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!)

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.

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.

 

197. The Arctic: An Emergent Zone of Great Power Competition

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present in today’s post two articles excerpted from last month’s OE Watch addressing BNU-1, China’s first observation satellite providing coverage of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and their high latitude (i.e., polar) equipment. Our near-peer competitors — China and Russia — understand the geo-strategic ramifications of global climate change and are positioning themselves for the coming race to tap the vast (and as of yet relatively unexploited) energy and mineral wealth of the Arctic. Similar signals, like Russia’s mini-subs planting a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole and deploying their first floating nuclear power plant to the Arctic coast are harbingers that the Arctic is an emergent zone of great power competition in the Operational Environment’s (OE’s) Era of Accelerated Human Progress.]

China continues to show interest and invest time, funding, and research in the polar regions. According to the following passage from Xinhuanet, China has her first polar satellite. The article reports that the BNU-1 has successfully obtained data on the polar regions and is conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite will promote research of the Earth’s polar regions and support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone.

Note that the Soviet Union/Russia launched a series of Molniya military communications satellites over the polar regions from 1965 to 2004. They used a high elliptical orbit to attain a long dwell time over these high latitude areas. These orbits are suited for Arctic and Antarctic communications similar to the geostationary satellites used over the equator. Russia now uses the updated Meridian satellite series over the polar regions. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s first polar observation satellite supports polar research,” Xinhua, 9 October 2019.

China’s first polar observation satellite, the BNU-1, has successfully obtained data on polar regions, according to the satellite’s chief scientist.

After nearly one month of in-orbit testing, the satellite is working normally and conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day, Cheng Xiao, the chief scientist, said at the China Symposium on Polar Science 2019. Cheng said the satellite data connection system allows scientists around the world to obtain polar observation data acquired by the satellite. Registered users can also propose new observation requirements.

The satellite continuously monitored a gigantic iceberg breaking away from the Amery Ice Shelf in east Antarctica in September, helping limit its impact on submerged buoys and investigation ships in the surrounding area. Cheng said the satellite will help reduce China’s reliance on foreign satellites for polar observation data. “The satellite’s spatial resolution reaches 75 meters, which offers more detailed information on the ice cover and the sea ice…”

The satellite will also support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite weighs 16 kg and is equipped with two cameras and one receiver. It has great significance in promoting the research of Polar Regions and global climate change.

China’s first ice breaker, Xue Long [Snow Dragon] doubles as a polar research vessel and has spent most of her time in the Arctic and Antarctic including over 20 annual Chinese Antarctic expeditions. The vessel was built in Soviet Ukraine shipyards in 1993. As the accompanying passage below from Xinhuanet discusses, Xue Long 2, built in China, will probably make the Antarctic voyage this year. China maintains the Taishan Station in Antarctica. As discussed in the following passage from Xinhuanet, the development of the Nanji 2 all-terrain amphibious polar vehicle will support the station and other polar research. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s New All-Terrain Vehicle to Join 36th Antarctic Expedition, Xinhuanet.com, 9 October 2019.

China’s self-developed all-terrain vehicle will set off to the South Pole, contributing to the country’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition.

The vehicle Nanji 2 (Antarctica No. 2), painted in red and yellow, was manufactured by Guizhou Jonyang Kinetics Co., Ltd. It was recently delivered to the Polar Research Institute of China in Shanghai.

Compared to previous generations, the new amphibious vehicle is equipped with an upgraded running system. It also applies new material and technologies to improve low-temperature performance and wear resistance, allowing it to work at minus 41 degrees Celsius. In addition, the vehicle has increased comfort for researchers with air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Its control system and other core components were all developed in China, said Lyu Qian, general manager of the manufacturer. The vehicle is multifunctional with strong transport capacity and good adaptability to complex terrain. It can undertake various missions, including personnel and materials transportation, sea, ice and land explorations, as well as search and rescue operations.

China is continuing to develop capabilities and acquire experience operating in the polar regions, making them formidable competitors in this space.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Our Arctic—The World’s Pink Flamingo and Black Swan Bird Sanctuary, by Mr. Frank Prautzsch.

