The Imperative of Waging Techno-Strategic War: Looking Back at #TechnologyInnovation

Leo Blanken, Doowan Lee, and Stephen Rodriguez

This article is part of a new series on The Strategy Bridge analyzing some of the issues surrounding the problem of #TechnologyInnovation.

The U.S. military has traditionally enjoyed a comfortable lead in the race for new battlefield technology since the end of World War II. In recent years, however, the rate of technology change has challenged the U.S. military’s ability to remain strategically superior to near peers while providing the warfighter with nimble and fiscally sustainable technology. This is a multifaceted problem. Some organizations across the Pentagon are focusing on exploring new technologies, while others seek to tackle acquisition reform, and futurists continue to opine about the battlefield of tomorrow. Moreover, few have attempted to synchronize these facets to focus on the needs of today’s warfighter. The essays in this special series seek to do so.

For the purposes of this series on The Strategy Bridge, we brought together a unique cross-functional team of military students from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Analysis Department, supported by academics and private-sector professionals to collectively tackle this question across a number of discrete areas. Taken as a whole, the pieces presented consider the broader techno-strategic cycle, spanning (1) the initial identification of emerging technology, (2) the intellectual effort to project how such technologies interact with strategy in the operational space, (3) the bureaucratic challenges surrounding adoption, and (4) issues of counter-measures, diffusion to rivals, and the endless search for tomorrow’s game changer that will supplant today’s. Some of the essays are broad in scope.

Kulczycki surveys the Department of Defense’s emerging panoply of innovation-focused organizations—ranging from traditional entities such as Defense Applied Research Projects Agency, to the more recent Defense Innovation Unit Experimental—and develops a heuristic framework that operational commands can use to accelerate the pace of innovation by knowing how to leverage existing innovation organizations.

Blanken and Davis report the findings and implications of a major Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories project on the issue of strategic latency—how the U.S. government should identify and leverage private sector technologies.

Others generate wholly new proposals to foster innovation across Department of Defense. Consider Telley, who sketches what an internal venture capital exchange might look like as a means to  make relevant funding sources openly available to entrepreneurial warfighters throughout the Department of Defense who need modest funds to test new concepts at home station or in the field.

Gojwosky et al. bring together special operators from five nations to examine how to overcome the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s institutional barriers to adopting cost-effective multilateral command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solutions.

These essays represent ongoing efforts at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Analysis Department to investigate operationally relevant emerging technology. These efforts must continue if defense officials are to create a competitive innovation landscape across the Services. Producing a collaborative ecosystem that fuses emerging technology with multifaceted operational challenges is an excellent start.  

Leo Blanken is an associate professor in the Defense Analysis Department of the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of Rational Empires: Institutional Incentives and Imperial Expansion and co-editor of Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure

Doowan Lee is on the Faculty of the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School and the Principal Investigator of the Remote Advise and Assist Program. 

Stephen Rodriguez is a Visiting Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, a Senior Fellow at New America’s International Security Program, and the Founder of One Defense.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the Naval Postgraduate School, the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or any part of the U.S. government.

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Header Image: Future War (Robert H. Latiff)