The Future the US Military is Constructing: a Giant, Armed Nervous System

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, gives a keynote address during the Naval Future Force Science and Technology (S&T) Expo, July 21, 2017. This is a slide from his presentation.

 

Service chiefs are converging on a single strategy for military dominance: connect everything to everything.

Leaders of the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines are converging on a vision of the future military: connecting every asset on the global battlefield.

That means everything from F-35 jets overhead to the destroyers on the sea to the armor of the tanks crawling over the land to the multiplying devices in every troops’ pockets. Every weapon, vehicle, and device connected, sharing data, constantly aware of the presence and state of every other node in a truly global network. The effect: an unimaginably large cephapoloidal nervous system armed with the world’s most sophisticated weaponry.

In recent months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff put together the newest version of their National Military Strategy. Unlike previous ones, it is classified. But executing a strategy requiring buy-in and collaboration across the services. In recent months, at least two of the service chiefs talked openly about the strikingly similar direction that they are taking their forces. Standing before a sea of dark- blue uniforms at a September Air Force Association event in Maryland, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said he had “refined” his plans for the Air Force after discussions with the Joint Chiefs “as part of the creation of classified military strategy.”

The future for the Air Force? The service needed to be more like a certain electric-car manufacturer.

“Every Tesla car is connected to every other Tesla car,” said Goldfein, referring to a presentation by Elon Musk about the ways his firm’s vehicles learn from their collective experience. “If a Tesla is headed down the road and hits a pothole, every Tesla that’s behind it that’s self-driving, it will avoid the pothole, immediately. If you’re driving the car, it automatically adjusts your shocks in case you hit it, too.”

Goldfein waxed enthusiastically about how Tesla was able to remotely increase the battery capacity of cars in the U.S.Southeast to facilitate evacuation before the recent hurricanes.

The idea borrows from the  “network centric warfare” concept that seized the military imagination more than a decade ago. But what leaders are today describing is larger by orders of magnitude. It’s less a strategy for integrating multiple networks into operations more efficiently than a plan to stitch everything, networks within networks, into a single web. The purpose: better coordinated, faster, and more lethal operations in air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.

So the Air Force is making broad investments in data sharing. Maj. Gen. Kimberly A. Crider, the service’s first data officer, issetting up a series of experimental tests in the Nevada desert at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, seeking to better understand “what happens when we actually connect into this resilient and agile network” said Goldfein. The Air Force’s current experimentation with next-generation light tactical attack aircraft are as much about hardware as networks, he said. “Not only what can I buy and what can they do, but more importantly, can they connect? Can they actually share? And can we tie it to a new network that’s based on sharable information that gets me beyond the challenges I have right now in terms of security?”

The Air Force is also fielding new connected devices. The handheld “Android Tactical Assault kit” or ATAK, designed with special operations forces, provides a common operational picture of everything going on — basically, doing what a huge command-and-control station used to do a few years ago. “What we determined was that there were so many devices on the battlefield that had information that we weren’t collecting. Rather than build a system to pull that in, we actually went to a commercial entity and they created an algorithm. It’s user-defined and it pulls in whatever data you need and puts it on Google Maps,” said Goldfein.

The Air Force used the device during this year’s hurricane relief efforts, sending rescue teams to people reaching out for help on social media, Goldfein said.

The Multi-Domain Army and Marine Corps

The U.S. Army, too, is investing big dollars into figuring out how to connect everything on the battlefield. An Army Research Lab program called the Internet of Battle of Things will be led by researchers at the University of Illinois, with help from the Universities of Massachusetts, multiple California State branches, Carnegie Mellon, and SRI International.

The Navy: “Network Everything to Everything”

Navy leaders, too, are eager to connect every object on the sea, land, air, space and cyberspace. This is no exaggeration. As Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, put it during theNavy’s Future Force Expo in Washington, D.C., in July, “I want to network everything to everything.”

This is necessary to preserve the U.S. Navy’s advantage, even if Richardson gets the larger 355-ship fleet he seeks — hardly a given in today’s industrial and budgetary landscape. Adversaries are building more and better ships and weapons, and even the U.S. superiority in orbital and terrestrial sensing is diminishing. The cost of launching a constellation of spy sats is dropping asthe satellites become smaller and launches become cheaper.

Interconnections

This push is too new, and still too developmental, to have attracted much concern from the public or Capitol Hill. But that will change. When Richardson’s remarks talk hit Twitter, arms-control watcher Jeffrey Lewis professed a touch of concern.

Certainly, “network everything to everything” sounds a bit like the setup for the Terminator franchise, wherein a fictional defense contractor, Cyberdyne Systems, convinces the Defense Department to link the U.S. arsenal to a single artificially intelligent entity. Skynet, of course, determines that humans are a threat to its existence and uses its ubiquitous command and control powers to launch a war on humankind.

Full article: The Future the US Military is Constructing: a Giant, Armed Nervous System (DefenseOne)

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