JUST IN: Report Names Seven Technologies to Dominate Future Battlefields
A new report has identified seven emerging technologies that will be critical in winning on the battlefields of the future.
The technologies are: secure and redundant communications; quantum technology; bioengineering; space-based technology; high-performance batteries; artificial intelligence and machine learning systems; and robotics, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report, “Seven Critical Technologies for Winning the Next War.”
When facing an unpredictable foe, future technologies need to focus on the “mechanisms that enable adoption of technologies faster,” rather than on a specific technology, Schuyler Moore, chief technology officer, U.S. Central Command, said during a discussion on the report at the Washington, D.C-based think tank April 18.
Moore said the seven technologies identified in the report serve as an umbrella under which iteration and different types of technologies can evolve.
“Your ability to … adopt the latest and greatest is going to define whether or not they’re successful,” Moore said. “Your ability to integrate it and put it into the field in a useful way [that] is faster than your competitors, that is what is going to define competitive advantage.”
Geof Kahn, senior counselor at Palantir Technologies, said: “I think we’re really bad at predicting what [future warfare] is going to look like.”
From the Gulf War to Iraq, and most recently Ukraine, the use of data is increasing, and intelligence has become more targeted, Kahn said. Observations from past and current conflicts have revealed data being used for more effective warfare and reduced human casualties, but also “blood and metal going back and forth,” he added. “And I think the takeaway … is that it depends on who is fighting.”
Dominating future battlefields will require a restructuring and acceleration of learning, said Colleen Laughlin, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board. “How are we going to master the approaches to the adoption and fielding of these technologies?”
Regardless of how exquisite the algorithm or piece of hardware, a friction point lies between the technology and where humans pick it up and apply their own intuition, Moore said.
“Their own understanding of semantics is so critically important to maintain. We think sometimes of technology as this light switch between human control over to technology control … but I don't think that actually reflects the reality of how these get deployed successfully.”
Human cognition and decision making is a “really important role” regardless of the type of technology they’re working with, Moore added.
Kahn said learning to meld man and machine will be a critical piece of adopting emerging technology. Drawing on pop culture, he referenced John Connor and the Terminator, offering a vision of two independently superior fighters learning to work together.
“And more importantly, John Connor learns to control the machine and how better they are together,” he said. “As we’re adopting all these emerging technologies, the key point of that movie is … as we are developing these things, making sure that we always have the human in the loop, making sure that we are the ones controlling the outcomes.”
Fiction is “one great way to think about the future with imagination,” said Chris Brose, chief strategy officer at Anduril Industries. “I find that I actually go back to the past.” History is brimming with periods of technological change, dating back to the Civil War, he said. Armies were grappling with the same questions, prompting doctrinal and conceptual changes.
“So the technology has changed, the country has changed, but I think there's a fundamental kind of human element here of how do you wrestle with a significant period of change, and marshal those changes to your advantage when so much of it is unknown, and all of your competitors are trying to do the same things?” he added.
The Defense Department and intelligence community need to focus on the problems rather than the tech, Brose said.
“We can talk about these broad categories of technology, but the questions for defense and national security comes back to what is it actually going to do for my mission?” he said. “There are no points for using artificial intelligence. It’s whether it actually generates a better outcome, a cheaper outcome, a more efficient outcome.”
Scaling new technology is another challenge for the Defense Department, with a gap existing between rapidly evolving capabilities and a rigid structure that doesn’t allow for rapid change, Moore said. Using as an examplethe Navy's Task Force 59 —which is experimenting with uncrewed surface vessels in the Middle East — she noted working with unmanned surface vessels, and watching the evolution of a kit considered exquisite six months prior eventually become irrelevant.
Moore said she has participated in “interesting discussions” about reframing programs of record to capabilities of record. “I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking of technology as an end state rather than as an enabler.”
Artificial intelligence, for example, is not a means to a final answer, but rather a tool for getting valuable human resources further down the road as a starting point, Moore said. “It’s worth asking the question of what … are you actually using it for?”
Algorithms have the ability to sift through work that could cut down on 30 to 40 percent of the workload of resources that could be reallocated, she added. But that requires understanding what the AI is actually good at.
“Ultimately, all of these different technologies come down to the question of automation and autonomy. As these kinds of technologies become more intelligent and more capable, they can start doing a lot of the work that we are currently using large numbers of human beings in very slow and very manual and frankly, very error intensive ways to perform. So it's a question of reallocating our limited amount of human capital to higher order functions,” Brose said.