It’s been a pretty busy period since midsummer, so I thought I would do a ‘roll-up’ RM of some of the highlights.
In late July, I participated in my sixth Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, CO. This one however, was intriguing due to the fact it was not held during an Obama Administration but rather with the new Trump Administration in power. While there were fewer Trump senior official’s due to the lack of appointments, there were a number of new Agency and Department heads in attendance. John Kelly, at the time Secretary of Homeland Security; Thomas Bossert, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security; Mike Pompeo, Director, CIA; Raymond Thomas, Commander US SOCOM; Daniel Coates, Director, National Intelligence; Mike Rogers, Commander, US Cyber Command and Director, National Security Agency; as well as, Joseph Dunford, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, all participated in the event.
A myriad of global issues, from Russia’s geopolitical game and hacking, the new Afghanistan strategy, cybersecurity, Syria, Iraq, China’s muscle flexing, among others, painted a complex, difficult and rapidly changing threat environment that policy makers were wrestling with. What was eye opening was the often divergent views of many senior officials from that of their President, especially with the role and danger they felt Russia played not only in the election, but globally. All agreed Russia’s actions required a strong response that had not been forthcoming under both the latter stages of the Obama Administration nor so far under Trump. Even Bossert, the White House point person, in response to a question of whether the Russians had paid a big enough price for their intervention in the election, stated “They’re not paying anything.” He also laid out an initial vision of a global cybersecurity deterrence policy.
- Growing concern for the need of a Bio Defense Strategy to counter weaponized synthetic diseases such as smallpox.
- In cyber, the “virtual and physical worlds are morphing together.”
- Bono’s One Foundation is working with SOCOM on CVE (countering violent extremism).
- Humanitarian relief is increasingly becoming part of national security.
- Tech has outstripped the legal system in the intelligence and privacy debate.
What was glaringly obvious at this year’s Forum was the often-scathing comments of many former administration officials regarding Trump and national security. Undercutting previously normal robust discussions of the many topics was, at times, the myopic hyper partisan Trump-Russia investigation. Next year should be even more fun!
Those of you interested in more details of the event can link to the agenda and video library of the sessions.
Early September brought a trip to London for the biennial Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI)/meeting — “the world’s leading event that brings together the global defense and security sector to innovate and share knowledge — DSEI represents the entire supply chain on an unrivalled scale.” Think of it as a sort of kinetic military version of the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) held in Vegas every January which I attended earlier this year.
However, aside from all the normal exhibits and seminars of ships, aircraft, drones, tanks, weapons, artillery; packaged as Air Zone, Land Zone, Naval Zone, Security Zone and Joint Zone, it was the innovations and technologies that both fascinated and worried me. While you had the usual innovations and advances in equipment, weapons, communications, command & control systems, ballistics, training, trauma medicine etc., it was innovations in body armor and autonomous systems utilizing AI (artificial Intelligence) that stood out for me.
Future military armor and uniforms will have new technologies that focus on protection against injury, wound detection and health and stress monitoring. For example, liquid armor is being developed that makes the traditional Kevlar vests lighter, more flexible and protective by coating them with Nano tech based liquids that allow for easier movement, but instantly harden with the impact of bullet or frag hitting the vest. Special sensors, injectables and fabrics are being created for uniforms that can measure the health of a soldier, locate a wound and potentially treat that wound. They could detect a soldier’s exposure to bio/chem weapons as well as other health damaging substances such as fungi. Some sensors will not only be able to do medical evaluations on the battlefield, but also, by using GPS and other new communication technologies, locate the soldier more quickly and utilize intelligent injectors to provide lifesaving medicine.
While everyone is talking about the wonders of autonomous driven cars and trucks, robotic restaurant servers, advances in AI and how cool companies like Alphabet and Amazon are, think through what this could mean from a military and security perspective. You already have ISIS weaponizing tiny drones in Syria and Iraq to drop explosives and there is already an autonomous battleship that hunts enemy subs and autonomous cyber hacking machines. These are dual use technologies that could be repurposed for terrorists or hostile foreign governments. Think of the ramifications of an autonomous Home Depot truck similar to the driver driven attack in New York this week. Or for that matter China, which this summer released its official National AI Strategy with the goal of pursuing a “first-mover advantage” to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the contentiousness of the topic is pitting companies like Alphabet and Amazon who argue that these new technologies will be for the betterment of humankind, against others such as Elon Musk who question the ethics and are concerned about the potential civil disorder due to major job loss and the ‘dark’ side of self-learning (developing machines that turn on us). This is going to be wild and disturbing ride…..
The 12th Annual ISOA Summit (International Stability Operations Association) took place mid-October in Washington, DC. It’s always a good meeting regarding the U.S. government and private sectors in the stability operations sector. The title of this year’s Summit was “Contingency Contracting: Challenges for the Private Sector” and aside from numerous contracting issues that were discussed, the conference also dealt with the new U.S. Policy in Afghanistan, women in stabilization leadership roles, the status of international development in areas of stabilization operations, peacekeeping, human and labor trafficking, medical operations, duty of care and the criticality of dealing with operational stress and PTSD.
There was an interesting discussion of the priorities of the Secretary of Defense Mattis:
- Increase in lethality of the force, increasing capacity and capability
- Strengthening of alliances and partners beyond DOD/DOS/USAID, such as NGOs
- Business reform in DOD such as acquisitions
In addition, there were discussions on the ongoing Budget Control Act/Sequestration challenges; the blending of opportunities with DOS/DOD/USAID, and the whole of government approach and more cross functionality in contracting.