas may be required.

Some of the needed skills may be inherent within the next generation(s) of recruits. Many of the games, drones, and other everyday technologies that already are, or soon will be very common – narrow AI, app development and general programming, and smart devices – will yield a variety of intrinsic skills that recruits will have prior to entering the Army. Just like we no longer train Soldiers on how to use a computer, games like Fortnite©, with no formal relationship with the military, will provide players with militarily-useful skills such as communications, problem solving, and creative thinking, all while attempting to survive against persistent attack. Due to these trends, recruits may come into the Army with fundamental technical skills and baseline military thinking attributes that flatten the learning curve for Initial Entry Training (IET).

While these new recruits may have a set of some required skills, there will still be a premium placed on premier skillsets in fields such as AI and machine learning, robotics, big data management, and quantum information sciences. Due to the high demand for these skillsets, the Army will have to compete for talent with private industry, battling them on compensation, benefits, perks, and a less restrictive work environment. In light of this, the Army may have to consider adjusting or relaxing its current recruitment processes, business practices, and force structuring to ensure it is able to attract and retain expertise. It also may have to reconsider how it adapts and utilizes its civilian workforce to undertake these types of tasks in new and creative ways.

If you enjoyed reading this, please see the following MadSci blog posts:

… and the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference Final Report.

191. Competition in 2035: Anticipating Chinese Exploitation of Operational Environments

[Editor’s Note:  In today’s post, Mad Scientist Laboratory explores China’s whole-of-nation approach to exploiting operational environments, synchronizing government, military, and industry activities to change geostrategic power paradigms via competition in 2035. Excerpted from products previously developed and published by the TRADOC G-2’s Operational Environment and Threat Analysis Directorate (see links below), this post describes China’s approach to exploitation and identifies the implications for the U.S. Army — Enjoy!]

The Operational Environment is envisioned as a continuum, divided into two eras: the Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035) and the Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050). This latter era is marked by significant breakthroughs in technology and convergences in terms of capabilities, which lead to significant changes in the character of warfare. During this period, traditional aspects of warfare undergo dramatic, almost revolutionary changes which at the end of this timeframe may even challenge the very nature of warfare itself. In this era, no one actor is likely to have any long-term strategic or technological advantage, with aggregate power between the U.S. and its strategic competitors being equivalent, but not necessarily symmetric. Prevailing in this period will depend on an ability to synchronize multi-domain capabilities against an artificial intelligence-enhanced adversary with an overarching capability to visualize and understand the battlespace at even greater ranges and velocities. Equally important will be controlling information and the narrative surrounding the conflict. Adversaries will adopt sophisticated information operations and narrative strategies to change the context of the conflict and thus defeat U.S. political will.

The future strategic environment will be characterized by a persistent state of competition where global competitors seek to exploit the conditions of operational environments to gain advantage. Adversaries understand that the application of any or all elements of national power in competition just below the threshold of armed conflict is an effective strategy against the U.S.

Chinese DF-17 carrying the DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle / Source: Bill Bostock, Business Insider Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

China is rapidly modernizing its armed forces and developing new approaches to warfare. Beijing has invested significant resources into research and development of a wide array of advanced technologies. Coupled with its time-honored practice of reverse engineering technologies or systems it purchases or acquires through espionage, this effort likely will allow China to surpass Russia as our most capable threat sometime around 2030.

China’s Approach to Exploitation

China’s whole-of-nation approach, which involves synchronization of actions across government, military, and industry, will facilitate exploitation of operational environments and enable it to gain global influence through economic exploitation.

China will leverage the international system to advance its own interests while attempting to constrain others, including the U.S.

Preferred Conditions and Methods

The following conditions and methods are conducive to exploitation by China, enabling them to shape the strategic environment in 2035:

    • Infrastructure Capacity Challenges:  China targets undeveloped and fragile environments where their capital investments, technology, and human capital can produce financial gains and generate political influence.
    • Interconnected Economies:  China looks for partners and opportunities to become a significant stakeholder in a wide variety of economies in order to capitalize on its investments as well as generate political influence.
    • Specialized Economies:  China looks for opportunities to partner with specialized markets and leverage their vulnerabilities for gain.
    • Technology Access Gaps:  China targets areas where their capital investments in technology provide partners with key resources and competitive advantages by filling technology gaps.

