212. A Scenario for a Hypothetical Private Nuclear Program

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s guest blog post by Mr. Alexander Temerev addressing the possible democratization and proliferation of nuclear weapons expertise, currently residing with only a handful of nation states (i.e., the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea).  We vetted this post with nuclear subject matter experts within our community of action (who wish to remain anonymous) – the following initial comments are their collective input regarding Mr. Temerev’s guest post that follows – read on!]

What is proposed below “is not beyond the realm of possibility and, with enough wise investment, rather feasible — there are no secrets left in achievement of the basic nuclear physics package, and there haven’t been for a while (the key being obtaining the necessary fissile material). A side note — I was a friend and school-mate of the apocryphal Princeton University Physics Undergraduate Student in 1978 who, as part of his final degree project, developed a workable nuclear weapons design with nothing more than the pre-Internet Science Library as a resource. They still talk about the visit from the FBI on campus, and the fact that his professor only begrudgingly gave him an A- as a final grade.”

“Considering the advances since then, it’s likewise no surprise that such a thing could be accomplished today with even greater ease, there remaining the issue of obtaining sufficient fissile material to warrant the effort. Of course, even failure in this regard, done artfully, could still accomplish a sub-critical reaction [aka “a fizzle“– an explosion caused by the two sub-critical masses of the bomb being brought together too slowly] resulting in a militarily (and psychologically) effective detonation. So, as my colleague [name redacted] (far more qualified in matters scientific and technical) points out, with the advances since the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, the opportunity to obtain the ‘Secret Sauce’ necessary to achieve criticality have likewise advanced exponentially. He has opined that it is quite feasible for a malevolent private actor, armed with currently foreseeable emerging capabilities, to seek and achieve nuclear capabilities utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based data and communications analysis modalities. Balancing against this emerging capability are the competing and ever-growing capabilities of the state to surveil and discover such endeavors and frustrate them before (hopefully) reaching fruition. Of course, you’ll understand if I only allude to them in this forum and say nothing further in that regard.”

“Nonetheless, for both good guy and bad, given enough speed and capacity, these will serve as the lever to move the incorporeal data world. This realization will move the quiet but deadly arms race in the shadows, that being the potential confluence of matured Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Quantum technologies at a point in the foreseeable future that changes everything. Such a confluence would enable the potential achievement of these, and even worse, WMD developmental approaches through big-data analysis currently considered infeasible. Conversely, state surveillance modes of the Internet would likewise profit through identifying clusters of seemingly unrelated data searches that could be analyzed to identify and frustrate malevolent actors”.

“It is quite conceivable, in this context, that the future of the Internet for our purposes revolves around one continuous game of cat and mouse as identities are sought and hidden between white hat and black hat players. A real, but unanticipated, version of Ray Kurtzweil’s singularity that nonetheless poses fundamental challenges for a free society. In the operational environment to 2050, cyber-operations will no longer be a new domain but one to be taken into account as a matter of course.”

“Once again, all credit goes to [my colleague] for providing the technical insight into this challenge, my contribution being entirely eccentric in nature. I believe the blog is worth publishing, provided that it serves as an opening for furthering discussion of the potential long-range implications such developments would pose.”

A Scenario for a Hypothetical Private Nuclear Program

Let’s assume there is a non-government actor willing to acquire nuclear weapons for some reason. Assume that the group has unlimited financing (or some significant amount of free and untraced money available — e.g., $1 billion in cryptocurrencies). What would be the best way for them to proceed, and what would be the most vulnerable points where they could be stopped?

Stealing existing nuclear weapons would probably not be an option (or will be of limited utility — see below). Modern nuclear devices are all equipped with PALs (permissive action links), rendering them unusable without unlocking codes (the key idea of PAL is removing some small amount of explosives from the implosion shell, different for each detonator – and compensating by adjusting precise timings when each detonator goes off; these timings are different for each device and can be released only by central command authority). Without knowing the entire set of PAL timings and the entire encrypted protocol between PAL controller and detonators, achieving a bona fide nuclear explosion is technically impossible. Some countries like Pakistan and perhaps North Korea do not possess sophisticated PAL systems for their devices; to compensate, their nuclear cores are tightly guarded by the military.

