190. Weaponized Information: One Possible Vignette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

74. Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference

Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce that Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference with Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies this week (Wednesday and Thursday, 8-9 August 2018) in Washington, DC.

Future learning techniques and technologies are critical to the Army’s operations in the 21st century against adversaries in rapidly evolving battlespaces. The ability to effectively respond to a changing Operational Environment (OE) with fleeting windows of opportunity is paramount, and Leaders must act quickly to adjust to different OEs and more advanced and lethal technologies. Learning technologies must enable Soldiers to learn, think, and adapt using innovative synthetic environments to accelerate learning and attain expertise more quickly. Looking to 2050, learning enablers will become far more mobile and on-demand.

Looking at Learning in 2050, topics of interest include, but are not limited to: Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities (VR/AR/MR); interactive, autonomous, accelerated, and augmented learning technologies; gamification; skills needed for Soldiers and Leaders in 2050; synthetic training environments; virtual mentors; and intelligent artificial tutors. Advanced learning capabilities present the opportunity for Soldiers and Leaders to prepare for operations and operate in multiple domains while improving current cognitive load limitations.

Plan to join us virtually at the conference as leading scientists, innovators, and scholars from academia, industry, and government gather to discuss:

1) How will emerging technologies improve learning or augment intelligence in professional military education, at home station, while deployed, and on the battlefield?

2) How can the Army accelerate learning to improve Soldier and unit agility in rapidly changing OEs?

3) What new skills will Soldiers and Leaders require to fight and win in 2050?

Get ready…

– Read our Learning in 2050 Call for Ideas finalists’ submissions here, graciously hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

– Review the following blog posts:  First Salvo on “Learning in 2050” – Continuity and Change and Keeping the Edge.

– Starting Tuesday, 7 August 2018, see the conference agenda’s list of presentations and the associated world-class speakers’ biographies here.

and Go!

Join us at the conference on-line here via live-streaming audio and video, beginning at 0840 EDT on Wednesday, 08 Aug 2018; submit your questions to each of the presenters via the moderated interactive chat room; and tag your comments @TRADOC on Twitter with #Learningin2050.

See you all there!

 

68. Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-hosted the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International on 8–9 March 2018 at their Menlo Park campus in California. This conference explored bio convergence, what the Army’s Soldier of 2050 will look like, and how they will interact and integrate with their equipment. The following post is an excerpt from this conference’s final report.]

Source: U.S. Army photo by SPC Joshua P. Morris

While the technology and concepts defining warfare have continuously and rapidly transformed, the primary actor in warfare – the human – has remained largely unchanged. Soldiers today may be physically larger, more thoroughly trained, and better equipped than their historical counterparts, but their capability and performance abilities remain very similar.

These limitations in human performance, however, may change over the next 30 years, as advances in biotechnology and human performance likely will expand the boundaries of what is possible for humans to achieve. We may see Soldiers – not just their equipment – with superior vision, enhanced cognitive abilities, disease/virus resistance, and increased strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As a result, these advances could provide the Soldier with an edge to survive and thrive on the hyperactive, constantly changing, and increasingly lethal Multi-Domain Battlespace.

Source: The Guardian and Lynsey Irvine/Getty

In addition to potentially changing the individual physiology and abilities of the future Soldier, there are many technological innovations on the horizon that will impact human performance. The convergence of these technologies – artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality, brain-machine interface, nanotechnologies, and biological and medical improvements to the human – is referred to as bio convergence. Soldiers of the future will have enhanced capabilities due to technologies that will be installed, instilled, and augmented. This convergence will also make the Army come to terms on what kinds of bio-converged technologies will be accepted in new recruits.

The conference generated the following key findings:

Source: RodMartin.org

• The broad advancement of biotechnologies will provide wide access to dangerous and powerful bioweapons and human enhancements. The low cost and low expertise entry point into gene editing, human performance enhancement, and bioweapon production has spurred a string of new explorations into this arena by countries with large defense budgets (e.g.,  China), non-state criminal and terrorist organizations (e.g., ISIS), and even super-empowered individuals willing to subject their bodies to experimental and risky treatments.

Source: Shutterstock

• Emerging synthetic biology tools (e.g., CRISPR, Talon, and ZFN) present an opportunity to engineer Soldiers’ DNA and enhance their performance, providing  greater  speed, strength, endurance, and resilience.  These tools, however, will also create new vulnerabilities, such as genomic targeting, that can be exploited by an adversary and/or potentially harm the individual undergoing enhancement.  Bioengineering is becoming easier and cheaper as a bevy of developments are reducing biotechnology transaction costs in gene reading, writing, and editing.  Due to the ever-increasing speed and lethality of the future battlefield, combatants will need cognitive and physical enhancement to survive and thrive.

Source: Getty Images

• Ensuring that our land forces are ready to meet future challenges requires optimizing biotechnology and neuroscience advancements.  Designer viruses and diseases will be highly volatile, mutative, and extremely personalized, potentially challenging an already stressed Army medical response system and its countermeasures.  Synthetic biology provides numerous applications that will bridge capability gaps and enable future forces to fight effectively. Future synthetic biology defense applications are numerous and range from sensing capabilities to rapidly developed vaccines and therapeutics.

