185. “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.A brain-controlled exoskeleton has let a paralyzed man walk in the lab,” by Charlotte Jee, MIT Technology Review, 4 October 2019.

Amputees merge with their bionic leg,” in ScienceDaily, 2 October 2019.

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas can now do an impressive gymnastics routine,” by Jon Porter, The Verge, 24 September 2019.

Atlas bipedal robot / Source: Boston Dynamics

So what is the OE nexus for a new experimental capability that restores mobility to a quadriplegic man, prosthetics that provide realistic sensory feedback, and a bipedal robot that can split kick better than David Lee Roth in his Van Halen heyday? Scientists from Swiss universities ETH Zürich and EPFL and the latter’s spin-off SensArs Neuroprosthetics have fitted three amputees with prosthetic legs that provide sensory feedback, enabling subjects to feel the device. “Thanks to detailed sensations from [the] sole of the artificial foot and from the artificial knee, all three patients could maneuver through obstacles without the burden of looking at their artificial limb as they walked. They could stumble over objects yet mitigate falling. Most importantly, brain imaging and psychophysical tests confirmed that the brain is less solicited with the bionic leg, leaving more mental capacity available to successfully complete the various tasks.” Meanwhile, researchers at Grenoble University Hospital and Clinatec in France implanted an epidural wireless brain-machine interface into a paralyzed subject, enabling him to walk again via a four-limb neuroprosthetic exoskeleton in a laboratory proof-of-concept demonstration. Per MIT Technology Review, “researchers need to find a way to get the suit to safely balance itself before it can be used outside the laboratory.” Here’s where Boston Dynamic’s Atlas comes in — its “model predictive controller” allows the robot to anticipate forward momentum to “blend… one maneuver to the next,” without losing balance.

These three weak signals presage the potential for a dismounted Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) capability on a not-so-distant future battlefield, with Soldiers in the rear area (or even the Strategic Support Area!) controlling via cerebral interfaces whole platoons of agile fighting systems at what was once the bleeding edge of combat. This potential for a nimble, semi-autonomous close quarters combat fighting capability could keep future Warfighters out of harm’s way on particularly hazardous, “forlorn hope”-type assaults against heavily defended positions, while simultaneously maintaining humans-in-the-loop in future conflicts.

2.Coming Soon to a Battlefield: Robots That Can Kill,” by Zachary Fryer-Biggs, The Atlantic, 3 September 2019.

This detailed but engrossing piece by defense and technology reporter Zachary Fryer-Biggs provides an in-depth look at work on robotics being conducted across the Department of Defense but also helps to visualize and contextualize what a battlefield of the future looks like. This article shows the distinction between what is being explored, built, and tested by the DoD and the dystopian nightmare often portrayed in movies like The Terminator. The article addresses a number of current technologies – the U.S. Navy’s Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS) and Sea Hunter autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), and Israel’s Harpy autonomous anti-radiation loitering munition – that are on the pathway to autonomy already.

Several prominent figures in the DoD Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovation space, such as Mr. Bob Work (former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Dr. Bill Roper (former Director of Strategic Capabilities Office). Mr. Work is quoted as saying, “AI will make weapons more discriminant and better, less likely to violate the laws of war, less likely to kill civilians, less likely to cause collateral damage.” In a similar vein, Dr. Roper stated that the country that integrates AI into its arsenal first might have “an advantage forever.”

One of the biggest implications from this article is the following question — at what point does autonomy become completely self-deciding? Many of the technologies featured are still struggling with contextual understanding and complex cognitive processes that humans can frankly breeze through right now. The current challenge is not intelligent machines capable of eliminating humans – it’s that the machines aren’t smart enough or capable of complex decision-making. As Dr. Fei-Fei Li, the inaugural Sequoia Professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University, and Co-Director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute, noted “human vision is enormously complex and includes capabilities such as reading facial movements and other subtle cues.” But visual, facial, and object recognition in AI is improving rapidly in a short amount of time; we could see more autonomous systems on the battlefield faster than anticipated. Senior military leadership will be challenged with what approach must be taken: human-in-the-loop, human-out-of-the-loop, or human-starts-the-loop. Additionally, how much must be divested from manned or optionally-manned systems and invested into autonomous and optionally-teleoperated systems?


3.China’s AI Talent Base Is Growing, and then Leaving,” by Joy Dantong Ma, MacroPolo.org, 30 July 2019.

MacroPolo is the in-house think tank of the Paulson Institute in Chicago that focuses on the U.S.-China economic relationship. China’s initiative to become a global leader in Artificial Intelligence is excelling at producing talent, but failing at retaining it. The author uses invitation data from the NeurIPS conference, one of the premier events that gathers researchers exploring artificial neural networks. Prospective attendees submit related research papers for consideration to be invited to the event. Analysis of the data shows that there were 2,800 Chinese scientists accepted over the past ten years. Of those, more than 2,000 were working outside of China and 85% of them were working in the U.S. So while China has made great strides and invested heavily in creating a population of AI researchers, scientists, and engineers, they haven’t been able to insulate themselves from the competition for AI talent raging outside their borders. In 2017, they took steps to curb this exodus by offering incentives and better compensation but it remains to be seen if that is enough to compete with some of the most innovative and sought after companies in the world, like Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

For the Army, this is both an opportunity and a challenge. As the Army increasingly develops and integrates AI into formations, the need for the highest quality technical personnel will follow. A larger pool of experts available to the Army will allow for quicker and better solutions to problems Soldiers face on the battlefield. However, the Army will still be in competition with the same industry that China is losing to, while simultaneously challenged by the prospect of Chinese intellectual property theft and industrial espionage. How can the Army and the United States at large best take advantage of and retain this resource? What are the potential security implications? Even if the experts are here, can the U.S. compete with the tech industry to recruit the best and brightest AI talent?

4.Tree Planting Drones are Firing ‘Seed Missiles’ Into the Ground,” by Leo Shvedsky, Good, 17 April 2019.

In an effort to combat climate change, tech company BioCarbon Engineering has outfitted commercial drones with pre-germinated seed pods that they disperse and plant by firing them into the ground. This method is cheaper and exponentially faster than planting by hand. From a dual-use perspective, one can see many nefarious possibilities. Just as a drone can spread seeds waiting to sprout, it could just as easily spread a biological or chemical agent. The light payload of seeds used today could be replaced with a payload of powder or liquid that could infect humans, livestock, crops, or waterways. Further, this method, when employed judiciously, could be almost undetectable. Generally, when we think of weapons, we think of devices designed to destroy or kill, but with so many commercial products offering advanced capabilities and access, it’s becoming easier to achieve the same effects with none of the footprint.

5.Netflix’s ‘Unnatural Selection’ Trailer Makes Crispr Personal,” by Megan Molteni, WIRED, 04 October 2019.

Netflix’s new four-part docuseries, which debuted last week (18 October 2019), explores the democratization of genomic engineering — “Using the bacterial quirk that is CRISPR, scientists have essentially given anyone with a micropipette and an internet connection the power to manipulate the genetic code of any living thing.” This scientific revolution raises a host of new political, legal, and moral concerns that public policy, laws, and opinion are only now beginning to address. As research using this game changing technology becomes an ever-more international enterprise, distinctions in cultural norms, mores, and practices will be challenged. Within the brave new world of genetic engineering facilitated by CRISPER, all of the bright possibilities of revolutionary new treatments and cures for disease are tempered by equally dark prospects when coupled with nefarious intent.

Calls to control open source research and counter the potential use of gene-editing to produce biological weapons and/or affect global health may not be encompassing or sufficient enough. As Mad Scientist has previously explored, a growing community of individual biohackers and DIYers are pushing the boundaries of DNA editing, implants, embedded technologies, and unapproved chemical and biological injections. Not limited to the DIY community, China has announced their intent to become a global superpower and gene editing is one area where they seek to leap ahead of the United States. Their commitment to this objective is evidenced in their gene editing of 86 individuals and the births of “CRISPR babies.” In comparison, the United States is just now approaching human genomic trials (in a well-regulated environment).

Ethical principles are not standardized across cultures. State and non-state actors alike are now able to weaponize biotechnology with relative ease. The decisions we make today are crucial as we articulate, implement, and enforce public policy and international laws governing genetic engineering. These decisions will affect Soldiers and civilians alike, who face the threat of non-kinetic, genetically engineered capabilities on both the battlefield and in our Homeland.

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”!

184. Blurring Lines Between Competition and Conflict

[Editor’s Note: The United States Army faces multiple, complex challenges in tomorrow’s Operational Environment (OE), confronting strategic competitors in an increasingly contested space across every domain (land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace). The Mad Scientist Initiative, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 Futures, and Army Futures Command (AFC) Future Operational Environment Cell have collaborated with representatives from industry, academia, and the Intelligence Community to explore the blurring lines between competition and conflict, and the character of great power warfare in the future. Today’s post captures our key findings regarding the OE and what will be required to successfully compete, fight, and win in it — Enjoy!].

Alternative Views of Warfare: The U.S. Army’s view of the possible return to Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) and capital systems warfare might not be the future of warfare. Near-peer competitors will seek to achieve national objectives through competition short of conflict, and regional competitors and non-state actors will effectively compete and fight with smaller, cheaper, and greater numbers of systems against our smaller number of exquisite systems. However, preparation for LSCO and great state warfare may actually contribute to its prevention.

Competition and Conflict are Blurring: The dichotomy of war and peace is no longer a useful construct for thinking about national security or the development of land force capabilities. There are no longer defined transitions from peace to war and competition to conflict. This state of simultaneous competition and conflict is continuous and dynamic, but not necessarily cyclical. Potential adversaries will seek to achieve their national interest short of conflict and will use a range of actions from cyber to kinetic against unmanned systems walking up to the line of a short or protracted armed conflict. Authoritarian regimes are able to more easily ensure unity of effort and whole-of-government over Western democracies and work to exploit fractures and gaps in decision-making, governance, and policy.