Fat Man Casing, Trinity Site / Source: Flickr by Ed Siasoco via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Therefore, even if weapon-grade nuclear materials are available (which is of course another near impossible problem), designing the nuclear explosive device de novo is still unavoidable. The principal design of nuclear weapons is not secret, and achieving the nuclear explosion is a clearly defined problem (in terms of timing, compression and explosion hydrodynamics) that can be solved by a small group of competent physicists. Indeed, the “Nth Country Experiment” by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1964 has shown that three bright physicists (without previous nuclear expertise) can deliver a plausible design for a working nuclear weapon (they were building an analogue of the Fat Man device, which is bulky and nearly undeliverable; today, more compact options should be pursued instead). A heavily redacted report is available online.

With modern computers, open information about nuclear weapons, some OSINT, and determination, the same feat could probably be accomplished in less than a year. (Some open source software and libraries that can be useful in such an endeavor, e.g., Castro for explosion hydrodynamics; there is also a guidebook for anyone with a deep interest in the field.) Many ideas for the critical part of the device – the neutron initiator — are also discussed in the open literature (here I will refrain from mentioning exact books and papers, but the information is still publicly available). Again, the task is clearly formulated — injecting the neutrons at the very precise moment during the explosion — this is only an engineering problem.

Assembling the device itself is no easy task; it requires precision engineering and the casting of high explosives, which cannot be done without significant pre-existing expertise. However, the brightest mechanical engineers and even explosives technicians can be legally hired on the open market, if not for the direct participation in the project, then for training and knowledge transfer for the project team. Private organizations have achieved even more complicated engineering feats (e.g., rocket engines at SpaceX), so this part looks feasible.

All current nuclear devices require periodic maintenance and re-casting of their plutonium pits with additional weapon-grade plutonium added every few years; otherwise their neutronic profile will gradually become too unfavorable to achieve a full nuclear explosion. If the group has acquired nuclear materials by stealing them, they will have to make use of them during the following few years. Nuclear programs of sovereign states, of course, have the entire weapon-grade plutonium production pipelines at their disposal, so the fresh plutonium is always available. This will be a much harder feat to achieve for a non-state actor. Ironically, the plutonium could be provided by disassembling PAL-equipped stolen or captured nuclear devices, which are less heavily guarded. While it is true that PAL will prevent their full scale explosion, they still can be the priceless source of weapon-grade plutonium.

Source: Nick Youngson via Picpedia, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Conclusion: Safeguarding weapon-grade nuclear materials is the highest priority, as the design details of nuclear devices are hardly a secret these days, and can be readily reproduced by many competent and determined organizations. Emergence of nuclear production pipelines (isotope separation, SILEX [Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation], plutonium separation, plutonium-producing reactors) should be monitored everywhere. Even PAL-equipped weapons need to be closely guarded, as they can be the sources of these materials. Groups and non-state actors willing to acquire nuclear capabilities without building the full production pipeline need to act fast and have the design and device prototypes (sans cores) ready before acquiring nuclear materials, as their utility is diminishing every year since acquisition.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

REMINDER: Don’t forget to join us tomorrow on-line at the Mad Scientist GEN Z and the OE Livestream Event! This event is open to all, on any device, anywhere (but is best streamed via a commercial, non-DoD network) — plan on joining us at 1330 EST on 21 February 2020 at: www.tradoc.army.mil/watch and engage in the discussion by submitting your questions and comments via this site’s moderated interactive chat room. You can also follow along on Twitter @ArmyMadSci. For more information, click here!

ALSO:  Help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the Operational Environment (OE) — join the 662 others representing 46 nations who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

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

Mr. Alexander Temerev is a consultant in complex systems dynamics and network analysis; he is CEO and founder of Reactivity – a boutique consulting company in Geneva, Switzerland.

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

210. “The Convergence” – Episode 3: Modernizing the Future Army with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the latest episode of “The Convergence” podcast, featuring an interview with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, Director of the Futures and Concepts Center, Army Futures Command. Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

In the latest episode of “The Convergence,” we talk with Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, currently the Director of the Futures and Concepts Center, U.S. Army Futures Command, at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Lt. Gen. Wesley has served in numerous operational units throughout his 34 year career, as well as on the National Security Council at the White House as the Director for Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy, and on the Army Staff as Deputy Director for Program Analysis and Evaluation (PAE) for the Army G8. Prior to taking over the Futures and Concepts Center, Lt. Gen. Wesley was the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. In this episode of “The Convergence,” we discuss multi-domain operations, modernization, and the future Army with Lt. Gen. Wesley.