Source: Rockwell Collins / Aviation Week

• Private industry and academia have become the driving force behind innovation. While there are some benefits to this – such as shorter development times – there are also risks. For example, investments in industry are mainly driven by market demand which can lead to a lack of investment in areas that are vital to National Defense but have low to no consumer demand. In academia, a majority of graduate students in STEM fields are foreign nationals, comprising over 80% of electrical and petroleum engineering programs. The U.S. will need to find a way to maintain its technological superiority even when most of the expertise eventually leaves the country.

Source: World Health Organization

• The advent of new biotechnologies will give rise to moral, regulatory, and legal challenges for the Army of the Future, its business practices, recruiting requirements, Soldier standards, and structure. The rate of technology development in the synthetic biology field is increasing rapidly. Private individuals or small start-ups with minimal capital can create a new organism for which there is no current countermeasure and the development of one will likely take years. This potentiality leads to the dilemma of swiftly creating effective policy and regulation that addresses these concerns, while not stifling creativity and productivity in the field for those conducting legitimate research. Current regulation may not be sufficient, and bureaucratic inflexibility prevents quick reactive and proactive change. Our adversaries may not move as readily to adopt harsher regulations in the bio-technology arena. Rather than focusing on short-term solutions, it may be beneficial to take a holistic approach centered in a world where bio-technology is interacting with everyday life. The U.S. may have to work from a relative “disadvantage,” using safe and legal methods of enhancement, while our adversaries may choose to operate below our defined legal threshold.

Bio Convergence is incredibly important to the Army of the Future because the future Soldier is the Bio. The Warrior of tomorrow’s Army will be given more responsibility, will be asked to do more, will be required to be more capable, and will face more challenges and complexities than ever before. These Soldiers must be able to quickly adapt, change, connect to and disconnect from a multitude of networks – digital and otherwise – all while carrying out multiple mission-sets in an increasingly disrupted, degraded, and arduous environment marred with distorted reality, information warfare, and attacks of a personalized nature.

For additional information regarding this conference:

• Review the Lessons Learned from the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference preliminary assessment.

• Read the entire Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report.

• Watch the conference’s video presentations.

• See the associated presentations’ briefing slides.

• Check out the associated “Call for Ideas” writing contest finalist submissions, hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

 

60. Mission Engineering and Prototype Warfare: Operationalizing Technology Faster to Stay Ahead of the Threat

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist is pleased to present the following post by a team of guest bloggers from The Strategic Cohort at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC). Their post lays out a clear and cogent approach to Army modernization, in keeping with the Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Mark A. Milley’s and Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper’s guidance “to focus the Army’s efforts on delivering the weapons, combat vehicles, sustainment systems, and equipment that Soldiers need when they need it” and making “our Soldiers more effective and our units less logistically dependent.” — The Army Vision,  06 June 2018 ]

 

 

“Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new fighting technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting….” The National Defense Strategy (2018).

 

 

Executive Summary
While Futures Command and legislative changes streamline acquisition bureaucracy, the Army will still struggle to keep pace with the global commercial technology marketplace as well as innovate ahead of adversaries who are also innovating.

Chinese Lijian Sharp Sword Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) — Source: U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) News

Reverse engineering and technology theft make it possible for adversaries to inexpensively copy DoD-specific technology “widgets,” potentially resulting in a “negative return” on investment of DoD research dollars. Our adversaries’ pace of innovation further compounds our challenge. Thus the Army must not only equip the force to confront what is expected,

Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV — Source: USNI News

but equip the force to confront an adaptable enemy in a wide variety of environments. This paper proposes a framework that will enable identification of strategically relevant problems and provide solutions to those problems at the speed of relevance and invert the cost asymmetry.

To increase the rate of innovation, the future Army must learn to continually assimilate, produce, and operationalize technologies much faster than our adversaries to gain time-domain overmatch. The overarching goal is to create an environment that our adversaries cannot duplicate: integration of advanced technologies with skilled Soldiers and well-trained teams. The confluence of two high level concepts — the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Mission Engineering and Robert Leonard’s Prototype Warfare (see his Principles of Warfare for the Information Age book) — pave the way to increasing the rate of innovation by operationalizing technology faster to stay ahead of the threat, while simultaneously reducing the cost of technology overmatch.

Mission Engineering
OSD’s Mission Engineering concept, proposed by Dr. Robert Gold, calls for acquisitions to treat the end-to-end mission as the system to optimize, in which individual systems are components. Further, the concept utilizes an assessment framework to measure progress towards mission accomplishment through test and evaluation in the mission context. In fact, all actions throughout the capability development cycle must tie back to the mission context through the assessment framework. It goes beyond just sharing data to consider functions and the strategy for trades, tools, cross-cutting functions, and other aspects of developing a system or system of systems.

