224. Contagion: COVID-19’s impact on the Operational Environment (Part 2)

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by guest blogger Kat Cassedy, who continues to explore how the current COVID-19 Global Pandemic could shape the Operational Environment (OE) and change the character of warfare. What does this seismic shift portend for the future of the Army? Read on!]

Spread of COVID-19 cases in China, January 2020 / Source: Wikimedia Commons, by Cypp0847, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

The corona virus pandemic of 2020 seemed to come out of nowhere. Right around the turn of the year, news stories started to percolate out from China into the West’s consciousness, and each week after that, the bubbling got louder. By mid-February, it was clear the virus was not going to stay put in China, and by the end of February, COVID-19 began its assault on Western Europe and North America. As of this writing, just over two weeks have passed since America started taking serious steps at the national level, beginning with declaring a national emergency, and halting flights coming from most of Western Europe, the new epicenter for the outbreak. Last weekend, several U.S. cities and states where the infection rate has climbed fastest issued official stay-at-home orders, after first moving public education to distance learning only, calling for a halt to gatherings of more than 10 people, and closing or restricting to take-out the nation’s restaurant industry.

Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening processes on individuals awaiting entry to the base, USAG-Casey, Dongducheon, Republic of Korea, Feb. 26, 2020. / Source: Military Health System (MHS) Health.mil (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Throughout this fast-moving pandemic, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has taken steps to protect its forces, generally enacting protective measures proactively to reduce spread as well as infection with the force. Units deployed in regions hit first began self-isolation and preventative hand washing and disinfection protocols early on, and the chain of command took establishing social distancing measures to heart. These actions likely helped limit the spread of COVID-19 within the US military ranks, which is excellent news.

What is also becoming rapidly clear, however, is that the drastic actions taken across the globe to halt or slow this pandemic’s spread (at least the first wave of it) to buy time for healthcare systems to treat current victims while others work to identify a vaccine or cure will have long-lasting effects on business, society, and government everywhere. Particularly concerning are the still-emerging economic impacts (some economists estimate as much as $3 trillion in losses globally1, with a likely extended recession) of suspending large swathes of the global business environment, with hundreds of millions of people out of work or shifted to telework for extended periods.

The genie is out of the bottle. When the world emerges from this pandemic, countless systems, processes, and structures once thought immutable will either be eliminated or permanently transformed to adapt to the realities of a post-pandemic world. The DoD broadly and the U.S. Army in specific are no exceptions to these anticipated sweeping changes. Accordingly, what are some of the significant changes we can foresee, and how should the Army prepare for those changes in what’s likely to be an extremely constrained fiscal environment?

The first and most obvious change is likely to come in the technology area, specifically in the ability to maintain continuity of operations in a virtual environment. With a globally distributed workforce of over a million uniformed and civilian personnel, telework is not a new concept to the Army. Coordination between bases and facilities around the world is a daily routine. That said, there are concentrations of personnel in key physical locations who in this pandemic have shifted completely to telework, and they are likely to remain in that state for the coming weeks or months. When the next round of Congressional budget setting comes, will there be increased pressure to eliminate most or all Army office buildings if there is a demonstrated track record of successful virtual operations? What effect will that have on the Warfighter, if much or all of their support infrastructure moves to telework? Will it improve operational security by dispersing these functions geographically across the country? Will it free high dollar real estate holdings/expenses to shift to other budget needs?

Another area for emphasis for the post-Pandemic age will be in the role of medical officers and medical readiness in the military chain of command. Last weekend, via Twitter, I asked MG Patrick Donahoe, Deputy Commanding General, Operations, 8th Army, what sacred cows he thought would fall or change as we emerge from the pandemic. In his tweeted response, he offered the thoughts in the accompanying screen shot (shared above with his permission). We later agreed this can be summarized as increasing the role and awareness of medical readiness to the strategic level, not relegating it to tactical/operational levels. Given the lengths to which civilian and military medical personnel – some who split their time between civil and military duties – are responding to the pandemic, it is safe to assume that this occupational specialty family will have significantly increased demands and expectations in the future, with attendant additional resourcing requirements.

Soldier dons his Self Contained Breathing Apparatus and Level A suit before entering a “hot zone” in a training exercise. / Source: DVIDS

The increasingly strategic nature of medicine and medical readiness in warfighting comes with some new tactical and operational concerns, however. If this pandemic proves to be recurring for an extended period, touching critical areas of concern in every GCC AOR, what is going to happen when Soldiers – conventional or SOF – need to deploy into pandemic hot zones in the coming days, weeks, and months? Are they going to be issued PPE before deploying? Will they be trained in how to use it? By whom? Especially when all medical personnel are likely to be severely overtaxed for the foreseeable future, simply responding to the pandemic itself?

How about those Army personnel conducting clandestine operations? Not all those activities can be moved to cyberspace, for a variety of reasons. How will social distancing alter the operational tradecraft of the clandestine services? If PPE is socio-culturally appropriate, are there differences in type/brand/usage that need to be factored in?

And how might the pandemic change the very nature of where the Army fights, going forward? For much of the past two decades, strategic planners have increasingly based assumptions about future operating environments on the likelihood of more fighting occurring in urban mega-city environments, and have shaped doctrine, resource development, and leadership thinking heavily in that direction.

What if the pandemic has the opposite effect? There is already an emerging school of thought that populations may actually begin dispersing, moving away from dense population centers and their higher risk of infection and accompanying general decline in quality of life.2 If this comes to pass, will the Army need to again refocus Warfighter development, shifting to smaller, more geographically dispersed, and mobile teams?

Finally, will this pandemic be the black swan event that fundamentally shifts DoD thinking about what “war” looks like, writ large? With increased concern and focus on operations in the “gray zone,” or “competition below armed conflict,” will the corona virus effectively put a halt to conventional force-on-force conflict, since such contact would exponentially increase the likelihood of mutually assured destruction — not by weapons, but by disease transmitted in the heat of battle?

It may be too early at this point to be able to field reasonable solutions to most of these questions, particularly since there will likely be more variables to factor in as time passes and the world adjusts. Rather, this submission is meant to provoke new lines of thought and inquiry that Army and DoD leaders may consider exploring now, so as to best position the US military for significant, large scale change. Perhaps the most effective way to start working towards that planning is to incorporate some / all of the above possible futures and outcomes into scenarios for pending wargames and exercises, with the scenario development input of multi-disciplinary experts in competition / conflict below the kinetic threshold. That approach could allow senior leadership to test different approaches in a controlled and familiar environment now, to prepare for the near future.

But for now, please stay home, wash your hands, and live to fight another day!

If you enjoyed this post, check out Chris Elles‘ post, Contagion: COVID-19’s impact on the Operational Environment (Part 1)

… share your thoughts on how #COVID19 is going to affect society / the idea of privacy / security @ArmyMadSci...

… and review our writing prompt and submit a blog post telling us how the on-going COVID-19 Global Pandemic could shape the OE and change the character of warfare. We look forward to reading and posting the most insightful submissions as future “Contagion” posts!

Kat Cassedy is a career OSINT professional focused on national security issues and specializing in developing practical solutions to unconventional and emerging threats across 21st century problem sets. She is a Senior Consultant to Helios Global Inc., supporting commercial and government clients in identifying, analyzing, and addressing high risk, high visibility, enterprise risk challenges. Kat tweets as @Katnip95352013.

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

1 https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-coronavirus-pandemic-global-economic-risk/

2 Kotkin, Joel, “The Coming Age of Dispersion,” Quillette. March 25, 2020. https://quillette.com/2020/03/25/the-coming-age-of-dispersion/

223. Contagion: COVID-19’s impact on the Operational Environment (Part 1)

[Editor’s Note: During this unprecedented period of enforced isolation and telework, Mad Scientist solicited your input on how the current COVID-19 Global Pandemic could shape the Operational Environment (OE) and change the character of warfare. During the coming weeks (or, Heaven help us, months!), Mad Scientist Laboratory will present the most compelling insights received in our “Contagion” series of blog posts. We are pleased to launch “Contagion” with today’s post by Chris Elles, who provides a number of perceptive observations for consideration — Read on!]

