203. “The Convergence” – An Army Mad Scientist Podcast

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the premier episode of “The Convergence” podcast.  Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

The Army Mad Scientist Initiative is launching our very own podcast — “The Convergence.” After several years of successfully partnering on podcasts with West Point’s Modern War Institute, we were inspired to found our own with a distinct focus on divergent viewpoints, a challenging of assumptions, and insights from thought leaders and subject matter experts.

This podcast is another component of our wider effort to reach out to diverse groups and really open the aperture of our analysis and understanding of the operational environment. The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to get a diversity of opinions on the character of warfare. Like the Mad Scientist Laboratory and our conferences, the podcast will feature disruptive thinkers and world-class experts to expand the thinking and analysis of our Community of Action.

Dr. Sean McFate / Source: HarperCollins Publishers, photo by Will O’Leary

Our first episode features Dr. Sean McFate, foreign policy expert, author, and novelist. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Additionally, he serves as an Advisor to Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.

Source: HarperCollins Publishers

Dr. McFate’s newest book is The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder, which was picked by The Economist as one of their best books of 2019. It has been called “The Freakonomics of modern warfare.” In our podcast, Dr. McFate provides his opinions on the changing character of warfare, the rise of private military contractors, information warfare, and the effects these trends will have on the operational environment.

Dr. McFate’s career began as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he graduated from elite training programs such as the Jungle Warfare School in Panama and was also a Jump Master. He then became a private military contractor where, among his many experiences, he dealt with warlords in the jungle, raised armies for U.S. interests, rode with armed groups in the Sahara, conducted strategic reconnaissance for the extractive industry, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and helped prevent an impending genocide in east Africa.

Dr. McFate holds a BA from Brown University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lives in Washington, DC. For more information, see www.seanmcfate.com.

Click here to listen to Dr. McFate in our premier podcast episode of “The Convergence,”…

… stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests,…

… listen to the following MWI podcasts with these Mad Scientists:

… and don’t forget to take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

 

201. Brains and Brews

The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative recently partnered with the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) – Hampton Roads Agora (i.e., Greek for “a gathering place or assembly” and “the center of city life”) to have our first ever “Brains and Brews” event. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet with local entrepreneurs in the Defense Community at a local craft brewery in Norfolk, Virginia, to network and crowdsource thoughts on the Operational Environment (OE). Crowdsourcing is one of the ways the Mad Scientist Initiative envisions the future and this exercise let us connect with a diverse array of innovative individuals as well! Participants ranged from business developers, researchers, veterans, active-duty military, milspouses, students, and entrepreneurs.

This exercise was part of the Mad Scientist Initiative’s ongoing efforts to reach out to different communities to broaden our perspectives on the OE. This month we will host our first ever Global Perspectives of the Operational Environment event where we will have speakers from partner nations presenting their views on the OE. In November, we launched another crowdsourcing writing contest to obtain your insights on the future OE. Additionally, we’ll be engaging with The College of William & Mary in Virginia‘s fellows from the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) Program.

Amongst the fine libations quaffed and many engaging social interactions, we posed the following three questions with overlapping relevance to both the Mad Scientist Initiative and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. Here’s what our local brains had to say!

1) What technologies have the potential to revolutionize warfare in the Future Operational Environment (FOE)?

– Internet of Things – Your fridge will give you and your location away.

– Unmanned Systems – This gets discussed frequently inside the Army and in the Department of Defense as a whole, but it’s a hot button issue in the civilian sector as well.

– Artificial Intelligence (Prediction) – There are a myriad of machinations where AI and prediction can come into play for the military and commercial sector.

– Non-flammable Lithium Ion Batteries – How much does this change energy storage and distribution on the battlefield?

– Hypersonics – A game changer on the battlefield; perhaps in personal travel as well.

Automated operators – Automation or autonomy? In what functions? This is a thread worth pulling.

– Culture Change – The participant here notated that technology means very little without the culture changing to adapt to or in spite of it.

– 3-D Printing – Incredible implications for sustainment and logistics – including ammo and weaponry parts.

– Graphene – Consistently mentioned as a critical component in future tech and manufacturing.

– Alternative Power Sources – This can range from solar to ultra-high capacity batteries to mobile nuclear power.

– Cubesats and Commercial Sensing – Potential game changer regarding the democratization of space (in both presence and utility).

– Gravity Wave Sensors – With the proliferation of orbital sensors, the only place left to hide is beneath the sea, right? Not so – gravity wave sensors have the potential to expose assets beneath the sea, too!

– Bio Sensing – More specifically mentioned was the ability to measure and improve soldier performance and health.