Consider the example mission objective of an airfield seizure. Traditional thinking and methods would identify an immediate needed capability for two identical air droppable vehicles, therefore starting with a highly constrained platform engineering solution. Mission Engineering would instead start by asking: what is the best way to seize an airfield? What mix of capabilities are required to do so? What mix of vehicles (e.g.,  Soldiers, exoskeletons, robots, etc.) might you need within space and weight constraints of the delivery aircraft? What should the individual performance requirements be for each piece of equipment?

Mission Engineering breaks down cultural and technical “domain stovepipes” by optimizing for the mission instead of a ground, aviation, or cyber specific solution. There is huge innovation space between the conventional domain seams.

Source: www.defenceimages.mod.uk

For example, ground vehicle concepts would be able to explore looking more like motherships deploying exoskeletons, drone swarms, or other ideas that have not been identified or presented because they have no clear home in a particular domain. It warrants stating twice that there are a series of mission optimized solutions that have not been identified or presented because they have no clear home in the current construct. Focusing the enterprise on the mission context of the problem set will enable solutions development that is relevant and timely while also connecting a network of innovators who each only have a piece of the whole picture.

Prototype Warfare

Prototype Warfare represents a paradigm shift from fielding large fleets of common-one-size-fits-all systems to rapidly fielding small quantities of tailored systems. Tailored systems focus on specific functions, specific geographic areas, or even specific fights and are inexpensively produced and possibly disposable.

MRZR with a tethered Hoverfly quadcopter unmanned aircraft system — Source: DefenseNews / Jen Judson

For example, vehicle needs are different for urban, desert, and mountain terrains. A single system is unlikely to excel across those three terrains without employing exotic and expensive materials and technology (becoming expensive and exquisite). They could comprise the entire force or just do specific missions, such as Hobart’s Funnies during the D-Day landings.

A further advantage of tailored systems is that they will force the enemy to deal with a variety of unknown U.S. assets, perhaps seen for the first time. A tank platoon might have a heterogeneous mix of assets with different weapons and armor. Since protection and lethality will be unknown to the enemy, it will be asymmetrically challenging for them to develop in a timely fashion tactics, techniques, and procedures or materiel to effectively counter such new capabilities.

Potential Enablers
Key technological advances present the opportunity to implement the Mission Engineering and Prototype Warfare concepts. Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP), rapid manufacturing, and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence (AI) provide ways to achieve these concepts. Each on its own would present significant opportunities. ESP, AI, and rapid manufacturing, when applied within the Mission Engineering/Prototype Warfare framework, create the potential for an innovation revolution.

Under development by the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) and U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), ESP is a physics-based persistent game network that allows Soldiers and engineers to collaborate on exploration of the materiel, force structure, and tactics trade space. ESP will generate 12 million hours of digital battlefield data per year.

Beyond the ESP engine itself, the Army still needs to invest in cutting edge research in machine learning and big data techniques needed to derive useful data on tactics and technical performance from the data. Understanding human intent and behaviors is difficult work for current computers, but the payoff is truly disruptive. Also, as robotic systems become more prominent on the battlefield, the country with the best AI to control them will have a great advantage. The best AI depends on having the most training, experimental, and digitally generated data. The Army is also acutely aware of the challenges involved in testing and system safety for AI enabled systems; understanding what these systems are intended to do in a mission context fosters debate on the subject within an agreed upon problem space and associated assessment framework.

Finally, to achieve the vision, the Army needs to invest in technology that allows rapid problem identification, engineering, and fielding of tailored systems. For over two decades, the Army has touted modularity to achieve system tailoring and flexibility. However, any time something is modularized, it adds some sort of interface burden or complexity. A specific-built system will always outperform a modular system. Research efforts are needed to understand the trade-offs of custom production versus modularity. The DoD also needs to strategically grow investment in new manufacturing technologies (to include 3D printing) and open architectures with industry.

Associated Implications
New challenges are created when there is a hugely varied fleet of tailored systems, especially for logistics, training, and maintenance. One key is to develop a well-tracked digital manufacturing database of replacement parts. For maintenance, new technologies such as augmented reality might be used to show mechanics who have never seen a system how to rapidly diagnose and make repairs.

Source: Military Embedded Systems

New Soldier interfaces for platforms should also be developed that are standardized/simplified so it is intuitive for a soldier to operate different systems in the same way it is intuitive to operate an iPhone/iPad/Mac to reduce and possibly eliminate the need for system specific training. For example, imagine a future soldier gets into a vehicle and inserts his or her common access card. A driving display populates with the Soldier’s custom widgets, similar to a smartphone display. The displays might also help soldiers understand vehicle performance envelopes. For example, a line might be displayed over the terrain showing how sharp a soldier might turn without a rollover.

Conclusion
The globalization of technology allows anyone with money to purchase “bleeding-edge,” militarizable commercial technology. This changes the way we think about the ability to generate combat power to compete internationally from the physical domain, to the time domain. Through the proposed mission engineering and prototype warfare framework, the Army can assimilate and operationalize technology quicker to create an ongoing time-domain overmatch and invert the current cost asymmetry which is adversely affecting the public’s will to fight. Placing human thought and other resources towards finding new ways to understand mission context and field new solutions will provide capability at the speed of relevance and help reduce operational surprise through a better understanding of what is possible.