New Zealander Chris Elles responded to several queries from the Mad Scientist Initiative’s How Will the COVID-19 Global Pandemic Shape the Operational Environment? writing prompts with the following insights and conclusions:

    • How will the pandemic affect Russia and China, our current and emergent pacing threats?

OPEC’s complete loss of cartel pricing control for the foreseeable future, in the wake of declining energy demand due to COVID-19, has serious ramifications for Russia.

Approximately two thirds of Russia’s exports and half of total the Russian government revenue are dependent on collapsing energy prices.

It’s worth remembering the 1980’s Oil Glut and how the associated low energy prices played a significant contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union.


While it is highly unlikely we will see a repeat of the 1991 Soviet collapse in today’s Russia, a most likely course of action for Vladimir Putin’s regime may include activities that are even further along the conflict continuum, away from conventional and towards unconventional action. This is due to Russia’s declining fiscal capacity to support conventional kinetic options combined with Russia’s recent success with, and the relative affordability of, asymmetric unconventional options to achieve foreign policy objectives.

It would not be unexpected to see Russia’s near term foreign policy objectives designed to lift energy prices.

Source: www.kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons & Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Iran’s interests are almost identically aligned with Russia, at least with this specific slice of fiscal and foreign policy.

Russian and Iranian activities to disrupt energy export competitors to accelerate market prices is likely to be a primary line of effort.

China’s recovery from COVID-19 will require the Chinese Communist Party / People’s Liberation Army (CCP/PLA) to place increased proportional emphasis on domestic economic stabilisation in the short-term, with low energy prices providing Chinese energy consumption an economic recovery tailwind.

China is likely to proportionally increase focus and effort inwards on its domestic recovery in the short term to conservatively guarantee CCP/PLA continuity. However, the greater the severity and longevity of economic disruption suffered, the greater risk of a hybrid Falklands/Grenada scenario with Chinese characteristics.

External distraction away from growing domestic crisis, akin to action by the Argentine junta in 1982, is an ever present option for China’s CCP/PLA — activating a nationalistic population that has not experienced foreign military adventure in two generations (i.e., the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979). However, CCP/PLA conservatism in executing a near shore external operation would demand a similar result to the US intervention in Grenada.

The Chinese characteristics of a near shore hybrid Falklands/Grenada-like action to distract its population away from the potential for domestic crisis would likely include:  absolute certainty of outcome, experimentation with recently introduced PLA platforms and doctrine, a clear signal of China as a rising global challenger, and it being quickly conducted to preclude disruption to global markets.

The aircraft carrier Liaoning and several guided-missile destroyers, frigates and dozens of aircraft attached to the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army taking part in a combat exercise in 2018 / Source: eng.chinamil.com.cn / Photo by Zhang Lei, public domain image via Flickr

However, China’s need for cheap energy imports from Russia and Iran to accelerate and fuel its COVID-19 recovery means China’s interests will be incongruent on energy policy with Russia’s and Iran’s interests as long as exceptionally low energy prices remain intensely painful for these high cost producers.

Exceptionally low energy prices will have grave and potentially existential consequences for nations dependent on energy exports. Energy exporting nations with the highest marginal production cost may be most vulnerable to disruption by external actors applying unconventional means.

But how can that foreign policy incongruence be leveraged between and amongst challenger (China), disruptor (Russia & Iran) and energy producer states to the advantage of the US and its coalition partners?

    • How will nations react to China’s Belt and Road Initiatives in light of these events?

Too soon to tell?

One Belt, One Road initiative – China in Red, the members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in orange. The 6 proposed corridors in black. / Source: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, by Lommes

Last year I wrote a Mad Scientist semi-finalist fictional story that incorporated the potential for China to aggressively export its largely domestic digital super platforms into its One Belt, One Road initiative in the near future.

Despite recent delays, Chinese efforts to deploy a Digital Yuan continue, while Facebook Libra is stillborn.

Most COVID-19 focus has been on China and the West and how we will all respond, reset, and recover — including the potential for new financial habits, behaviours, and norms.

The same will occur in the developing world and it is here where we must carefully monitor and respond to the potential for the Digital Yuan to be exported and injected.

Perhaps the needle moves towards Geodigital with the potential application of Moore’s Law to the Geopolitical arena.

What happens if China exploits an opportunity to export a digital triad, represented by super platforms like WeChat, surveillance tech running in the background shared with local nation government “moderators” accepting of Chinese “admins,” with platform transaction value shifting regional trade from U.S. Dollars to Digital Yuan?

    • What are the collective impacts this pandemic will have on globalization versus nationalism, and how will supply chains evolve?
GEN Stanley McChrystal, ISAF Commander (center), flying over Farah City onboard an Italian CH-47C Chinook helicopter, Afghanistan, 22 Jan 10 / Source: DVIDS, 2nd Lt. Karl Wiest

GEN Stan McChrystal’s book Team of Teams is well worth revisiting here. McChrystal posits that in a world of fast rising complexity, predictability is in steep decline. In an increasingly complex and unpredictable environment laid out by McChrystal, our global supply chains built on the singular pursuit of efficiency are at great risk of disruption from outlier events, such as COVID-19.

Globalisation is not over, but future global supply chains will likely bifurcate into national-strategic and non-essential.

We already possess national-strategic stockpiles of commodities, but in the wake of COVID-19, it is highly likely that we will redesign the architecture of manufacturing supply chain capability and senior national leadership will redesignate key lines as national-strategic.

We will likely shift from a capacity (national-strategic commodity stockpile) focus to include more capability (localised manufacturing supply chain for national-strategic homefront footprint) focus.

  • Was this a Black Swan or Pink Flamingo event, and what lessons regarding national resiliency can we learn to help mitigate future global crises?
Source: Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0, by Ashley

I’m a big fan of Michele Wucker’s concept of “obvious but ignored” Grey Rhino events.

In a Stanford Graduate School of Business political economics class back in 2016, we learned voters were far more likely to reward disaster relief than disaster preparedness. Senior national leadership face a considerable disincentive from investing in disaster preparation.

So in light of the headwind that disaster preparation investment represents to our senior national leadership, we have an opportunity to attack the problem from a different angle and develop policy with low political cost to leadership to shape supply chain adaptability for all redesignated national-strategic supply chain capability.

The more we move along the continuum away from a singular focus on efficiency and towards adaptability, the more we concurrently move along the continuum from relief towards prevention, meeting in the middle at rapid recovery.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Chris Elles is a Sergeant in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (Reserve) who has developed and delivered innovation training packages for both the New Zealand and Australian Defence Forces while serving as Phase Manager for the NZ Army Aumangea Assessment Programme. Chris is an entrepreneur, startup mentor, and angel investor. As an early stage employee, he was responsible for the physical launch beyond books for Amazon.com. He is an alumnus of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and completed Hacking 4 Defense Educator Certification at Georgetown University. Chris is curating the Innovator Handbook Mk I: A Handbook For Small Team Military Innovation. He can be found on Twitter @InnovatorHB

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

222. “The Convergence” — Episode 6: The Intelligent Battlefield of the Future with Dr. Alexander Kott

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with proclaimed Mad Scientist and “Maddest” Guest Blogger, Dr. Alexander Kott, currently Chief Scientist, Army Research Lab (ARL), and soon to be the Senior Research Scientist (Cyber Resiliency), ARL (effective 29 March 2020). Between 2009 and 2016, Dr. Kott served as the Chief of the Network Science Division, Computational and Information Sciences Directorate, U.S. Army Research Laboratory. He was responsible for a diverse portfolio of fundamental research and applied development in network science and science for cyber defense. He has published over 80 technical papers and served as the initiator, co-author, and primary editor of over ten books, including most recently Cyber Defense and Situational Awareness (2015), Cyber Security of SCADA and other Industrial Control Systems (2016), and Cyber Resilience of Systems and Networks (2019). Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network due to network priorities for teleworking — Enjoy!]