Climate Change Laid Bare: Why We Need To Act Now by Ms. Sage Miller, as well as her “The Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Military” Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) Speaker Session presentation

The OE Watch, November issue, by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), featuring these two stories, in addition to “China Expands Gaofen Earth Observing Satellite Constellation” and other articles of interest.

 

193. Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Science Laboratory is pleased to excerpt below the Executive Summary from a DoD Biotechnologies for Health and Human Performance Council (BHPC) study group report entitled, Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD. This report, authored by Peter Emanuel, Scott Walper, Diane DiEuliis, Natalie Klein, James B. Petro, and James Giordano (proclaimed Mad Scientist); and published by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC CBC), culminates a year-long assessment to forecast and evaluate the military implications of machines that are physically integrated with the human body to augment and enhance human performance over the next 30 years. This report summarizes this assessment and findings; identifies four potential military-use cases for new technologies in this area; and makes seven recommendations on how the U.S. should proceed regarding human/machine enhancement technologies. Enjoy!]

A DoD BHPC study group surveyed a wide range of current and emerging technologies relevant to assisting and augmenting human performance in many domains. The team used this information to develop a series of vignettes as case studies for discussion and analysis including feasibility; military application; and ethical, legal, and social implication (ELSI) considerations.

Ultimately, the team selected four vignettes as being technically feasible by 2050 or earlier. The following vignettes are relevant to military needs and offer capabilities beyond current military systems:

    • ocular enhancements to imaging, sight, and situational awareness;
    • restoration and programmed muscular control through an optogenetic bodysuit
      sensor web;
    • auditory enhancement for communication and protection; and
    • direct neural enhancement of the human brain for two-way data transfer.

Although each of these technologies will offer the potential to incrementally enhance performance beyond the normal human baseline, the BHPC study group analysis suggested that the development of direct neural enhancements of the human brain for two-way data transfer would create a revolutionary advancement in future military capabilities. This technology is predicted to facilitate read/write capability between humans and machines and between humans through brain-to-brain interactions. These interactions would allow warfighters direct communication with unmanned and autonomous systems, as well as with other humans, to optimize command and control systems and operations. The potential for direct data exchange between human neural networks and microelectronic systems could revolutionize tactical warfighter communications, speed the transfer of knowledge throughout the chain of command, and ultimately dispel the “fog” of war. Direct neural enhancement of the human brain through neuro-silica interfaces could improve target acquisition and engagement and accelerate defensive and offensive systems.

Although the control of military hardware, enhanced situational awareness, and faster data assimilation afforded by direct neural control would fundamentally alter the battlefield by the year 2050, the other three cyborg technologies are also likely to be adopted in some form by warfighters and civil society. The BHPC study group predicted that human/machine enhancement technologies will become widely available before the year 2050 and will steadily mature, largely driven by civilian demand and a robust bio-economy that is at its earliest stages of development in today’s global market. The global healthcare market will
fuel human/machine enhancement technologies primarily to augment the loss of functionality from injury or disease, and defense applications will likely not drive the market in its later stages. The BHPC study group anticipated that the gradual introduction of beneficial restorative cyborg technologies will, to an extent, acclimatize the population to their use.

The BHPC study group projected that introduction of augmented human beings into the general population, DOD active duty personnel, and near-peer competitors will accelerate in the years following 2050 and will lead to imbalances, inequalities, and inequities in established legal, security, and ethical frameworks. Each of these technologies will afford some level of performance improvement to end users, which will widen the performance gap between enhanced and unenhanced individuals and teams. The BHPC study group analyzed case studies and posed a series of questions to drive its assessment of the impact to DOD programs, policies, and operations. The following are the resulting recommendations (not listed in order of priority):

1. DOD personnel must conduct global assessments of societal awareness and perceptions of human/machine enhancement technologies. A generalized perception exists in the United States that our adversaries are more likely to adopt technologies that U.S. populations are reluctant or unwilling to field because of ethical concerns. However, the attitudes of our adversaries toward these technologies have never been verified. Societal apprehension following the introduction of new technologies can lead to unanticipated political barriers and slow domestic adoption, irrespective of value or realistic risk. Assessment of global attitudes will predict where it may be difficult to introduce new technologies because of sociopolitical barriers to adoption and when adversarial adoption of offset technologies may likely be more readily accepted.