– AR/VR – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have application to information sharing, training, communication, force design, and more.

– Service Member Resiliency – There are a multitude of technologies involved here (e.g., AR/VR, AI, real-time diagnostics) with the potential for psychological applications.

– Nanotech Advancements – Miniaturized everything!

– Quantum Computing/Sensing – Enormous amounts of capital and effort being poured into this technology area right now, globally.

– Lightsabers and Sharks with laser beams attached to their heads – Clearly the most groundbreaking technology brought up and totally doable! (We called an Uber for this individual!)

2) How can businesses and venture keep pace with rapid technological advancement?

More streamlined processes like SOFWERX. Rapid system integration that approves and gets data out to the warfighter quickly.

– More Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Other Transaction Authority (OTA) with Spiral Development (usually Government is Outpaced by Business).

– Target private sector and adapt to Government rather than seeking Government customer first.

– Be willing to pay industry bigger money for industry quality.

– Listen to what the customer is saying.

– More tech transfer to encourage innovation.

– Acquisition reform.

– Look to completely different industries for ideas.

– More of these events!

3) How can the Army enable businesses (start-ups, established, larger, smaller, etc.) to help us (the Army)?

– In the field testing/inventing.

– Easier transition from tech development to programs-of-record.

– Change flag officer incentive structure from one that incentivizes adherence to schedules to one that incentivizes operational readiness.

– Pair with Air Force to capitalize on AFWERX initiatives.

– Embrace non-traditional contracts that provide flexibility (i.e., SBIR Phase III, OTA, XTechSearch, etc.). Know your target – marketing!!

– Provide clear requirements.

– Learn from AFWERX’s mistakes/missteps to do it bigger/better.

– Leverage venture capital funding (outside capital).

– Kill the bureaucracy.

– The Department of Defense needs to sell their mission; is this “Cold War II” or not?

– Use excess ceiling on existing IT contracts for innovation and trials.

Some of the responses we received were helpful in confirming that we were thinking along the same lines as folks involved in designing, developing, and using these technologies and utilizing various contract vehicles, while other insights helped us challenge our assumptions and thinking.

This first ever “Brains and Brews” event was a fantastic success and the Mad Scientist Initiative is incredibly grateful to our partners for this event at the DEF and to all the insightful individuals who came out to share brains and brews with us. Be on the lookout for one of these events coming to your city when MadSci hits the road this year!

What are your takeaways from our questions and responses? What do you have to add? Did these add to your own thinking and planning on these issues?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

… and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

198. Integrating Artificial Intelligence into Military Operations

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to excerpt today’s post from Dr. James Mancillas‘ paper entitled Integrating Artificial Intelligence into Military Operations: A Boyd Cycle Framework (a link to this complete paper may be found at the bottom of this post). As Dr. Mancillas observes, “The conceptual employment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in military affairs is rich, broad, and complex. Yet, while not fully understood, it is well accepted that AI will disrupt our current military decision cycles. Using the Boyd cycle (OODA loop) as an example, “AI” is examined as a system-of-systems; with each subsystem requiring man-in-the-loop/man-on-the-loop considerations. How these challenges are addressed will shape the future of AI enabled military operations.” Enjoy!]

Success in the battlespace is about collecting information, evaluating that information, then making quick, decisive decisions. Network Centric Warfare (NCW) demonstrated this concept during the emerging phases of information age warfare. As the information age has matured, adversaries have adopted its core tenant — winning in the decision space is winning in the battle space.1 The competitive advantage that may have once existed has eroded. Additionally, the principal feature of information age warfare — the ability to gather, and store communication data — has begun to exceed human processing capabilities.2 Maintaining a competitive advantage in the information age will require a new way of integrating an ever-increasing volume of data into a decision cycle.

Future AI systems offer the potential to continue maximizing the advantages of information superiority, while overcoming limits in human cognitive abilities. AI systems with their near endless and faultless memory, lack of emotional vestment, and potentially unbiased analyses, may continue to complement future military leaders with competitive cognitive advantages. These advantages may only emerge if AI is understood, properly utilized, and integrated into a seamless decision process.

The OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act) Loop provides a methodical approach to explore: (1) how future autonomous AI systems may participate in the various elements of decision cycles; (2) what aspects of military operations may need to change to accommodate future AI systems; and (3) how implementation of AI and its varying degrees of autonomy may create a competitive decision space.3

Observe
The automation of observe can be performed using AI systems, either as a singular activity or as part of a broader integrated analysis. Systems that observe require sophisticated AI analyses and systems. Within these systems, various degrees of autonomy can be applied. Because observe is a combination of different activities, the degree of autonomy for scanning the environment may differ from the degree of autonomy for recognizing potentially significant events. Varying degrees of autonomy may be applied to very specific tasks integral to scanning and recognizing.