In this latest episode of “The Convergence,” we talk to Dr. Alexander Kott, Chief Scientist for the Army Research Lab. In this role, he provides leadership in developing ARL’s technical strategy, maintaining the technical quality of ARL research, and representing ARL to the external technical community.

In this episode, we discuss the Internet of Battlefield Things and modernizing the Army. Highlights from the conversation include:

      • The battlefield is becoming saturated with devices that can do computation, some kind of thinking, and can communicate. These are not just things the Army owns.
      • Complexity can actually be a good thing. Being able to “hide” on the battlefield is a good thing and we can hide in the complexity of the Internet of Battlefield Things.
      • The battlefield of the future will be populated by multiple intelligent species. Humans will be very important but just one among them. How do humans co-exist with those intelligent species? We humans are not known for working and living well with other species, not even ourselves.
      • The Army (and larger Department of Defense) has a collaborative relationship with industry that is actually beneficial. It is not just a competition for talent but rather a relationship that is a strength. A rising tide lifts all our boats.
      • Every war has seen greater and greater ranges in magnitudes from the Civil War up to the Global War on Terrorism. In the future we may see an Army missile that could be intercontinental. We could see artillery “spanning a fraction of the globe.” This leads to global ground warfare and changes the battlefield calculus. Such a shift in warfare could change the Army’s relationship with other Services and actualize the reality of multi-domain operations even more.
      • Regimes that are unethical, immoral, and authoritarian lose the technological edge in the long run because as they run out of ways to use technologies they have developed for unethical and immoral purposes, they do not have thorough investment in other technology areas where the United States is excelling.
      • Long-range, intelligent, precision fires may be a major threat to our Homeland in the future. The Homeland may not be as defensible as it has been for centuries.

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests — next up: The College of William and Mary’s Project for International Peace and Security Fellows!


If you enjoyed this podcast:

        • Watch Dr. Kott’s presentation, “The Network is the Robot,” from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Autonomy: Visioning Multi-Domain Warfare in 2030-2050 Conference, co-sponsored by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), in Atlanta, Georgia, 7-8 March 2017.

221. Newer Is Not Better, Better is Better

[Editor’s Note: In today’s post, returning guest blogger Gary Phillips cautions those who would blindly pursue acquiring the latest, “bleeding-edge,” exquisite technological solutions for our next generation of combat systems. Replete with examples from recent combat history, Mr. Phillips’ post makes a convincing case for resisting the beguiling sirens’ lure of shiny new technological breakthroughs without first considering how these battlefield capabilities could be inexpensively countered by our adversaries with re-purposed, low-tech countermeasures. Read on to learn how “Newer Is Not Better, Better is Better”!]

Motorola flip phone and Blackberry device / Source: Flickr

Many industrialized Western societies have a love affair with technology, the “newer” the better. Planned obsolescence, the idea that no technology or item can last very long before being overtaken by something newer, is the foundation for many industries, most notable the information and computing industry. This cultural bias carries over into the military acquisition system of modern militaries, if the national economies can afford it. The United States has a particular manifestation of this culture demonstrated by a constant drumbeat of pronouncements about the next generation of combat systems and the desire to not just embrace technological enhancements but to pursue them with a dangerous vigor.1

The ill-titled “spin outs” from the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) Program

One might argue that current US combat systems like the M1 Abrams tank, and the M2 Bradley belie that argument because they are relatively old. While that argument has some merit, a quick review of history indicates that the M1 and M2 are still around not because of the lack of vigor in chasing new technology, but perhaps due to the tangle of bureaucratic rules and regulations that hamper bringing new technology to the table.

Not every nation or political and ideological entity has the resources to harness new technology for military purposes, even if the information to build the advanced combat system is readily available. The recourse of these actors is to examine what they have on hand, old technology, and determine how it might be used to suppress, mitigate, or deny the effectiveness of a new system built around new technological solutions.

To understand the logic for turning old technology to unintended wartime purposes, one must first have a modest discussion on military theory. The primary purpose of any military is to use force or the threat of force to coerce an adversary into doing something or to stop doing something. The “something” is normally an activity that is either desirable to, or in conflict with, the coercer’s goals or desires. Thus, older technology could be used to change the battlefield calculus and possibly mitigate the coercive potential of “new” combat systems.

One might legitimately ask if given a choice between adopting a new, advanced, and seemingly more effective technology, why would anyone chose to stay with an older technology?

Perhaps the most obvious reason is cost. In most cases, older technology is on the downward side of the cost curve. Manufacturing practices are well known and well understood, supply chains for materials are established, and in some cases there may be even be a surplus of older systems available for immediate use. One example is the Iraqi insurgent’s use of washing machine timers and infra-red door opening sensors to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Older technology also has the benefit of being tested and having known parametrics for use. The capabilities are understood and application in previously unconsidered roles may present themselves more readily. Additionally, the vulnerabilities of older technology have been discovered and, where possible, mitigated. New technology often has unforeseen vulnerabilities that are not discovered until there is a catastrophe that points out the shortfall.

Even though old technology may be more limited than more advanced technology, e.g., wired versus wireless, older technology still in use has proven reliable over time and the mean time between failures has been proven. Newer technology may be more “brittle,” as well as more expensive, and prove to be more of a maintenance headache than an enabler. Finally, sometimes simple problems just need simple solutions. Advanced technology can be expensive and over-structured to address problems that occur on a battlefield. One could ask, how much is enough?

None of the above argue that older technology trumps newer technology; it simply provides some ideas as to why an adversary will re-purpose items. Perhaps the most compelling reason for combat innovation is simply the immediate and persistent need that requires a solider to press into service whatever is available. The presence of a life or mission threatening problem drives soldiers to imagine unintended uses for what they have in their figurative rucksack. Two examples:  welding steel plates on HMMVWs in Iraq as armor protection from side attack IEDs, and the fitting of tanks in World War II with “rhino tusks” to breach the hedgerows in France.2 In both cases, the steel used to build the protection and the tusks came from scrap yards and was modified for the purpose.

How would using old technology in unintended ways change the battlefield calculus? There are at least two ways to do that: drive up the cost to the coercer by reducing the effectiveness of combat systems, and erode trust in the efficacy of the system regardless of actual results.

Making war more costly by reducing effectiveness is the first area where older technology used in unintended ways can have a dramatic effect. More costly, in this context, is causing an adversary to use expensive and often limited technological solutions to counter much cheaper and usually older technological capabilities. Recent conflicts provide many examples.  In Bosnia, the extensive use of inexpensive deception measures (e.g., aluminized milk cartons and PVC pipe to build replica air defense systems) drove up the cost to the US in the context of multi-thousand dollar bombs. The Taliban in Afghanistan used water soaked camel blankets to fool US infra-red based intelligence collectors and force continued collection or the dispatch of ground reconnaissance patrols to determine Taliban disposition. The Iraqi insurgents inadvertently thwarted new technology by placing their IED triggers within metal electronic “project boxes.” The US fielded a powerful electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) generator intended to destroy the sensitive electronic components of the trigger. Unfortunately, the metal project box formed a primitive Faraday cage and the electro-magnetic pulse coupled only to the box and bypassed all the trigger components — a multi-million dollar capability stymied by $5.00 project box. Some countries are sensitive to the possibility of non-nuclear EMP in possible future conflicts and chose to use older electronic technologies that, while less capable, provide survivability from EMP – vacuum tubes vice integrated circuits.

Along these same lines, P.W. Singer‘s techno-thriller Ghost Fleet is built around the idea of older technology surviving cyber-attack and being the failsafe when new technology proves to be vulnerable. However, the cost of maintaining two “fleets,” one built around modern advanced technology and the other consisting of older, less capable but more resilient technology is beyond the economic reach of most nations.

There are dozens of other examples; one recent one is the use of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). UAVs have been around since the 1970’s when the U.S. Army was involved with the Aquila program.3 This relatively old technology has been reborn by adding some simple processors that allow many inexpensive UAVs to fly “in formation” to attack a target. This use of old technology with that small tweak allows even 2d and 3d tier militaries to attack expensive state of the art air defense systems, missile systems, and command posts with a greatly enhanced chance of success.

