Technologies and Defense Transformation

Elihu Zimet
Distinguished Research Professor
The Center for Technology and National Security Policy
National Defense University

9 April 2003

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's arrival in 2001 sparked my interest in transformation. His mandate to transform the US military made the substance and implications of defense transformation that much more interesting and relevant.

Overall, my talk today will have five basic components. First, I'll look at what transformation is, and what makes this period different than others. Second, I'll discuss the role of technology in transformation. Next, I want to look at how DoD develops technology. Then, I'll outline specific technologies relevant to transformation. Finally, I'll look at High Energy Lasers as a case study in the use of technology for transformation.

To begin with, what is transformation? Overall, transformation has three basic elements: technology, concepts of operations, and organization. Transformation matters because limited budgets cause choices.

Given this definition, what are some of the "transformational" systems in Iraq right now that weren't in service in 1991? For air defense, there is PAC-3, Standard Missile Block 2, AMRAAM, and AIM-9X. In terms of strike assets, the B-2 and F/A-18 E/F are newcomers to the Persian Gulf. For weapons, there is the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW), Paladin, and Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon. New command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems include Link-16, Predator, Global Hawk, and FBCB2 (Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below). Finally, new logistics systems include the C-17 and Joint Total Asset Visibility tracking system.

Turning to operations, one of the more well known concept of operations is Effects-Based Operations, which incorporates precision strikes to minimize actual damage but maximize effect. Net-centric warfare is another prominent concept. Advocated by the Navy, NCW focuses on the integration of multi-source information across distributed ships and systems. Maneuver warfare, advocated by the Marine Corps and Army, also links to transformation through a non-linear approach to operations. Finally, there are other concepts like Rapid Decisive Operations and Joint Response Forces.

Given these systems and concepts, how does DoD develop technology? In the past, DoD technology development was characterized by large DoD funded projects occurring in DoD labs, parts of the military industrial base, and universities. Notably, this work typically occurred in the US under the purview of US citizens. Now, this process and setting is far different. DoD's role in funding and hosting technology development is relatively smaller, with the balance taken up by commercial entities and other US Government agencies. Moreover, much of this development may occur outside the United States.

As these processes changed, the challenges to defense technology development have remained persistent. To begin with, defense acquisition is complex and time consuming. The role of Congress in annually funding defense projects injects both uncertainty and delay in technology development. Further, defense acquisition regulations are quite extensive, and the documentation, language, and low profit margins of defense development discourage many companies from participating. Over time, DoD also has ceded many roles to prime contractors specializing in systems integration. Whether DoD can maintain control and oversight on projects beyond their technological expertise is an open question.

Given this environment, Congress and others have developed many programs that attempt to streamline the acquisition process. Acquisition reform is one such effort - streamline requirements, allow more flexibility, and alter terms of competition. Next, Congress has developed a whole panoply of programs dedicated to improving acquisition, including Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations, small business set asides, and dual use technology applications. Experimentation is another more current method DoD has used to improve how and what technology is developed and acquired. Finally, the CIA has implemented a technology investment program modeled on the venture capital field.

Getting to the title of this presentation, what are the technologies for transformation?

Materials technologies are one category. In both the realm of functional (semiconductors, superconductors) and structural materials, advances in this field may offer improvements in the performance of DoD systems. Information technologies are most often associated with transformation. Focused on linking information across networks, IT has applications in embedded, distributed sensors. With such advantages come risks, particularly in the form of information assurance, integrity, and reliability. Human performance technologies offer other capabilities. While not free of ethical concerns, these technologies can improve the ability of people to operate effectively under extreme stress for extended periods of time. Biotechnology is next. Military medicine, portable biosensors, and agro fuels are all promising technologies with relevance to transformation. Finally, energy and propulsion technologies may change the logistics and movement of the future US military. Longer lasting energy sources, alternatives to petroleum, and hypersonic speeds are all potential candidates for insertion into military systems.

There also is what I call derivative technologies, which result from one or more of these technologies. In this area, robotics using more automation and less remote operation by real humans are the most promising. However, other examples include lower cost vehicles, weapons, and sensors, precision-guided munitions, and directed energy weapons.

With that segue, I'd like to use High Energy Lasers (HELs) to show some of the characteristics of DoD technology development and how it relates to transformation. Some of the most prominent HEL systems under development include the Airborne Laser and Space-Based Laser.

As a technology, HELs could dramatically alter the offense/defense balance - the speed of light is truly a remarkable tool for use on the battlefield. However, after more than 35 years of development, there is still no fielded system. Why?

To start with, HELs are technically challenging. Compounding these difficulties in the laboratory, many decision makers also lack the technology sophistication to adequately evaluate and decide key policy decisions. In addition, DoD must integrate many different systems and solve multiple challenges to develop an effective HEL. For instance, the ABL must develop specific devices that charge up and fire the laser, integrate multiple fire control systems, overcome problems associated with propagation of light through the atmosphere, and achieve sufficient energy on target to ensure lethality. Operationally, in order to respond to a ballistic missile attack in the boost phase, the ABL must be on station, in position to hit the missile, and have the system ready for firing. Finally, there are policy and programmatic issues including the weaponization of space and use of lasers in urban environments that must be answered prior to deployment. Getting all these things right is clearly a difficult task.

To summarize, transformation includes change in technology, organization, and concepts of operations. Given the experience of HELs and other projects, technology's role in defense more likely than not will be evolutionary in character. The military's rightful aversion to risk, the process of developing technology, and the sheer technical challenges of many technology efforts suggest that dramatic change in weapons systems is less likely, leaving DoD to incrementally increase the capabilities of an already powerful and successful force.

Dr. Elihu Zimet is a Distinguished Research Professor at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, where he is currently working on issues relating to the role of technology in military transformation. Prior to joining NDU, Dr. Zimet was a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and headed the Special Programs, and, subsequently, the Expeditionary Warfare Science and Technology Department at the Office of Naval Research (ONR). In these positions he directed basic research, applied research, and advanced development programs in missile, gun and directed energy weapons, aircraft, avionics and propulsion, low observable and counter low observable technologies. Dr. Zimet holds a BS (ME) from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (1962) and a Ph.D. from Yale University (1969).

Rapporteur: Oliver Fritz

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