[Editor’s Note: The following post addresses the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050) and is extracted from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, published last summer. This seminal document provides the U.S. Army with a holistic and heuristic approach to projecting and anticipating both transformational and enduring trends that will lend themselves to the depiction of the future.]
Changes encountered during the Future Operational Environment’s Era of Accelerated Human Progress (the present through 2035) begin a process that will re-shape the global security situation and fundamentally alter the character of warfare. While its nature remains constant, the speed, automation, ranges, both broad and narrow effects, its increasingly integrated multi-domain conduct, and thecomplexityof the terrain and social structures in which it occurs will make mid-century warfare both familiar and utterly alien.
During the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050), great powers and rising challengers have converted hybrid combinations of economic power, technological prowess, andvirulent, cyber-enabled ideologiesinto effective strategic strength. They apply this strength to disrupt or defend the economic, social, and cultural foundations of the old Post-World War II liberal order and assert or dispute regional alternatives to established global norms. State and non-state actors compete for power and control, often below the threshold of traditional armed conflict – or shield and protect their activities under the aegis of escalatory WMD, cyber, or long-range conventional options and doctrines.
It is not clear whether the threatsfaced in the preceding Era of Accelerated Human Progress persist, although it is likely that China and Russia will remain key competitors, and that some form of non-state ideologically motivated extremist groups will exist. Other threats may have fundamentally changed their worldviews, or may not even exist by mid-Century, while other states, and combinations of states will rise and fall as challengers during the 2035-2050 timeframe. The security environment in this period will be characterized by conditions that will facilitate competition and conflict among rivals, and lead to endemic strife and warfare, and will have several defining features.
• The nation-state perseveres. The nation-state will remain the primary actor in the international system, but it will be weaker both domestically and globally than it was at the start of the century. Trends of fragmentation, competition, and identity politics will challenge global governance and broader globalization, with both collective security and globalism in decline. States share their strategic environments with networked societies which increasingly circumvent governments unresponsive to their citizens’ needs. Many states will face challenges from insurgents and global identity networks – ethnic, religious, regional, social, or economic – which either resist state authority or ignore it altogether.
• Super-Power Diminishes. Early-century great powers will lose their dominance in command and control, surveillance, and precision-strike technologies as even non-state actors will acquire and refine their own application of thesetechnologies in conflict and war. Rising competitors will be able to acquire capabilities through a broad knowledge diffusion, cyber intellectual property theft, and their own targeted investments without having to invest into massive “sunken” research costs. This diffusion of knowledge and capability and the aforementioned erosion of long-term collective security will lead to the formation ofad hoc communities of interest. The costs of maintaining global hegemony at the mid-point of the century will be too great for any single power, meaning that the world will be multi-polar and dominated by complex combinations of short-term alliances, relations, and interests.
This era will be marked by contested norms and persistent disorder, where multiple state and non-state actors assert alternative rules and norms, which when contested, will use military force, often in a dimension short of traditional armed conflict.
For additional information on the Future Operational Environment and the Era of Contested Equality:
• Listen to Modern War Institute‘spodcast where Retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend and Mr. Ian Sullivan address Technology and the Future of Warfare
(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present a new post by returning guest blogger and official Mad Scientist Dr. Richard Nabors, addressing the importance of DoD Manufacturing Technologies (MANTECH). In this future-focused story, critical decision points are interspersed throughout the narrative, illustrating the ramifications of DoD MANTECH investment decisions in ensuring military superiority for future operations.
Dr. Nabors’ previous guest posts discussed how:
•Integrated sensor systemswill provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces;
•Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for these integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments); and
• The recently completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program can serve as a use case for successful future innovation via four key practices.)
Four men crouched behind an air conditioning unit mounted on the roof of the townhouse, guns aimed and ready. US Army Sergeant Johnson, the unit leader, could sense the others’ tension as a truck drove down the street below them. He glanced toward Rodriguez, the fifth man of the team, who lay belly down on the roof in front of the air conditioner box, peering over the edge. The enemy truck appeared a tempting target, but the continuous, live reporting Johnson was receiving from the Soldier Support Artificial Intelligence Unit (SOSIA) that they had just spent the morning setting up indicated there were civilians in the area. “Hold,” he whispered into his helmet mike.
SOSIA was a powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI)computer program that connected to an Integrated Sensor Architecture of millions of commercial and military sensors which processed and sent real-time analysis and imagery directly to soldiers. SOSIA used everything from city overhead street cameras, to in-the-road seismic sensors, and the tens of thousands of military sensors fielded, such as Sargent Johnson’s personal Short-Wave InfraRed (SWIR) imager. The bone conducting speaker in Johnson’s helmet chirped the vital statistics of the truck as it approached. Johnson activated his mic again and whispered, “SOSIA says the truck is full. Too many for us to take on without compromising the mission. Also, there are civilians in the area.”
Rodriguez wriggled back to the shelter of the air conditioning unit and glared at Johnson. “SOSIA says,” he growled, sarcasm dripping from each word. “Is SOSIA in command, Johnson?”
Johnson studied him a minute, and then each of the others before responding. He knew that the waiting and inactivity were telling on the men. They wanted action. They had seen too many of their buddies fall, too many dead civilians, too many wounded children. They wanted to destroy the base from which the enemy operated.
“What’s eatin’ you, Rod? Don’t you trust all of the techno stuff we’ve been deploying?” Johnson asked as calmly as he could, given his own tension.
“Sure,” Rodriguez shrugged. “I just don’t like a bunch of electrons and wires tellin’ a thinking human bein’ what to do.”
