Pentagon Embarks On An Effort To Find Where/How The U.S. Military Is Losing Their Technological Advantage; Future Of War: Small, Many, Disposable, Smart, Exquisite
Paul McLeary, writing in the February 28, 2015 edition of Defense News, writes that “the Pentagon’s top military leadership has been given theri marching orders — to move out on an ambitious war-gaming plan to rescue a skill-set that has “atrophied” in recent years,” according to an internal February 9, 2015 memorandum issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense, (DepSecDef) Robert Work
Mr. McLeary adds that, “the war-gaming effort fits into an increasingly expansive, interlinked Defense Innovation Initiative (DII), spearheaded by DepSecDef Work, and the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD/AT & L), Frank Kendall — to push the bureaucracy, and industry, to think critically about how and where the U.S. technological advantage is slipping.” The memo stresses that as part of his desire to “reinvigorate” war-gaming in the Department, “effort must be made to incorporate commercial and defense industry expertise in the larger war-gaming effort” in order to “ensure its vitality and flexibility.”
Mr. McLeary writes that “the war games that DepSecDef Work is proposing will look at three time horizons: near (five years), mid (five-15 years) and long (more than fifteen years), with the later being led by the Pentagon’s in-house think-tank — The Office Of Net Assessment.”
DepSecDef Work is planning to convene a “war-gaming summit.” Co-Chaired by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ADM. Sandy Winnefeld, to review his plan,” according to Defense News. The results of the summit, and the swift roll-out thereafter…will directly affect the the Fiscal 2017 budget,” DepSecDef Work said, “to ensure we have a strategy driven budget.” Mr. McLeary adds that, “a request for information (RFI), went out in December, 2014, to the Defense Industrial Base, for novel ideas in the realms of artificial intelligence, space, undersea and unmanned systems, air dominance, long-range strike, and other areas. A big part of the effort will involve reaching out to commercial tech firms and other companies that may not normally consider working with the Department of Defense (DoD), while also helping to inform the war-gaming process.” This reach out to commercial technology companies includes a push to involve leading edge technology companies in Silicon Valley.
The Future Of Warfare; Small, Many, Smart Versus Few/Exquisite?
This is a refreshing bit of good news coming out of DoD, and a commendable effort that is long overdue. Strategic and capability surprise on the battlefield have often meant defeat for the surprised — Japan after the dropping of the atomic bombs — and victory for the surpriser. But, as the late, great, Dr, George Heilmeier once wrote, “there is more to technological surprise than new systems, based on new science, or new technology. New systems can also be based on existing, or old technology. New systems can also be based on existing technology: old systems can be markedly upgraded to new technology ; or, old systems can be used in a radically new mission.” The Iraqi use and employment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) may fall into this category.
“But, there is something more,” Dr. Heilmeier wrote: “The real difference between the supriser, and the surprised, is usually not unique ownership of a new piece of technology. The key difference is in the recognition and awareness of the impact that technology, and the decisiveness in exploiting it.” “The system did not respond to early warnings of Sputnik 1, because we were too rigid to accommodate indications of impending surprise.”
More often than not, it is nor the adversary’s employment of a technology — we understand very well — surprising us on the battlefield; rather, it is the employment of a technology we understand very well, being employed by a clever adversary in a new/novel way that we don’t understand well and, did not foresee, or anticipate.
Speed, stealth, and precision employed in the first Gulf War came to be referred to as Shock And Awe. But, wars of the future may be characterized, as T.X. Hamres wrote in the July 16, 2014 issue of Analysis And Commentary, wrote, “while it was the right decision to pursue high end systems in the 1970s, dramatic improvements in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, biology, and nano-materials are changing the cost/effectiveness calculation in favor of the “many and simple” against the “few and complex.” The convergence of these technologies and the steady decrease in costs even as capabilities increase is rapidly expanding the destructive power, range, and precision of weapons that soon will be both widely available and relatively cheap. As Frank Hoffman has noted, we are putting ourselves on the wrong side of a self-imposed cost curve,” T.X. Hamres wrote.
Col. (ret.) Hamres concludes that “investment in highly capable and expensive new weapons systems is predicated on specific assumptions about the future. Unfortunately, it is a truism that one can never predict the future with certainty. Thus a hedging approach is more functional than a predictive approach. With the widespread commercial shift to small, many, and smart systems as a substitute for a few, exquisite systems, it is time for the United States to rethink its equipment procurement approach.”
“The critical military functions will remain – but how we accomplish them will change,” Col. Hamres contends. “Rather than investing everything in a single type of fighter or a long range bomber, it makes more sense to limit our buys of these systems and augment them with systems that conform to small, smart, and many. For missions like reconnaissance, strike, jamming, communications relay, and others, the United States needs to explore relatively cheap and even disposable systems.”
Col. (ret.) Hamres concludes. It is critical that we examine the few exquisite systems we are planning to buy – aircraft, ships, armor — and see if their missions could be accomplished by many, smart, cheap platforms. Given the inherent political advantages of large, complex systems, this will be a difficult step. The F-35 is a poster child for the difficultly of reconsidering a program of record. Built in 45 states at a cost of $399 B for 2,443 aircraft and with expected lifetime operating cost of $1 trillion, the F-35 has powerful Congressional support. Further, U.S. doctrine and powerful service constituencies heavily favor these exquisite systems. This is natural since doctrine and preferences are usually based on experience and current U.S. experience is based on exquisite systems. These two powerful factors will make it difficult to dispassionately examine other options. However, we must do so soon. Our experience with the F-35 shows that the decision to pursue a different path needs to be taken before the new system gains a powerful constituency that insists it be built regardless of its capability.”
New advances in quantum stealth and cloaking, swarms of suicide drones, the super-soldier on the battlefield and use of exoskeletons, autonomous systems that can interact on the battlefield — without human intervention — based on target activity, smart sea mines, novel employments of all types of drones, cyber war, and a pandemic type virus that can be downloaded from the Internet, hypersonic weapons that will necessarily compress decisions to to defend or engage….to mere seconds, identity management and biometrics that could render our ability to keep someone undercover and/or conduct clandestine and covert missions, and the list goes on. Lots to think about, V/R, RCP