Source: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory / Gov.UK

If you enjoyed this post, join SciTech Futures‘ community of experts, analysts, and creatives on 11-18 June 2018 as they discuss the logistical challenges of urban campaigns, both today and on into 2035. What disruptive technologies and doctrines will blue (and red) forces have available in 2035? Are unconventional forces the future of urban combat? Their next ideation exercise goes live today — watch the associated video here and join the discussion here!

This article was written by Dr. Rob Smith, Senior Research Scientist; Mr. Shaheen Shidfar, Strategic Cohort Lead; Mr. James Parker, Associate Director; Mr. Matthew A. Horning, Mission Engineer; and Mr. Thomas Vern, Associate Director. Collectively, these gentlemen are a subset of The Strategic Cohort, a multi-disciplinary independent group of volunteers located at TARDEC that study the Army’s Operating Concept Framework to understand how we must change to survive and thrive in the future operating environment. The Strategic Cohort analyzes these concepts and other reference materials, then engages in disciplined debate to provide recommendations to improve TARDEC’s alignment with future concepts, educate our workforce, and create dialogue with the concept developers providing a feedback loop for new ideas.

Further Reading:

Gold, Robert. “Mission Engineering.” 19th Annual NDIA Systems Engineering Conference, Oct. 26, 2016, Springfield, VA. Presentation.

Leonard, Robert R. The Principles of War for the Information Age, Presidio Press (2000).

Martin, A., & FitzGerald, B. “Process Over Platforms.” Center for a New American Security, Dec. 13, 2013.

FitzGerald, B., Sander, A. & Parziale, J. “Future Foundry A New Strategic Approach to Military-Technical Advantage.” Center for a New American Security, Dec. 14, 2016.

Kozloski, Robert. “The Path to Prototype Warfare.” War on the Rocks, 17 July 2017.

Hammes, T.X. “The Future of Warfare: Small, Many, Smart vs. Few & Exquisite?” War on the Rocks, 7 Aug. 2015.

Smith, Robert E. “Tactical Utility of Tailored Systems.” Military Review (2016).

Smith, Robert E. and Vogt, Brian. “Early Synthetic Prototyping Digital Warfighting For Systems Engineering.” Journal of Cyber Security and Information Systems 5.4 (2017).

48. Warfare at the Speed of Thought

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the second guest blog post by Dr. Richard Nabors, Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Deputy Director, Operations Division, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), addressing how Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments.

Dr. Nabors’ previous guest post addressed how the proliferation of sensors, integrated via the Internet of Battlefield Things [IoBT], will provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces.)

Speed has always been and will be a critical component in assuring military dominance. Historically, the military has sought to increase the speed of its jets, ships, tanks, and missiles. However, one of the greatest leaps that has yet to come and is coming is the ability to significantly increase the speed of the decision-making process of the individual at the small unit level.

Source: University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
To maximize individual and small unit initiative to think and act flexibly, Soldiers must receive as much relevant information as possible, as quickly as possible. Integrated sensor technologies can provide situational awareness by collecting and sorting real-time data and sending a fusion of information to the point of need, but that information must be processed quickly in order to be operationally effective. Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are two of the most promising solutions to this challenge facing the military and will eventually make it possible for Soldiers to instantaneously respond to an actively changing environment.

AR and MR function in real-time, bringing the elements of the digital world into a Soldier’s perceived real world, resulting in optimal, timely, and relevant decisions and actions. AR and MR allow for the overlay of information and sensor data into the physical space in a way that is intuitive, serves the point of need, and requires minimal training to interpret. AR and MR will enable the U.S. military to survive in complex environments by decentralizing decision-making from mission command and placing substantial capabilities in Soldiers’ hands in a manner that does not overwhelm them with information.

Source: Tom Rooney III
On a Soldier’s display, AR can render useful battlefield data in the form of camera imaging and virtual maps, aiding a Soldier’s navigation and battlefield perspective. Special indicators can mark people and various objects to warn of potential dangers.
Source: MicroVision
Soldier-borne, palm-size reconnaissance copters with sensors and video can be directed and tasked instantaneously on the battlefield. Information can be gathered by unattended ground sensors and transmitted to a command center, with AR and MR serving as a networked communication system between military leaders and the individual Soldier. Used in this way, AR and MR increase Soldier safety and lethality.

In the near-term, the Army Research and Development (R&D) community is investing in the following areas:


Reliable position tracking devices that self-calibrate for head orientation of head-worn sensors.


• Ultralight, ultrabright, ultra-transparent display eyewear with wide field of view.

Source: CIO Australia

• Three-dimensional viewers with battlefield terrain visualization, incorporating real-time data from unmanned aerial vehicles, etc.




In the mid-term, R&D activities are focusing on:

• Manned vehicles with sensors and processing capabilities for moving autonomously, tasked for Soldier protection.

Robotic assets, tele-operated, semi-autonomous, or autonomous and imbued with intelligence, with limbs that can keep pace with Soldiers and act as teammates.