“You know that I am in command of this mission.” Johnson glared at him with an icy stare. “I am the thinking human being behind every decisive action we take. Don’t ever forget it.”
Rodriguez dropped his eyes. “Sorry, Sarge,” he mumbled.
The plan to attack the enemy’s temporary command post by a small assault team was totally contingent on the element of surprise. Their mission was dependent upon the information generated by the sensors they had laid around the enemy’s post. They had to know what they were getting into. Were the enemy holed up in the post or were individual outposts spread out in the surrounding structures? The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drones that had already been deployed in combination with their compact lidar imagery systems had swept the landscape for enemy and friendly sensors while creating a 3D terrain of the urban space around the enemy’s command post. Johnson had been briefed on the data and the maps were available on his helmet display. Now SOSIA’s data had been added to mix.
What next was his judgement call. Command Central had given unit leaders the ability and responsibility to be autonomous and to make decisions based on the immediate situation. The lives of his men, the enemy, and the civilians between them depended on what he called next. Outside of the truck below, the sensor data indicated that the area had been cleared of all enemy combatants. Should he trust the data from the sensors and proceed with the original plan?
No: Because the number of sensors available for the US Army to use were limited, Johnson could not trust that the area was clear and that his small team would have the element of surprise they would need to survive an assault on the base. Without this confidence, the risks were too high and the mission would need to be abandoned.
Yes: Because of DoD Manufacturing Technology investments into sensor manufacturing, the US Army was able to field an incredible volume of low-cost, complex sensors across the battlespace, ensuring that systems like SOSIA and Johnson had enough information about global awareness to feel confident with the real-time data that they had access to. Being able to trust in the sensor network that provided critical, in the moment information enabled Johnson to manage the risks and make the call.
Johnson jerked his head and motioned the men to go down the staircase off of the roof. “All data indicates that the area is clear,” he stated firmly. “SOSIA is tracking the truck to the possible base site. Any questions before we go?”
“Sarge,” Boskar piped up hesitantly, “how do we know that the data is not compromised? Are we certain the enemy isn’t hacking into our systems and feeding us false information like we did to them?”
Johnson nodded. The scenario was possible. The sky was full of satellites, spying on each other. Whose was the most updated? It did seem a bit odd that the scans did not find many enemy security and/or sensors to prevent hostile forces from sneaking up on their base. Maybe their security was depending on the anonymity of being embedded in a residential area of townhouses and small stores. But was our technology protected from a hacker? he thought. Was the information he received accurate? Should he trust it?
No:With majority of sensors and networking components being manufactured outside the USA, security could definitely be an issue with compromises pre-built into the technology, not to mention the risk of possible hacking.
Yes:Because of investments into US sensor and networking manufacturers, technology from USA manufacturers has been continually updated with reliable safeguards against possible hacking or intrusion.
“Nothing is a certainty,” Johnson stated flatly. “But we can be confident that everything possible has been done to ensure the security and reliability of our intel. All any soldier can do is to trust the instructions he has been given,” Johnson reminded himself as well as his men.
“Besides, we have a surprise for them.” Reaching into the pouch at his waist, Johnson removed two small objects, one a micro-drone the size of a large beetle, the other a small touch pad. Carefully he thumbed the pad on his palm. The micro-drone darted off to follow the truck, setting down on the canopy just as the truck turned the corner and was lost from sight. “It’s embedded with an electronic disruption device,” he explained. “We’ll activate it when we are ready to go in.”
Moving quietly in their armored suits, they quickly followed the truck to the base site. Each suit had its own power pack which supplied power to all their communication and sensor devices.
The unique optical communication signals between their powered suits allowed continuous communications even when under electronic jamming attacks by the enemy.
The intel from the drones and SOSIA had been right. There was no complex network of perimeter sensors, at least nothing sounded an alarm, as the team got into their hold position just a short distance from the base. They took cover in an abandoned storefront building that was still home to a number of civilian refugees. “Landis, set up our jammers and get this area under a communications blackout,” Johnson commanded. “Once that is done, Boskar and Simon, round up the civilians and get them to the safe area we identified, quickly and quietly. We want them out of here before any enemy shows up. Oh, and immediately confiscate any electronic devices, just in case,” he added with a grim smile.
After the men had secured the area, Johnson once again reviewed the plan. The plan was simple. For weeks, Central Command had leaked false information that they still had no idea where the enemy command post was. Intercepted enemy communications gave every indication that they believed the false reports. Now a small attack team was to approach the base, evacuate any civilian population still in the area, and then destroy the base. All without the enemy noticing what they were doing and all without injury to or protests by civilians. What could be simpler than that?
Although the attack team had the advantage of the latest in armored suits, the enemy had the advantage of numbers and being in a defensive position. Using security codes that had been hacked from the enemy’s satellite phone system, they planned to open the base doors. Their explosives expert, Rodriguez, would proceed to lay explosives around the building while the rest of the team were to protect him by taking out any threat.
Johnson looked around at his men. Could they, the five of them, do it? They had the will. Did they have the technology to achieve this objective? There was still time to take the civilians with them and make a dash for the Command Post. Should they proceed?
No:What limited sensor intel they had could not provide the confidence necessary that a small team would be successful in overcoming the odds and disadvantages stacked against them. Without real-time information that could be acted on immediately by the squad and its leadership, it would be far too dangerous to attempt any type of decisive action where flexibility and adaptability would be required.
Yes: Because of sustained investments in high performance sensor development and manufacturing within the USA. The US Army has maintained global technology overmatch and superiority in fielding critical intelligence at the farthest echelons. Teams such as Johnson’s can trust that they will maintain combat overmatch even while outnumbered and working in complex environments because of the situational understanding achieved through the use of sensors and their enabling technologies.