The globalization of the world – in communications, commerce, and belligerence (short of war) – as well as the fragmentation of societies and splintering of identities has created new factions and “tribes,” and opened the aperture on who has offensive capabilities that were previously limited to state actors. Additionally, the concept of competition itself has broadened as social media, digital finance, smart technology, and online essential services add to a growing target area.

Adversaries seek to shape public opinion and influence decisions through targeted information operations campaigns, often relying on weaponized social media. Competitors invest heavily in research and development in burgeoning technology fields Artificial Intelligence (Al), quantum sciences, and biotech – and engage in technology theft to weaken U.S. technological superiority. Cyber attacks and probing are used to undermine confidence in financial institutions and critical government and public functions – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), voting, banking, and governance. Competition and conflict are occurring in all instruments of power throughout the entirety of the Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic (DIME) model.

Cyber actions raise the question of what is the threshold to be considered an act of war. If an adversary launches a cyber ­attack against a critical financial institution and an economic crisis results – is it an act of war? There is a similar concern regarding unmanned assets. While the kinetic destruction of an unmanned system may cost millions, no lives are lost. How much damage without human loss of life is acceptable?

Nuclear Deterrence limits Great Power Warfare: Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) is predicated on a return to Great Power warfare. However, nuclear deterrence could make that eventuality less likely. The U.S. may be competing more often below the threshold of conventional war and the decisive battles of the 20th Century (e.g., Midway and Operation Overlord). The two most threatening adversaries – Russia and China – have substantial nuclear arsenals, as does the United States, which will continue to make Great Power conventional warfare a high risk / high cost endeavor. The availability of non-nuclear capabilities that can deliver regional and global effects is a new attribute of the OE. This further complicates the deterrence value of militaries and the escalation theory behind flexible deterrent options. The inherent implications of cyber effects in the real world – especially in economies, government functions, and essential services – further exacerbates the blurring between competition and conflict.

Hemispheric Competition and Conflict: Over the last twenty years, Russia and China have been viewed as regional competitors in Eurasia or South-East Asia. These competitors will seek to undermine and fracture traditional Western institutions, democracies, and alliances. Both 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. We 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. There is no institutional memory for this threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to exercise MDO.

Disposable versus Exquisite: Current thinking espouses technologically advanced and expensive weapons platforms over disposable ones, which brings with it an aversion to employ these exquisite platforms in contested domains and an inability to rapidly reconstitute them once they are committed and subsequently attrited. In LSCO with a near-peer competitor, the ability to reconstitute will be imperative. The Army (and larger DoD) may need to shift away from large and expensive systems to cheap, scalable, and potentially even disposable unmanned systems (UxS). Additionally, the increases in miniaturized computing power in cheaper systems, coupled with advances in machine learning could lead to massed precision rather than sacrificing precision for mass and vice versa.

This challenge is exacerbated by the ability for this new form of mass to quickly aggregate/disaggregate, adapt, self­-organize, self-heal, and reconstitute, making it largely unpredictable and dynamic. Adopting these capabilities could provide the U.S. Army and allied forces with an opportunity to use mass precision to disrupt enemy Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) loops, confuse kill chains/webs, overwhelm limited adversary formations, and exploit vulnerabilities in extended logistics tails and advanced but immature communication networks.

Human-Starts-the-Loop: There have been numerous discussions and debate over whether armed forces will continue to have a “man-in-the-loop” regarding Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). Lethal autonomy in future warfare may instead be “human-starts-the-loop,” meaning that humans will be involved in the development of weapons/targeting systems – establishing rules and scripts – and will initiate the process, but will then allow the system to operate autonomously. It has been stated that it would be ethically disingenuous to remain constrained by “human-on-the-loop” or “human-in-the-­loop” constructs when our adversaries are unlikely to similarly restrict their own autonomous warfighting capabilities. Further, the employment of this approach could impact the Army’s MDO strategy. The effects of “human-starts-the-loop” on the kill chain – shortening, flattening, or otherwise dispersing – would necessitate changes in force structuring that could maximize resource allocation in personnel, platforms, and materiel. This scenario presents the Army with an opportunity to execute MDO successfully with increased cost savings, by: 1) Conducting independent maneuver – more agile and streamlined units moving rapidly; 2) Employing cross-domain fires – efficiency and speed in targeting and execution; 3) Maximizing human potential – putting capable Warfighters in optimal positions; and 4) Fielding in echelons above brigade – flattening command structures and increasing efficiency.

Emulation and the Accumulation of Advantages: China and Russia are emulating many U.S. Department of Defense modernization and training initiatives. China now has Combat Training Centers. Russia has programs that mirror the Army’s Cross Functional Team initiatives and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Task Force. China and Russia are undergoing their own versions of force modernization to better professionalize the ranks and improve operational reach. Within these different technical spaces, both China and Russia are accumulating advantages that they envision will blunt traditional U.S. combat advantages and the tenets described in MDO. However, both nations remain vulnerable and dependent on U.S. innovations in microelectronics, as well as the challenges of incorporating these technologies into their own doctrine, training, and cultures.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Jomini’s Revenge: Mass Strikes Back! by Zachery Tyson Brown.

Our “Tenth Man” – Challenging our Assumptions about the Operational Environment and Warfare posts, where Part 1 discusses whether the future fight will necessarily even involve LSCO and Part 2 addresses the implications of a changed or changing nature of war.

The Death of Authenticity:  New Era Information Warfare.



183. Ethics, Morals, and Legal Implications

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-sponsored the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas. Today’s post is excerpted from this conference’s Final Report and addresses how the speed of technological innovation and convergence continues to outpace human governance. The U.S. Army must not only consider how best to employ these advances in modernizing the force, but also the concomitant ethical, moral, and legal implications their use may present in the Operational Environment (see links to the newly published TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, and the complete Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference Final Report at the bottom of this post).]

Technological advancement and subsequent employment often outpaces moral, ethical, and legal standards. Governmental and regulatory bodies are then caught between technological progress and the evolution of social thinking. The Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference uncovered and explored several tension points that the Army may be challenged by in the future.


Cubesats in LEO / Source: NASA

Space is one of the least explored domains in which the Army will operate; as such, we may encounter a host of associated ethical and legal dilemmas. In the course of warfare, if the Army or an adversary intentionally or inadvertently destroys commercial communications infrastructure – GPS satellites – the ramifications to the economy, transportation, and emergency services would be dire and deadly. The Army will be challenged to consider how and where National Defense measures in space affect non-combatants and American civilians on the ground.

Per proclaimed Mad Scientists Dr. Moriba Jah and Dr. Diane Howard, there are ~500,000 objects orbiting the Earth posing potential hazards to our space-based services. We are currently able to only track less than one percent of them — those that are the size of a smart phone / softball or larger. / Source: NASA Orbital Debris Office

International governing bodies may have to consider what responsibility space-faring entities – countries, universities, private companies – will have for mitigating orbital congestion caused by excessive launching and the aggressive exploitation of space. If the Army is judicious with its own footprint in space, it could reduce the risk of accidental collisions and unnecessary clutter and congestion. It is extremely expensive to clean up space debris and deconflicting active operations is essential. With each entity acting in their own self-interest, with limited binding law or governance and no enforcement, overuse of space could lead to a “tragedy of the commons” effect.1  The Army has the opportunity to more closely align itself with international partners to develop guidelines and protocols for space operations to avoid potential conflicts and to influence and shape future policy. Without this early intervention, the Army may face ethical and moral challenges in the future regarding its addition of orbital objects to an already dangerously cluttered Low Earth Orbit. What will the Army be responsible for in democratized space? Will there be a moral or ethical limit on space launches?

Autonomy in Robotics

AFC’s Future Force Modernization Enterprise of Cross-Functional Teams, Acquisition Programs of Record, and Research and Development centers executed a radio rodeo with Industry throughout June 2019 to inform the Army of the network requirements needed to enable autonomous vehicle support in contested, multi-domain environments. / Source: Army.mil

Robotics have been pervasive and normalized in military operations in the post-9/11 Operational Environment. However, the burgeoning field of autonomy in robotics with the potential to supplant humans in time-critical decision-making will bring about significant ethical, moral, and legal challenges that the Army, and larger DoD are currently facing. This issue will be exacerbated in the Operational Environment by an increased utilization and reliance on autonomy.

The increasing prevalence of autonomy will raise a number of important questions. At what point is it more ethical to allow a machine to make a decision that may save lives of either combatants or civilians? Where does fault, responsibility, or attribution lie when an autonomous system takes lives? Will defensive autonomous operations – air defense systems, active protection systems – be more ethically acceptable than offensive – airstrikes, fire missions – autonomy? Can Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) make decisions in line with Army core values?

Deepfakes and AI-Generated Identities, Personas, and Content

Source: U.S. Air Force

A new era of Information Operations (IO) is emerging due to disruptive technologies such as deepfakes – videos that are constructed to make a person appear to say or do something that they never said or did – and AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) that produce fully original faces, bodies, personas, and robust identities.2  Deepfakes and GANs are alarming to national security experts as they could trigger accidental escalation, undermine trust in authorities, and cause unforeseen havoc. This is amplified by content such as news, sports, and creative writing similarly being generated by AI/ML applications.