Source: BAE
• Robotic systems that contain multiple sensors that respond to environmental factors affecting the mission, or have self-deploying camouflage capabilities that stay deployed while executing maneuvers.

• Enhanced reconnaissance through deep-penetration mapping of building layouts, cyber activity, and subterranean infrastructure.

Once AR and MR prototypes and systems have seen widespread use, the far term focus will be on automation that could track and react to a Soldier’s changing situation by tailoring the augmentation the Soldier receives and by coordinating across the unit.

In addition, AR and MR will revolutionize training, empowering Soldiers to train as they fight. Soldiers will be able to use real-time sensor data from unmanned aerial vehicles to visualize battlefield terrain with geographic awareness of roads, buildings, and other structures before conducting their missions. They will be able to rehearse courses of action and analyze them before execution to improve situational awareness. AR and MR are increasingly valuable aids to tactical training in preparation for combat in complex and congested environments.

AR and MR are the critical elements required for integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments. Solving the challenge of how and where to use AR and MR will enable the military to get full value from its investments in complex integrated sensor systems.

For more information on how the convergence of technologies will enhance Soldiers on future battlefields, see:

– The discussion on advanced decision-making in An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

– Dr. James Canton’s presentation from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, & Autonomy Conference at Georgia Tech Research Institute last March.

– Dr. Rob Smith’s Mad Scientist Speaker Series presentation on Operationalizing Big Data, where he addresses the applicability of AR to sports and games training as an analogy to combat training (noting “Serious sport is war minus the shooting” — George Orwell).

Dr. Richard Nabors is Associate Director for Strategic Planning, US Army CERDEC Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.

46. Integrated Sensors: The Critical Element in Future Complex Environment Warfare

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post by Dr. Richard Nabors, Associate Director for Strategic Planning and Deputy Director, Operations Division, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), addressing how the proliferation of sensors, integrated via the Internet of Battlefield Things [IoBT], will provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces.)

As in preceding decades, that which can be found, if unprotected, can still be hit. By mid-Century, it will prove increasingly difficult to stay hidden. Most competitors can access space-based surveillance, networked multi-static radars, drones and swarms of drones in a wide variety, and a vast of array of passive and active sensors that are far cheaper to produce than to create technology to defeat them. Quantum computing and quantum sensing will open new levels of situational awareness. Passive sensing, especially when combined with artificial intelligence and big-data techniques may routinely outperform active sensors. These capabilities will be augmented by increasingly sophisticated civilian capabilities, where commercial imagery services, a robust and mature Internet of Things, and near unlimited processing power generate a battlespace that is more transparent than ever before.The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare

The complex operational environment of the next conflict cannot be predicted accurately. It has become a battlespace — jungle, forest, city, desert, arctic and cyber — where the enemy is already entrenched and knows the operational environment. Complex and congested environments level the field between the United States and its adversaries. The availability of integrated sensor networks and technologies will be a critical factor in piercing the complexity of these environments and determining what level of military superiority is enjoyed by any one side.

As Soldiers in complex operational situations are presented with significantly more information than in the past and in a broader variety; they have the need to quickly and decisively adapt to the changing situation, but often do not have the time to sort and judge the value of the information received.

Integrated sensor technologies will provide situational awareness by:

• Collecting and sorting real-time data and sending a fusion of information to the point of need by enhancing human vision,




Integrating with computers to detect and identify items of interest in real-time,

• Using augmented reality to overlay computer vision with human vision, and

Fusing data together from multiple sensor sources.

Networks of sensors integrated with autonomous systems will work autonomously to support local operations as well as converge and diverge as needed, accelerating human decision-making to the fastest rates possible and maximizing the U.S. military’s advantage.

Expected advances in Army sensing capabilities will directly address operational vulnerabilities in future environments, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) by a concealed enemy, and poor visibility and short lines of sight in urban environments. These sensors will provide local ISR by collecting, sorting, and fusing real-time data and sending it to the point of need, expanding the small units’ ability to sense the adversary, and providing an understanding of the operational environment that the adversary lacks.

There are several technical challenges that are being addressed in order to maintain and secure overmatch capabilities. These include:

Fusion of disparate sensors into a combined capability.

Tactical computing resources.

• Network connectivity and bandwidth.

• Sensor suitability for environmental observation.

• Reduced power requirements.

• Tailored, individual mechanisms through “sensored” Soldiers.

• Disguised unmanned systems to gather and communicate intelligence.

Future research will focus on automation that could track and react to a Soldier’s changing situation by tailoring the augmentation the Soldier receives and by coordinating across the unit. In long-term development, sensors on Soldiers and vehicles will provide real-time status and updates, optimizing individually tailored performance levels. Sensors will provide adaptive camouflage for the individual Soldier or platform in addition to reactive self-healing armor. The Army will be able to monitor the health of each Soldier in real-time and deploy portable autonomous medical treatment centers using sensor-equipped robots to treat injuries. Sensors will enhance detection through air-dispersible microsensors, as well as microdrones with image-processing capabilities.