Lt. Gen. Wesley’s military education includes the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Armor Officer Advanced Course, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the National War College, earning a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Lt. Gen. Wesley also holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Troy State University.

Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests… our next episode will feature Michael Kanaan, Director of Operations, U.S. Air Force / MIT Artificial Intelligence.

The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the operational environment — join the 642 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

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

209. Takeaways from the Mad Scientist Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist would like to thank everyone who participated in the Mad Scientist Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment Virtual Conference on 29 January 2020 — from our co-hosts at the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) International Army Programs Directorate (IAPD); to TRADOC’s Foreign Liaison Officer community and the U.S. Army liaison officers overseas who helped us identify and coordinate with international subject matter experts; to each of the briefers who presented their respective nations’ insightful perspectives on a diverse array of topics affecting the Operational Environment (OE); to our audience who attended virtually via the TRADOC Watch page’s interactive chat room and asked penetrating questions that significantly helped broaden our aperture on the OE and the changing character of warfare. Today’s post documents the key takeaways Mad Scientist captured from the conference — Enjoy!]

Our first Mad Scientist Virtual Conference focused on global perspectives of the operational environment. While our presenters represented only a small part of the globe, these countries do account for a significant percentage of global defense expenditures and have international defense related engagements and responsibilities.

As expected, we heard many similarities between the Operational Environment described by the United States Army and the presenters from France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Canada, and our NATO Panel. We also identified some interesting nuances in how potential challenges and threats are described and which ones are emphasized.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference — if they pique your interest, check out this conference’s Mad Scientist APAN (All Partners Access Network) page for the associated slides and video presentations (to be posted)!

1) Interoperability is key but increasingly difficult with uneven modernization and different policies for emerging technologies. Each country emphasized the future of coalition operations, but they also described interoperability in different ways. This ranged from the classic definition of interoperability of radios, firing data, and common operating pictures to tactical integration with a country’s units inside another country’s formations. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) add another level of difficulty to interoperability. Each country will develop their own AI policies outlining legal levels of autonomy and coding standards for identifying biases and ensuring transparency. How these different AI capabilities will interact in fast pace machine-to-machine collaboration is not clear.

2) Asymmetry of Ethics is a Pink Flamingo (known challenge without program to address it) Each country mentioned the developing and differing standards for AI. It was commonly understood that competition and conflict is speeding up but there is no clear consensus on what the tactical and operational advantages could be for an adversary that chooses to integrate AI in a more permissive manner than accepted by western armed forces. Also, lagging policy, regulations, and laws in the West create a possibility for overmatch by these potential adversaries. This is an area where experimentation with differing AI policies and approaches might identify the risks of strategic and technological surprise.

3) Weaponization of information to attack societies and their armed forces is the #1 described threat and it wasn’t even close. This is understandable as our European allies are closer geographically to the persistent Russian competition activities. The emphasis of this threat differs from the United States Army where we have focused and experimented around the idea of a return to high intensity conflict with a near–peer competitor. While each presenter discussed ongoing organizational, doctrinal, and capability changes to address the information environment, it was widely understood that this is a military problem without a military solution.

4) Climate change and mass migration are the conflict drivers of most concern. Human migration as a consequence of climate change will create new security concerns for impacted countries as well as neighboring regions and, due to European geography, seemed to be of greater concern than our focus on great power conflict.

5) Virtual training is increasingly important for Armies with decreasing defense budgets and the demand to improve training proficiencies. As realistic synthetic training becomes a reality, we can more readily transition troops trained for a host of contingencies in the virtual world to the rigors of diverse operations in the physical world. This Synthetic Training Environment may also facilitate Joint and inter-coalition training of geographically-disparate assets and formations, with the concomitant issue of interoperability to conduct combined training events in the future.

6) As society evolves and changes, so does warfare. Our presenters described several pressures on their societies that are not part of or are only tangentially mentioned in the U.S. Army’s operational narrative:

    • Declining demographics in western nations pose potential recruitment and reconstitution challenges.
    • Nationalism is rising and could result in an erosion of rules-based international order. If these systems break down, smaller nations will be challenged.
    • Authoritarian systems are rising and exporting technology to support other authoritarian governments. At the same time democratic systems are weakening.
    • Aging populations and slow growth economies are seeing a global shift of economic strength from the West to the East.