This new era of IO has many ethical and moral implications for the Army. In the past, the Army has utilized industrial and early information age IO tools such as leaflets, open-air messaging, and cyber influence mechanisms to shape perceptions around the world. Today and moving forward in the Operational Environment, advances in technology create ethical questions such as: is it ethical or legal to use cyber or digital manipulations against populations of both U.S. allies and strategic competitors? Under what title or authority does the use of deepfakes and AI-generated images fall? How will the Army need to supplement existing policy to include technologies that didn’t exist when it was written?

AI in Formations

With the introduction of decision-making AI, the Army will be faced with questions about trust, man-machine relationships, and transparency. Does AI in cyber require the same moral benchmark as lethal decision-making? Does transparency equal ethical AI? What allowance for error in AI is acceptable compared to humans? Where does the Army allow AI to make decisions – only in non-combat or non-lethal situations?

Commanders, stakeholders, and decision-makers will need to gain a level of comfort and trust with AI entities exemplifying a true man-machine relationship. The full integration of AI into training and combat exercises provides an opportunity to build trust early in the process before decision-making becomes critical and life-threatening. AI often includes unintentional or implicit bias in its programming. Is bias-free AI possible? How can bias be checked within the programming? How can bias be managed once it is discovered and how much will be allowed? Finally, does the bias-checking software contain bias? Bias can also be used in a positive way. Through ML – using data from previous exercises, missions, doctrine, and the law of war – the Army could inculcate core values, ethos, and historically successful decision-making into AI.

If existential threats to the United States increase, so does pressure to use artificial and autonomous systems to gain or maintain overmatch and domain superiority. As the Army explores shifting additional authority to AI and autonomous systems, how will it address the second and third order ethical and legal ramifications? How does the Army rectify its traditional values and ethical norms with disruptive technology that rapidly evolves?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

    • “Second/Third Order, and Evil Effects” – The Dark Side of Technology (Parts I & II) by Dr. Nick Marsella.
    • Ethics and the Future of War panel, facilitated by LTG Dubik (USA-Ret.) at the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle 2030-2050 Conference, facilitated at Georgetown University, on 25-26 July 2017.

Just Published! TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, 7 October 2019, describes the conditions Army forces will face and establishes two distinct timeframes characterizing near-term advantages adversaries may have, as well as breakthroughs in technology and convergences in capabilities in the far term that will change the character of warfare. This pamphlet describes both timeframes in detail, accounting for all aspects across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres to allow Army forces to train to an accurate and realistic Operational Environment.

1 Munoz-Patchen, Chelsea, “Regulating the Space Commons: Treating Space Debris as Abandoned Property in Violation of the Outer Space Treaty,” Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, No. 1, Art. 7, 1 Aug. 2018. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1741&context=cjil

2 Robitzski, Dan, “Amazing AI Generates Entire Bodies of People Who Don’t Exist,” Futurism.com, 30 Apr. 2019. https://futurism.com/ai-generates-entire-bodies-people-dont-exist

182. “Tenth Man” – Challenging our Assumptions about the Operational Environment and Warfare (Part 2)

[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. The Mad Scientist Laboratory offers it as a platform for the contrarians in our network to share their alternative perspectives and analyses regarding the Operational Environment (OE). We continue our series of “Tenth Man” posts examining the foundational assumptions of The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, challenging them, reviewing the associated implications, and identifying potential signals and/or indicators of change. Enjoy!]

Assumption:  The character of warfare will change but the nature of war will remain human-centric.

The character of warfare will change in the future OE as it inexorably has since the advent of flint hand axes; iron blades; stirrups; longbows; gunpowder; breech loading, rifled, and automatic guns; mechanized armor; precision-guided munitions; and the Internet of Things. Speed, automation, extended ranges, broad and narrow weapons effects, and increasingly integrated multi-domain conduct, in addition to the complexity of the terrain and social structures in which it occurs, will make mid Twenty-first Century warfare both familiar and utterly alien.

The nature of warfare, however, is assumed to remain human-centric in the future. While humans will increasingly be removed from processes, cycles, and perhaps even decision-making, nearly all content regarding the future OE assumes that humans will remain central to the rationale for war and its most essential elements of execution. The nature of war has remained relatively constant from Thucydides through Clausewitz, and forward to the present. War is still waged because of fear, honor, and interest, and remains an expression of politics by other means. While machines are becoming ever more prevalent across the battlefield – C5ISR, maneuver, and logistics – we cling to the belief that parties will still go to war over human interests; that war will be decided, executed, and controlled by humans.

Implications:  If these assumptions prove false, then the Army’s fundamental understanding of war in the future may be inherently flawed, calling into question established strategies, force structuring, and decision-making models. A changed or changing nature of war brings about a number of implications:

– Humans may not be aware of the outset of war. As algorithmic warfare evolves, might wars be fought unintentionally, with humans not recognizing what has occurred until effects are felt?

– Wars may be fought due to AI-calculated opportunities or threats – economic, political, or even ideological – that are largely imperceptible to human judgement. Imagine that a machine recognizes a strategic opportunity or impetus to engage a nation-state actor that is conventionally (read that humanly) viewed as weak or in a presumed disadvantaged state. The machine launches offensive operations to achieve a favorable outcome or objective that it deemed too advantageous to pass up.

  • – Infliction of human loss, suffering, and disruption to induce coercion and influence may not be conducive to victory. Victory may be simply a calculated or algorithmic outcome that causes an adversary’s machine to decide their own victory is unattainable.

– The actor (nation-state or otherwise) with the most robust kairosthenic power and/or most talented humans may not achieve victory. Even powers enjoying the greatest materiel advantages could see this once reliable measure of dominion mitigated. Winning may be achieved by the actor with the best algorithms or machines.

  • These implications in turn raise several questions for the Army:

– How much and how should the Army recruit and cultivate human talent if war is no longer human-centric?

– How should forces be structured – what is the “right” mix of humans to machines if war is no longer human-centric?

– Will current ethical considerations in kinetic operations be weighed more or less heavily if humans are further removed from the equation? And what even constitutes kinetic operations in such a future?

– Should the U.S. military divest from platforms and materiel solutions (hardware) and re-focus on becoming algorithmically and digitally-centric (software)?


– What is the role for the armed forces in such a world? Will competition and armed conflict increasingly fall within the sphere of cyber forces in the Departments of the Treasury, State, and other non-DoD organizations?

– Will warfare become the default condition if fewer humans get hurt?

– Could an adversary (human or machine) trick us (or our machines) to miscalculate our response?

Signposts / Indicators of Change:

– Proliferation of AI use in the OE, with increasingly less human involvement in autonomous or semi-autonomous systems’ critical functions and decision-making; the development of human-out-of-the-loop systems

– Technology advances to the point of near or actual machine sentience, with commensurate machine speed accelerating the potential for escalated competition and armed conflict beyond transparency and human comprehension.

– Nation-state governments approve the use of lethal autonomy, and this capability is democratized to non-state actors.

– Cyber operations have the same political and economic effects as traditional kinetic warfare, reducing or eliminating the need for physical combat.

– Smaller, less-capable states or actors begin achieving surprising or unexpected victories in warfare.

– Kinetic war becomes less lethal as robots replace human tasks.

– Other departments or agencies stand up quasi-military capabilities, have more active military-liaison organizations, or begin actively engaging in competition and conflict.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

    • “Second/Third Order, and Evil Effects” – The Dark Side of Technology (Parts I & II) by Dr. Nick Marsella.

… as well as our previous “Tenth Man” blog posts:

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

181. Current and Future Operations in Megacities Conference: Observations and Recommendations

[Editor’s Note: In today’s post, Mad Scientist Laboratory captures the key observations and recommendations that emerged from the Current and Future Operations in Megacities Conference, facilitated in Tokyo on 16-19 July 2019. Five partners recognized the importance of better understanding the challenges of Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Relief (HADR) operations in the world’s largest and most influential urban areas. Representatives from the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), U.S. Army Japan (USARJ), U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and the Australian Army worked with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) in conducting this event at their Ichigaya headquarters. Speakers and attendees spanned organizations representing a comprehensive approach to contingencies (i.e., military, government civilian, nongovernmental, intergovernmental, industry, and others with talents and capabilities relevant to HADR undertakings in urban environments). The following post was excerpted from this conference’s comprehensive (155 page!) Proceedings, a link to which is provided below — Enjoy!]

“We can’t turn a blind eye to operations in megacities. We’ve got to get after this or shame on us. The more we talk, the more we share, then the more we learn…. If we continue to ignore the complexities of operating in megacities we are only putting our Soldiers and citizens in extreme danger.” — General Robert B. Brown, Commanding General, U.S. Army Pacific

Speakers at the Current and Future Operations in Megacities Conference emphasized the need to better promote collaboration between those bringing
capabilities to bear during and after a megacity disaster. The emphasis was on better preparing prospective participants by including them in pre-event planning, training, and exercises and then effectively synchronizing those assets once catastrophe strikes. As is notably well done in Tokyo, this preparation and participation should incorporate members of the public. Victims recovered by community members after an earthquake survive 80% of the time versus 50% survival for others needing assistance by first responders.* The goal should be more than cooperation or coordination of partner capabilities, seeking instead the orchestration of these assets.

Preparing individual partner organizations and promoting collective capacity requires improvements in virtual and constructive training capabilities, given the impractical costs inherent in relying exclusively, or even primarily, on live training. The criticality of maintaining public trust necessitates “war gaming” HADR operations no less than is done during preparation for combat operations. Replicating Tokyo preparations for disaster (e.g., disaster preparedness map requirements, design features such as standby emergency toilets and cooking stoves in public parks) is worthy of consideration, particularly (but not exclusively) for megacities exposed to high risk of natural catastrophe.