Image credit: Alexander Kott

In complex environments, the gathering and fusion of information will lead to greater understanding. Integrated sensors, remote and near, manned and unmanned, can both save Soldiers’ lives and make them more lethal.

Read about how Russia is trying to increase its number of electro-optical satellites in the OE Watch November 2017 issue (page 17).

Listen to Modern War Institute‘s podcast where Retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend and Mr. Ian Sullivan address Technology and the Future of Warfare.

Dr. Richard Nabors is Associate Director for Strategic Planning, US Army CERDEC Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.

41. The Technological Information Landscape: Realities on the Horizon

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post by Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos, addressing the future of technological information and the tantalizing possible realities they may provide us by 2050.)

The history of technology and its contemporary developments is not a story about technology, it is a story about people, politics and culture. Politics encouraged military technologies to be developed which have had tremendous value for civilian use. Technologies that were too ahead of their cultural times were left behind. As the saying goes ‘need is the mother of all inventions’, and many technological advances have been thanks to the perseverance of people who were determined to solve a problem that affected their life, or that of their loved ones and community. Ultimately, technology starts with people, ideas come from people, and the perception of reality is a human endeavor as well.

The ‘reality’ related technologies that are part of the current and emerging information landscape have the potential to alter the perception of reality, form new digital communities and allegiances, mobilize people, and create reality dissonance. These realities also contribute to the evolving ways that information is consumed, managed, and distributed. There are five components:




1. Real World: Pre-internet real, touch-feel-and-smell world.






2. Digital Reality 1.0: There are many already existing digital realities that people can immerse themselves into, which include gaming, as well as social media and worlds such as Second Life. Things that happen on these digital platforms can affect the real world and visa-versa.

3. Digital Reality 2.0: The Mixed Reality (MR) world of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). These technologies are still in their early stages; however, they show tremendous potential for receiving, and perceiving information, as well as experiencing narratives through synthetic or captured moments.

Virtual Reality allows the user to step in a “virtual” reality, which can be entirely synthetic and a created digital environment, or it could be a suspended moment of an actual real-world environment. The synthetic environment could be modeled after the real world, a fantasy, or a bit of both. Most virtual realities do not fully cross over the uncanny valley, but it is only a matter of time. Suspended moments of actual real-world environments involve 360 degree cameras which capture a video moment in time; these already exist and the degree in which it feels like the VR user is teleported to that geographical and temporal moment in time will, for the most part, depend on the quality of the video and the sound. This VR experience can also be modified, edited and amended just like regular videos are edited today. This, coupled with technologies that authentically replicate voice (ex: Adobe VoCo) and technologies that can change faces in videos, create open-ended possibilities for ‘fake’ authentic videos and soundbites that can be embedded.

Augmented Reality allows the user to interact with a digital layer superimposed on their physical real world. The technology is still in the early stages, but when it reaches its full potential, it is expected to disrupt and transform the way we communicate, work, and interact with our world. Some say the combination of voice command, artificial intelligence, and AR will make screens a thing of the past. Google is experimenting with their new app Just a Line, which allows the users to play with their augmented environment and create digital graffiti in their physical space. While this is an experiment, the potential for geographic AR experiences, messages (overt or covert), and storytelling is immense.

4. Brain Computer Interface (BCI): Also called Brain Machine Interface (BMI). BCI has the potential to create another reality when the brain is seamlessly connected to the internet. This may also include connection to artificial intelligence and other brains. This technology is currently being developed, and the space for ‘minimally invasive’ BCI has exploded. Should it work as intended, the user would, in theory, be directly communicating to the internet through thought, the lines would blur between the user’s memory and knowledge and the augmented intelligence its brain accessed in real-time through BCI. In this sense it would also be able to communicate with others through thought using BCI as the medium. The sharing of information, ideas, memories and emotions through this medium would create a new way of receiving, creating and transmitting information, as well as a new reality experience. However, for those with a sinister mind, this technology could also have the potential to be used as a method for implanting ideas into others’ minds and subconscious. For an in-depth explanation on one company’s efforts to make BCI a reality, see Tim Urban’s post “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future”.

5. Whole Brain Emulation (WBE): Brings a very new dimension to the information landscape. It is very much still in the early stages, however, if successful, this would create a virtual immortal sentient existence which would live and interact with the other realities. It is still unclear if the uploaded mind would be sentient, how it would interact with its new world (the cloud), and what implications it would have on those who know or knew the person. As the technology is still new, many avenues for brain uploading are being explored which include it being done while a person is alive and when a person dies. Ultimately a ‘copy’ of the mind would be made and the computer would run a simulation model of the uploaded brain, it is also expected to have a conscious mind of its own. This uploaded, fully functional brain could live in a virtual reality or in a computer which takes physical form in a robot or biological body. Theoretically, this technology would allow uploaded minds to interact with all realities and be able to create and share information.