Eroding trust in a combat system involves the consistent demonstration of an inability to achieve desired effects when the system is employed. How many times will a Soldier fire a weapon or employ a jammer when nothing seems to happen? As mentioned, the unintentional neutralization of the U.S. EMP counter-IED system resulted in Soldiers losing faith in this solution, even when it may have been effective. As a result, the system never completed the fielding process. At what point will Soldiers abandon a seemingly ineffective advanced system and default to something that is less effective but at least appears to work?

The current global security environment signals a move back to great power competition and the potential for great power conflict, which at its worst manifestation requires Large Scale Combat Operations. As U.S. armed forces seek to claim technological dominance over adversaries, we cannot neglect the possibility that whatever new technology the US fields, there may be some relatively “primitive” counter not envisioned during operational testing. As we continue to ride the waves of the information revolution and newer, more advanced technology becomes available, we need to understand that newer is not better, better is better.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our Tenth Man” — Challenging our Assumptions about the Future Force

… as well as an alternative perspective in Mission Engineering and Prototype Warfare: Operationalizing Technology Faster to Stay Ahead of the Threat, by Dr. Rob Smith, and Messrs. Shaheen Shidfar, James Parker, Matthew A. Horning, and Thomas Vern, …

The Democratization of Dual Use Technology, …

… and Mr. Phillips‘ previous blog post, Setting the Army for the Future (Part I)

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

Since his selection as a Department of the Army Civilian, Mr. Phillips acted as the Director of TRADOC G2 Threats Directorate. In 2009 Mr. Phillips was selected as a Defense Intelligence Senior Level (DISL) and joined the Senior Executive Service as the Director of the TRADOC G2 Intelligence Support Activity. In 2014, Mr. Phillips became the Assistant TRADOC G2.

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

1 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/29/americas-military-is-choking-on-old-technology/

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhino_tank

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_MQM-105_Aquila

220. Extremism on the Horizon: The Challenges of VEO Innovation

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by guest bloggers Colonel Montgomery Erfourth and Dr. Aaron Bazin, addressing prospective patterns of emerging technology used in the 2020-2027 timeframe by Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs), as seen through the lens of the National Security Strategy and the Special Operations mission. This timely submission addresses the challenges and opportunities these technological advances will pose to both the Army’s General Purpose Forces and our Special Operations Forces (SOF) as they seek to protect and advance U.S. national interests abroad — Enjoy!]

Transnational threat groups, from jihadist terrorists to transnational criminal organizations, are actively trying to harm Americans. While these challenges differ in nature and magnitude, they are fundamentally contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce uniformity.

To maintain our competitive advantage, the United States will prioritize emerging technologies critical to economic growth and security…

U.S. National Security Strategy, 2017

Global innovation, the ability to share information quickly, rapidly advancing technology, and distributed knowledge have created new opportunities for politically hostile groups. Lower barriers to employ new technologies offer super-empowered individuals and VEOs a range of tools across the physical, virtual, and cognitive environments to pursue their malign objectives.1 Arguably, technology is now advancing at such a velocity that a structured framework helps prioritize threats and resources. Diamandis and Kotler’s “Six Ds” of exponential technology is one such framework to determine the impact and pace of growth for potential technologies, based on how far the technology has progressed. They argue that technology progresses along the following consecutive phases:

    • Digitized: Once people digitize a physical commodity or service (represented in ones and zeros), it embarks on the first step of the exponential growth curve. This type of digital information is easy to access, share, and distribute.
    • Deceptive: During the next phase of growth, the technology does not appear to expand quickly or make an impact. This period is often deceptively slow due to the nature of exponential change.
    • Disruptive: The technology becomes disruptive once it outperforms other technologies in effectiveness and cost.
    • Demonetized: In this phase, the technology becomes cheaper, and in some cases free, further reducing barriers for its use by actors with limited resources.
    • Dematerialized: When advancements in technologies significantly reduce the size of the physical element of the technology and/or it is absorbed into other products (e.g., maps, radio, camera in mobile phone), it is considered dematerialized.
    • Democratized: In the final stage of the exponential growth curve, the digitization, reduced cost, and dematerialization of the technology’s original form result in the increasingly public access to the new technology 2

This paper uses the Six D’s to evaluate the threats of six emerging technologies that VEOs could use: additive manufacturing, cryptocurrency, genome editing and synthetic DNA, robotics, and Commercial off the Shelf Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (COTS ISR). This list does not represent a comprehensive account of all technologies that VEOs may leverage in the future. Instead, this list includes the top six technologies that either have reached the democratization stage or will reach it by 2027 and pose a threat to U.S. national interests.

Figure 1 – Anticipated technological developments across the “Six D’s” of technology growth interpreted for the malicious use of emerging technology posed by VEOs.

Additive Manufacturing:  Although scientists developed additive manufacturing or three dimensional (3D) printing in the 1980s, 3D printing reached the democratization phase in the 2010s.3 The internet allows the maker communities to create 3D designs through free software, share data and expertise through tutorial videos, and create 3D objects. Today, countless companies offer 3D printing services with a click of a button. The democratization of this technology is of particular interest to VEOs as it affords them the potential to create unconventional weapons at scale.4 SOF can anticipate that VEOs will leverage the accessibility of this technology to design and print unconventional fit-for-purpose weapons. Further, the next iteration of 3D printed weapons on the horizon is 3D printed explosives. While it is unlikely that this technology is yet in the hands of VEOs, they could gain this capability in the next seven years.5

3D printed drone / Source: DoD News

Given these technological advancements, it is highly likely that VEOs will use additive manufacturing capabilities to 3D print weapons, design custom projectiles, and innovate with creative accessories. VEOs may seek to print 3D printed guns and share digital “weapon files” with likeminded individuals, bypassing arms control mechanisms and making attacks difficult to anticipate or prevent.

Cryptocurrency: A VEO’s ability to recruit, self-organize, conduct attacks, and develop capabilities relies on funding. The secure blockchain platforms upon which cryptocurrencies operate have made illicit finance more difficult to track, stop, and prevent. At present, extremist organizations use cryptocurrencies to receive, manage, transfer, and spend money. Cryptocurrencies are transitioning from the deceptive phase of growth to the disruptive phase; as they gain traction in the mainstream, their use will also become more pervasive amongst VEOs.6 Given the above, it is highly likely that VEOs will continue to leverage the anonymity of cryptocurrency to fund raise, launder money, and pay for goods and services while bypassing the regulated international financial system. This will allow VEOs the financial freedom of movement they require to operate in the shadows.

Genome Editing and Synthetic DNA: In the future, VEOs may continue to seek biological weapons and viruses as a means to attack the homeland.7 Advancements in genome editing and synthetic DNA (e.g., synthetic viruses that can infect large populations, agro-terrorism that can irreversibly destroy crops, and gene-drive editing which perpetually alters the evolution of the organism edited with unpredictable effects8) have increased the potential threat of these types of weapons. While specialists in the genomics field are demonetizing and dematerializing this technology through inexpensive kits and DNA editing software, such as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), its use still requires a high level of expertise.9 Considering these factors, it is very likely that VEOs will seek to acquire synthetic biology capabilities for malicious use. However, their ability to do so within the next seven years will be limited by the high technical skill needed to use the technology and weaponize it effectively. There is a low probability (but high risk) that a VEO could recruit an expert in this field who could overcome these challenges.

Robotics: VEOs are adept at employing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or “drones,” on the battlefield. Initially, VEOs used Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) drones for reconnaissance and surveillance, later attaching explosive devices to deliver lethal effects. Currently, VEOs use them as a management tool to enable drone pilots to coordinate and assign vehicles to locations to commit coordinated suicide attacks. The VEOs then leverage the video footage of these attacks for propaganda purposes.10 Looking ahead, the character of conflict may change as VEOs develop ways to embed chemical, biological, radioactive, or nuclear (CBRN) substances into drone payloads. In the coming years, as VEOs gain access to Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV), they could explore their use to strike vulnerable U.S. maritime targets.11 Given these advances, it is highly likely that VEOs will continue to experiment with UAVs for surveillance and kinetic force application purposes in the operating environment. They may attempt to use swarms of drones to create confusion in the battlefield, allowing them windows of advantage to conduct follow-on attacks. It is very likely that if VEOs could obtain CBRN material, they would use drones as a delivery vehicle. This scenario is low probability but high risk. While initially VEOs may use UAVs for surveillance or trafficking goods, they could eventually progress to offensive attacks on friendly targets.