“We belong to the best military in the world. We have the best weaponry, the best intel, the best technology,” Johnson said, “and we have the best men. Let’s go!”
[Editor’s Note: The narrative above is a work of fiction; the names of the individuals portrayed in it are not based on real people.]
Dr. Richard Nabors is 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), Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.
The Mad Scientist Initiative brings together cutting-edge leaders and thinkers from the technology industry, research laboratories, academia, and across the military and Government to explore the impact of potentially disruptive technologies. Much like Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type (illustrated above), these transformational game changers have the potential to impact how we live, create, think, and prosper. Understanding their individual and convergent impacts is essential to continued battlefield dominance in the Future Operational Environment. In accordance with The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, we have divided this continuum into two distinct timeframes:
The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (Now through 2035):
The period where our adversaries can take advantage of new technologies, new doctrine, and revised strategic concepts to effectively challenge U.S. military forces across multiple domains. Game changers during this era include:
• Robotics: Forty plus countries develop military robots with some level of autonomy. Impact on society, employment. Vulnerable: To Cyber/Electromagnetic (EM) disruption, battery life, ethics without man in the loop. Formats: Unmanned/Autonomous; ground/air vehicles/subsurface/sea systems. Nano-weapons. Examples: (Air) Hunter/killer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) swarms; (Ground) Russian Uran: Recon, ATGMs, SAMs.
• Artificial Intelligence: Human-Agent Teaming, where humans and intelligent systems work together to achieve either a physical or mental task. The human and the intelligent system will trade-off cognitive and physical loads in a collaborative fashion.
• Swarms/Semi Autonomous: Massed, coordinated, fast, collaborative, small, stand-off. Overwhelm target systems. Mass or disaggregate.
• Internet of Things (IoT): Trillions of internet linked items create opportunities and vulnerabilities. Explosive growth in low Size Weight and Power (SWaP) connected devices (Internet of Battlefield Things), especially for sensor applications (situational awareness). Greater than 100 devices per human. Significant end device processing (sensor analytics, sensor to shooter, supply chain management). Vulnerable: To Cyber/EM/Power disruption. Privacy concerns regarding location and tracking. Sensor to shooter: Accelerate kill chain, data processing, and decision-making.
• Space: Over 50 nations operate in space, increasingly congested and difficult to monitor, endanger Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT)
GPS Jamming/Spoofing: Increasingly sophisticated, used successfully in Ukraine. Anti Satellite: China has tested two direct ascent anti-satellite missiles.
The Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050):
The period marked by significant breakthroughs in technology and convergences in terms of capabilities, which lead to significant changes in the character of warfare. During this period, traditional aspects of warfare undergo dramatic, almost revolutionary changes which at the end of this timeframe may even challenge the very nature of warfare itself. Game changers during this era include:
• Hyper Velocity Weapons: Rail Guns (Electrodynamic Kinetic Energy Weapons): Electromagnetic projectile launchers. High velocity/energy and space (Mach 5 or higher). Not powered by explosive. No Propellant: Easier to store and handle. Lower Cost Projectiles: Potentially. Extreme G-force requires sturdy payloads. Limiting factors: Power. Significant IR signature. Materials science. Hyper Glide Vehicles: Less susceptible to anti-ballistic missile countermeasures.
• Directed Energy Weapons: Signature not visible without technology, must dwell on target. Power requirements currently problematic. Potential: Tunable, lethal, and non-lethal. Laser: Directed energy damages intended target. Targets: Counter Aircraft, UAS, Missiles, Projectiles, Sensors, Swarms. Radio Frequency (RF): Attack targets across the frequency spectrum. Targets: Not just RF; Microwave weapons “cook targets,” people, electronics.
• Synthetic Biology: Engineering / modification of biological entities Increased Crop Yield: Potential to reduce food scarcity. Weaponization: Potential for micro-targeting, Seek & destroy microbes that can target DNA. Potentially accessible to super-empowered individuals. Medical Advances: Enhance soldier survivability. Genetic Modification: Disease resistant, potentially designer babies and super athletes/soldiers. Synthetic DNA stores digital data. Data can be used for micro-targeting. CRISPR: Genome editing.
• Information Environment: Use IoT and sensors to harness the flow of information for situational understanding and decision-making advantage.
In envisioning Future Operational Environment possibilities, the Mad Scientist Initiative employs a number of techniques. We have found Crowdsourcing (i.e., the gathering of ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals assists us in diversifying thoughts and challenging conventional assumptions) to be a particularly effective technique. To that end, we have published our latest, 2-page compendium of Potential Game Changershere — we would like to hear your feedback regarding them. Please let us know your thoughts / observations by posting them in this blog post’s Comment box (found below, in the Leave a Reply section). Alternatively, you can also submit them to us via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you in advance for your contributions!
The Mad Scientist Initiative recently facilitated a workshop with thought leaders from across the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, other Government agencies, industry, and academia to address the unknown, unknowns (i.e., Black Swans) and the known, knowns (i.e., Pink Flamingos) to synthesize cross-agency thinking about possible disruptions to the Future Operational Environment.
Black Swans: In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s original context, a black swan (unknown, unknowns) is an event or situation which is unpredictable, but has a major effect. For this conference, we used a looser definition, identifying possibilities that are not likely, but might have significant impacts on how we think about warfighting and security.