JGSDF’s 5th Brigade working to dislodge debris from the schoolyard of the Minato Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, April 1, 2011 / Source: Cpl. Patricia D. Lockhart, USMC via Wikimedia Commons

Military forces – those of the nation suffering disaster or others partnering during HADR operations – will be particularly challenged. First, there can be no lessening of armed forces’ primary mission to guarantee the security of its citizens, a duty tested in the aftermath of 3/11 (i.e., the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 and resultant Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster) when aircraft of two regional countries tested Japanese airspace. Additionally, there will be demands not only for capabilities traditionally expected of soldiers, but others as well. The Japan Self-Defense Force found itself assuming tasks normally handled by police, fire, or other civilian authorities when those assets were overwhelmed or rendered inoperable due to the devastation.

New York Army National Guard Soldiers guard the perimeter at Ground Zero, New York, Sept. 14, 2001 / Source:  U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark C. Olsen via DVIDS

As with the demand for unflagging military diligence during times of disaster, responsibilities of civil authorities regarding public security do not take a rest. Parties providing HADR should expect resistance, theft, or other interference even in the most permissive of environments. The same social problems found in an urban area on a daily basis will be found in displaced persons facilities. In addition, criminals will capitalize on the close proximity in those facilities and dense living quarters, further burdening security with 24/7 policing requirements. Including women’s perspectives in the planning and design of displaced persons policies and facilities is essential.

Humanitarian assistance/disaster relief is too often considered merely as the sum of separate parts, rather than a synergistic whole. Preparation and funding of HADR would be better served if undertaken from a systems rather than piecemeal perspective. This more coherent approach would have multiple payoffs, to include establishment of standards for communications hardware and procedures promoting better military-civilian and civilian-civilian exchanges.

Members of Brooke Army Medical Center’s medical staff simulate providing emergency care to a role player during an annual exercise designed to test the capabilities of hospitals and emergency responders in the San Antonio area / Source: U.S. Army photo by Jason Edwards

Disasters make extraordinary demands on security infrastructure, both physical and social. Laws, regulations, and policies require review and, as necessary, updating to keep pace with changing conditions and improvements in response capabilities. Restrictions on what procedures Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are allowed to perform provide a case in point. While those permitted should not exceed an individual’s level of training, reconsidering what skills EMTs, paramedics, police, fire, and other personnel should have as part of their core training may require review. In addition, consideration should be given to temporarily expanding the palette of procedures allowed by select personnel under conditions such as those that will exist in times of extreme adversity.

All three countries’ militaries partnering during the conference have maturing operational concepts. Multi-Domain Operations (U.S.), Cross-Domain Operations (Japan), and Accelerated Warfare (Australia) have much to offer during HADR, a potential as of yet underappreciated. In turn, these concepts would benefit from in-depth consideration of how operations in megacities would challenge nations throughout the competition-armed conflict-return to competition range of missions and strategic objectives.

Concept development and future doctrine need to better incorporate recognition of what benefits a comprehensive approach offers to operational effectiveness (a comprehensive approach being one incorporating not only state military and other government actors but also nongovernmental, inter-governmental, faith-based organizations, and industry representatives as appropriate to the objectives sought). Doing so will require security officials to determine information and intelligence sharing procedures prior to HADR operations, given differences in vetting procedures by the heterogeneous members in this expanded concept of what comprises a coalition.

Army Pfcs. Lucas Garcia and Ashton Furney and Spc. Kevin Gallegos, with the 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, work as a team to set up an OE-254 antenna for radio communications / Source: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas X. Crough

As with all operations, re-establishing and maintaining effective communications is essential. Coordination with local cellular companies will help in identifying key terrain as external parties seek to establish temporary communications until inoperable systems can be brought back online. It would be wise to back up communications plans with steps for partners to take when power, cellular, and other infrastructures are down, thus providing means to act in the absence of routinely available forms of information exchange. These could include pre-disaster designation of “information rally points” where collaboration could be carried out via word of mouth until the reestablishment of other forms of communication is achieved. An additional required capability that needs to be developed is the means to communicate coordinates in three-dimensions to all prospective partners, given megacities’ extensive above ground, ground level, and subterranean infrastructure.

Partner nations should take advantage of disasters as sources of lessons learned. As artificial intelligence matures, government authorities should employ it to capture and analyze evacuation patterns, record damage to utilities, and otherwise support improved planning and response during future events. This assistance could include prioritizing response and recovery tasks, orchestrating assets, and proposing solutions to traffic management, power distribution, and other challenges during periods of disaster-induced reduced capacity. LTG Kazuaki Sumida, Commanding General, Ground Component Command, JGSDF, pointed out that AI can assist by rapidly sifting through social media, supporting recovery operations.

Conducting thorough expert reviews of megacity readiness to withstand natural or man-caused disaster would assist in reducing post-disaster suffering and recovery costs. Common sense actions such as moving backup generators, control panels, and fuel sources to less exposed locations is an example, one that should bring to mind the need to reconsider current standards in that regard, given rising sea levels.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

– This conference’s complete Proceedings, as well as select speakers’ slide presentations, presenter biographies, and conference agenda. (Note that additional slide decks and the audiovisual files of actual speaker presentations and panel remarks will be posted in the coming weeks as they are received and cleared for release).

– Last year’s Multi Domain Battle (MDB) In Megacities Conference agenda, presenter biographies, slide decks, associated videos of presentations, and conference Proceedings.

– The following MadSci blog posts addressing megacities:

– For additional insights regarding combat in urban terrain, please also listen to the following podcasts, hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute:

The Battle for Mosul, with COL Pat Work

The Future Urban Battlefield, with Dr. Russell Glenn

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government, the United States Army, U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), Japan Self-Defense Force, Australian Army, or any other organization.

* Some sources state that the portion of those rescued by community members is as high as 95%.

180. The Evolution of Nation-States and Their Role in the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy, exploring the evolving role of nation-states in an increasingly multipolar world. While nations-states will persevere as the primary actors in the international system for the foreseeable future, their dominion will increasingly be challenged by the growing wealth and influence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the emergence of on-line communities of interest coalescing beyond traditional concepts of nationality and fidelity. Given the resultant diffusion of power and allegiance, the dynamics of competition and conflict may well morph beyond our current concepts of allies, strategic competitors, and large scale combat operations.  Ms. Murphy posits two scenarios and then explores the associated ramifications of this evolving power dynamic for the U.S. Army — Enjoy!]

It’s a human fallacy to believe that things in the present have always been and always will be.1  Of course, history books confirm that this is not the case, but it is difficult to imagine living in a world other than the one we’ve adjusted to today. We are all familiar with the current structure of international power, but nation-states as we know them are a relatively new concept. The “official” creation date for what is considered the modern nation-state is often pinned at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.2  However, it wasn’t until the end of WWII and the subsequent redefining of territory in Africa and the Middle East that the modern map began to appear. The fall of the USSR in 1991 redrew the map again, adding new states in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. These major shifts occurred within the lifetimes of people today, demonstrating that the current world order is anything but set in stone.

There are several emerging factors which may come to threaten the recent primacy of the nation-state in the distribution of global power as it currently stands, including the resurgence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the proliferation of online organizations, both aided by the technological advances of the 21st century. MNCs and online organizations connect people around the world and transcend national boundaries. They are capable of amassing capital and influence comparable to that of some nation-states, creating a potential shift in global power dynamics. For example, in 2018, Amazon topped $1 Trillion in value, placing it 17th in the world amongst nation-states in terms of GDP.3

Today, MNCs such as Apple and Amazon rely on global stability to maintain optimal operations. Conflicts affect companies by threatening the interruption or loss of crucial supply chains and the diversion of workers. Due to these potential disruptions, MNCs may have an interest in discouraging, reducing, and restricting conflict and some have the capital to attempt to do so. On the other hand, not all corporate intervention in conflict spaces could prove benevolent. Companies could partner with competing parties in a conflict or further exacerbate divisions by involving their own private security forces. The consequences of kinetic intervention by MNCs may prove detrimental, especially if it disrupts the production and distribution of critical natural resources or the economic livelihoods of the local population that depend on its peaceful presence.4  As the global influence of MNCs rises, the U.S. Army may face questions such as: Could conflict that poses a potential disruption to private industry be mitigated by that industry? Could industry be a major player in conflict zones?

The potential rise of individual allegiances and ideologies beginning to align more with virtual communities, which do not recognize international borders, may start to erode the cultural and political bonds of a nation-state. One example of a diverse online community is Facebook, which currently stands as a platform for like-minded people to join groups and pages according to their personal interests.

But could this be taken to the next level? Facebook recently announced the potential launch of its own digital currency. While many consider this technology to be ahead of its time, and definitely ahead of regulatory standards, it may be a signal that online entities will be capable of encroaching upon what has historically been a governmental responsibility.5  As online organizations develop and proliferate, questions pertinent to national defense begin to emerge, including: Could a nation suffering from ideological dissolution still field a physical army? Could an online organization with multinational membership present a cyber threat to armed forces around the world? Could an online community create its own army not based on geography and borders, but on shared belief?

So, where do these current and potential developments leave nation-states? I have chosen to highlight two possible future scenarios which may emerge from the rising influence of MNCs and online organizations: a multipolar power distribution and a devolving status quo.

The world may be evolving into a multipolar system comprised of different nodes of power; where nation-states, MNCs, and online organizations operate on a more even global playing field. MNCs may begin to leverage their high levels of capital, resources, and influence to impact international and military affairs beyond the oversight of a government. A company’s entrenchment in a region or domain where conflict is developing may be sufficient grounds for direct involvement. If the company exerts more power than the government in that area, it may take on the roles and responsibilities of either mitigating or managing that conflict, possibly including the use of private forces or the co-opting of the legitimate military. Large and diverse online organizations begin to fray the social fabric of established nation-states as citizens’ lives increasingly move and are lived online. These organizations may develop the social organizational capacity that governments used to exclusively possess; the ability to coordinate the mass movement or participation of a large number of people or to control society in other ways, such as holding and managing their currency. In this scenario, nation-states play a somewhat diminished role as what used to be exclusively state-held power is now dispersed among various relevant international organizations.

