Getting a handle on the advanced technologies that will cause the rules of everything from urban warfare to gender roles is one of the most underappreciated, yet critical, challenges faced by the U.S. national security community. It’s even more daunting when consumer electronic product cycles are measured in months, or just over a year, while military systems development cycles are still measured in decades for the biggest efforts. There is a sense that something is out of phase, at precisely the wrong time.
With a possible sequestration budget catastrophe looming and increasingly powerful civilian-engineered technologies with military applications in the hands of non-state actors, a crucial moment in the development, and understanding, of American power is emerging. This is all the more true as U.S. forces have left Iraq and are preparing to exit Afghanistan at the same time that strategists are calling for a “pivot” toward China and the Pacific. How the U.S. military and intelligence communities shape, or just come to grips with, future technologies will have a big impact on the future of the armed forces.
After more than a decade of overseas operations since Sept. 11, 2001, there is a needed moment of reassessment as to how to equip, train and even fund the military. By the same token, a similar reassessment of potential adversaries is inevitable. Both explorations can be informed by a better understanding of what technologies, present and future, will reshape the world in the coming decades.