Pink Flamingos: Defined by Frank Hoffman, Pink Flamingos are the known, knowns that are often discussed, but ignored by Leaders trapped by organizational cultures and rigid bureaucratic decision-making structures. Peter Schwartz further describes Pink Flamingos as the “inevitable surprise.” Digital photography was a pink flamingo to Kodak.
At the workshop, attendees identified the following Black Swans:
• Naturally Occurring Disaster: These events (i.e., Carrington Event — solar flare frying solid state electronics, super volcano eruptions, earthquake swarms, etc.) would have an enormous impact on the Army and its ability to continue to operate and defend the nation and support national recovery operations. While warning times have increased for many of these events, there are limited measures that can be implemented to mitigate the devastating effects of these events.
• Virtual Nations: While the primacy of Westphalian borders has been challenged and the power of traditional nation-states has been waning over the last decade, some political scientists have assumed that supranational organizations and non-state actors would take their place. One potential black swan is the emergence of virtual nations due to the convergence of blockchain technologies, crypto-currency, and the ability to project power and legitimacy through the virtual world. Virtual nations could be organized based on ideologies, business models, or single interests. Virtual nations could supersede, supplement, or compete with traditional, physical nations. The Army of the future may not be prepared to interact and compete with virtual nations.
• Competition in Venues Other than Warfare (Economic, Technological, Demographic, etc.) Achieving Primacy: In the near future, war in the traditional sense may be less prevalent, while competitions in other areas may be the driving forces behind national oppositions. How does the Army need to prepare for an eventuality where armed conflict is not as important as it once was?
• Alternate Internet — “Alternet”: A distinct entity, separate from the general commercial internet, only accessible with specific corresponding hardware. This technology would allow for unregulated and unmonitored communication and commerce, potentially granting safe haven to criminal and terrorist activities.
At the workshop, attendees identified the following Pink Flamingos:
• Safe at Home: Army installations are no longer the sanctuaries they once were, as adversaries will be able to attack Soldiers and families through social media and other cyberspace means. Additionally, installations no longer merely house, train, and deploy Soldiers — unmanned combat systems are controlled from home installations -— a trend in virtual power that will increase in the future. The Army needs a plan to harden our installations and train Soldiers and families to be resilient for this eventuality.
• Hypersonics: High speed (Mach 5 or higher) and highly maneuverable missiles or glide vehicles that can defeat our air defense systems. The speed of these weapons is unmatched and their maneuverability allows them to keep their targets unknown until only seconds before impact, negating current countermeasures.
• Generalized, Operationalized Artificial Intelligence (AI):Artificial intelligence is one of the most prominent pink flamingos throughout global media and governments. Narrow artificial intelligence is being addressed as rapidly as possible through ventures such as Project MAVEN. However, generalized and operationalized artificial intelligence – that can think, contextualize, and operate like a human – has the potential to disrupt not only operations, but also the military at its very core and foundation.
• Space/Counterspace: Space is becoming increasingly congested, commercialized, and democratized. Disruption, degradation, and denial in space threatens to cripple multi-domain warfare operations. States and non-state actors alike are exploring options to counter one another, compete, and potentially even fight in space.
• Quantum Sciences: Quantum science – communication, computing, and sensing – has the potential to solve some intractable but very specific problem sets. Quantum technology remains in its infancy. However, as the growth of qubits in quantum computing continues to expand, so does the potentiality of traditional encryption being utterly broken. Quantum sensing can allow for much more precise atomic clocks surpassing the precision timing of GPS, as well as quantum imaging that provides better results than classical imaging in a variety of wavelengths.
• Bioweapons/Biohacking: The democratization of bio technology will mean that super-empowered individuals as well as nation states will have the ability to engineer weapons and hacks that can augment friendly human forces or target and degrade enemy human forces (e.g., targeted disease or genetic modifications).
• Personalized Warfare: Warfare is now waged on a personal level, where adversaries can attack the bank accounts of Soldiers’ families, infiltrate their social media, or even target them specifically by their genetics. The Army needs to understand that the individual Soldier can be exploited in many different ways, often through information publicly provided or stolen.
• Deep Fakes/Information Warfare: Information warfare and “fake news” have played a prominent role in global politics over the last several years and could dominate the relationship between societies, governments, politicians, and militaries in the future operational environment. Information operations, thanks to big data and humanity’s ever-growing digital presence, are targeted at an extremely personal and specific level. One of the more concerning aspects of this is an artificial intelligence-based human image/voice synthesis technique known as deep fakes. Deep fakes can essentially put words in the mouths of prominent or trusted politicians and celebrities.
• Multi-Domain Swarming: Swarming is often thought about in terms of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), but one significant pink flamingo is swarming taking place across multiple domains with self-organizing, autonomous aerial, ground, maritime (sub and surface), and even subterranean unmanned systems. U.S. defense systems on a linear modernization and development model will not be capable of dealing with the saturation and complexity issues arising from these multi-domain swarms.
• Lethal Autonomy: An autonomous system with the ability to track, target, and fire without the supervision or authority of a human in/on the loop. The U.S. Army will have to examine its own policy regarding these issues as well as our adversaries, who may be less deterred by ethical/policy issues.
• Tactical Nuclear Exchange: While strategic nuclear war and mutually assured destruction have been discussed and addressed ad nauseam, not enough attention has been given to the potential of a tactical nuclear exchange between state actors. One tactical nuclear attack, while not guaranteeing a nuclear holocaust, would bring about a myriad of problems for U.S. forces worldwide (e.g., the potential for escalation, fallout, contamination of water and air, and disaster response). Additionally, a high altitude nuclear burst’s electromagnetic pulse has the potential to fry solid state electronics across a wide-area, with devastating results to the affected nation’s electrical grid, essential government services, and food distribution networks.