Alternatively, nation-states may continue to hold the majority of global power, but the massive capital and influence of MNCs and online organizations could grow to become at odds with governments and these groups may vie for a seat at the table. A devolved version of the present may manifest in the event of increased isolationism as large companies lobby their governments to do business worldwide while leaders prefer more domestically focused economic thinking. Online organizations may overtake governments in cultural leadership, leaving governments to be little more than administrative units while citizens who live next door to each other have allegiances to groups and organizations formed from people from all over the world. These online groups may eventually take on governmental responsibilities as well (such as taxation used to provide services) and have the capability to incite mass mobility at a moment’s notice.

Combatting these potential changes in the international balance of power poses new challenges for the Army. Either of these scenarios could alter ally/competitor relationships. Alliances might shift due to either economic interests or ideological priorities. Such considerations may supersede geostrategic factors in a historically symbiotic alliance. The need for American protection and military assistance might not be as great if current power competitors no longer hold that same power or demonstrate a shift in interests.

An evolving power dynamic would alter the way that the Army thinks about its concepts and structures its force. In the future, MNCs may be “another player on the field,” both domestically through lobbying and political influence and in theater due to their operations or investments on the ground. This entanglement of military objectives and private industry interests may demand greater consideration as corporations continue to drive economic development and growth worldwide. Online organizations may divert critical human resources away from patriotic causes towards ones that fulfill specific personal ideologies which may not align with the Nation and the Army. Based on economic and technological advancements, the Army may find itself with different established allies and in the company of states and organizations whose interests and capabilities temporarily align with the U.S. The role of a nation-state in the global order may be evolving as other powerful players come to the table. Whether or not these players will be integrated, or are too big not to be, is yet to be seen.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend, also by Marie Murphy

Splinternets, by Howard Simkin

Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted? by LtCol Jennifer “JJ” Snow

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy is a 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 during the summer of 2018, and is currently serving as a Mad Scientist Initiative consultant. 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 Army Futures 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 Bartlett, Jamie. “Return of the City-State,” Aeon, September 5, 2017. https://aeon.co/essays/the-end-of-a-world-of-nation-states-may-be-upon-us

2 “Peace of Westphalia (1648),” Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml

3 “Gross Domestic Product 2018,” World Bank, 2018. https://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP.pdf

Streitfield, David. “Amazon Hits $1,000,000,000,000 in Value, Following Apple,” The New York Times, Sept. 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/technology/amazon-stock-price-1-trillion-value.html

4 Humphreys, Macartan. “Economics and Violent Conflict,” Harvard University, 2003. https://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/files/Economics_and_Violent_Conflict.pdf

5 Sprouse, William. “Facebook Says Libra Digital Currency May Never Launch,” CFO, July 30, 2019. https://www.cfo.com/regulation/2019/07/facebook-says-libra-digital-currency-may-never-launch/

179. A New Age of Terror: New Mass Casualty Terrorism Threats

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by returning guest blogger Zachary Kallenborn, continuing his New Age of Terror series.  The democratization of unmanned air, ground, sea, and subsea systems and the proliferation of cyber-physical systems (e.g., automated plants) provide lesser states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals with new capabilities to conduct long-range precision fires and generate global non-kinetic effects resulting in mass casualty events. The potential weaponization of these otherwise benign capabilities pose new vulnerabilities to those who fail to remain vigilant and imagine the unthinkable — beware!]

A loud buzz pierced the quiet night air. A group of drones descended on a chemical plant near New York City. The drones disperse throughout the installation in search of storage tanks. A few minutes later, the buzz of the drone propellers was drowned out by loud explosions. A surge of fire leapt to the sky. A plume of gas followed, floating towards the nearby city. The gas killed thousands and thousands more were hospitalized with severe injuries.

The rapid proliferation of unmanned systems and cyber-physical systems offer terrorists new, easier means of carrying out mass casualty attacks. Drones allow terrorists to reduce their operational risk and acquire relatively low cost platforms. Cyber attacks require few resources and could cause significant harm, though a lack of expertise limits terrorist ability to inflict harm. Terrorists may prefer these methods to difficult-to-acquire and risky chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.


Drones offer terrorists low cost methods of delivering harm with lower risk to attacker lives. Drone attacks can be launched from afar, in a hidden position, close to an escape route. Simple unmanned systems can be acquired easily: Amazon.com offers seemingly hundreds of drones for as low as $25. Of course, low cost drones also mean lower payloads that limit the harm caused, often significantly. Improvements to drone autonomy will allow terrorists to deploy more drones at once, including in true drone swarms.1 Terrorists can mount drone attacks across air, land, and sea.

Aerial drones allow attackers to evade ground-based defenses and could be highly effective in striking airports, chemical facilities, and other critical infrastructure. Houthi rebels in Yemen have repeatedly launched drone strikes on Saudi oil pipelines and refineries.2  Recent drone attacks eliminated half of Saudi oil production capacity.3  Attacks on chemical facilities are likely to be particularly effective. A chemical release would not require large amounts of explosives and could cause massive harm, as in the Bhopal gas accident that killed thousands. Current Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards do not require any meaningful defenses against aerial attack.4  Alternatively, even small drones can cause major damage to airplane wings or engines, potentially risking bringing a plane down.5  In December 2018, that risk alone was enough to ground hundreds of flights at Gatwick airport south of London when drones were spotted close to the runway.

Self-driving cars also provide a means of mass casualty attack. Waymo, Uber, and several other companies seek to launch a self-driving taxi service, open to the public. Terrorists could request multiple taxis, load them with explosives or remotely operated weapons, and send them out to multiple targets. Alternatively, terrorists could launch multi-stage attacks on the same target: a first strike causes first responders to mass and subsequent attacks hit the responders. In fact, ISIS has reportedly considered this option.6

For a few hundred dollars, anyone can rent a semi-autonomous surface vessel that can carry up to 35lbs.7  No license or registration is necessary.8  Although a surface attack limits terrorists to maritime targets, potential still exists for significant harm. Terrorists can strike popular tourist sites like the Statue of Liberty or San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. U.S. military vessels are ideal targets too, such as the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.9  But drones are not the only new method of attack.

Cyber-physical systems

Like drones, cyber attacks are low cost and reduce operational risks. Cyber attacks can be launched from secure locations, even on the other side of the world. Terrorists also gain high levels of autonomy that will inhibit law enforcement responses.10  Although cyberterrorism requires significant technical know-how, terrorists require few resources other than a computer to carry out an attack.

Cyber attacks could target chemical facilities, airplanes, and other critical infrastructure targets. In 2000, Vitek Boden infiltrated computers controlling the sewage system of Maroochy Shire, Australia, and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the surrounding area.11  Boden could have caused even more harm if he wished.12  Although Boden’s attack primarily harmed the environment, other attacks could threaten human life. Cyber attacks could disable safety systems at chemical facilities, risking an accidental toxic gas release or explosions. A cyber assault on a Saudi petrochemical facility in August 2017 reportedly had that exact goal.13

However, cyber expertise and specific target knowledge is likely to be a significant inhibitor. Although attacks on critical infrastructure may require specialist knowledge of the control system and administrative operations, protective measures are not always implemented, leaving targets vulnerable.14  Boden was successful in large part because he worked closely with the sewage system’s control systems. Although terrorists have defaced websites and conducted denial of service attacks, known terrorist organizations do not currently possess the capabilities to mount a major destructive cyber attack.15  The availability of the necessary human capital is a strong factor in whether terrorists pursue cyber attacks.16  Nonetheless, the risk is likely to grow as terrorists develop greater cyber capabilities, increased connectivity creates new opportunities for attack, and the black market for cybercrime tools grows.17

The Future Operational Environment

Hot-zone team members from Hawaii’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive, Enhanced-Response-Force-Package Team (CERFP) process simulated casualties through a decontamination zone during an exercise this spring. /  Source: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier

If terrorists have new avenues of mass casualty attack, U.S. forces must devote more resources to force protection and emergency response. U.S. forces may be called upon to aid local, state, and federal emergency responders in the event of a mass casualty attack. Likewise, U.S. troops may face risks themselves: cyber and drone attacks could certainly target U.S. military installations. Even attacks that do not kill can cause significant harm: disrupting airport operations as in the 2018 Gatwick drone incident may delay troop resupply, troop deployment, or close air support to Soldiers in the field. The U.S. military and the broader national security community must rethink its approach to mass casualty terrorism to respond to these threats. Terrorist groups have typically required CBRN weapons to cause mass harm. But if you can kill thousands in a drone attack, why bother with risky, difficult-to-acquire CBRN weapons?

For more information on this threat trend, see Non-State Actors and Their Uses of Emerging Technology, presented by Dr. Gary Ackerman, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland, at the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy Conference at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta, Georgia, 7-8 March 2017…

… as well as the following related Mad Scientist Laboratory posts:

– Zachary Kallenborn‘s previous post, A New Age of Terror: The Future of CBRN Terrorism.

– Marie Murphy‘s post, Trouble in Paradise: The Technological Upheaval of Modern Political and Economic Systems

The Democratization of Dual Use Technology

Autonomy Threat Trends

The Future of the Cyber Domain

Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals

… and crank up Love and Terror by The Cinematics!