2. U.S. leadership should use existing and newly developed forums (e.g., NATO) to discuss impacts to interoperability with allied partners as we
approach the year 2050.
This will help develop policies and practices that will maximize interoperability of forces.
The rapid development pace of cyborg technologies has implications for interoperability of military forces. The DOD requirement to maintain interoperability with allied partners within NATO and other global alliance frameworks warrants the undertaking of efforts to align cyborg assets with existing allied partnership doctrine.

3. DOD should invest in the development of dynamic legal, security, and ethical frameworks under its control that anticipate emerging technologies. The current legal, security, and ethical frameworks are insufficient because of the speed at which these technologies are developing in the United States and other nations around the world (allied and adversarial). Therefore, the DOD should support the development of forward-leaning policies (internal and external) that protect individual privacy, sustain security, and manage personal and organizational risk, while maximizing defined benefits to the United States and its allies and assets. Because operationalization of technology for national security is at the core of the DOD mission, these frameworks should be structured to be agile and responsive to new technologies developed within the United States or elsewhere.

4. Efforts should be undertaken to reverse negative cultural narratives of enhancement technologies. Across popular social and open-source media, literature, and film, the use of machines to enhance the physical condition of the human species has received a distorted and dystopian narrative in the name of entertainment. A more realistic and balanced (if not more positive) narrative, along with transparency in the government’s approach to technology adoption, will serve to better educate the public, mitigate societal apprehensions, and remove barriers to productive adoption of these new technologies.*   A more informed public will also help illuminate valid social concerns, such as those surrounding privacy, so that DOD personnel can develop mitigation strategies, whenever possible. Although not intrinsically a DOD mission, defense leadership should understand that negative public and social perceptions will need to be overcome, if these technologies are to be fielded.

Source: CIO Australia / Royal Australian Air Force

5. DOD personnel should conduct tabletop wargames and targeted threat assessments to determine the doctrine and tactics of allied and adversarial forces. Wargames are an established mechanism to gauge the impact of asymmetric technologies on tactics, techniques, and procedures. Tabletop exercises exploring varied scenarios of the integration and use of human/machine technologies by the United States or its adversaries will predict offset advantages, identify NATO and other allied organizational interoperability friction points, and inform senior military strategists and science and technology investors. DOD personnel should support these efforts using targeted intelligence assessments of this emerging field.

6. The U.S. Government should support efforts to establish a whole-of-nation approach to human/machine enhancement technologies versus a whole-of-government approach. Federal and commercial investments in these areas are uncoordinated and are being outpaced by Chinese research and development efforts, which could result in a loss of U.S. dominance in human/machine enhancement technologies within the projected timeframe of this study. Near-peer dominance in the commercial sector will place U.S. interests in the defense sector at a disadvantage and could lead to an offset disadvantage in the realm of human/machine enhancement by the year 2050. A national effort to sustain U.S. dominance in cyborg technologies is in the best interests of the DOD and the nation.

7. The DOD should support foundational research to validate human/ machine fusion technologies before fielding them and to track the long-term safety and impact on individuals and groups. The benefits afforded by human/machine fusions will be significant and will have positive quality-of-life impacts on humankind through the restoration of any functionality lost due to illness or injury. The military community will also see capability opportunities that will impact operations and training. As these technologies evolve, it is vital that the scientific and engineering communities move cautiously to maximize their potential and focus on the safety of our society. Commensurate investments in these areas will work to mitigate the misuse or unintended consequences of these technologies.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD complete report here.

… read the following related MadSci Lab blog posts:

… watch Dr. Alexander Kott‘s presentation The Network is the Robot, presented at the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, & Autonomy: Visioning Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference, at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, 8-9 March 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia.

… and see Hank Greely‘s presentation on Future Legal and Ethical Implications of Bio Technology from the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, at SRI International, 8-9 March 2018 in Menlo Park, California.

Disclaimer: The findings in this report are not an official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


* Wurzman R.; Yaden D.; Giordano J. Neuroscience Fiction as Eidola: Social Reflection and Neuroethical Obligations in Depictions of Neuroscience in Film. Camb Q Health Care Ethics-Neuroethics Now 2017, 26 (2), 292-312.