China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion is provoking some anxiety in Washington. There are concerns the United States could be challenged, or even outright disadvantaged, in technological competition relative to the more integrated approach to innovation Chinese leaders are attempting to achieve. It is important to recognize both the parallels and distinctions between American and Chinese concepts and approaches that can clarify the character of this competitive challenge.
The degree of which humans can control the physical space will always be constrained by physics. However, the creative thinking that derives energy from the chaos of war to turn chance into opportunity is not bounded. The success of maneuver warfare is less dependent on the tools available, and more dependent on the creation of new ways to generate and exploit of tactical effects given all the tools available. Unsurprisingly, the major pivotal successes of the application battlespace technology have been the results of ingenious warfighting techniques that maximize the benefits of technological tools.
Art is what allows America to create extraordinary futures out of chaos. And art, once again, will allow America to achieve policy and military success out of science. America embraces and disciplines chaos to create strength and power. For “liberty is power,” John Quincy Adams said. “The nation blessed with the largest portion of liberty must in proportion to its numbers be the most powerful nation upon earth.” An artist who begins with a vision and nurtures and disciplines the power of chaos with a lightness of being and a firmness of mind, will be rewarded with the surprise of creating something that exceeds his or her original vision at the end.
Weinberger’s history of DARPA is an enthralling read and especially recommended for professionals in acquisition or research areas. It should appeal far beyond the defense community, it is perhaps the best institutional case study in innovation management and adaptive organizational design available.
The economic, social, and technological trends of the Information Age will undoubtedly have a big impact on the way that militaries fight. Yet, two things do not change: the nature of war, and the need to win. To win, militaries must move beyond the old methods of the Industrial Age. There is a need to develop capabilities in a more cost-efficient and operationally effective way. Militaries must leverage the power of networks, remain open to new ideas and continue to improve how they develop their people.
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.
Experimentation resources are hard to find as they are widely and obscurely scattered throughout the Department of Defense. They are all but invisible, and discovery learning, while necessary, is not sufficient for the scale on which progress is needed. Implementing a digital Department of Defense exchange for experimentation funding creates a conduit that moves information, provides a price, and enables prompt brokerage of the requisite transaction in order to meet the innovation demands of a multidomain battlefield.
This analysis does not seek to prove that any specific organization is superior to the other, rather it provides an initial framework to begin organizing the myriad of technological organizations that support the United States Government. Without specific technology case studies, a determination cannot be made whether any individual factor or category determines the success of the organization. However, this framework provides an initial understanding of these factors to help a potential customer leverage these organizations for rapid development and implementation of new technologies.
What’s missing is a strategy that accounts for latent and emerging technology-enabled threats and matches them with prioritized military requirements. Such a strategy would include an optimized mix of new and old technologies designed to exploit adversary vulnerabilities and minimize American weaknesses. There is reason for optimism in America’s potential to leverage technology for its own security as long as leaders make the hard choices around national priorities that will allow planners and strategists to engage technology with focus and purpose.
The U.S. military has 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.
While Russia and China are known for their lumbering civilian and military bureaucracies, both nations are nonetheless demonstrating that they can be nimble enough to accelerate certain technological developments, along with testing and evaluation. So far, both competitors have proven that they can take specific American elements and apply them to their own unique ecosystems. Nonetheless, using American-style institutional and procedural concepts is still a novel idea for the top-heavy ministries tasked with such breakthrough technological developments in both countries.
Directed-energy weapons could take armed aircraft to a new frontier in the capabilities they provide the joint force. Anti-personnel aerial lasers, specifically, have advantages making them superior to other accurate weapons because of their speed, greater accuracy, and maneuverability. If integrated into close air support and interdiction missions, directed-energy weapons would greatly enhance the operational effectiveness in each.
Despite having the strongest air force in the world at the conclusion of the First World War, Britain faced a prominent strategic threat posed by a sizable French bomber force and the creation of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. To counter the threat, the British created the world’s first integrated air defense system—a synchronized nexus comprised of radar to detect enemy aircraft, a command and control network to relay warnings, and fighter aircraft to challenge threats.
Analyzing the development of the German and British air forces between the world wars reveals the importance of crafting strategy, identifying associated requirements, and marshaling the required resources to turn requirements into capabilities. Factors beyond the state’s control often drive technological requirements. Structural factors demanding innovative responses include the technological progress of potential enemies and of civil society, as well as shifts in the state’s own geopolitical circumstances. Yet the task of responding to these structural factors—of translating the state’s desired security ends into military technological means—requires an intentional, collaborative, human effort. The development of specific airpower capabilities in Germany and Britain during the interwar years illustrates the role of strategic innovators as “system builders” and doctrine entrepreneurs who brave the gauntlets of government bureaucracy, industry, and academia to turn theory into capabilities.
The future of U.S. military competitiveness will depend upon the ability to remain a leader in innovation in these critical technologies through a national surge in science, while also building upon perhaps more enduring advantages in talent and training to advance innovation in concepts of operations.