Apart from another means for communicating with others, and transmitting information, it can also be used as a medium to further ideologies. For example, if Osama bin Laden’s brain had been uploaded to the cloud, his living followers for generations to come could interact with him and acquire feedback and guidance. Another example is Adolf Hitler; if his brain were to have been uploaded, his modern-day followers would be able to interact with him through cognitive augmentation and AI. This of course could be used to ‘keep’ loved ones in our lives, however the technology has broader implications when it is used to perpetuate harmful ideologies, shape opinions, and mobilize populations into violent action. As mind-boggling as all this may sound, the WBE “hypothetical futuristic process of scanning the mental state of a particular brain substrate and copying it to a computer” is being scientifically pursued. In 2008, the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University published a technical report about the roadmap to Whole Brain Emulation.

Despite the many questions that remain unanswered and a lack of a human brain upload proof of concept, a new startup, Nectome, which is “Committed to the goal of archiving your mind,” offers a brain preservation service and when the technology is available, they will upload the brains. In return, the clients pay a service fee of $10,000 and agree for the embalming chemicals to be introduced into their arteries (under general anesthesia) right before they pass away, so that the brain can be freshly extracted.

These technologies and realities create new areas for communication, expression and self-exploration. They also provide spaces where identities transform, and where the perception of reality within and among these realities will hover somewhere above these many identities as people weave in and through them in their daily life.

For more information regarding disruptive technologies, see Dr. Kostopoulos’ blogsite.

Please also see Dr. Kostopoulos’ recent submission to our Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas, entitled Letter from the Frontline: Year 2050, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos is an advisor to the AI Initiative at The Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School, participates in NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program, is a member of the FBI’s InfraGard Alliance, and during the Obama administration received the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her pro bono work in cybersecurity. Her work lies in the intersection of strategy, technology, education, and national security. Her professional experience spans three continents, several countries and multi-cultural environments. She speaks and writes on disruptive technology convergence, innovation, tech ethics, cyber warfare, and national security.

38. The Multi-Domain “Dragoon” Squad: A Hyper-enabled Combat System

“Victory in the future requires a force consisting of the many, small and smart. The United States and its Joint Force needs to get there first, and when it does, it needs to be aware of any advantages—and limitations—these new capabilities will provide.” — Mr. Jeff Becker, from his article entitled, “How to Beat Russia and China on the Battlefield: Military Robots,” originally published in The National Interest on 18 March 2018.

In 2016, General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, asked if the Army of the future would have divisions and brigades, or whether it would utilize small, elite Special Forces-like units with operational and strategic level capabilities. At the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, General Milley stated, “I suspect that the organizations and weapons and doctrines of land armies, between 2025 and 2050, in that quarter-century period of time, will be fundamentally different than what we see today.” There is a need to change, perhaps radically, some of our organizational unit designs that will allow the Army to operate on the battlefield of the future, which will be dispersed and dangerous across all domains.

To mitigate and disrupt the threat from state and non-state actors with drastically improved reconnaissance – persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), electronic detection capabilities, and a saturation of sensors – and extremely lethal strike capabilities – thermobarics, penetrators, dual warheads, hypersonic weapons, long-range artillery, strike and interdiction aircraft – the U.S. Army must consider how to assemble and combine advanced capabilities into technologically-superior land units able to attack and destroy larger enemy units, maneuver over the land domain, and seize and hold terrain in support of these missions. Additionally, these forces must have organic, or at least more readily available, cyber, space, and information warfare capabilities.

The need for these land forces to operate in and across multiple domains prompted General Milley to order the creation of an experimental combat unit known as the Multi-Domain Task Force. The Army recognizes that future combat units will have to be moderately self-sustaining, highly lethal, very fast, and very difficult to pin down on a battlefield; current Army force structure does not provide units that can maneuver and operate in this vein. The Multi-Domain Task Force will be the test bed for a concept of operations and force structure that moves beyond just countering adversarial anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and will incorporate larger Joint efforts for maneuver and combat operations in the future.

Beyond the challenges and opportunities for operational forces more equivalent to today’s brigade combat teams, there is growing concern over the loss of technological and mobility overmatches the Army has possessed for the last 15 years at the tactical level. To explore this problem, Mr. Jeff Becker, President and Principal Analyst of Context LLC (and Mad Scientist Laboratory guest blogger), spoke at the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle Conference at Georgetown University, 25-26 July 2017, about what the tactical system of the Army might look like in the 2035-2050 timeframe. In his video presentation from this conference, Mr. Becker addressed just how lethal, how mobile, how protected, and how aware a very small – 12-15 person – unit on the future battlefield might be. He presented the concept for a Multi-Domain “Dragoon” Squad (MDS), a hyper-enabled combat system composed of numerous future technologies allowing the tactical unit to have multi-domain effects.

The MDS provides the Army with a small unit capable of tactical surprise and an enormous capability for close-in lethality. The crux of the MDS is a system-of-systems approach to enabling a small tactical unit with the capability to survive, thrive, and bring about effects across domains throughout the tactical environment in a terrain-agnostic way.