High autonomous AI systems may be allowed to select or alter scan patterns, times and frequencies, boundary conditions, and other parameters; potentially including the selection of the scanning platforms and their sensor packages. High autonomous AI systems, integrated into feedback systems, could also alter and potentially optimize the scanning process, allowing AI systems to independently assess the effectiveness of previous scans and explore alternative scanning processes.

Low autonomous AI systems might be precluded from altering pattern recognition parameters or thresholds for flagging an event as potentially significant. In this domain, AI systems could perform potentially complex analyses, but with limited ability to explore alternative approaches to examine additional environmental data.

When AI systems operate as autonomous observation systems, they could easily be integrated into existing doctrine, organizations, and training. Differences between AI systems and human observers must be taken into account, especially when we consider manned and unmanned mixed teams. For example: AI systems could operate with human security forces, each with potentially different endurance limitations. Sentry outpost locations and configurations described by existing Field Manuals may need to be revised to address differing considerations for AI systems, i.e., safety, degrees of autonomy, communication, physical capabilities, dimensions, and integration issues with human forces.

The potential for ubiquitous and ever-present autonomous AI observation platforms presents a new dimension to informational security. The possibility of persistent, covert, and mobile autonomous observation systems offer security challenges that we only have just begun to understand. Information security within the cyber domain is just one example of the emerging challenges that AI systems can create as they continue to influence the physical domain.

Orient
Orient is the processes and analyses that establish the relative significance and context of the signal or data observed. An observation in its original raw form is unprocessed data of potential interest. The orientation and prioritization of that observation begins when the observation is placed within the context of (among other things) previous experiences, organizational / cultural / historic frameworks, or other observations.

One of the principal challenges of today’s military leader is managing the ever-increasing flow of information available to them. The ease and low cost of collecting, storing, and communicating has resulted in a supply of data that exceeds the cognitive capacity of most humans.4 As a result, numerous approaches are being considered to maximize the capability of commanders to prioritize and develop data rich common operating pictures.5 These approaches include improved graphics displays as well as virtual reality immersion systems. Each is designed to give a commander access to larger and still larger volumes of data. When commanders are saturated with information, however, further optimizing the presentation of too much data may not significantly improve battlespace performance.

The emergence of AI systems capable of contextualizing data has already begun. The International Business Machine (IBM) Corporation has already fielded advanced cognitive systems capable of performing near human level complex analyses.6 It is expected that this trend will continue and AI systems will continue to displace humans performing many staff officer “white collar” activities.7 Much of the analyses performed by existing systems, i.e., identifying market trends or evaluating insurance payouts, have been in environments with reasonably understood rules and boundaries.

Autonomy issues associated with AI systems orientating data and developing situational awareness pictures are complex. AI systems operating with a high autonomy can: independently prioritize data; add or remove data from an operational picture; possibly de-conflict contradictory data streams; change informational lenses; and can set priorities and hierarchies. High autonomous AI systems could continuously ensure the operational picture is the best reflection of the current information. The tradeoff to this “most accurate” operational picture might be a rapidly evolving operational picture with little continuity that could possibly confound and confuse system users. This type AI might require a blind faith acceptance to the picture presented.

At the other end of the spectrum, low autonomous AI systems might not explore alternative interpretations of data. These systems may use only prescribed informational lenses, and data priorities established by system users or developers. The tradeoff for a stable and consistent operational picture might be one that is biased by the applied informational lenses and data applications. This type of AI may just show us what we want to see.

Additional considerations arise concerning future human-AI collaborations. Generic AI systems that prioritize information based on a set of standard rules may not provide the optimal human-AI paring. Instead, AI systems that are adapted to complement a specific leader’s attributes may enhance his decision-making. These man-machine interfaces could be developed over an entire career. As such, there may be a need to ensure flexibility and portability in autonomous systems, to allow leaders to transition from job to job and retain access to AI systems that are “optimized” for their specific needs.

The use of AI systems for the consolidation, prioritization, and framing of data may require a review of how military doctrine and policy guides the use of information. Similar to the development of rules of engagement, doctrine and policy present challenges to developing rules of information framing — potentially prescribing or restricting the use of informational lenses. Under a paradigm where AI systems could implement doctrine and policy without question or moderation, the consequences of a policy change might create a host of unanticipated consequences.