Leaders must anticipate these future possibilities in determining the character of future conflicts and in force design and equipping decisions. Using a mental model of black swans and pink flamingos provides a helpful framework for assessing the risks associated with these decisions.
(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present a new post by returning guest blogger Dr. Richard Nabors addressing the four key practices of innovation. Dr. Nabors’ previous guest posts discussed how integrated sensor systemswill provide Future Soldiers with the requisite situational awareness to fight and win in increasingly complex and advanced battlespaces, and how Augmented and Mixed Reality are the critical elements required for these integrated sensor systems to become truly operational and support Soldiers’ needs in complex environments.)
For the U.S. military to maintain its overmatch capabilities, innovation is an absolute necessity. As noted in The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, our adversaries will continue to aggressively pursue rapid innovation in key technologies in order to challenge U.S. forces across multiple domains. Because of its vital necessity, U.S. innovation cannot be left solely to the development of serendipitous discoveries.
The Army has successfully generated innovative programs and transitioned them from the research community into military use. In the process, it has identified four key practices that can be used in the future development of innovative programs. These practices – identifying the need, the vision, the expertise, and the resources – are essential in preparing for warfare in the Future Operational Environment. The recently completed Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) program provides us with a contemporary use case regarding how each of these practices are key to the success of future innovations.
1. Identifying the NEED:
To increase speed, precision, and accuracy of a platform lethality, while at the same time increasing mission effectiveness and warfighter safety and survivability.
As the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) noted in its Advanced Engagement Battlespace assessment, future Advanced Engagements will be…
… compressed in time, as the speed of weapon delivery and their associated effects accelerate enormously;
… extended in space, in many cases to a global extent, via precision long-range strike and interconnectedness, particularly in the information environment;
… far more lethal, by virtue of ubiquitous sensors, proliferated precision, high kinetic energy weapons and advanced area munitions;
… routinely interconnected – and contested — across the multiple domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber; and
… interactive across the multiple dimensions of conflict, not only across every domain in the physical dimension, but also the cognitive dimension of information operations, and even the moral dimension of belief and values.
Identifying the NEED within the context of these future Advanced Engagement characteristics is critical to the success of future innovations.
The first-generation FLIR systems gave a limited ability to detect objects on the battlefield at night. They were large, slow, and provided low-resolution, short-range images. The need was for greater speed, precision, and range in the targeting process to unlock the full potential of infrared imaging. Third generation FLIR uses multiband infrared imaging sensors combined with multiple fields of view which are integrated with computer software to automatically enhance images in real-time. Sensors can be used across multiple platforms and missions, allowing optimization of equipment for battlefield conditions, greatly enhancing mission effectiveness and survivability, and providing significant cost savings.
2. Identifying the VISION:
To look beyond the need and what is possible to what could be possible.
As we look forward into the Future Operational Environment, we must address those revolutionary technologies that, when developed and fielded, will provide a decisive edge over adversaries not similarly equipped. These potential Game Changers include:
• Laser and Radio Frequency Weapons – Scalable lethal and non-Lethal directed energy weapons can counter Aircraft, UAS, Missiles, Projectiles, Sensors, and Swarms.
• Swarms – Leverage autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence to generate “global behavior with local rules” for multiple entities – either homogeneous or heterogeneous teams. • Rail Guns and Enhanced Directed Kinetic Energy Weapons (EDKEW) – Non explosive electromagnetic projectile launchers provide high velocity/high energy weapons. • Energetics – Provides increased accuracy and muzzle energy. • Synthetic Biology – Engineering and modification of biological entities has potential weaponization. • Internet of Things – Linked internet “things” create opportunity and vulnerability. Great potential benefits already found in developing U.S. systems also create a vulnerability. • Power – Future effectiveness depends on renewable sources and reduced consumption. Small nuclear reactors are potentially a cost-effective source of stable power.
Understanding these Future Operational Environment Game Changers is central to identifying the VISION and looking beyond the need to what could be possible.
The 3rd Gen FLIR program struggled early in its development to identify requirements necessary to sustain a successful program. Without the user community’s understanding of a vision of what could be possible, requirements were based around the perceived limitations of what technology could provide. To overcome this, the research community developed a comprehensive strategy for educational outreach to the Army’s requirement developers, military officers, and industry on the full potential of what 3rd Gen FLIR could achieve. This campaign highlighted not only the recognized need, but also a vision for what was possible, and served as the catalyst to bring the entire community together.
3. Identifying the EXPERTISE:
To gather expertise from all possible sources into a comprehensive solution.
Human creativity is the most transformative force in the world; people compound the rate of innovation and technology development. This expertise is fueling the convergence of technologies that is already leading to revolutionary achievements with respect to sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware.
Identifying the EXPERTISE leads to the exponential convergence and innovation that will afford strategic advantage to those who recognize and leverage them.
The expertise required to achieve 3rd Gen FLIR success was from the integration of more than 16 significant research and development projects from multiple organizations: Small Business Innovation Research programs; applied research funding, partnering in-house expertise with external communities; Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) initiatives, working with manufacturers to develop the technology and long-term manufacturing capabilities; and advanced technology development funding with traditional large defense contractors. The talented workforce of the Army research community strategically aligned these individual activities and worked with them to provide a comprehensive, interconnected final solution.
4. Identifying the RESOURCES:
To consistently invest in innovative technology by partnering with others to create multiple funding sources.