Implications for the U.S. Army:

    • The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed armored medical vehicles and personnel to Germany for the Combined Aid 2019 Joint Exercise with the Bundeswehr this past summer.

      Traditional Army threat paradigms may not be sufficient for competition.

    • The Army could be drawn into unanticipated escalation as a result of China’s activities during the competition phase.
    • Army military partnerships will likely be undermined by China in 2035.
    • Army operations and engagements will be increasingly impacted by the pervasiveness of Chinese goods, technology, infrastructure, and systems.

If you enjoyed this post, please see the original paper and associated infographic of the same title, both by the TRADOC G-2’s Operational Environment and Threat Analysis Directorate and hosted on their All Partners Access Network (APAN) site

… and read the following MadSci Laboratory blog posts:

A view of the Future: 2035-2050

China’s Drive for Innovation Dominance and Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield?, by Elsa Kania

A Closer Look at China’s Strategies for Innovation: Questioning True Intent, by Cindy Hurst

Critical Projection: Insights from China’s Science Fiction, by Lt Col Dave Calder

190. Weaponized Information: One Possible Vignette

[Editor’s Note:  The Information Environment (IE) is the point of departure for all events across the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) spectrum. It’s a unique space that demands our understanding, as the Internet of Things (IoT) and hyper-connectivity have democratized accessibility, extended global reach, and amplified the effects of weaponized information. Our strategic competitors and adversaries have been quick to grasp and employ it to challenge our traditional advantages and exploit our weaknesses.

    • Our near-peers confront us globally, converging IE capabilities with hybrid strategies to expand the battlefield across all domains and create hemispheric threats challenging us from home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight.
    • Democratization of weaponized information empowers regional hegemons and non-state actors, enabling them to target the U.S. and our allies and achieve effects at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, without risking armed conflict.
    • The IE enables our adversaries to frame the conditions of future competition and/or escalation to armed conflict on their own terms.

Today’s post imagines one such vignette, with Russia exploiting the IE to successfully out-compete us and accomplish their political objectives, without expending a single bullet!]

Ethnic Russian minorities’ agitation against their respective governments in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia spike. Simultaneously, the Russian Government ratchets up tensions, with inflammatory statements of support for these ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic States; coordinated movements and exercises by Russian ground, naval, and air forces adjacent to the region; and clandestine support to ethnic Russians in these States. The Russian Government started a covert campaign to shape people’s views about the threats against the Russian diaspora. More than 200,000 twitter accounts send 3.6 million tweets trending #protectRussianseverywhere. This sprawling Russian disinformation campaign is focused on building internal support for the Russian President and a possible military action. The U.S. and NATO respond…

The 2nd Cav Regt is placed on alert; as it prepares to roll out of garrison for Poland, several videos surface across social media, purportedly showing the sexual assault of several underage German nationals by U.S. personnel. These disturbingly graphic deepfakes appear to implicate key Leaders within the Regiment. German political and legal authorities call for an investigation and host nation protests erupt outside the gates of Rose Barracks, Vilseck, disrupting the unit’s deployment.

Simultaneously, in units comprising the initial Force Package earmarked to deploy to Europe, key personnel (and their dependents) are targeted, distracting troops from their deployment preparations and disrupting unit cohesion:

    • Social media accounts are hacked/hijacked, with false threats by dependents to execute mass/school shootings, accusations of sexual abuse, hate speech posts by Leaders about their minority troops, and revelations of adulterous affairs between unit spouses.
    • Bank accounts are hacked: some are credited with excessive amounts of cash followed by faux “See Something, Say Something” hotline accusations being made about criminal and espionage activities; while others are zeroed out, disrupting families’ abilities to pay bills.

Russia’s GRU (Military Intelligence) employs AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create fake persona injects that mimic select U.S. Active Army, ARNG, and USAR commanders making disparaging statements about their confidence in our allies’ forces, the legitimacy of the mission, and their faith in our political leadership. Sowing these injects across unit social media accounts, Russian Information Warfare specialists seed doubt and erode trust in the chain of command amongst a percentage of susceptible Soldiers, creating further friction in deployment preparations.