Zachary Kallenborn is a freelance researcher and analyst, specializing in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, CBRN terrorism, drone swarms, and emerging technologies writ large. His research has appeared in the Nonproliferation Review, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Defense One, the Modern War Institute at West Point, and other outlets. His most recent study, Swarming Destruction: Drone Swarms and CBRN Weapons, examines the threats and opportunities of drone swarms for the full scope of CBRN weapons.

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

1 Amy Hocraffer and Chang S. Nam, “A Meta-analysis of Human–System Interfaces in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarm Management,” Applied Ergonomics, Vol. 58 (2017), pp. 66–80, http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chang_Nam5/publication/303782432_A_meta-analysis_of_human-system_interfaces_in_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_UAV_swarm_management/links/5767f71f08ae1658e2f8b435.pdf

2 Natasha Turak, “Oil Prices Jump as Saudi Energy Minister Reports Drone ‘Terrorism’ Against Pipeline Infrastructure,” CNBC, May 14, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/14/oil-jumps-as-saudi-energy-minister-reports-drone-terrorism-against-pipeline.html

3 John Defterios and Victoria Cavaliere, “Coordinated Strikes Knock Out Half of Saudi Oil Capacity, More Than 5 Million Barrels a Day,” CNN, September 15, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/14/business/saudi-oil-output-impacted-drone-attack/index.html

4 Department of Homeland Security, “Risk-Based Performance Standards Guidance: Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards,” May 2009, 15, 85.

5 Peter Dockrill, “Here’s What it Looks Like When a Drone Smashes into a Plane Wing at 238 MPH,” ScienceAlert, October 22, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-what-it-looks-like-drone-smashes-into-plane-s-wing-238-mph-mid-air-collision-aircraft-impact

6 Lia Eustachewich, “Terrorist Wannabes Plotted Self-Driving Car Bomb Attack: Authorities,” New York Post, September 4, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/09/04/terrorist-wannabes-plotted-self-driving-car-bomb-attack-authorities/

7 AllTerra, “AllTerra Rental Rates,” May 3, 2019, https://allterracentral.com/pub/media/wysiwyg/AllTerra_Rental_Rates-5.3.19.pdf

8 Phone conversation with USV retailer.

9 CNN Library, “USS Cole Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 27, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/world/meast/uss-cole-bombing-fast-facts/index.html

10 Steve S. Sin, Laura A. Blackerby, Elvis Asiamah, and Rhyner Washburn, “Determining Extremist Organisations’ Likelihood of Conducting Cyber Attacks,” 2016 8th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, May 31 to June 3, 2016, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?reload=true&arnumber=7529428&tag=1

11 Marshall Abrams and Joe Weiss, “Malicious Control System Cyber Security Attack Case Study – Maroochy Water Services, Australia,” MITRE, July 23, 2008, https://www.mitre.org/sites/default/files/pdf/08_1145.pdf

12 Nabil Sayfayn and Stuart Madnick, “Cybersafety Analysis of the Maroochy Shire Sewage Spill (Preliminary Draft),” Cybersecurity Interdisciplinary Systems Laboratory, May 2017, http://web.mit.edu/smadnick/www/wp/2017-09.pdf

13 Nicole Perlroth and Clifford Krauss, “A Cyberattack in Saudi Arabia had a Deadly Goal. Experts Fear Another Try,” New York Times, March 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/15/technology/saudi-arabia-hacks-cyberattacks.html

14 Noguchi Mutsuo and Ueda Hirofumi, “An Analysis of the Actual Status of Recent Cyberattacks on Critical Infrastructure,” NEC Technical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, January 2018, https://www.nec.com/en/global/techrep/journal/g17/n02/pdf/170204.pdf

15 Tamara Evan, Eireann Leverett, Simon Ruffle, Andrew Coburn, James Bourdeau, Rohan Gunaratna, and Daniel Ralph, “Cyber Terrorism: Assessment of the Threat to Insurance,” Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies – Cyber Terrorism Insurance Futures 2017, November 2017, https://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/centres/risk/downloads/pool-re-cyber-terrorism.pdf

16 Steve S. Sin, et al, “Determining Extremist Organisations’ Likelihood of Conducting Cyber Attacks.”

17 Lillian Ablon, Martin C. Libicki, and Andrea A. Golay, “Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data: Hacker’s Bazaar,” RAND, 2014, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR600/RR610/RAND_RR610.pdf

178. Space: Challenges and Opportunities

[Editor’s Note:  The U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-sponsored the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas. Today’s post is excerpted from this conference’s Final Report (see link at the end of this post), addressing how the Space Domain is becoming increasingly crowded, given that the community of spacefaring entities now comprises more than 90 nations, as well as companies such as Amazon, Google, and Alibaba.  This is particularly significant to the Army as it increasingly relies on space-based assets to support long-range precision fires and mission command.  Read on to learn how this space boom will create operational challenges for the Army, while simultaneously yield advances in autonomy that will ultimately benefit military applications in the other operational domains. (Note: Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Everybody wants to launch satellites

Space has the potential to become the most strategically important domain in the Operational Environment. Today’s maneuver Brigade Combat Team (BCT) has over 2,500 pieces of equipment dependent on space-based assets for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT).1 This number is only going to increase as emerging technology on Earth demands increased bandwidth, new orbital infrastructure, niche satellite capabilities, and advanced robotics.

Image made from models used to track debris in Low Earth Orbit / Source: NASA Earth Observatory; Wikimedia Commons

Low Earth Orbit is cluttered with hundreds of thousands of objects, such as satellites, debris, and other refuse that can pose a hazard to space operations, and only one percent of these objects are tracked.2  This complexity is further exacerbated by the fact that there are no universally recognized “space traffic rules” and no standard operating procedures. Additionally, there is a space “gold rush” with companies and countries racing to launch assets into orbit at a blistering pace. The FCC has granted over 7,500 satellite licenses for SpaceX alone over the next five years, and the U.S. has the potential to double the number of tracked space objects in that same timeframe.3 This has the potential to cause episodes of Kessler syndrome – where cascading damage produced by collisions increases debris by orders of magnitude.4  This excess debris could also be used as cover by an adversary for a hostile act, thereby making attribution difficult.

There are efforts, such as University of Texas-Austin’s tool ASTRIAGraph, to mitigate this problem through crowdsourcing the location of orbital objects. A key benefit of these tools is their ability to analyze all sources of information simultaneously so as to get the maximum mutual information on desired space domain awareness criteria and enable going from data to discovery.5   One added benefit is that the system layers the analysis of other organizations and governments to reveal gaps, inconsistencies, and data overlaps. This information is of vital importance to avoid collisions, to determine what is debris and what is active, and to properly plan flight paths. For the military, a collision with a mission-critical asset could disable warfighter capabilities, cause unintentional escalation, or result in loss of life.

As astronauts return to Earth via the Orion spacecraft, autonomous caretaking systems will maintain Gateway. / Source: NASA

Autonomy will be critical for future space activities because physical human presence in space will be limited. Autonomous robots with human-like mechanical skills performing maintenance and hardware survivability tasks will be vital. For example, NASA’s Gateway program relies upon fully autonomous systems to function as it’s devoid of humans for 11 months out of the year.

An autonomous caretaking capability will facilitate spacecraft maintenance when Gateway is unmanned / Source: NASA; Dr. Julia Badger

Fixing mechanical and hardware problems on the space station requires a dexterous robot on board that takes direction from a self-diagnosing program, thus creating a self-healing system of systems.6 The military can leverage this technology already developed for austere environments to perform tasks requiring fine motor skills in environments that are inhospitable or too dangerous for human life. Similar dual-use autonomous capabilities employed by our near-peer competitors could also serve as a threat capability against U.S. space assets.  As the military continues to expand its mission sets in space, and its assets become more complex systems of systems, it will increasingly rely on autonomous or semi-autonomous robots for maintenance, debris collection, and defense.

The Space Domain is vital to Land Domain operations.  Our adversaries are well aware of this dependence and intend to disrupt and degrade these capabilities.  NASA is at the forefront of long range operations with robotic systems responsible for self-healing, collection of information, and communications.  What lessons are being learned and applied by the Army from NASA’s experience with autonomous operations in Space?

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

The entire Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference Final Report, dated 25 July 2019.

– Dr. Moriba K. Jah and Dr. Diane Howard‘s presentation from the aforementioned conference on Space Traffic Management and Situational Awareness

Dr. Julia Badger‘s presentation from the same conference on Robotics in Space.

– Dr. Jah‘s Modern War Institute podcast on What Does the Future Hold for the US Military in Space? hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute.

The following Mad Scientist Laboratory blog posts on space:

1 Houck, Caroline, “The Army’s Space Force Has Doubled in Six Years, and Demand Is Still Going Up,” DefenseOne, 23 Aug. 2017. https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/08/armys-space-force-has-doubled-six-years-and-demand-still-going/140467/

2 Jah, Moriba, Mad Scientist Conference: Disruption and the Future Operational Environment, University of Texas at Austin, 25 April 2019.

3 Seemangal, Robin, “Watch SpaceX Launch the First of its Global Internet Satellites,” Wired, 18 Feb. 2018. https://www.wired.com/story/watch-spacex-launch-the-first-of-its-global-internet-satellites/

4 “Micrometeoriods and Orbital Debris (MMOD),” NASA, 14 June 2016. https://www.nasa.gov/centers/wstf/site_tour/remote_hypervelocity_test_laboratory/micrometeoroid_and_orbital_debris.html

5 https://sites.utexas.edu/moriba/astriagraph/

6 Badger, Julia, Mad Scientist Conference: Disruption and the Future Operational Environment, University of Texas at Austin, 25 April 2019.