The 2017 National Security Strategy introduced the National Security Innovation Base as a critical component of its vision of American security. In order to meet the challenges of the Future Operational Environment, the Department of Defense and other agencies must establish strategic partnerships with U.S. companies to help align private sector Research and Development (R&D) resources to priority national security applications in order to nurture innovation.
The development of 3rd Gen FLIR took many years of appropriate, consistent investments into innovations and technology breakthroughs. Obtaining the support of industry and leveraging their internal R&D investments required the Army to build trust in the overall program. By creating partnerships with others, such as the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and ManTech, 3rd Gen FLIR was able to integrate multiple funding sources to ensure a secure resource foundation.
The successful 3rd Gen FLIR program is a prototype of the implementation of an innovative program, which transitions good ideas into actual capabilities. It exemplifies how identifying the need, the vision, the expertise and the resources can create an environment where innovation thrives, equipping warriors with the best technology in the world. As the Army looks to increase its exploration of innovative technology development for the future, these examples of past successes can serve as models to build on moving forward.
See our Prototype Warfare post to learn more about other contemporary innovation successes that are helping the U.S. maintain its competitive advantage and win in an increasingly contested Operational Environment.
Dr. Richard Nabors is 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), Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.
(Editor’s Note: Beginning today, the Mad Science Laboratory will publish a monthly post listing the most compelling articles, books, podcasts, videos, and/or movies that the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Mad Scientist Initiative has come across during the previous month. In this anthology, we will address how each of these works either informs or challenges our understanding of the Future Operational Environment. We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!)
1. Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, by Paul Scharre, Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security.
One of our favorite Mad Scientists, Paul Scharre, has authored a must read for all military Leaders. This book will help Leaders understand the definitions of robotic and autonomous weapons, how they are proliferating across states, non-states, and super-empowered individuals (his chapter on Garage Bots makes it clear this is not state proliferation analogous), and lastly the ethical considerationsthat come up at every Mad Scientist Conference. During these Conferences, we have discussed the idea of algorithm vs algorithm warfare and what role human judgement plays in this version of future combat. Paul’s chapters on flash war really challenge our ideas of how a human operates in the loop and his analogies using the financial markets are helpful for developing the questions needed to explore future possibilities and develop policies for dealing with warfare at machine speed.
April 2018 marked the fifth anniversary of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Earlier this month, 82 countries and numerous NGOs also convened at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, Switzerland, where many stressed the need to retain human control over weapons systems and the use of force. While the majority in attendance proposed moving forward this November to start negotiations towards a legally binding protocol addressing fully autonomous weapons, five key states rejected moving forward in negotiating new international law – France, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Mad Scientist notes that the convergence of a number of emerging technologies (synthetic prototyping, additive manufacturing, advanced modeling and simulations, software-defined everything, advanced materials) are advancing both the feasibility and democratization of prototype warfare, enabling and improving the engineering of autonomous weapons by non-state actors and super-empowered individuals alike. The genie is out of the bottle – with the advent of the Hyperactive Battlefield, advanced engagements will collapse the decision-action cycle to mere milliseconds, granting a decisive edge to the side with more autonomous decision-action.
Mad Scientist Elsa Kania addresses the People’s Republic of China’s apparent juxtaposition between their diplomatic commitment to limit the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons systems and the PLA’s active pursuit of AI dominance on the battlefield. The PRC’s decision on lethal autonomy and how it defines the role of human judgement in lethal operations will have tactical, operational, and strategic implications. In TRADOC’s Changing Character of Warfare assessment, we addressed the idea of an asymmetry in ethics where the differing ethical choices non-state and state adversaries make on the integration of emerging technologies could have real battlefield overmatch implications. This is a clear pink flamingo where we know the risks but struggle with addressing the threat. It is also an area where technological surprise is likely, as systems could have the ability to move from human in the loop mode to fully autonomous with a flip of a switch.
While this article focuses primarily on a higher-level philosophical interpretation of human vs. machine (or artificial intelligence, being, etc.), the core arguments and discussion remain relevant to an Army that is looking to increase its reliance on artificial intelligence and robotics. Technological advancements in these areas continue to trend toward modeling humans (both in form and the brain). However, the closer we get to making this a reality, the closer we get to confronting questions about consciousness and artificial humanity. Are we prepared to face these questions earnestly? Do we want an artificial entity that is, essentially, human? What do we do when that breakthrough occurs? Does biological vs. synthetic matter if the being “achieves” personhood? For additional insights on this topic, watch Linda MacDonald Glenn‘s Ethics and Law around the Co-Evolution of Humans and AI presentation from the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 25-26 Jul 17.
The Army, and society as a whole, is continuing to offload certain tasks and receive pieces of information from artificial intelligence sources. Future Army Leaders will be heavily influenced by AI processing and distributing information used for decision making. But how much trust should we put in the information we get? Is it safe to be so reliant? What should the correct ratio be of human/machine contribution to decision-making? Army Leaders need to be prepared to make AI one tool of many, understand its value, and know how to interpret its information, when to question its output, and apply appropriate context. Elon Musk has shown his support for this documentary and tweeted about its importance.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, this film visualizes a future world where most of society is consumed by a massive online virtual reality “game” known as the OASIS. As society transitions from the physical to the virtual (texting, email, skype, MMORPG, Amazon, etc.), large groups of people will become less reliant on the physical world’s governmental and economic systems that have been established for centuries. As virtual money begins to have real value, physical money will begin to lose value. If people can get many of their goods and services through a virtual world, they will become less reliant on the physical world. Correspondingly, physical world social constructs will have less control of the people who still inhabit it, but spend increasing amounts of time interacting in the virtual world. This has huge implications for the future geo-political landscape as many varied and geographically diverse groups of people will begin congregating and forming virtual allegiances across all of the pre-established, but increasingly irrelevant physical world geographic borders. This will dilute the effectiveness, necessity, and control of the nation-state and transfer that power to the company(ies) facilitating the virtual environment.