COTS ISR:  Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the ubiquity of video surveillance have given rise to gait recognition technology.12 Some systems “can identify people from up to 50 meters (165 feet) away, even with their back turned or face covered.”13 As the network of the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more pervasive in public and private spaces, passive reconnaissance of movement will become more accessible. Researchers have developed a silent reconnaissance technology that uses radio frequency (RF) signals emitted by Wi-Fi devices to monitor individuals passively inside rooms and buildings.14 This technology is publicly available and people may soon democratize it.15 Considering the above, it is highly likely that VEOs may seek to leverage COTS ISR-related technology. An increasingly digitally connected world with sensors gathering sound, video, and signals will challenge SOF operators.

Compounded Cyber Threats: IoT, AI, and DeepFakes: In the future, one can expect that VEOs will seek to combine multiple cyber capabilities into further misleading or false narratives, targeting the U.S. and partner populations by creating content with DeepFake, IoT, and AI capabilities, and amplifying their messaging with social media. Friendly use of these capabilities has contributed to the development of smart infrastructure across industries (energy, agriculture, finance, health, transportation, etc.), the commercial reliance on digital infrastructure, and the digitization of homes with IoT. Together, these trends result in a growing number of digital and physical assets that VEOs can attack remotely. AI has already begun to change the character of these cyber threats.16 As these technologies evolve, they will become more accessible. Arguably, VEOs may seek to use them to automate, accelerate, and further spread their cyber offensive actions.

With this in mind, it is highly likely that VEOs will seek to use DeepFakes, AI, and the IoT as a cognitive attack vector to sow doubt and confusion among their adversaries to advance their interests and narratives. If SOF lacks the capability to track and address these technologies, it may affect overall mission success.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out the entire article posted on the Mad Scientist All Partners Access Network (APAN) page to see Colonel Erfouth‘s and Dr. Bazin‘s recommendations to the SOF Enterprise on how to mitigate the challenges that VEOs may present as they seek the innovation advantage on the battlefield of the future…

… and also read the following related blog posts:

Weaponized Information: One Possible Vignette and The Information Environment: Competition and Conflict Mad Scientist Anthology

Dead Deer, and Mad Cows, and Humans (?) … Oh My! by proclaimed Mad Scientists LtCol Jennifer Snow and Dr. James Giordano, and Joseph DeFranco

CRISPR Convergence by Howard R. Simkin

A New Age of Terror: New Mass Casualty Terrorism Threats and A New Age of Terror: The Future of CBRN Terrorism by Zachary Kallenborn

Prototype Warfare

Colonel Montgomery Erfourth is currently the Integration Division Chief with the J5 at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. He has over 25 years of professional military and civilian experience in the areas of leadership, planning, strategy, research, transportation, supply chain management, marketing, budget, and financial management. Monte has worked closely with U.S. Ambassadors, highest level of military leadership, and policy makers and performed duties in over 25 countries, several of which were in non-permissive environments.

Dr. Aaron Bazin adds value to organizations by helping them explore the possibilities of the future and develop unique, visionary strategies. He is a skilled researcher, facilitator, presenter, and writer. Aaron is currently the Managing Director of the Donovan Strategy and Innovation Group, U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. His team acts as catalyst for change and innovation across the Joint SOF enterprise to improve its ability to further national interests globally.

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

1 Adam Elkus, A. and Burke, C., (2010), WikiLeaks, Media, and Policy: A Question of Super- Empowerment, Retrieved from: https://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/558-elkus.pdf

2 The 6 Ds of Exponential Growth, from the book Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. https://singularityhub.com/2017/12/29/what-are-the-6-ds-of-exponential-organizations/

3 3D Printing Industry (2019). History of 3D Printing. https://3dprintingindustry.com/3d- printing-basics-free-beginners-guide#02-history

4 Dearden, L. (2019). Use of 3D printed guns in German synagogue shooting must act as warning to security services, experts say. Independent UK. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/3d-gun-print-germany-synagogue-shooting-stephan-balliet-neo-nazi-a9152746.html

5 Los Alamos National Laboratory (2016). Explosiv3Design. https://www.lanl.gov/discover/publications/1663/2016-march/explosive-3d-design.php

6 Schoeberl, Richard. (2018). Gene Drives – An Emerging Terrorist Threat. Domestic Preparedness. https://www.domesticpreparedness.com/preparedness/gene-drives-an-emerging-terrorist-threat/

7 Memri (2018). Pro-ISIS Media Outlet Circulates Video Calling for Biological Attacks in the West. Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project.

8 Schoeberl, Richard. (2018). Gene Drives – An Emerging Terrorist Threat. Domestic Preparedness. https://www.domesticpreparedness.com/preparedness/gene-drives-an-emerging-terrorist-threat/

9 Sneed, Annie. (2017). Mail-Order CRISPR Kits Allow Absolutely Anyone to Hack DNA. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mail-order-crispr-kits-allow-absolutely-anyone-to-hack-dna/

10 Balkan, Serkan. (2017). DAESH’s Drone Strategy: Technology and the Rise of Innovative Terrorism. SETA. https://www.setav.org/en/daeshs-drone-strategy-technology-and-the-rise-of-innovative-terrorism/

11 Suguna, VS. Rahman, Faizal. (2018). Aquatic drone terror attacks a growing possibility. Today Online. https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/aquatic-drone-terror-attacks-growing-possibility

12 Giles, Jim. (2012). Cameras know you by your walk. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528835-600-cameras-know-you-by-your-walk/

13 Kang, Dake. (2018). Chinese ‘gait recognition’ tech IDs people by how they walk. AP News. https://www.apnews.com/bf75dd1c26c947b7826d270a16e2658a

14 Yanzi Zhu, Zhujun Xiao, Yuxin Chen, Zhijing Li, Max Liu, Ben Y. Zhao, Haitao Zheng. (2019). Et Tu Alexa? When Commodity WiFi Devices Turn into Adversarial Motion Sensors. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1810.10109.pdf

15 Vincent, James. (2019). New AI deepfake app creates nude images of women in seconds. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/27/18760896/deepfake-nude-ai-app-women-deepnude-non-consensual-pornography

16 Warner, Bernhard. (2019). Artificial Intelligence Is About to Make Ransomware Hack Attacks Even Scarier. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2019/06/21/ai-ransomeware-hack-attacks/

219. Insights from the GEN Z and the OE Livestream Event

[Editor’s Note: As Mad Scientist continues to broaden our aperture on the Operational Environment (OE) and the changing character of warfare, we are seeking out and engaging diverse populations to glean their insights in order to overcome our own confirmation biases. In January, we engaged defense subject matter experts from France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Canada, and NATO’s Innovation Hub at our Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference on a diverse array of topics affecting the OE.

Last month we collaborated with The College of William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) Program to livestream our GEN Z and the OE event, where PIPS Research Fellows discussed the ramifications of their respective research topics in two moderated discussion panels. Today’s post encapsulates what we learned from these two panels – Enjoy!]

Panel 1: Development and Security Implications of Cutting-Edge Technologies, moderated by Patricia DeGanerro:

Megan Hogan addressed the underlying cost-benefit analysis associated with the US developing and maintaining Deepfake technologies as a capability to deter, deny, or defeat any adversary that seeks to harm U.S. national interests.

Deepfakes are a form of synthetic media that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to produce highly realistic, fake videos. They are extremely effective weapons of disinformation capable of undermining trust in institutions and elections and inciting political violence. The “power and peril” of deepfakes is that they lower the cost of disinformation. Previously, a high degree of technical expertise was needed to produce a realistic fake video of someone. Today, all you need is an internet connection.