As these units load at railheads or begin their road march towards their respective ports of embarkation, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) attacks are launched on critical rail, road, port, and airfield infrastructures, snarling rail lines, switching yards, and crossings; creating bottlenecks at key traffic intersections; and spoofing navigation systems to cause sealift asset collisions and groundings at key maritime chokepoints. The fly-by-wire avionics are hacked on a departing C-17, causing a crash with the loss of all 134 Soldiers onboard. All C-17s are grounded, pending an investigation.

Salvos of personalized, “direct inject” psychological warfare attacks are launched against Soldiers via immersive media (Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality; 360o Video/Gaming), targeting them while they await deployment and are in-transit to Theater. Similarly, attacks are vectored at spouses, parents, and dependents, with horrifying imagery of their loved ones’ torn and maimed bodies on Artificial Intelligence-generated battlefields (based on scraped facial imagery from social media accounts).

Multi-Domain Operations has improved Jointness, but exacerbated problems with “the communications requirements that constitute the nation’s warfighting Achilles heel.” As units arrive in Theater, seams within and between these U.S. and NATO Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Fires; Sustainment; and Command and Control inter-connected and federated tactical networks that facilitate partner-to-partner data exchanges are exploited with specifically targeted false injects, sowing doubt and distrust across the alliance for the Multi-Domain Common Operating Picture. Spoofing of these systems leads to accidental air defense engagements, resulting in Blue-on-Blue fratricide or the downing of a commercial airliner, with additional civilian deaths on the ground from spent ordnance, providing more opportunities for Russian Information Operations to spread acrimony within the alliance and create dissent in public opinion back home.

With the flow of U.S. forces into the Baltic Nations, real instances of ethnic Russians’ livelihoods being disrupted (e.g., accidental destruction of livestock and crops, the choking off of main routes to market, and damage to essential services [water, electricity, sewerage]) by maneuver units on exercise are captured on video and enhanced digitally to exacerbate their cumulative effects. Proliferated across the net via bots, these instances further stoke anti-Baltic / anti-U.S. opinion amongst Russian-sympathetic and non-aligned populations alike.

Following years of scraping global social media accounts and building profiles across the full political spectrum, artificial influencers are unleashed on-line that effectively target each of these profiles within the U.S. and allied civilian populations. Ostensibly engaging populations via key “knee-jerk” on-line affinities (e.g., pro-gun, pro-choice, etc.), these artificial influencers, ever so subtly, begin to shift public opinion to embrace a sympathetic position on the rights of the Russian diaspora to greater autonomy in the Baltic States.

The release of deepfake videos showing Baltic security forces massacring ethnic Russians creates further division and causes some NATO partners to hesitate, question, and withhold their support, as required under Article 5. The alliance is rent asunder — Checkmate!

Many of the aforementioned capabilities described in this vignette are available now. Threats in the IE space will only increase in verisimilitude with augmented reality and multisensory content interaction. Envisioning what this Bot 2.0 Competition will look like is essential in building whole-of-government countermeasures and instilling resiliency in our population and military formations.

The Mad Scientist Initiative will continue to explore the significance of the IE to Competition and Conflict and information weaponization throughout our FY20 events — stay tuned to the MadSci Laboratory for more information. In anticipation of this, we have published The Information Environment:  Competition and Conflict anthology, a collection of previously published blog posts that serves as a primer on this topic and examines the convergence of technologies that facilitates information weaponization — Enjoy!

189. What We are Learning about the Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: The U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command and Army Futures Command recently updated and published The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, and the accompanying Potential Game Changers handout to reflect what we are learning about the Operational Environment (OE). Addenda included insights gleaned from our recent Mad Scientist conferences and guest blog post submissions, as well as direct input received from you all — our Mad Scientist Community of Action — thank you! Today’s blog post provides a synopsis of these latest updates — Enjoy!]

At some point during The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035), and really for the first time since the Second World War, it is likely that the United States could face a true strategic competitor who will have the ability to operate in multi-domains, the capability to deny domains to U.S. forces, and who will be able to operate with certain technological advantages over U.S. forces. This challenge is further compounded by our reliance on coalition warfare with allies who might not be able or willing to modernize at the same pace as the U.S.