This approach is achieved through multiple technological implementations:

– Equipping of soldiers with soft exosuits to increase their strength and endurance, allowing for heavier and more capable individual weaponry and the ability to sustain peak performance


– Lightweight helmet-mounted displays providing augmented and virtual reality images based on feeds from sensors – including cyber and electromagnetic environments to reach new levels of close-in situational awareness


Metamaterials allowing lower profile, higher bandwidth antennas integral to the soldier suit as well as the vehicles and robots




Modernized assault weapons including guided rounds, increasing the probability of a hit






– Lightweight (4500 lbs.) Infantry Mobility Vehicles (IMVs) capable of semi-autonomy, autonomy, or remote-control as well as the ability to provide covering fire with a robotic turret and precision indirect fires weapons


Sensor system and associated AI capable of detecting, locating, classifying and prioritizing multiple targets, while providing early warning to fire team




– Eight armed reconnaissance robots able to move over ground at speeds in excess of 40-50 miles per hour; capable of traversing complex terrain quickly and closing with areas of interest at high speed; potential for lethal capability


– Short range, low altitude quadcopter drones providing optical and electronic sensing to the unit, providing constant updates to the AR/VR backbone; potential for lethal capability


Squad Indirect Fires Support Vehicle (SIF-V) providing a range of indirect fires directly to each team


The MDS is not the all-encompassing zenith of the MDB concept but rather is a machination of it at the tactical level that could have a ground-up cumulative change effect. It is impossible for the Army, nor any of its sister services, to completely transform within a decade; however, sweeping organizational experimentation and reconfiguration of existing formations through initiatives such as the Multi-Domain Task Force can lead to such a transformation.

Mr. Jeff Becker’s vision for the MDS was originally submitted in response to a Mad Scientist Call for Ideas that was subsequently published here by Small Wars Journal.

Mr. Becker and MG David Fastabend (USA-Ret.) co-authored a paper that was the baseline and inspiration for The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare on behalf of the TRADOC G-2.

Mr. Becker and MG Fastabend were also key analytical contributors to the Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy: Visioning Multi-Domain Warfare in 2030-2050 Final Report that documented the results of the associated Mad Scientist Conference, co-hosted by Georgia Tech Research Institute, on 7-8 March 2017.

31. Top Ten Bio Convergence Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment

As Mad Scientist Laboratory has noted in previous blog posts, War is an intrinsically human endeavor. Rapid innovations in the biological sciences are changing how we work, live, and fight. Drawing on the past two years of Mad Scientist events, we have identified a change in the character of war driven by the exponential convergence of bio, neuro, nano, quantum, and information. This convergence is leading to revolutionary achievements in sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware; creating a new environment in which humans must co-evolve with these technologies. Mad Scientist has identified the following top ten bio convergence trends associated with this co-evolution that will directly impact the Future Operational Environment (OE).

1) Bio convergence with advanced computing is happening at the edge. Humans will become part of the network connected through their embedded and worn devices. From transhumanism to theorizing about uploading the brain, the Future OE will not be an internet of things but the internet of everything (including humans).

2) The next 50 years will see an evolution in human society; we will be augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), partner with AI in centaur chess fashion, and eventually be eclipsed by AI.


3) This augmentation and enhanced AI partnering will require hyper-connected humans with wearables and eventually embeddables to provide continuous diagnostics and human-machine interface.


4) The Army will need to measure cognitive potential and baseline neural activity of its recruits and Soldiers.




5) The Army needs new training tools to take advantage of neuralplasticity and realize the full cognitive potential of Soldiers. Brain gyms and the promise of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) training sets could accelerate learning and, in some cases, challenge the tyranny of “the 10,000 hour rule.”

6) Human enhancement, the unlocking of the genome, and improving AI will stress the Army’s policies and ethics. In any case, potential adversaries are exploring using all three of these capabilities as a way to gain advantage over U.S. Forces. This is not a 2050 problem but more than likely a 2030 reality.

7) Asymmetric Ethics, where adversaries make choices we will not (e.g., manipulating the DNA of pathogens to target specific genome populations or to breed “super” soldiers) will play a bigger part in the future. This is not new, but will be amplified by future technologies. Bio enhancements will be one of the areas and experimentation is required to determine our vulnerabilities.

8) Cognitive enhancement and attacking the human brain (neurological system) is not science fiction. The U.S. Army should establish a Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier Enhancement to bring unity of purpose to a range of possibilities from physical/mental enhancement with wearables, embeddables, stimulants, brain gyms, and exoskeletons.

9) Chemical and bio defense will need to be much more sophisticated on the next battlefield. The twin challenges of democratization and proliferation have resulted in a world where the capability of engineering potentially grave bio-weapons, once only the purview of nation states and advance research institutes and universities, is now available to Super-Empowered Individuals, Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA), and criminal organizations.

10) We are missing the full impact of bio on all emerging trends. We must focus beyond human enhancement and address how bio is impacting materials, computing, and garage level, down scaled innovation.


Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International at Menlo Park, California, on 08-09 March 2018. Click here to learn more about the conference and then watch the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0840 PST / 1140 EST on 08 March 2018.


Also note that our friends at Small Wars Journal have published the first paper from our series of Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas finalists — enjoy!