Deepfakes have a wide array of applications both on and off the battlefield. At the most basic level, a deepfake attack during wartime can cause momentary confusion within an adversary’s political or military leadership. This confusion, in turn, can influence or stall adversary decision-making, providing American troops with a short window of time to either attack or escape, depending on the situation. Under coercive diplomacy strategy, which relies on the threat or limited use of military force to influence an adversary’s decision-making, weaponized deepfakes could act as a more cost-effective, limited use of force.

Weaponized deepfake attacks can be deployed in conjunction with conventional military operations. Such a “brute force” application is particularly compelling, because not only do deepfake attacks impede our adversaries’ ability to react, respond, and communicate, but they also allow us to shape the international narrative of a military operation in the critical early days of a conflict.

The US faces a choice — the DoD can either continue to restrict its research to developing video authentication algorithms or expand its effort to include deepfake weaponization for coercive diplomacy and warfighting.

        • From an offensive standpoint, deepfakes are a powerful tactic to incorporate into our arsenal: they’re difficult to defend against, cheap, fast-acting, and have no clear escalation thresholds.
        • From a defensive standpoint, weaponizing deepfakes will enhance our current detection capabilities by improving our understanding of how these weapons are made.

Clara Waterman addressed how the DoD’s current approaches to data collecting, cleaning, and sharing is impeding its ability to achieve its Artificial Intelligence (AI) goals.

The U.S. DoD is spending billions of dollars on AI research and development with the ultimate goal of integrating AI into its tactical and operational decisions and autonomous weaponry.

However, if the data that feeds AI is insufficient or inaccurate, then military leaders will misunderstand the operating environment. This is further exacerbated by biases in training, input, and feedback data, all of which create blind spots and perpetuate inaccuracies in the continuous data cycle.

The DoD needs a data clearinghouse that facilitates communication about data collection, vetting, and labeling between offices, departments, and agencies. The sooner that the DoD can capitalize on this opportunity, the faster it will be able to achieve its AI goals, as high-quality data sets are crucial to the DoD mission.

Caroline Duckworth discussed how, as biotechnology innovation accelerates globally, asymmetric ethical regulations between countries could put the US at a disadvantage.

The US engages in extensive public debate surrounding ethical, medical, and biotechnology practices, while China’s collectivist culture is more tolerant of individual sacrifice to benefit public progress. The use of embryonic stem cells isn’t inhibited by its religion or its culture, allowing them to more rapidly develop new genetic treatments and medicines.

The effects of these asymmetric ethics will continue to expand as biotechnology innovation accelerates, presenting the following risks to the US:

        • China’s pivot to promote the development of innovative bio-pharmaceuticals could allow China to create a choke hold on essential medicine, threatening a critical U.S. supply chain.
        • States with tolerant ethical standards in biotech will also be able to more rapidly pursue and adopt controversial military capabilities, including low cost, precise bio weapons that can target specific individuals or populations based on their genetic codes and soldiers that are genetically modified for disease resistance and enhanced cognition.

The US should:

        • Formalize its guiding principles in biotech development and broadcast them to serve as a model for others, allowing us to condemn violations consistently.
        • Expand the U.S.-China Program for Biomedical Collaborative Research, allowing us to influence their ethical norms.
        • Develop a DARPA task force to identify specific biotechnologies where the US will lag due to its ethical standards, and then have the DoD strategically invest in competing, ethical alternative technologies.

Key Mad Scientist Observations from Panel 1:

        • China is amassing data sets in all three of these areas: 1) facial recognition data for both internal security applications and scraping social media for deepfake applications, 2) AI data sets, and 3) DNA data sets
        • Our adversaries will employ these convergent capabilities as a hemispheric threat, targeting our forces (and their dependents) all the way from their home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight.
        • Much like we’ve seen in business over the past thirty years (i.e., first with Walmart and Target harnessing real-time inventory and supplier data, then with Amazon and Alibaba dominating on-line sales), the nation that is able to harness and weaponize the aforementioned and other data sets will dominate in future competition and conflict.

Panel 2: Geopolitical Strategy of Authoritarian Regimes and Near-Peer Competitors Utilizing Technology moderated by Marie Murphy:

Katherine Armstrong discussed how regimes are increasingly reaching over their borders to track, hack, blackmail, and assassinate emigrants using a technologically based and facilitated repertoire. Authoritarian states are beginning to use these capabilities, developed for use against co-ethnics and co-nationals, to target extraterritorial actors who are more central to U.S. security.

The ability of non-democratic governments to suppress the voice and control the behavior of people in the United States threatens civil society and democracy, violates U.S. sovereignty, and jeopardizes U.S. partnerships with other countries.

The technology-based tactics in the toolkit of transnational repression—disinformation, passive cyber attacks, and active cyber attacks—pose the greatest risk because they are easily transferable. Economic and social influencers, politicians, and members of the military and intelligence communities can be targeted with the same tactics.

The U.S. government and multilateral organizations should establish a standard of acceptable behavior regarding transnational repression, while also protecting victims.

        • Establish a watchlist of victims and perpetrators. This collaborative effort between NGOs and the U.S. Department of State (DoS) should form the core of efforts to curb transnational repression. The watchlist of victims would help NGOs (i.e., Freedom House and Citizen Lab) notify targets of an attack and provide educational resources to improve personal cybersecurity. The watchlist of perpetrators would include a ranking of states’ propensity to engage in transnational repression. These rankings can be tied to aid, trade, and diplomatic relations.
        • The US should set standards for the use of INTERPOL alerts in U.S. legal proceedings (as described in the TRAP Act of 2019) and increase funding to INTERPOL. INTERPOL should punish abusers of its system by suspending membership or barring them from leadership positions.

Lincoln Zaleski addressed how technology-enabled disinformation campaigns threaten liberal democratic society by targeting exploitable population-based vulnerabilities inherent to the democratic system.

Modern disinformation campaigns, enabled by emerging technologies, allow authoritarian regimes to exploit inherent democratic vulnerabilities. These regimes identify key targets within our society that can be exploited, including both traditional targets (i.e., corrupt politicians or corporations seeking financial linkages with the attacking country) and emergent targets (i.e., disenfranchised identity groups or co-ethnic communities).

Through repeated false messaging and direct/indirect economic support, authoritarian regimes strengthen feelings of disenfranchisement and emphasize the need to disrupt and change the status quo. The false messaging becomes mainstream, and the attacking regime gains political influence. These networks can be repeatedly tapped into for different campaigns over time, furthering authoritarian-led disinformation and political influence.

Liberal democratic responses are limited in scope and require significant time to enact, such as nationwide education campaigns or perfecting social media detection of fake news.

The United States and other liberal democracies should respond to authoritarian disinformation attacks through a counter-disinformation offensive campaign intended to impose costs on the attacking country. By targeting inherent authoritarian vulnerabilities, democratic regimes can raise the social and political cost of authoritarian disinformation campaigns, ideally stemming further attacks.

Michaela Flemming discussed how China’s strategic export of its surveillance state will improve Chinese intelligence, creating stronger but more dependent allies for China, while contributing to democratic backsliding worldwide.

China is exporting its model of digital authoritarianism abroad, creating a network of dependent client states and threatening the United States’ global influence. China’s digital authoritarian model is composed of both Chinese surveillance capable technology such as camera systems, smart city tech, and telecom infrastructure as well as cyber sovereignty ideology. China sells this model to developing and autocratic client states through the Belt and Road Initiative.

By exporting Chinese technology from companies like Huawei, ZTE, and Hikvision, China can collect vast amounts of data from client states. This will strengthen both domestic and foreign surveillance capabilities. High quality foreign data enables China to manipulate public opinion outside its borders through responsive and targeted propaganda campaigns.

Poor authoritarian states are gaining access to technology they could neither develop nor afford on their own, which they will use to consolidate their control over populations. By arming authoritarian and developing states with the tools of repression and a framework on how to use them, China is encouraging and enabling democratic backsliding abroad.

China will use its leverage to shape governing norms around the internet, promoting authoritarian control and facilitating the theft of intellectual property while eroding freedom of speech and democracy. China also benefits from stronger, but more dependent allies as the number of client states grow.