177. “Kairosthenic Power” — In an Era of Contested Equality, the Most Important Factor in Strategic Competition May Be Timestrength

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by Mr. John C. Bauer, who expands our geostrategic lexicon with a new term:  Kairosthenic Power.  History is replete with empires, kingdom’s, and nation’s that once strode the world’s stage with globe-girdling power and influence, yet with the inexorable march of time, have been consigned to half-forgotten shelves in dusty archives.  Mr. Bauer explores the constituent elements of kairosthenic power — enduring national strength — and reveals the essential role that culture plays, complementing the more conventional measures of economic, political, and military clout. This begs the question, which ascendant powers today will prove enduring through the Twenty-First Century?]

In retrospect, it may have been one of the most ironic moments of the Cold War. Early in Dwight Eisenhower’s first term, during a meeting of the National Security Council, the President asked his advisors to propose an economic strategy to counter the emerging global threat posed by Soviet foreign economic policies. Not only were the Russians promoting their rapid industrialization model to foreign governments, the Marxist ideology that supported it was proving increasingly attractive to anti-colonial movements around the world. European empires were in full retreat, leaving a void the communists were eager to fill.

Eisenhower believed Western liberal democratic ideals, and the free enterprise and open trade that supported them, were under direct threat. The United States confronted a new “Era of Contested [Strategic] Equality.”1  Two superpower-led blocs were contending for global dominance and economic considerations were becoming increasingly important. Expansion of American export controls and foreign development aid were not enough. The Soviets had the strategic initiative in the economic domain.2  Something had to be done, so Ike needed new ideas, a new strategy, and he needed it fast. But those attending the Council meeting remained silent. No new strategy emerged.

The grand irony of that moment was that the best strategy proved to be no strategy at all. Less than forty years later, the Soviet economic model was so discredited it had lost its global appeal. It had even contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. Free trade and private enterprise proliferated around the world, leading to an era of growth and prosperity unprecedented in history. Communist countries, even China, were rushing to emulate capitalist success. The American economic model had proven superior without any strategy whatsoever. It was such a decisive repudiation of the Marxist material dialectic—the inevitable march of history toward communism—that Soviet ideology would never again pose an existential threat to Western democracies. All Eisenhower really needed was time.

There is a lesson here in geopolitics that can be oversimplified. One might conclude that the Cold War is evidence that economics determines long-term geopolitical outcomes. That would certainly seem apparent, given the example above. While partly true, the deeper lesson is that the longer the duration of strategic competition, the more the ascendancy of nations, peoples, and ideas depends on the defining, fundamental characteristics of those nations in contest. Economics, while central, comprises only one of these fundamental characteristics.

As we enter a new Era of Contested Equality, I propose Mad Scientists employ a new term that captures the power of a nation to prevail strategically over time: kairosthenic power or, literally, timestrength. By kairosthenic power we combine kairos – the opportune time, season, or epoch plus sthenos – a condition of mental and moral strength and determination.

The first term, Kairos, comes from the ancient Greek. Unlike chronos, a linear measure of time, kairos has a qualitative meaning. It considers context, for example “a time for every purpose under heaven.” Most commonly understood as momentary opportunity, it also describes a season of exigence, or the right thing(s) at the right time in the right measure. Within the realm of international competition, it can be understood as an era – one of national power and ascendancy, or the perpetuation and defense of national identity or a set of ideals.

Sthenos is the strength of will and purpose derived from moral character and energy. The familiar word calisthenic employs the term with regard to physical conditioning and beauty as well as the need to be disciplined in their pursuit. Sthenos combines psychological and physical strength. Thus, individuals, groups, and nations with more energy and determination have superior strength, compared to those with less.

Kairosthenic power is more than Soft Power or Smart Power, which employ various instrumentalities. In contrast, Kairosthenics captures the idea that the strategic endurance of nations will depend on both their willpower and their attributes applied over a season in the environmental context in which they compete. It is the quality of national strength derived from the inherent qualities of a nation’s (or, perhaps, an alliance’s) most fundamental, or defining, characteristics. Kairosthenic power will certainly include military, technological and economic aspects, but it also includes culture, social psychology, military ethos, political and legal institutions, scientific rigor, openness and freedom of thought, and more.

How would one identify and measure these kairosthenic characteristics? Academic research on this question is surprisingly abundant, though not in explicitly kairosthenic terms. Some scholars, for instance, view weather, geography, or natural resources as the primary, even deterministic, sources of a nation’s timestrength.3 Political scientists may point to leaders, legal characteristics, and institutional or ideological power dynamics. Other social scientists have their own theories.

What is striking about most social science theories is that, while compelling, they are rarely multi-disciplinary and, hence, rarely cohere with one another. Kairosthenic power is overwhelmingly multivariate. It depends on complex societal attributes that interact and reinforce (or weaken) one another to affect strategic competitiveness over the long term. Thus geography and resources, and even economics, contribute significantly but are unlikely to be decisive in themselves.

A Kairosthenic perspective therefore begs a deeper analysis. As we enter the next Era of Contested Equality, or the relative equalization of power between international actors, which national attributes will matter the most over time, in what measure, and under which circumstances?

The Cold War example is instructive here. It was a period when “no one actor [had] long-term strategic or technological advantage, with aggregate power between the U.S. and its peer and near-peer rivals being equivalent, but not necessarily symmetric.”4  Military power between the United States and the Soviet Union was generally balanced—though asymmetric—so competition shifted to other arenas involving different instruments of national power. The Cold War shows that relative equalization in one dimension of national power drives competition into other dimensions, increasing the kairosthenic significance of those dimensions. Hence, economic competition—an area of clear difference and asymmetry—increased in strategic importance during the Eisenhower Administration.

The Cold War strategic environment highlighted the importance of this economic competition. A central question during this century will be whether economic strength proves decisive once again.

The strategic importance of economics is certainly not lost on China. Chinese strategists, perhaps reflecting their wider culture, extol a long view of history. They also appear to be devoted students of Paul Kennedy (The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers).5  Indeed, there is a fascinating correlation between Kennedy’s thesis—that Great Powers are established through economic development and then weakened by “imperial overstretch”—and the modern Chinese emphasis on economic development and official rhetoric about declining American power. When combined with the energy of Chinese ethnic nationalism, economic growth has the potential to provide China with significant kairosthenic strength. Chinese economic power is already becoming a major influence around the world.

Beyond China, history suggests economic power may be the most important element of modern timestrength. Industrialization propelled the great powers of the 19th and 20th Century. Conversely, economic weakness was a defining characteristic of many short-lived powers, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Turkey and, of course, the Soviet Union.

The deeper issue is whether economic strength has its own fundamental root causes, hence deeper sources of timestrength. Many economic theorists and historians believe it does. A leading developmental economist of the 1950s, Lord Peter Bauer, discovered that underneath economic development and dynamism is a cultural layer that promotes capital formation and efficient resource allocation, hence long-term economic vitality.6  Importantly, this cultural layer is distinctly different between groups even when they are in the same country.7  When macroeconomic variables are equal, social mores and traditions, i.e., “noneconomic variables” like aptitudes and cultural characteristics, undergird economic performance over time. Hence, culture may hold more root-level significance for national power than is commonly understood. This idea is supported by recent more recent economic research into the role of political culture in economic development by scholars such as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.8

Bauer’s observations about culture and its role in economic development is reinforced by economic historians such as David Landes.9  His research suggests that disparities in economic growth may occur primarily because some cultures are willing to try harder and keep trying in response to failure. If true, this would have broad explanatory power and profound implications for the future strategic environment. Perhaps it was cultural determination, even amid setbacks, that propelled American economic performance over the past two centuries. China’s rapid economic development, and Chinese culture, may yet be tested in this regard.

If deeper culture is so central to enduring timestrength, which modern cultures will prove ascendant in the next Era of Contested Equality? As important as the question is to strategic outcomes, it is difficult to answer. There are complex, and perhaps disquieting, conclusions to be made about kairosthenic power. Do we adequately understand the aspects of our own nation that will provide enduring timestrength? Are we willing to confront those that make us weaker? Our frontier of understanding about attributes that enable nations to endure during extended periods of contest is still relatively unexplored.

It may therefore be time for a kairosthenic reassessment of Cold War history. What aspects of culture enabled the United States and its allies to maintain political, economic and cultural strength over decades in the face of an aggressive ideological foe? There are some obvious hints from the Eisenhower period. American policies in the 1950’s included investment in national infrastructure and human capital, investment in advanced scientific research, reduction of federal spending, and the beginning of a painful but necessary process of self-examination with regard to civil rights.10  The period also saw the strengthening of Western security and economic alliances—based as much on shared values as defense—and a clear view of the world that properly accounted for both existential threats and regional security challenges.

The Cold War is over, but it is almost certain that we are moving into another Era of Contested Equality. If so, which nation or alliance will hold the edge in kairosthenic power? Will China’s ethnic nationalism and economic model prove superior over time, or do they contain subtle strategic weaknesses? With the many new challenges of the 21st Century, including technological convergence and the rise of peer competitors, the United States would be wise to remember that its kairosthenic competitiveness will be determined by more than economic or military policies.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

A View of the Future: 2035-2050

Lessons Learned in Assessing the Operational Environment, by Mr. Ian Sullivan

Extended Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment

Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment

Mr. John C. Bauer is a Senior Analyst for TRADOC G-2 ACE Threats at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, where he helps characterize future threats and operational environments in support of U.S. Army capabilities development. He has worked as a strategic defense analyst for academia, industry and government, most recently as one of the architects of U.S. European Command’s Deep Futures initiative.