Additionally, AI systems capable of consolidating, prioritizing, and evaluating large streams of data may invariably displace the staff that currently performs those activities.8 This restructuring could preserve high level decision making positions, while vastly reducing personnel performing data compiling, logistics, accounting, and other decision support activities. The effect of this restructuring might be the loss of many positions that develop the judgment of future leaders. As a result, increased automation of data analytics, and subsequent decreases in the staff supporting those activities, may create a shortage of leaders with experience in these analytical skills and tested judgment.

Decide
Decide is the process used to develop and then select a course of action to achieve a desired end state. Prior to selecting a course of action, the military decision making process requires development of multiple courses of actions (COAs) and consideration of their likely outcomes, followed by the selection of the COA with the preferred outcome.

The basis for developing COA’s and choosing among them can be categorized as rules-based or values-based decisions. If an AI system is using a rules-based decision process, there is inherently a human-in-the-loop, regardless of the level of the AI autonomy. This is because human value judgments are inherently contained within the rule development process. Values-based decisions explore ends, ways, and means, through the lenses of feasibility and suitability, while also potentially addressing issues of acceptability and/or risk. Values-based decisions are generally associated with subjective value assessments, greater dimensionality, and generally contain some legal, moral, or ethical qualities. The generation of COA’s and their selection may involve substantially more nuanced judgments.

Differentiation of COAs may require evaluations of disparate value propositions. Values such as speed of an action, materiel costs, loss of life, liberty, suffering, morale, risk, and numerous other values often need to be weighed when selecting a COA for a complex issue. These subjective values, not easily quantified or universally weighted, can present significant challenges in assessing the level of autonomy to grant to AI decision activities. As automation continues to encroach into the decision space, these subjective areas may offer the best opportunities for humans to continue to contribute.

The employment of values-based or rules-based decisions tends to vary according to the operational environment and the level of operation. Tactical applications often tend towards rules-based decisions, while operational and strategic applications tend towards values-based decisions. Clarifying doctrine, training, and policies on rules-based and values-based decisions could be an essential element of ensuring that autonomous decision making AI systems are effectively understood, trusted, and utilized.

Act
The last element of the OODA Loop is Act. For AI systems, this ability to manipulate the environment may take several forms. The first form may be indirect, where an AI system concludes its manipulation step by notifying an operator of its recommendations. The second form may be through direct manipulation, both in the cyber and the physical or “real world” domains.

Manipulation in the cyber domain may include the retrieval or dissemination of information, the performance of analysis, the execution of cyber warfare activities, or any number of other cyber activities. In the physical realm, AI systems can manipulate the environment through mechanized systems tied into an electronic system. These mechanized systems may be a direct extension of the AI system or may be separate systems operated remotely.

Within the OODA framework, once the decision has been made, the act is reflexive. For advanced AI systems, there is the potential for feedback to be provided and integrated as an action is taken. If the systems supporting the decision operate as expected, and events unfold as predicted, the importance of the degree of autonomy for the AI system (to act) may be trivial. However, if events unfold unexpectedly, the autonomy of an AI system to respond could be of great significance.

Consider a scenario where an observation point (OP) is being established. The decision to set up the OP was supported by many details. Among these concerns were: the path taken to set up the OP, the optimal location of the OP, the expected weather conditions, and the exact time the OP would be operational. Under a strict out-of-scope interpretation, if any of the real world details differed from those supporting the original decision, they would all be viewed as adjustments to the decision, and the decision would be voided. Under a less restrictive in-scope interpretation, if the details closely matched the expected conditions, they would be viewed as adjustments to the approved decision, and the decision would still be valid.

High autonomous AI systems could be allowed to make in-scope adjustments to the “act”. Allowing adjustments to the “act” would preclude a complete OODA cycle review. By avoiding this requirement — a new OODA cycle — an AI system might outperform low autonomous AI elements (and human oversight) and provide an advantage to the high autonomous system. Low autonomous AI systems following the out-of-scope perspective would be required to re-initiate a new decision cycle every time the real world did not exactly match expected conditions. While the extreme case may cause a perpetual initiation of OODA cycles, some adjustments could be made to the AI system to mitigate some of these concerns. The question still remains to determine the level of change that is significant enough to restart the OODA loop. Ultimately, designers of the system would need to consider how to resolve this issue.