As if Boston Dynamic’s SpotMini isn’t creepy enough, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the University of Minnesota are developing a flexible, soft robot inspired by squid and other invertebrates that Soldiers can create on-demand using 3-D printers on the battlefield. Too often, media visualizations have conditioned us to think of robots in anthropomorphic terms (with corresponding limitations). This and other breakthroughs in “soft,” polymorphic, printable robotics may grant Soldiers in the Future Operational Environment with hitherto unimagined on-demand, tailorable autonomous systems that will assist operations in the tight confines of complex, congested, and non-permissive environments (e.g., dense urban and subterranean). Soft robotics may also prove to be more resilient in arduous conditions. This development changes the paradigm for how robotics are imagined in both design and application.
If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the Future Operational Environment, please forward it (along with a brief description of why its potential ramifications are noteworthy to the greater Mad Scientist Community of Action) to our attention at: email@example.com — we may select it for inclusion in our next edition of “The Queue”!
For additional insights into the Mad Scientist Initiative and how we continually explore the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry, and government, check out this Spy Museum’s SPYCAST podcast.
(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.
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.
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. 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.
• 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.
• 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:
– 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.
(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following post by repeat guest blogger Mr. Victor R. Morris. Strap in and prepare yourselves for a mind-expanding discussion on the competition field’s application of quantum field theory to political warfare and the extended battlefield!
Mr. Morris’ previous post addressing the cross-domain effects of human-machine networks may be read here.)
The competition field is a field of fields. It is the unification of physical, information, electromagnetic and cyber, political warfare, and extended military battle fields manifested through cross-field synergy and information feedback loop.
The concept applies quantum field theory to political warfare and the “extended battlefield,” where Joint and multinational systems are the quanta of these fields, prone to excitable states like field quanta. In quantum mechanics, “quanta” refers to the minimum amount of physical entity involved in an interaction, like a photon or bit. The concept also unites the “Gray Zone” with the political warfare field interacting with the extended military battlefield.
Multi-domain battle and gray zone phenomena result from interactions in the extended military battle and political warfare fields. In quantum field theory, “interactions” refer to particles and corresponding underlying quantum fields. The competition field is the fundamental starting point for strategy design and system of systems thinking.
War/conflict, “Gray Zone,” and peace manifest based on uncertain, yet probability-determined interactions that drive decision-making, effects, and learning to continue the feedback loop of finite information. In the competition field, competition is relative or relational to information. Information does not measure what is known, but the probabilities of something. The competition field correlates the scientific and granular notions of information with the Operational Environment’s fields (also called domains) and physical systems during interactions. Systems are quantized like subatomic particles in the form of Centers of Gravity (COG), subsystems, critical factors, flows, nodes, and entities.
System and particle interactions are uncertain and not deterministic predictions described in exporting security as preventive war strategy and Newtonian physics. Measures short of war and war itself (i.e., violent or armed competition) are interactions in the competition field based on convergence, acceleration, force, distance, time, and other variables. Systems or things do not enter into relations; relations ground the notion of the system.
The information environment is also a field of fields. It exists with the physical, electromagnetic, cyberspace, and space-time fields in the competition field. In Joint doctrine, this is the holistic operational environment. Quantum mechanic’s granularity, relationality, and uncertainty of this field are described in the cognitive, informational, and physical dimensions.
These dimensions or fields include the quanta of human beings, Internet of Things (IoT), data, and individual or group decision-making. The cognitive dimension encompasses the minds of those who transmit, receive, and respond to or act on information.
The cognitive dimension is the most important component of the information environment and influences decision-making in the competition field. The scientific notion of information and probability of occurrence measurement are the largest contributors to understanding quantum physics and the concept of competition.
Colonel John Boyd, a military strategist, was a student of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and studied military history to see where concepts overlapped and diverged. He knowingly or unknowingly described quantum mechanic’s postulates when he critiqued Clausewitz’s center of gravity concept. He suggested finding the thing that allows the organic whole to stay connected and breaking down those connections.
In theories of quantum gravity, that “thing” is the quanta of gravity, hypothetically called a graviton. In this assessment, it is the quanta of competition. The quanta of competition are not in competition; they are themselves competition and are described by links and the relation they express. The quanta of competition are also suited for quantum biology, since they involve both biological and environmental objects and problem sets.
Additionally, what Clausewitz described as polarity, intelligence, and friction are information at the quantum state. Position, momentum, spin, and the polarization of entangled particles are measured and correlated. The constant exchange of relevant and irrelevant information occurs as competition field quanta interact in the competition continuum.
In this vision, Joint and multinational systems are their own fields, oscillating in the political and extended military battle fields. Interactions manifest forces to exploit windows of superiority, seize the initiative, and attain positions of relative advantage in the competition continuum. Interagency and intergovernmental systems are also manifested in granular and relational manners to enable these objectives. This is only possible through combination, cooperation, and information.
The competition field attempts to explain the relationship between the holistic operational environment and physical systems bridging quantum mechanics and geostrategic competition constructs.
Clausewitz said, “War is merely a continuation of policy by other means.” Policy is a continuation of processes and events between interactions. Lethal or non-lethal effects are based on the measurement of possible alternatives enumerated by reciprocal information and the ability to make decisions in the competition field.
Victor R. Morris is a civilian irregular warfare and threat mitigation instructor at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Germany.
