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!

208. Guns of August 2035 – “Ferdinand Visits the Kashmir”: A Future Strategic and Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post by guest bloggers Mike Filanowski, Ruth Foutz, Sean McEwen, Mike Yocum, and Matt Ziemann (collectively, Team RSM3 from the Army Futures Study Group Cohort VI in 2019), effectively uses storytelling to illustrate a conflict scenario in a Future Strategic and Operational Environment. Read on to learn how Team RSM3 developed this vignette, and the events that transpire to morph a hypothetical limited Asian conflict into one that ultimately embroils the U.S. Army in Large Scale Combat Operations with a near-peer competitor!]

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Future Strategic Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Operational Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

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

What are your thoughts about competition and conflict in the operational environment?  Take a few minutes and share your insights by completing our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Check out our initial findings here and stay tuned for future blog posts at the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what further insights we will have gleaned from this survey about operational environment trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors….

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

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

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

183. Ethics, Morals, and Legal Implications

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-sponsored the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas. Today’s post is excerpted from this conference’s Final Report and addresses how the speed of technological innovation and convergence continues to outpace human governance. The U.S. Army must not only consider how best to employ these advances in modernizing the force, but also the concomitant ethical, moral, and legal implications their use may present in the Operational Environment (see links to the newly published TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, and the complete Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference Final Report at the bottom of this post).]

Technological advancement and subsequent employment often outpaces moral, ethical, and legal standards. Governmental and regulatory bodies are then caught between technological progress and the evolution of social thinking. The Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference uncovered and explored several tension points that the Army may be challenged by in the future.

Space

Cubesats in LEO / Source: NASA

Space is one of the least explored domains in which the Army will operate; as such, we may encounter a host of associated ethical and legal dilemmas. In the course of warfare, if the Army or an adversary intentionally or inadvertently destroys commercial communications infrastructure – GPS satellites – the ramifications to the economy, transportation, and emergency services would be dire and deadly. The Army will be challenged to consider how and where National Defense measures in space affect non-combatants and American civilians on the ground.

Per proclaimed Mad Scientists Dr. Moriba Jah and Dr. Diane Howard, there are ~500,000 objects orbiting the Earth posing potential hazards to our space-based services. We are currently able to only track less than one percent of them — those that are the size of a smart phone / softball or larger. / Source: NASA Orbital Debris Office

International governing bodies may have to consider what responsibility space-faring entities – countries, universities, private companies – will have for mitigating orbital congestion caused by excessive launching and the aggressive exploitation of space. If the Army is judicious with its own footprint in space, it could reduce the risk of accidental collisions and unnecessary clutter and congestion. It is extremely expensive to clean up space debris and deconflicting active operations is essential. With each entity acting in their own self-interest, with limited binding law or governance and no enforcement, overuse of space could lead to a “tragedy of the commons” effect.1  The Army has the opportunity to more closely align itself with international partners to develop guidelines and protocols for space operations to avoid potential conflicts and to influence and shape future policy. Without this early intervention, the Army may face ethical and moral challenges in the future regarding its addition of orbital objects to an already dangerously cluttered Low Earth Orbit. What will the Army be responsible for in democratized space? Will there be a moral or ethical limit on space launches?

Autonomy in Robotics

AFC’s Future Force Modernization Enterprise of Cross-Functional Teams, Acquisition Programs of Record, and Research and Development centers executed a radio rodeo with Industry throughout June 2019 to inform the Army of the network requirements needed to enable autonomous vehicle support in contested, multi-domain environments. / Source: Army.mil

Robotics have been pervasive and normalized in military operations in the post-9/11 Operational Environment. However, the burgeoning field of autonomy in robotics with the potential to supplant humans in time-critical decision-making will bring about significant ethical, moral, and legal challenges that the Army, and larger DoD are currently facing. This issue will be exacerbated in the Operational Environment by an increased utilization and reliance on autonomy.