As the world becomes further digitized, states will share their strategic environments with networked societies which could pose a threat by circumventing governments that are unresponsive to their citizens’ needs. These online organizations are capable of gaining power, influence, and capital to a degree that challenges traditional nation-states. Many states will face challenges from insurgents and global identity networks – ethnic, religious, regional, social, or economic – whose members may feel a stronger affinity to their online network than to their nationality, which could result in them either resisting state authority or ignoring it altogether.

The revolution in connected devices and virtual power projection will increase the potential for adversaries to target our installations. Hyper-connectivity increases the attack surface for cyber-attacks and the access to publicly available information on our Soldiers and their families, making personalized warfare and the use of psychological attacks and deepfakes likely. A force deploying to a combat zone will remain vulnerable from the Strategic Support Area – including individual Soldiers’ personal residences, home station installations, and ports of embarkation – all the way forward to the Close Area fight during its entire deployment.

The balkanization of the internet into multiple national “intranets” could provide fewer opportunities for influence platforms and impact cyber operations. The growing presence of fake news, data, and information, coupled with deepfakes and hyper-connectivity, changes the nature of information operations. The convergence of deepfakes, AI-generated bodies and faces, and AI writing technologies – that appear authentic – are corrosive to trust between governments and their populations, and present the potential for devastating impact on nation-states’ will to compete and fight.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the most disruptive technology of our time: much of today’s “thought” is artificial, vice human. However, certain operational environments are data-scarce. Missing inputs caused by data gaps inhibit a narrow AI’s ability to provide the envisioned benefits in assessing the OE, limiting military application. Decision cycle times will decrease with AI-enabled intelligence systems conducting collection, collation, and analysis of battlefield information at machine speed, freeing up warfighters and commanders to do what they excel at – fight and make decisions. AI will become critical in processing and sustaining a clear common operating picture in this data-rich environment.

Passive sensing, especially when combined with artificial intelligence and big-data techniques may routinely outperform active sensors, leading to a counter-reconnaissance fight between autonomous sensors and countermeasures – “a robot-on-robot affair.” These capabilities will be augmented by increasingly sophisticated civilian capabilities, where commercial imagery services, a robust and mature Internet of Things, and near unlimited processing power generate a battlespace that is more transparent than ever before. This transparency may result in the demise of strategic and operational deception and surprise.

The proliferation of intelligent munitions will enable strikers to engage targets at greater distances, collaborate in teams to seek out and destroy designated targets, and defeat armored and other hardened targets, as well as defiladed and entrenched targets.

Unmanned systems, including advanced battlefield robotic systems acting both autonomously and as part of a wider trend in man-machine teaming, will account for a significant percentage of a combatant force. Swarms of small, cheap, scalable, and disposable unmanned systems will be used both offensively and defensively, creating targeting dilemmas for sophisticated, expensive defensive systems. Swarming systems on the future battlefield will include not only unmanned aerial systems (UAS) but also swarms across multiple domains with self-organizing, self-reconstituting, autonomous, ground, maritime (sub and surface), and subterranean unmanned systems. Advanced robotic vehicles could serve as mobile power generation plants and charging stations, while highly dexterous ground robots with legs and limbs could negotiate complex terrain allowing humans access to places otherwise denied. This raises the question: Is using a human Soldier in a dangerous situation ethical when there are robots available?

Biotechnology will see major advances, with many chemical and materials industries being replaced or augmented by a “bio-based economy” in which precision genetic engineering allows for bulk chemical production. Individualized genetics enable precise performance enhancements for cognition, health, longevity, and fitness. The low cost and low expertise entry points into genomic editing, bioweapon production, and human enhancements will enable explorations by state, non-state, criminal, and terrorist organizations. Competitors may not adopt the same legal regulations or ethics for enhancement as the U.S., causing asymmetry between the U.S. and those choosing to operate below our defined legal and ethical thresholds.

Space is becoming an increasingly congested, commercialized, democratized, and contested domain. A maneuver Brigade Combat Team has over 2,500 pieces of equipment dependent on space-based assets for PNT and Low Earth Orbit is cluttered with satellites, debris, and thousands of pieces of refuse.

Shifting demographics, such as youth bulges in Africa and aging populations of traditional allies and competitors, will threaten economic and political stability. These factors will be attenuated by a changing climate, which likely will become a direct security threat. Risks to U.S. security include extreme weather impacting installations, increased resource scarcity and food insecurity, climate migration increasing the number of refugees and internally displaced peoples, and the Arctic as a new sphere of competition.