This is not a comprehensive examination of autonomous AI systems performing the act step of the OODA loop. Yet in the area of doctrine, training, and leadership, an issue rises for quick discussion. Humans often employ assumptions when assigning/performing an action. There is a natural assumption that real world conditions will differ from those used in the planning and authorization process. When those differences appear large, a decision is re-evaluated. When the differences appear small, a new decision is not sought, and some risk is accepted. The amount of risk is often intuitively assessed and depending on personal preferences, the action continues or is stopped. Due to the more literal nature of computational systems, autonomous systems may not have the ability to assess and accept “personal” risks. Military doctrine addressing command and leadership philosophies, i.e., Mission Command and decentralized operations, should be reviewed and updated, as necessary, to determine their applicability to operations in the information age.9

The integration of future AI systems has the potential to permeate the entirety of military operations, from acquisition philosophies to human-AI team collaborations. This will require the development of clear categories of AI systems and applications, aligned along axes of trust, with rules-based and values-based decision processes clearly demarcated. Because of the nature of machines to abide to literal interpretations of policy, rules, and guidance, a review of their development should be performed to minimize unforeseen consequences.

If you enjoyed this post, please review Dr. Mancillas’ complete report here;

… see the following MadSci blog posts:

… read the Crowdsourcing the Future of the AI Battlefield information paper;

… and peruse the Final Report from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy Conference, facilitated at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), 7-8 March 2017.

Dr. Mancillas received a PhD in Quantum Physics from the University of Tennessee. He has extensive experience performing numerical modeling of complex engineered systems. Prior to working for the U.S. Army, Dr. Mancillas worked for the Center For Nuclear Waste and Regulatory Analyses, an FFRDC established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to examine the deep future of nuclear materials and their storage.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


1 Roger N. McDermott, Russian Perspectives on Network-Centric Warfare: The Key Aim of Serdyukov’s Reform (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office (Army), 2011).

2 Ang Yang, Abbass Hussein, and Sarker Ruhul. “Evolving Agents for Network Centric Warfare,” Proceedings of the 7th Annual Workshop on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation, 2005, 193-195.

3 Decision space is the range of options that military leaders explore in response to adversarial activities. Competitiveness in the decision space is based on abilities to develop more options, more effective options and to develop and execute them more quickly. Numerous approaches to managing decision space exist. NCW is an approach that emphasizes information rich communications and a high degree of decentralized decisions to generate options and “self synchronized” activities.

4 Yang, Hussein, and Ruhul. “Evolving Agents for Network Centric Warfare,” 193-195.

5 Alessandro Zocco, and Lucio Tommaso De Paolis. “Augmented Command and Control Table to Support Network-centric Operations,” Defence Science Journal 65, no. 1 (2015): 39-45.

6 The IBM Corporation, specifically IBM Watson Analytics, has been employing “cognitive analytics” and natural language dialogue to perform “big data” analyses. IBM Watson Analytics has been employed in the medical, financial and insurance fields to perform human level analytics. These activities include reading medical journals to develop medical diagnosis and treatment plans; performing actuary reviews for insurance claims; and recommending financial customer engagement and personalized investment strategies.

7 Smith and Anderson. “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs”; Executive Office of the President, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy,” December 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/Artificial-Intelligence-Automation-Economy.PDF, (accessed online 5 March 2017).

8 Smith and Anderson. “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs”; Executive Office of the President, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy,” December 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/Artificial-Intelligence-Automation-Economy.PDF, (accessed online 5 March 2017).

9 Jim Storr, “A Command Philosophy for the Information Age: The Continuing Relevance of Mission Command,” Defence Studies 3, no. 3 (2003): 119-129.

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

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

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

Deadline for submission is 1 March 2020.

GUIDELINES

Nonfiction only.

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

• Maximum 2000 words/12 point font.

• Team or individual entries welcome.

TOPICS OF INTEREST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send your submissions and questions to:
usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil

194. CRISPR Convergence

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

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

Purpose:

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we prevent its use?

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

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

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

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

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

How do we recover once it is used?

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

Conclusion.

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

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s Approach to Exploitation

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

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

Preferred Conditions and Methods

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

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

Implications for the U.S. Army:

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

      Traditional Army threat paradigms may not be sufficient for competition.

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

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

… and read the following MadSci Laboratory blog posts:

A view of the Future: 2035-2050

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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

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

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

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

Signpost / Indicators of Change:

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

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

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

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

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

184. Blurring Lines Between Competition and Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemispheric Competition and Conflict: Over the last twenty years, Russia and China have been viewed as regional competitors in Eurasia or South-East Asia. These competitors will seek to undermine and fracture traditional Western institutions, democracies, and alliances. Both are transitioning to a hemispheric threat with a primary focus on challenging the U.S. Army all the way from its home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight. We can expect cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, the use of advanced information warfare such as deep fakes targeting units and families, and the possibility of small scale kinetic attacks during what were once uncontested administrative actions of deployment. There is no institutional memory for this threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to exercise MDO.

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

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

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

The Death of Authenticity:  New Era Information Warfare.