(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,
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.
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.
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them, into the impossible.” — Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 20th Century British science fiction writer, futurist, and inventor
In envisioning Future Operational Environment possibilities, the Mad Scientist Initiative employs the following techniques:
• Crowdsourcing: Gathering ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals assists us in diversifying thoughts and challenging conventional assumptions
• Edge Cases: Examining what is at the extreme possible regarding new and emerging technologies allows us to contextualize the future
• Historical Analogy: Comparing past events to current and future possibilities allows us to imagine the transformational and sometimes radical changes the Army of the Future may experience
• Story Telling: Creative fictional writing and narrative building that helps us explore how technologies are employed and operationalized
While each of these techniques have their own unique merits, Mad Scientist has found that Story Telling serves us especially well in facilitating the exploration of future possibilities. As Mr. Peter David addresses in his Small Wars Journal article entitled “Science Fiction vs. Science Funding: Comparing What We Imagine to What We Invent,” well-written science fiction provides us with more than just a litany of speculative scientific and technological advances. It takes these advances and wickers them seamlessly within an engaging plot. Characters actually employ these advances, enabling us to visualize their effects on both the individual and society as a whole.
In November 2016, Mad Scientist launched its first Science Fiction Writing Competition with the topic “Warfare in 2030 to 2050.” We sought out unconventional thinkers and solicited their unique perspectives — we were not disappointed! With over 150 submissions from authors in 10 different countries around the globe, the diversity of input provided us with a wide variety of thoughts and ideas about warfare and the Future Operational Environment. Through the art of Story Telling, the Army was able to visualize the known, probable, and possible challenges and opportunities that the future holds.
Mad Scientist singled out Mr. Mathison Hall‘s short story entitled “Patrolling the Infosphere” for recognition at our Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle 2030-2050 Conference, co-sponsored by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on 25-26 July 2017. The following is an excerpt from his winning submission:
I step into my exoskeleton, my link-suit hooking into the inside of the exoskel. “All systems charged and functional. Left knee joint operating at partial strength, but combat ready,” the exoskel’s voice calmly reports. They hit my knee hard three patrols ago. The contractor jury-rigged it to function…partially. I can still run up to forty-miles-an-hour and jump to the third floor windows, but the outside of the joint started vibrating and pulling oddly to the right on patrol this morning. It’ll be fun trying to hoof it in a one-hundred and fifty-five pound exoskel plus another sixty pounds of gear, weapons, and ammo with my own knee power on the left side if that thing gives out.
Angels, let’s go, I think to myself. My two synched drones lift off the charging shelf and lock into my exoskel’s shoulders. The suit hums softly and each step clinks lightly as I line up with the rest of the squad for our final pre-combat checks.
Staff Sergeant Nguyen’s exoskel head turns and looks over us. I can see her face through the clear polymer face shield. She has a sly smile. I’ve got to hand it to her, she loves patrolling.
“Second squad online and ready,” her voice projects over our intercoms.
“Copy second squad. We have a good synch here in the company operations center. Information operations and intel are both online and monitoring. Your Cyber Force bubbas are up and running ready to save your hides. Air Force drones are airborne and you’ve got priority of fires from one Navy railgun. No news feeds right now. There’s at least one Russian cube-sat up there watching our sector, but it’s not projecting over any social media yet. We’ve let Fort Meade know, and they should have it down soon. Tell us when you’re ready to step and we’ll start chatting.”
That’s my drinking buddy, Coder Second Class Hawkins, for you. He never passes up a chance to say in fifty words what can be said in ten. Makes him a good drinking buddy, especially when he gets going. I like to give him crap for being the only Cyber Force hacker deployed in our sector. His whole service spends most of their careers stateside. But no one doubts that they’re the main effort.
Chatting…damn. He and his reach-back squad in Maryland are going to start lighting up the news feeds and social media soon. Lucia’s going to be pissed. I bet she’s watching right now from Fayetteville. Let’s see, how many hours ahead of the East Coast are we? Five? She probably hasn’t left for work at the intel fusion cell on base yet. Probably at home getting Cindy ready for school and watching #DCo3dBCT82ndAirborne right now, monitoring the Russian cube-sat feed and our chatter at the same time. I bet Fort Meade gets the cube-sat down right about the time we’re wrapping up our patrol, as usual.
“Second squad ready to step.” Staff Sergeant Nguyen.
“Copy, second squad. The public affairs specialist is up and transmitting. We’ve got a foothold into the local internet exchange point, and we’ve got good visual on the whole town from the drones. No abnormal activity. Go ahead and step.”
We leave the tent, the nine of us stepping into the scorching sunlight as two Chinese field hackers march across the courtyard in their suits. Their suits’ exoskels look suspiciously like ours…same design and functions and almost the same weapons systems. Suits look a little sleeker and newer; less used. Two headless mules, our ammo, water, and gear resupply drones, fall in behind us, their legs moving rhythmically and spider-like as their LIDAR sensors navigate the terrain in front of them and keep them locked on to us 20 yards to our rear. They follow us like four-legged mechanical spiders, crawling across the dusty, crumbling streets between our company’s firm base and the center of town…
Video envisioning the world described in Mr. Mathison Hall’s “Patrolling the Infosphere.”
“Exploring fictional futures frees our thinking from false constraints. It challenges us to wonder whether we’re even asking the right questions. It forces us to recognize that sometimes imagination is more important than analysis.”
For additional examples of how Story Telling provides us with provocative and unique insights into future possibilities regarding warfare and the Future Operational Environment, read the finalists from our recent Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas, hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.