Our understanding of technological innovations through 2035 has broadened in several areas:

    • Robotics: The advent of legged locomotion and robotic dexterity, with robots becoming less vehicle-like, able to replicate animal or a human characteristics.
    • Quantum Computing: The expansion of Quantum applications across to the full spectrum of sciences will affect Precision, Navigation, and Timing (PNT), especially relevant in GPS-denied environments, as well as improved sensors and imaging.
    • Space: Presence in this domain will expand to over 70 nations.
    • Missiles: The addition of maneuverability to hypersonic capabilities presents further challenges in the development of effective countermeasure systems.

We also refined our descriptions of several disruptive technologies anticipated through 2050:

    • Power: Proliferation of electric/battery powered vehicles, laser charging, small modular advanced nuclear power delivering electricity via directed energy (DE) and electric transportation, and the harnessing of Thermionic power — harvesting energy at the nano-level — which is scalable to megawatts.
    • Medical Advances: The ability to produce artificial cells on demand and the advent of tailored vaccines.
    • Insensitive Munitions: The development of multifunctional munitions, tailorable to specific mission sets and functions.
    • Information Environment: Instantaneous recall, sensor-saturated environment, unmanned asset intelligence collection, algorithmic processing of high volumes of information, and virtual and augmented reality.

We welcome your input on these or any additional aspects of the OE and the changing character of warfare — What are we missing?

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:


188. “Tenth Man” — Challenging our Assumptions about the Future Force

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish our latest “Tenth Man” post. This Devil’s Advocate or contrarian approach serves as a form of alternative analysis and is a check against group think and mirror imaging. We offer it as a platform for the contrarians in our network to share their alternative perspectives and analyses regarding the Operational Environment (OE). Today’s post examines a foundational assumption about the Future Force by challenging it, reviewing the associated implications, and identifying potential signals and/or indicators of change. Read on!]

Assumption: The United States will maintain sufficient Defense spending as a percentage of its GDP to modernize the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) force. [Related MDO Baseline Assumption – “b. The Army will adjust to fiscal constraints and have resources sufficient to preserve the balance of readiness, force structure, and modernization necessary to meet the demands of the national defense strategy in the mid-to far-term (2020-2040),” TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, p. A-1.]

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Over the past decades, the defense budget has varied but remained sufficient to accomplish the missions of the U.S. military. However, a graying population with fewer workers and longer life spans will put new demands on the non-discretionary and discretionary federal budget. These stressors on the federal budget may indicate that the U.S. is following the same path as Europe and Japan. By 2038, it is projected that 21% of Americans will be 65 years old or older.1 Budget demand tied to an aging population will threaten planned DoD funding levels.

In the near-term (2019-2023), total costs in 2019 dollars are projected to remain the same. In recent years, the DoD underestimated the costs of acquiring weapons systems and maintaining compensation levels. By taking these factors into account, a 3% increase from the FY 2019 DoD budget is needed in this timeframe. Similarly, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that costs will steadily climb after 2023. Their base budget in 2033 is projected to be approximately $735 billion — that is an 11% increase over ten years. This is due to rising compensation rates, growing costs of operations and maintenance, and the purchasing of new weapons systems.2 These budgetary pressures are connected to several stated and hidden assumptions:

    • An all-volunteer force will remain viable [Related MDO Baseline Assumption – “a. The U.S. Army will remain a professional, all volunteer force, relying on all components of the Army to meet future commitments.”],
    • Materiel solutions’ associated technologies will have matured to the requisite Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), and
    • The U.S. will have the industrial ability to reconstitute the MDO force following “America’s First Battle.”

Implications: If these assumptions prove false, the manned and equipped force of the future will look significantly different than the envisioned MDO force. A smaller DoD budget could mean a small fielded Army with equipping decisions for less exquisite weapons systems. A smaller active force might also drive changes to Multi-Domain Operations and how the Army describes the way it will fight in the future.