        • As China feels more secure both at home and abroad, Beijing may act more aggressively, especially in areas where it has a number of client states.
        • As China promotes digital authoritarianism as a viable substitute for democracy, the United States will lose valuable partners in the developing world.

The US should work with targeted countries to improve domestic cyber security expertise and counter Chinese efforts to spread digital authoritarianism:

        • Employ blimps to provide secure internet access to citizens in authoritarian countries.
        • Develop interchangeable parts / system interoperability to lower the cost of eliminating Huawei equipment.

Key Mad Scientist Observations from Panel 2:

        • Authoritarian regimes are employing track, hack, blackmail, and assassination against their citizens and ex-pat dissidents living abroad.  In the future, these tactics could be employed in competition phase operations, targeting other states’ influencers and leaders.
        • Many of the authoritarian tools used for social control translate well to tactical and operational ISR capabilities (e.g., AI sensor networking, facial and gait recognition, and smart city sensors).
        • Current technologies used to track COVID-19 outbreaks internally in China will be mainstreamed and exported to enhance social control (e.g., tracking populations, assigning risk portfolios).
        • The convergence and export of these trends (enhanced social controls, track/hack/blackmail/assassination, and disinformation) is creating a toolkit of capabilities that will challenge the US objective of globally expanding the community of liberal democracies.

If you enjoyed this post, check out this event’s page on the Mad Scientist APAN site to watch both panel videos and read each of the PIPS Research Fellows’ abstracts.


218. “The Convergence” — Episode 5: Deterrence and the New Intelligence with Zachery Tyson Brown

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with proclaimed Mad Scientist Zachery Tyson Brown, a strategic intelligence analyst, U.S. Army veteran, Security fellow at the Truman National Security Project, and consultant for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild and his writing has appeared on this site, The Strategy Bridge, War on the Rocks, Defense One, and West Point’s Modern War Institute. He can be found on Twitter @ZaknafienDC. Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

In this latest episode of “The Convergence,” we talk to Zachery Tyson Brown, an Army veteran, analyst, consultant for the DoD, and Security fellow at the Truman National Security Project. Zach is a career intelligence officer now working at the intersection of emerging technologies, organizational structures, and strategic competition. Zach is most recently a graduate of the National Intelligence University, where his thesis, Adaptive Intelligence for an Age of Uncertainty, was awarded the LTC Michael D. Kuszewski Award for Outstanding Thesis on Operations-Intelligence Partnership.

In this episode, we discuss conflict and competition, how to create intelligence from the onslaught of data, and structural and process changes to the Intelligence Community (IC).

Highlights from the conversation include:

    • We have all this data that the IC collects. We spend billions of dollars on it every year, and a lot of it is left on the cutting room floor.
    • We have a clog in the system that gets worse as the amount of information  keeps increasing and we still have this outdated mechanism of deliverywe can’t keep pace with the volume of information that’s growing every day. The amount of data is going to very rapidly (probably already has) eclipse the ability of un-augmented humans to keep up with it.
    • I really think we have to disaggregate that whole system. Move about to a federated sort of network architecture. Push autonomy down to the units at the forward edge of the battle area.
    • We’re not focusing on that competition aspect involving the whole of government to use another buzzword — the Commerce, Treasury, State Departments. Because that information space is where the competition is happening today; and it’s not just information — it’s manipulation of public awareness and psychology.
    • Now we have ISIS propagandists, the guys on Twitter that are recruiting or spreading messages, and those guys are targets of kinetic strikes now because they’re considered to be combatants in that information space.
    • One of the reasons, again, where I think we have to rethink this whole structure of the way we do interagency coordination, decision making at the national level, [is] because it’s too slow to keep up with the pace of emergent threats today.
    • I really believe we are living through a revolutionary era and we have to question all the assumptions we’ve inherited from the past couple hundred years.

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests — next up:  Dr. Alexander Kott!


If you enjoyed this podcast, check out the following articles by Zachery Tyson Brown:


217. “Maddest” Guest Blogger

[Editor’s Note:  Every six months, Mad Scientist Laboratory recognizes its “Maddest” Guest Blogger.  During the past six months, we’ve published a number of intriguing guest posts that have generated considerable interest and comments across our MadSci Community of Action (and beyond!).  Selecting this period’s winner was a challenge, as we had a number of great guest blog post submissions.  Runners up for “Maddest” Guest Blogger include:

    • Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD, which synopsized the results of a year-long study published by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC CBC). Authors Peter Emanuel, Scott Walper, Diane DiEuliis, Natalie Klein, James B. Petro, and proclaimed Mad Scientist James Giordano addressed the implications of transhumanism (i.e., machines being physically integrated with the human body to augment and enhance human performance) over the next 30 years and explored four potential military-use cases — this story was picked up and republished by a host of mainstream and on-line media outlets!
    • A Scenario for a Hypothetical Private Nuclear Program, by Alexander Temerev (with commentary by two Nuclear Subject Matter Experts who wished to remain anonymous) addressed the possible democratization and proliferation of nuclear weapons expertise by non-state actors and super-empowered individuals.

In today’s post, we collectively recognize Mike Filanowski, Ruth Foutz, Sean McEwen, Mike Yocum, and Matt Ziemann (“Team RSM3” from the Army Futures Study Group Cohort VI in 2019) as our “Maddest” Guest Bloggers for the past six months — their Guns of August 2035 – “Ferdinand Visits the Kashmir”: A Future Strategic and Operational Environment masterfully blended storytelling with geo-political trends analysis to describe the events that morph a hypothetical limited Asian conflict into one that ultimately embroils the U.S. Army in Large Scale Combat Operations with a near-peer competitor — Enjoy!].


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Future Strategic Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Operational Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

If you enjoyed this post, check out these previous “Maddest” Guest Bloggers:

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

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

216. Russia: Our Current Pacing Threat

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army’s capstone unclassified document on the Operational Environment (OE) states:

“Russia can be considered our “pacing threat,” and will be our most capable potential foe for at least the first half of the Era of Accelerated Human Progress [now through 2035]. It will remain a key strategic competitor through the Era of Contested Equality [2035 through 2050].TRADOC Pamphlet (TP) 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, p. 12.

In today’s companion piece to the previously published China: Our Emergent Pacing Threat, the Mad Scientist Laboratory reviews what we’ve learned about Russia in an anthology of insights gleaned from previous posts regarding our current pacing threat — this is a far more sophisticated strategic competitor than your Dad’s (or Mom’s!) Soviet Union — Enjoy!]. 

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. Russia will seek to achieve its national interests 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.

1. Hemispheric Competition and Conflict: Over the last twenty years, Russia has been viewed as regional competitor in Eurasia, seeking to undermine and fracture traditional Western institutions, democracies, and alliances. It is now transitioning into a hemispheric threat with a primary focus on challenging the U.S. Army all the way from our 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 deepfakes 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 type of threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to exercise Multi-Domain Operations.

See: Blurring Lines Between Competition and Conflict

2. Cyber Operations:  Russia has already employed tactics designed to exploit vulnerabilities arising from Soldier connectivity. In the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, for example, Russian cyber operations coordinated attacks against Ukrainian artillery, in just one case of a “really effective integration of all these [cyber] capabilities with kinetic measures.”  By sending spoofed text messages to Ukrainian soldiers informing them that their support battalion has retreated, their bank account has been exhausted, or that they are simply surrounded and have been abandoned, they trigger personal communications, enabling the Russians to fix and target Ukrainian positions. Taking it one step further, they have even sent false messages to the families of soldiers informing them that their loved one was killed in action. This sets off a chain of events where the family member will immediately call or text the soldier, followed by another spoofed message to the original phone. With a high number of messages to enough targets, an artillery strike is called in on the area where an excess of cellphone usage has been detected. To translate into plain English, Russia has successfully combined traditional weapons of land warfare (such as artillery) with the new potential of cyber warfare.

See: Nowhere to Hide: Information Exploitation and Sanitization and Hal Wilson‘s Britain, Budgets, and the Future of Warfare.