In the future, we will host another global perspectives conference that will include presenters from Asia and South America to further broaden our perspectives and identify potential blind spots from these regions. For now, we encourage the international community to continue to share their ideas by taking our Global Perspectives Survey. Preliminary findings were presented at this conference. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will publish the results of this survey in a series of assessments, starting in March…

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

… and a quick reminder that the U.S. Army Mission Command Battle Lab Futures Branch is also conducting its Command Post of the Future – 2040-2050 Writing Contest. Click here to learn more about suggested contest writing prompts, rules, and how to submit your entry — deadline for their writing contest is also 1 March 2020!

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

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

The second episode of “The Convergence” is out now! In this latest episode, we talk to Dr. Margarita Konaev, research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). Dr. Konaev has written extensively on such topics as Russian military innovation in emerging technologies, urban warfare in the Middle East, Russia, and Eurasia, as well as military applications of artificial intelligence.

Previously, Dr. Konaev was a Non-Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, a post-doctoral fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House. Before joining CSET, Dr. Konaev worked as a Senior Principal in the Marketing and Communication practice at Gartner. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University, and a B.A. from Brandeis University

Click here to listen to Dr. Konaev in our latest 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,…

…  and listen to our premier episode of “The Convergence” with Dr. Sean McFate.

  • The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to obtain a diversity of opinions regarding the changing character of warfare. You too can help Mad Scientist expand the U.S. Army’s understanding of the operational environment — join the 549 others who have already done so and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference SurveyCheck out our initial findings here and stay tuned to future blog posts on the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

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.

200. Broadening our Aperture on the Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Like many of our readers, Mad Scientist Laboratory is starting off the new year with a bit of introspection…. As we continue to focus on the Operational Environment (OE) and the changing character of warfare, we find ourselves wondering if we aren’t getting a little too comfortable and complacent with what we think we know and understand. Are we falling victim to our own confirmation biases, risking total surprise by something lurking just over the horizon, beyond our line of sight? To mitigate this, Mad Scientist has resolved to broaden our aperture on the OE this year. Today’s post describes several near term initiatives that will help expand our understanding of the full extent of OE possibilities to preclude our being sucker-punched. Help Mad Scientist by participating — share your ideas, pass on these opportunities to your colleagues, and actively engage in these events and activities! Happy 2020!]

Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment
The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative will co-host our first conference this year with the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) International Army Programs Directorate (IAPD) on 29 January 2020. Leveraging TRADOC’s Foreign Liaison Officer community to coordinate presentations by subject matter experts from their respective nations, this virtual, on-line conference will provide international perspectives on a diverse array of topics affecting the OE. Mark your calendar now to livestream this conference at www.tradoc.army.mil/watch, starting at 0830 EST (note that this link is not live until the conference).

Global Perspectives Conference Survey
In conjunction with the aforementioned conference, Mad Scientist is conducting an on-line survey querying your thoughts about the OE. We want your input, so take ~5 minutes to complete our short survey here. We will brief back our interim findings during the conference, then publish a blog post documenting the comprehensive survey results in February.  Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we will have gleaned from the international community regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS)
Seeking insights into a younger demographic’s perspectives on the OE, Mad Scientist will livestream presentations by fellows from The College of William and Mary in Virginia‘s PIPS Program on 21 February 2020. This program is designed to bridge the gap between the academic and foreign policy communities in the area of undergraduate education. PIPS research fellows identify emerging international security issues and develop original policy recommendations to address those challenges. Undergraduate fellows have the chance to work with practitioners in the military and intelligence communities, and present their work to policy officials and scholars at a year-end symposium in Washington, DC. Topic areas presented at the Mad Scientist livestream event will include weaponized information, artificial intelligence, and bio convergence — representing a year’s worth of research by each of the fellows.

The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest 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’s latest writing contest seeks to harness diverse intellects to mine new knowledge and imagine the possibilities of the OE in 2035.  This contest is open to everyone around the globe. We are seeking submissions of no more than 2000 words in length — nonfiction only, please!  Topics of interest include:

    • 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?

For additional information on this writing contest, click here. Deadline for submission is 1 March 2020, so start outlining your entry today!

By participating in each of these events, you will enhance the Mad Scientist Initiative’s understanding of the OE and help the U.S. Army prepare for an extended array of future possibilities.

 

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).

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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.