Signpost / Indicators of Change:

    • 2008-type “Great Recession”
    • Return of budget control and sequestration
    • Increased domestic funding for:
      • Universal Healthcare
      • Universal College
      • Social Security Fix
    • Change in International Monetary Environment (higher interest rates for borrowing)

If you enjoyed this alternative view on force modernization, please also see the following posts:

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

1The long-term impact of aging on the federal budget,” by Louise Sheiner, Brookings, 11 January 2018 https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-long-term-impact-of-aging-on-the-federal-budget/

2Long-Term Implications of the 2019 Future Years Defense Program,” Congressional Budget Office, 13 February 2019. https://www.cbo.gov/publication/54948

187. S&T Isn’t an Enabler, It’s the Main Effort!

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by guest blogger Chris Kramer, advocating for a whole-of-government approach to re-invigorate and build resiliency into our national Science and Technology (S&T) infrastructure and human capital. His prescription consists of eight actions designed to better prepare the United States population and Department of Defense for Competition and Conflict in the future — Read on!]

The weakest link in a chain determines the chain’s strength. Right now the weakest links in the extended American chain of national defense capabilities are not its physical weapons of war. They are its diminishing numbers of students pursuing STEM degrees.1  We must put as much energy into preparing our minds and our culture as we are into so energetically modernizing our weapons and equipment.

Edison did not invent the modern light bulb over breakfast one morning following a breathtaking single insight into the interplay of matter and electricity. The technologies all around us, from light bulbs to communications and sensors to computing, biological, and materials science, all required massive amounts of time and effort to reach their current state. They required people with the intellectual depth and breadth to design and build them. All of this took time, money, and much intellectual effort.

We all know people with “the knack” for fixing or building things. Designing a better hammer or screwdriver takes a certain amount of innate skill and practical experience, but one does not necessarily need to attend higher education to create or perfect such relatively simple items, just a fortuitous inborn strength in the capacity to visualize engineering at the practical level and the ability to translate that vision into a hand-held reality.

One does need copious amounts of specialized higher education and training in Science and Technology (S&T) to design and build advanced equipment and realize technological innovation, however. This requirement will only increase as we continue to gain new knowledge about how to make matter and energy do our bidding and how to harness “quantum” in all its various applications.

One also needs this higher education and training in order to cross increasingly higher thresholds of understanding and insight in the fields we need to pursue. As people rise from students to seasoned practitioners, and continue their research and professional development, they will continue to more rapidly and thoroughly intuitively integrate the masses of knowledge and experience they and their peers have accrued. They will use this intellectual gestalt to make deeper and more penetrating insights into their own and possibly other fields. These insights will lead to ever deeper penetrations into the potential of S&T and will result in ever more advanced technologies and the applications of those technologies. Facilitating this paradigm on scales both broad and deep must be a national focus area if we are to maintain our strength and security across all the elements of national power.

No other activity in human history except the pursuit of science has led to actual advances, and many advances were in support of the security of a tribe or nation. Note that science includes not only advancements in the hardware and software of implements for both destruction and deterrence, but also the sciences of diplomacy, economics, political and military affairs, and indeed every other endeavor that affects or informs the dynamics of human life and group interaction.

The last time our nation awoke to the national significance of STEM was in 4 October 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 and the collective American heart stopped. Rightly seeing this as a leading indicator of a potential existential threat to America, the U.S. went into a frenzy of       scientific revivalism. This flurry of activity and resourcing led to a massive improvement in the national S&T infrastructure and capability, and uncountable technological spinoffs from the space and other programs which benefited human well-being and improved our defense capabilities.

Science and history prove that keeping ahead of the competition is essential to individual and group survival. Our adversaries have inspected both our vulnerabilities and our strengths and are designing, building, and applying hybrid strategies and capabilities to exploit the former, while avoiding the latter. The Operational Environment is now ubiquitous and our adversaries’ work is often unseen. No longer is a war fought “in faraway places against people of which we know nothing,” to modify Neville Chamberlain’s quote from 1938; the fight is here. Battle lines are no longer linear and on foreign soil; our adversaries operate in the light of day through cyber lines of communication and are even now reaching into governments, businesses, homes, and devices right here in our homeland. Smart bombs can attack single buildings, but weaponized information can facilitate personalized warfare, precisely targeting specific devices and attacking individual brains.

As has been much discussed lately, the Age of the DeepFake, in which the very nature of reality is thrown into question, is upon us.

It costs large amounts of blood and treasure to win wars, but even more to lose them.