1 The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, Version 4

2 Cupitt, Richard T., Reluctant Champions: US Presidential Policy and Strategic Export Controls, Routledge Publishing, New York, 2000

3 See, for instance, Gallup, Gaviria and Lora, Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America, Stanford University Press, 2003

4 The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, Version 4

5 Kennedy, Paul, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict 1500 to 2000, Random House, New York, 1987

6 Bauer, Peter, Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in the Economics of Development and Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion, Littlehampton Book Services Inc, 1984

7 Ibid. Bauer’s studies focused on differing growth rates among ethnic Chinese, Indian and Malay groups that shared identical macroeconomic, geographic, and political conditions in Malaysia.

8 Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Crown Publishing, Random House, New York, 2012. See also Diamond, Jared, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Penguin Group, New York, 2005

9 Landes, David, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some Are So Poor, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 1998

10 Pach, Chester Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower: Domestic Affairs, University of Virginia Miller Center, August 2019

176. Innovation Isn’t Enough: How Creativity Enables Disruptive Strategic Thinking

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory welcomes today’s guest blogger Heather Venable and her timely and insightful post on how creativity is the sine qua non for disruptive strategic thinking.  An enduring tension exists between entrenched interests and truly innovative ideas.  Creativity, and a willingness to disregard precedent, is what sets apart change agents (like BG William “Billy” Mitchell, pictured above); enabling them to overcome the inherent resistance to new and innovative warfighting technologies and concepts.  The U.S. Army is at a historical inflection point — we must seek out and heed our creative disruptive strategic thinkers to spawn an overarching strategic vision that will guide our way ahead.  Anything less condemns us to preparing to fight the last war, not the next! (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

I sometimes begin teaching an airpower class by asking students to compile a list of the most strategically effective uses of airpower. Responses tend to range from the Battle of Britain to Normandy to Desert Storm. Occasionally a student will even cite a compelling example of non-kinetic airpower, such as the Berlin Airlift. To this list I like to add a different example: the use of four civilian airliners against the United States on September 11, 2001. The strategic effect of this relatively inexpensive and asymmetric use of force has been vast, to include resulting in ten percent of the nation’s national debt.1

Source:  FBI (https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/ten-years-after-the-fbi-since-9-11/the-flights)

But the U.S. tends to think more conventionally about future conflict, in part because it has been able to rest on technological superiority for so long. Now, though, it must think differently. Isaac Asimov offers a path toward new strategic solutions through creativity, a process that can be mastered by “becoming dissatisfied” with the current state of “knowledge” and then “rejecting” some or all of it for new approaches.2  In other words, the essence of creativity is thinking differently.

Truly creative thinking can be difficult to find. The defense community recognizes creativity’s importance in theory, but it has not fostered it in practice. One commentator, for example, recently called for the military to develop “creative solutions” to acquire new technology, citing the example of a “commercial cloud.” But this idea is not new at all, thus demonstrating how the word is thrown around without much reflection.3  A technical rationalist mindset, moreover, pervades much of the Department of Defense (DOD), with cursory mentions of creativity predominantly linked to inventing new products.

Innovation continually underperforms in part because it is the follow-on to ideas, not the precursor, and because it results in solutions for the tactical level of war. Previous eras of transformational change, however, required societies to tackle “primarily intellectual, not technical” challenges.4  Placing too much emphasis on what to fight with results in a lack of knowledge of how to fight or to what end. The National Defense Strategy epitomizes this trend at times, explaining that “success no longer goes to the country that develops a new fighting technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting.” This comment diverges only slightly from traditional technological determinism, asserting that how one integrates technology into its organization determines who wins.5

Those responsible for crafting U.S. strategy must foster new ways of thinking to challenge the nation’s current strategic paradigm.6  Although the U.S. military acknowledges this need—recognizing that peer adversaries have been studying its successes since Operation Desert Storm—it has not figured out how to change the rules of the game because of “functional fixedness,” or the process whereby cognitive bias “limits the way we use an object to what it was originally intended for and keeps us from seeking new usages.”7  This way of thinking helps to explain why IBM, for example, did not “invent the personal computer.” Repeatedly we see institutions and organizations struggle to reject aspects of their past success in order to embrace asymmetric, transformative advantages and thinking.8

Kodak analog film / Source: Max Pixel

Take Multi-Domain Operations as an example. The Army and Air Force’s newest solution to future warfighting has striking overlaps with its predecessor AirLand Battle.9 It seeks to improve upon Jointness, even as it exacerbates the communication requirements that constitute the nation’s warfighting Achilles heel.10  It provides evolutionary improvements but no shift in strategy because the military feels more comfortable focusing on operational solutions.11

This approach characterizes the U.S. military’s tendency over the last decades as a “continuous movement away from the political objectives of war toward a focus on killing and destroying things,” as epitomized by the current emphasis on lethality.12  This propensity can be seen in the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0’s mission statement (see Figure 1, below).  Currently, the mission statement sandwiches hints of a holistic naval strategy between “prompt and sustained combat” and “decisive combat operations.” Those operational and tactical tasks go last, not first and last.

Figure 1: Mission Statement (highlighting added) 13

One of the easiest ways to facilitate the transformative and creative process is to locate strategists on cultural fault lines because they trigger new ways of seeing and understanding, which helps them envision how to change the rules of the game rather than reacting to what others do. As Everett Dolman explains:

When confronted with an unbreakable logic, such as the paper-scissors-rock dilemma of the Swiss pike, which is superior to the French cavalry, which is superior to the Spanish tercio, which is superior to the Swiss pike, ad infinitum, the only way out is to move beyond the conundrum and change the rules of the game.14

This problem is made more challenging by differences in perspective between tactical thinkers and strategic ones.15  A tactical thinker concentrates on the short-term prospect of winning a clear-cut victory. A strategic thinker, by contrast, plays the long game, continually asking “then what?”  At times, these two perspectives exist in tension. In the case of a father who wants to teach his daughter how to play chess, the tactical mindset of seeking to “win” a game sits at odds with the more strategic perspective of ensuring that the father does not extinguish the daughter’s motivation to learn when she keeps losing.16

The Department of Defense has embraced innovation. It is time to do the same for ideas, not just to produce the latest weapons technology but to provide an overarching strategic vision for where we want and need to go. Until then, we will continue preparing mostly to fight the last war, not the next one.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis and The Changing Dynamics of Innovation, by Mr. Ian Sullivan

The entire Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference Final Report, dated 25 July 2019.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Bob Work‘s presentation from the aforementioned conference on AI and Future Warfare: The Rise of the Robots (and Army Futures Command), as well as his Modern War Institute podcast assessing the future battlefield.

Heather Venable is an assistant professor of military and security studies at the U.S. Air Command and Staff College and teaches in the Department of Airpower. She has written a forthcoming book entitled How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874-1918.

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

1 Kimberly Amadeo, “War on Terror Facts, Costs, and Timeline,” 25 June 2019, https://www.thebalance.com/war-on-terror-facts-costs-timeline-3306300.

2 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York: Harper, 2013), 90.

3 VADM T.J. White, RDML Danelle Barrett, and LCDR Robert Bebber, “The Future of Information Combat Power: Winning the Information War,” 14 March 2019, http://cimsec.org/the-future-of-information-combat-power-winning-the-information-war/39934?fbclid=IwAR3DF3vZthb_ipk1A57Uih7Vz1yht1_i9QBuDESLHzcZ8OtcOSl8Oh5i398.

4 Quoted in Dave Lyle, “Fifth Generation Warfare and Other Myths: Clarifying Muddled Thinking in Our Current Defense Debates,” 4 Dec 2017, https://othjournal.com/2017/12/04/fifth-generation-warfare-and-other-myths-clarifying-muddled-thinking-in-our-current-defense-debates/. For more on the failure to innovate organizationally, see Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, “Future War: Not Back to the Future,” 6 Mar 2019, War on the Rocks; https://warontherocks.com/2019/03/future-war-not-back-to-the-future/.

5 Quoted in Zachery Tyson Brown, “All This ‘Innovation’ Won’t Save the Pentagon,” 23 April 2019, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/04/all-innovation-wont-save-pentagon/156487/.

6 See James A. Russell, James J. Wirtz, Donald Abenheim, Thomas-Durrell Young, and Diana Wueger, Navy Strategy Development: Strategy in the 21st Century, June 2015, 4; https://news.usni.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/NPS-Strategy-Report-Final-June-16-2015-2.pdf#viewer.action=download.

7 Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0, December 2018, 3, available online at https://news.usni.org/2018/12/17/design-maintaining-maritime-superiority-2-0; Scott Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2016), 182.

8 Wired to Create, 95.

9 See, for example, Colin Clark, “Army Unveils Multi-Domain Concept; Joined at Hip with Air Force,” 10 Oct 2018, Breaking Defense, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/10/army-unveils-multi-domain-concept-joined-at-hip-with-air-force/.

10 See, for example, Jacquelyn Schneider, “Digitally-Enabled Warfare: The Capability-Vulnerability Paradox,” 29 Aug 2016, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/digitally-enabled-warfare-the-capability-vulnerability-paradox.

11 See, for example, LTC Antulio J. Echevarria II, “An American Way of War or Way of Battle,” Parameters, 1 January 2004, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=662.

12 Frederick Kagan, Finding the Target (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), 358; Peter Haynes, Toward a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking in the Post-Cold War Era (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015), 5.

13 Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0, December 2018, 1.

14 For an example from the popular movie Princess Bride that Dolman discusses as well, see Mark McNeilly, “’The Princess Bride’ and the Man in Black’s Lessons in Competitive Strategy,” 2 October 2012, https://www.fastcompany.com/3001732/princess-bride-and-man-blacks-lessons-competitive-strategy.

15 Everett Carl Dolman, “Seeking Strategy” in Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower. Eds. Richard Bailey and James Forsyth (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016), 5-37.

16 Dolman, “Seeking Strategy,” 18.