3. Influence Operations:  Russia seeks to shape public opinion and influence decisions through targeted information operations (IO) campaigns, often relying on weaponized social media. Russia recognizes the importance of AI, particularly to match and overtake the superior military capabilities that the United States and its allies have held for the past several decades.  Highlighting this importance, Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 stated that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” AI-guided IO tools can empathize with an audience to say anything, in any way needed, to change the perceptions that drive those physical weapons. Future IO systems will be able to individually monitor and affect tens of thousands of people at once.

Russian bot armies continue to make headlines in executing IO. The New York Times maintains about a dozen Twitter feeds and produces around 300 tweets a day, but Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) regularly puts out 25,000 tweets in the same twenty-four hours. The IRA’s bots are really just low-tech curators; they collect, interpret, and display desired information to promote the Kremlin’s narratives.

Next-generation bot armies will employ far faster computing techniques and profit from an order of magnitude greater network speed when 5G services are fielded. If “Repetition is a key tenet of IO execution,” then this machine gun-like ability to fire information at an audience will, with empathetic precision and custom content, provide the means to change a decisive audience’s very reality. No breakthrough science is needed, no bureaucratic project office required. These pieces are already there, waiting for an adversary to put them together.

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

See: Weaponized Information: One Possible Vignette, Own the Night, The Death of Authenticity: New Era Information Warfare, and MAJ Chris Telley‘s Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda

4. Isolation:  Russia seeks to cocoon itself from retaliatory IO and Cyber Operations.  At the October 2017 meeting of the Security Council, “the FSB [Federal Security Service] asked the government to develop an independent ‘Internet’ infrastructure for BRICS nations [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], which would continue to work in the event the global Internet malfunctions.” Security Council members argued the Internet’s threat to national security is due to:

“… the increased capabilities of Western nations to conduct offensive operations in the informational space as well as the increased readiness to exercise these capabilities.

Having its own root servers would make Russia independent of monitors like the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and protect the country in the event of “outages or deliberate interference.” “Putin sees [the] Internet as [a] CIA tool.”

See: Dr. Mica Hall‘s The Cryptoruble as a Stepping Stone to Digital Sovereignty and Howard R. Simkin‘s Splinternets

5. Battlefield Automation: Given the rapid proliferation of unmanned and autonomous technology, we are already in the midst of a new arms race. Russia’s Syria experience — and monitoring the U.S. use of unmanned systems for the past two decades — convinced the Ministry of Defense (MOD) that its forces need more expanded unmanned combat capabilities to augment existing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems that allow Russian forces to observe the battlefield in real time.

The next decade will see Russia complete the testing and evaluation of an entire lineup of combat drones that were in different stages of development over the previous decade. They include the heavy Ohotnik combat UAV (UCAV); mid-range Orion that was tested in Syria; Russian-made Forpost, a UAV that was originally assembled via Israeli license; mid-range Korsar; and long-range Altius that was billed as Russia’s equivalent to the American Global Hawk drone. All of these UAVs are several years away from potential acquisition by armed forces, with some going through factory tests, while others graduating to military testing and evaluation. These UAVs will have a range from over a hundred to possibly thousands of kilometers, depending on the model, and will be able to carry weapons for a diverse set of missions.

Russian ground forces have also been testing a full lineup of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), from small to tank-sized vehicles armed with machine guns, cannon, grenade launchers, and sensors. The MOD is conceptualizing how such UGVs could be used in a range of combat scenarios, including urban combat. However, in a candid admission, Andrei P. Anisimov, Senior Research Officer at the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense, reported on the Uran-9’s critical combat deficiencies during the 10th All-Russian Scientific Conference entitled “Actual Problems of Defense and Security,” held in April 2018. The Uran-9 is a test bed system and much has to take place before it could be successfully integrated into current Russian concept of operations. What is key is that it has been tested in a combat environment and the Russian military and defense establishment are incorporating lessons learned into next-gen systems. We could expect more eye-opening lessons learned from its’ and other UGVs potential deployment in combat.

Another significant trend is the gradual shift from manual control over unmanned systems to a fully autonomous mode, perhaps powered by a limited Artificial Intelligence (AI) program. The Russian MOD has already communicated its desire to have unmanned military systems operate autonomously in a fast-paced and fast-changing combat environment. While the actual technical solution for this autonomy may evade Russian designers in this decade due to its complexity, the MOD will nonetheless push its developers for near-term results that may perhaps grant such fighting vehicles limited semi-autonomous status. The MOD would also like this AI capability be able to direct swarms of air, land, and sea-based unmanned and autonomous systems.

The Russians have been public with both their statements about new technology being tested and evaluated, and with possible use of such weapons in current and future conflicts. There should be no strategic or tactical surprise when military robotics are finally encountered in future combat.

See proclaimed Mad Scientist Sam Bendett‘s Major Trends in Russian Military Unmanned Systems Development for the Next Decade, Autonomous Robotic Systems in the Russian Ground Forces, and Russian Ground Battlefield Robots: A Candid Evaluation and Ways Forward,

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

6. Innovation:  Russia has developed a military innovation center —  Era Military Innovation Technopark — near the city of Anapa (Krasnodar Region) on the northern coast of the Black Sea.  Touted as “A Militarized Silicon Valley in Russia,” the facility will be co-located with representatives of Russia’s top arms manufacturers which will “facilitate the growth of the efficiency of interaction among educational, industrial, and research organizations.” By bringing together the best and brightest in the field of “breakthrough technology,” the Russian leadership hopes to see “development in such fields as nanotechnology and biotech, information and telecommunications technology, and data protection.”

That said, while Russian scientists have often been at the forefront of technological innovations, the country’s poor legal system prevents these discoveries from ever bearing fruit. Stifling bureaucracy and a broken legal system prevent Russian scientists and innovators from profiting from their discoveries. The jury is still out as to whether Russia’s Era Military Innovation Technopark can deliver real innovation.

See: Ray Finch‘s “The Tenth Man” — Russia’s Era Military Innovation Technopark

Russia’s embrace of these and other disruptive technologies and the way in which they adopt hybrid strategies that challenge traditional symmetric advantages and conventional ways of war increases their ability to challenge U.S. forces across multiple domains. As an authoritarian regime, Russia is able to more easily ensure unity of effort and a whole-of-government focus over the Western democracies.  It will continue to seek out and exploit fractures and gaps in the U.S. and its allies’ decision-making, governance, and policy.

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other Mad Scientist Laboratory anthologies:

215. “The Convergence” — Episode 4: The Language of AI with Michael Kanaan

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with Michael Kanaan, Director of Operations for U.S. Air Force and MIT Artificial Intelligence. Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

In this latest episode of “The Convergence,” we talk to Michael Kanaan, who is currently serving as the Director of Operations for U.S. Air Force and MIT Artificial Intelligence. Following his graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy, he was the Officer in Charge of a $75 million hyperspectral mission at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and then the Assistant Director of Operations for the 417-member Geospatial Intelligence Squadron. Prior to his current role, Michael was the National Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise Lead for an 1,800-member enterprise responsible for data discovery, intelligence analysis, and targeting development against ISIS, and most recently the Co-Chair of Artificial Intelligence for the U.S. Air Force.

In this episode, we’ll discuss the impact of AI on the armed forces, how we identify and cultivate talent, and the challenges that arise.

Highlights from our conversation:

AI is multidisciplinary. I’m not a computer scientist. The barriers to education have never been lower. You can teach yourself these kinds of things. And it’s what you do with AI that’s the real question. But make no mistake, I think the future rock stars in the AI sphere are most certainly sociologists and psychologists.

We need to team the techniques of the old with the ideas of the new. Experience is not dictated by age any longer. You can’t fall back and say, ‘well because I’ve done this for so long, I know about AI.’

It’s not supervising. We want to do this all transparently, very openly. So we published the Air Force AI strategy unclassified. So why we did it in principles was it’s not supervision. It’s not telling you how to get there, it’s providing an environment to get there. That’s the kind of flip in the digital age.

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests — next up:  Zachery Tyson Brown!


The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the operational environment — join the 696 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

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