All of the aforementioned circumstances mean that every citizen is now a de facto combatant, no matter how unwelcome this thought may be. Consequently:

– Every citizen must begin to think and respond like a combatant.

– Every citizen must be a sensor, able to apply critical thinking and scientifically-informed education and rationalism to their daily lives and to the information they encounter.

With the proliferation of potential threats and attacks facing the average citizen, we as a nation need to be brought to a baseline of competence in science, rationalism, critical thinking, and frankly an understanding that we now exist in a time and place in which individual action and inaction guided by misinformation can harm large numbers of people and resources.

Adaptation is critical to survival. Failure to adapt means losing one’s place in the hierarchy, assimilating into someone else’s culture, or going extinct. History shows that no empire or nation is immune to the corrosive effects of insular thinking, hubris, and the failure to adapt. All of the empires throughout history upon which “the sun never set” have seen their power and reach shrink or vanish. If we wish to avoid this, we must adapt our weapons of war, our human capital, and our society at the same time. And we must do it quickly, because “the rate of change of the rate of change” and the capabilities and approaches used by our adversaries are increasing in scope and reach.

Here are eight actions we should take:

1. Aggressively identify and groom high-achieving/high-potential students while they are in middle and high school. Facilitate their movement into higher education, and then on into the professional or academic worlds. Have them be the foundation for the next great generation of (government?) scientists and engineers. Some of these people will be born in extremely depressed socioeconomic areas; we must leverage the schools and communities across the nation to identify these students as well.

2. Once onboard and contributing, reward and recognize these people in public for their work and contributions. Work to make intellectual achievement as publicly desirable as possible. Our future S&T and cyber warriors are going to help us win these fights, especially when the field of battle has now been extended through virtual tentacles into our own homes.

3. Elevate science as a national asset and a national treasure. As long as science is denied, it will be marginalized. As long as science is marginalized, it will be rejected, unfunded or inadequately funded. As long as it is not properly resourced, we will feel the harmful effects of the lack of resources.

4. Every S&T professional and every S&T organization should either lead or support activities, both organized and large-scale down to individual efforts, to promote S&T and its acceptance. Do outreach with kids and local groups. Guest-lecture at schools from elementary to graduate levels. Volunteer to support local S&T and scholastic improvement events. Find people who will be the next generation of patent producers, researchers and developers, and discovers of new technologies and new solutions. Bring them onto the right teams and help them to pay this forward until it is the organization’s business model.

5. Work with the Department of Education and school boards to introduce critical thinking as a stand-alone skill and subject, introduced no later than the middle school years, then fold it into all subsequent student evaluation.

6. Require objective peer-reviewed science be the deciding factor in all government decisions.

7. Implement the research that has already been done on these topics. Five minutes of research showed there is sufficient work2 already done3 on the STEM education issue to get a great start.

8. Finally, have DoD work with the federal, state, and local governments to identify the threats and the actions all citizens need to take to be part of the collective national defense, then educate the population on them and hold periodic drills to ensure horizontal and vertical readiness.

If you enjoyed this post…

  • Learn how Finland has implemented a whole-of-government approach to counter weaponized information in:

Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?

Russia’s Neighbor Finland Mounts Defenses Against Election Meddling

  • See the following MadSci blog posts:

Four Elements for Future Innovation, by Dr. Richard Nabors

The Trouble with Talent: Why We’re Struggling to Recruit and Retain Our Workforce, by Sarah L. Sladek

Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis, by Ian Sullivan

Chris Kramer is a retired Army engineer officer and futurist working to further the advancement of science, technology and critical thinking. The perspectives described in this article are the author’s and do not imply endorsement by any person or organization within the U.S. Government.

1 Pew Research Center information regarding American student aversion to STEM, dated January 17, 2018, at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/17/half-of-americans-think-young-people-dont-pursue-stem-because-it-is-too-hard/

2 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Diverse Student Pathways. Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees. S. Malcom and M. Feder, Editors. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Board on Higher Education and the Workforce, Policy and Global Affairs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21739. Found at https://www.nap.edu/read/21739/chapter/1

3 Report by the Committee On STEM Education of the National Science & Technology Council, Dated December 2018, titled “Charting A Course For Success: America’s Strategy For STEM Education”. Found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/STEM-Education-Strategic-Plan-2018.pdf