OMEGA

Earlier this year, I published a short story, OMEGA, co-written with Amir Husain, CEO and founder at SparkCognition. The narrative explores the nature of strategic surprise in the AI era, and how the US, as well as its European allies, might respond to such an upset in Europe. Exploring setbacks and failure is just one way such FICINT writing can help.

“Incoming!” shouted Piotr Nowak, a master sergeant in Poland’s Jednostka Wojskowa Komandosów special operations unit. Dropping to the ground, he clawed aside a veil of brittle green moss to wedge himself into a gap beneath a downed tree. He hoped the five other members of his military advisory team, crouched around the fist-shaped rock formation behind him, heard his shouts. To further reinforce Ukraine’s armed forces against increasingly brazen Russian military support for separatists in the eastern part of the country, Poland’s government had been quietly supplying military trainers. A pro-Russian military coup in Belarus two weeks earlier only served to raise tensions in the region – and the stakes for the JWK on the ground.

An instant later incoming Russian Grad rocket artillery announced itself with a shrill shriek. Then a rapid succession of sharp explosive pops as the dozen rockets burst overhead. Nowak quickly realized these weren’t ordinary fires.

Read more at the US Army Mad Scientist program’s blog.

Creative calls of duty

At least we all wore ties.

For writers and entertainment producers, such formality is a rare thing. But at a recent Atlantic Council event on art and the future of warfare, the seriousness of the subject warranted it. Joining award-winning science fiction author David Brin and Dave Anthony, producer of the blockbuster video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, our intent was to share how we viewed the future of warfare and what the creative cadre could do to help sharpen the thinking of creating alternative futures. One of the best steps is to take a closely held assumption and turn it on its head. Doing so should be both uncomfortable and exciting, and made easier by envisioning a world 30 years out, rather than 10 years.

As the 21st Century so far proved again and again, surprise is no longer a surprise. Moreover, how many times has somebody said out loud while reading a news headline, “You can’t make this up!” That is our future, and it is one that will require greater discipline, creativity and agility from the national security community. It is a concept the Atlantic Council takes seriously through its Strategic Foresight initiative, and it is worth paying close attention to.

Watch the Webcast of the Atlantic Council event.

Skating ahead of the puck, in space

In sport, it is harder to imagine equipment with a tougher life than a hockey puck. It survives on the ice because it is made from rubber. To an engineer like Dr. Peter Wegner, former head of the Defense Department’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space, it is a perfect model of resilience. An understanding of resilience is especially important when it comes to America’s national security policy toward military and commercial satellites.

Dr. Wegner, currently Director of Advanced Concepts at Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory, and Charles Miller, a former NASA advisor who is president of NexGen Space LLC, joined an American Security Project panel in Washington on Thursday to talk about the asymmetric threats to U.S. space assets. It’s a long list, from Chinese anti-satellite missiles to errant space junk to determined hackers. Given how fragile and vulnerable satellites are, and how dependent the military is upon them, America needs a far more robust launch capability in order to replace those systems when they are inevitably damaged or destroyed during a crisis. That has not happened yet, but it is certain to.

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Medium: Contractors on defense

The Industrial Age’s creations defined much of the thinking about 20th Century warfare. In the opening decades of the 21st Century, the influence of highly metabolic personal technology and electronic media is already unmistakable. Until recently, shipyards and aircraft production lines defined usable national power. Aircraft carriers and fighter still matter but they must share intellectual, and doctrinal, room with hackers and social media campaigns. A new era is upon Washington and the companies that supply the American defense and intelligence community. Power, and its suppliers, must change.

I’ve put up a new essay at Medium.com about the growth of the intelligence business and what the Edward Snowden case means for its future.

“During the Cold War, the heart of the aerospace and defense industry was in Southern California, where Jet Age engineers began remaking the American arsenal. The public kept pace with the change with one eye on the heavens. Overhead, they could look with pride at gleaming jetliners sharing the skies with bombers capable of striking targets inside the Soviet Union.

Since 2001, America’s defense companies evolved to take on new roles that followed an unprecedented increase in spending on private-sector defense services. The cutting edge of the defense business, focusing on the budget-rich intelligence world, has been out of sight for much of the country. The public gets glimpses of this reality, perhaps with an incongruous airplane-maker’s logo in a stale office park in suburban Virginia near the CIA. Amid the shadow wars and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the narrative of conflict and American business became intertwined in the formation of a new era for the defense industry.

Until, in an instant, a super-empowered defense contractor, Edward Snowden, opened a new window into the more than $50 billion world of intelligence contracting.”

Read the rest of the essay at Medium.com

Budgets used to be boring

Budgets used to be boring. Today they are the latest Beltway scorecard in the ideological back and forth over how to spend taxpayer dollars on initiatives or programs prized by Democrats and Republicans or an appropriations committee chairman and his putative rival from another state. This is the wrong way to look at how the current budget process will impact U.S. national security. The real impact, particularly on American competitiveness, comes from a lot more than a particular line item in the Defense Department budget. There is no better example of this than the defense industrial base.

See my latest post at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

The American arsenal at a crossroads

The defense industrial base is tied to American competitiveness in the 21st Century. For that reason, leaders in the private and public sector must take steps to thrive during a drawn out period of changing expectations while also remaining committed to keeping the country strong through innovation, long-term investment and disciplined management.

The defense industrial base comprises much of the country’s aerospace know-how and directly supports the military and intelligence community. Among the threats it faces are stop-and-go program budgeting, sequestration’s across-the-board cuts and instances of poor performance by both industry and government on some of the nation’s costliest and highest profile weapons programs. This dulls America’s innovation edge.

The defense industrial base also poses a test for the country’s resolve to improve our economic capability and resiliency while also strengthening our national security in obvious and not so obvious ways. There are, of course, other crucial components of American competitiveness that also need urgent attention.

Read the latest paper on the defense industrial base and American competitiveness at the American Security Project’s Web site.