The increasing prevalence of autonomy will raise a number of important questions. At what point is it more ethical to allow a machine to make a decision that may save lives of either combatants or civilians? Where does fault, responsibility, or attribution lie when an autonomous system takes lives? Will defensive autonomous operations – air defense systems, active protection systems – be more ethically acceptable than offensive – airstrikes, fire missions – autonomy? Can Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) make decisions in line with Army core values?

Deepfakes and AI-Generated Identities, Personas, and Content

Source: U.S. Air Force

A new era of Information Operations (IO) is emerging due to disruptive technologies such as deepfakes – videos that are constructed to make a person appear to say or do something that they never said or did – and AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) that produce fully original faces, bodies, personas, and robust identities.2  Deepfakes and GANs are alarming to national security experts as they could trigger accidental escalation, undermine trust in authorities, and cause unforeseen havoc. This is amplified by content such as news, sports, and creative writing similarly being generated by AI/ML applications.

This new era of IO has many ethical and moral implications for the Army. In the past, the Army has utilized industrial and early information age IO tools such as leaflets, open-air messaging, and cyber influence mechanisms to shape perceptions around the world. Today and moving forward in the Operational Environment, advances in technology create ethical questions such as: is it ethical or legal to use cyber or digital manipulations against populations of both U.S. allies and strategic competitors? Under what title or authority does the use of deepfakes and AI-generated images fall? How will the Army need to supplement existing policy to include technologies that didn’t exist when it was written?

AI in Formations

With the introduction of decision-making AI, the Army will be faced with questions about trust, man-machine relationships, and transparency. Does AI in cyber require the same moral benchmark as lethal decision-making? Does transparency equal ethical AI? What allowance for error in AI is acceptable compared to humans? Where does the Army allow AI to make decisions – only in non-combat or non-lethal situations?

Commanders, stakeholders, and decision-makers will need to gain a level of comfort and trust with AI entities exemplifying a true man-machine relationship. The full integration of AI into training and combat exercises provides an opportunity to build trust early in the process before decision-making becomes critical and life-threatening. AI often includes unintentional or implicit bias in its programming. Is bias-free AI possible? How can bias be checked within the programming? How can bias be managed once it is discovered and how much will be allowed? Finally, does the bias-checking software contain bias? Bias can also be used in a positive way. Through ML – using data from previous exercises, missions, doctrine, and the law of war – the Army could inculcate core values, ethos, and historically successful decision-making into AI.

If existential threats to the United States increase, so does pressure to use artificial and autonomous systems to gain or maintain overmatch and domain superiority. As the Army explores shifting additional authority to AI and autonomous systems, how will it address the second and third order ethical and legal ramifications? How does the Army rectify its traditional values and ethical norms with disruptive technology that rapidly evolves?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

    • “Second/Third Order, and Evil Effects” – The Dark Side of Technology (Parts I & II) by Dr. Nick Marsella.
    • Ethics and the Future of War panel, facilitated by LTG Dubik (USA-Ret.) at the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle 2030-2050 Conference, facilitated at Georgetown University, on 25-26 July 2017.

Just Published! TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, 7 October 2019, describes the conditions Army forces will face and establishes two distinct timeframes characterizing near-term advantages adversaries may have, as well as breakthroughs in technology and convergences in capabilities in the far term that will change the character of warfare. This pamphlet describes both timeframes in detail, accounting for all aspects across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres to allow Army forces to train to an accurate and realistic Operational Environment.


1 Munoz-Patchen, Chelsea, “Regulating the Space Commons: Treating Space Debris as Abandoned Property in Violation of the Outer Space Treaty,” Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, No. 1, Art. 7, 1 Aug. 2018. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1741&context=cjil

2 Robitzski, Dan, “Amazing AI Generates Entire Bodies of People Who Don’t Exist,” Futurism.com, 30 Apr. 2019. https://futurism.com/ai-generates-entire-bodies-people-dont-exist