Security and warfare look very different in 2020. Electronic intelligence and
surveillance functions driven by big data have become key defense requirements.
Wearable sensors, smart uniforms, and performance-enhancing supplements
significantly boost the capabilities of the next-generation soldier. Robot and drone
armies strike with precision but sometimes blur the lines drawn by conventional laws
governing warfare. An upsurge in cyber-warfare makes it increasingly difficult to
distinguish between the actions of terrorists, organized criminals, fringe movements,
nation states, and teenage hackers. Procurement sees a departure from historic
norms with the rise of 3D printed weapons and challenge-based R&D models.
Intelligence and surveillance become top defense requirement
Big data analytics in defense
Organizations tracking key security issues, such as
weapons of mass destruction, combine new collection
methods with big-data intelligence analytics.
Future advances may lead to significant leaps in
computer processing and engineering that allow
computers to process huge data sets and portray
the data in ways that mimic human intuition and
judgment, leading to a new generation of powerful
campaign and tactical decision aids.
Improved joint forces engagement
Precision engagement, now normalized, supports the armed forces’ ability to identify, locate, and track objectives or targets; select,
organize, and use the appropriate systems; assess results; and engage and reengage with decisive speed and overwhelming operational
tempo as required, throughout the full range of military operations.
Bio-inspired engineering creates new data collection devices for intelligence services and the military that resemble snakes, spiders,
and birds. The ability to swarm allows users to overwhelm the enemy with numbers.
Improved risk detection
Applying psychosocial analysis, militaries mitigate risk, detect intrusions, and leverage agile networks to keep warfighters’ laptops,
radios, and small computers secure, mitigating the possibility of spoofed orders and premature ordnance detonation.
The super-empowered soldier
Power in small packages
Soldiers’ packs, currently including up to 30 pounds of power
packs, become radically smaller, using radioisotope batteries
roughly the size and weight of a D-cell battery. The new power
packs deliver 1–5 watts of power for years and have important
civilian and commercial applications as well.
Wearable sensors and multifunctional solider kits
Wearable sensors measure vitals and can assess damage to and
residue on clothing fibers to assess factors such as how deep a
bullet has penetrated, or whether the wearer has been exposed
to chemical agents. This information can be transmitted to a
central command center that can deploy rescue missions or
other resources as necessary. Fibers too thick to be sewn into
military uniforms can be placed in biostatic patches that transmit
information. Similarly, sensors that can measure the presence
of landmines are developed for boots.
Soldier kits are built to withstand all climates, reducing the cost of maintaining uniforms. Climate-controlled jackets protect
soldiers from extreme heat and cold. 2020 sees the development of responsive, flexible polymers that can be used in multiplexed
“litmus test” arrangements, configured as small “stickers” or large coating sheets, or even integrated into fabric or coatings used in
the soldier’s uniform and kit.
A wellness cocktail for soldiers
Nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and supplementation regimes provide soldiers with greater resilience and performance. Tailored
nutritional support is prescribed for specific roles and performance requirements, supporting the various mental and physical
demands placed on each soldier.
Rise of robot/drone armies
Computer networks provide end-to-end network connectivity
for autonomous teams of robots, keeping them on task and
connected with their handlers. Applications include search and
rescue missions in hazardous environments and the mapping
of buildings and terrain in advance of the arrival of human
fighters. Navies overcome the duration issue and routinely
use unmanned underwater vehicles as scouting submarines,
supporting port security, enemy port scouting, and surveys at
depths inaccessible to humans.
Drone warfare maturation
Unilateral drones join warfighters and alliance partner military
forces in launching raids and other military maneuvers. The
integration of UAVs into conventional warfighting offers more
versatility than drone strikes alone and becomes the wave of the
future as big wars wind down.
Robotics and UAVs blur the definition of war
In a game changer for constitutional democracies, leaders claim that hostilities do not require legislative authorization because
people are not in harm’s way. Precedents are set without considering the long-term implications. Military applications contrast
with the use of drone warfare for intelligence purposes. Military strikes have a system of law to guide strikes; covert operations by
definition are not discussed, and civilians call the shots, leading quickly to murkiness about applicable law.
Asymmetric warfare and altered cultural norms
Rise of the faceless opponent
The rise of cyber-warfare makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish between terrorists, organized criminals, fringe movements,
nation states, and teenage hackers. This complicates response (retaliation) in several ways:
Who do you target? Individual, state, organization?
• How do you target those—courts or military action?
• What response should be made—a missile or a retaliatory cyber-attack?
Cyberspace is operationalized with capabilities spanning the electromagnetic spectrum. A debilitating code can be sent to a missile
or submarine via radio, enabling a cyber-attack without traveling through the Internet.
DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is a competition of robot
systems and software systems with the aim of developing
robots capable of assisting humans in disaster response. The
focus of the challenge is to develop robots with task-level
autonomy that can operate in hazardous disaster zones.
DOD’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap establishes
a technological roadmap for the next 25 years (2013–2038)
and outlines actions and technologies for DOD and industry
to pursue to align with the vision.
Holistic QDR strategies
Cyber-warfare joins nuclear, missile defense, and space forces in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This better supports
planning for the complexity of the international system and the potential for cross-domain or even hybrid conflicts. Experts call
for replacing the QDR with a nonpartisan Quadrennial National Review.
Super-empowered individuals and nihilist networks use the threat of weapons of mass destruction attacks for mass extortion,
seeking everything from state support or corporate backing to policy control (allow the transport of drugs into your country or…).
They operate under the assumption that if they can shut down a reactor or a power grid, they can extort governments or the private sector for cash or political ends.
Democratized mass violence
New technologies allow non-state actors to threaten and use lethal force on a scale previously possible only between nations. Who
fights wars, how they are fought, and under what rules, all undergo radical transformation as new definitions of war and peace,
military and civilian, foreign and domestic, and national versus international are defined.
Threats by terrorist organizations and other new actors lead to increasingly blurred lines between military and criminal law. The
separation between military and civilian roles also becomes problematic, as evidenced by armed social workers in Afghanistan’s
war zones. The lack of clarity between domestic and foreign threats erodes historic notions of sovereignty. Together, these roles and
responsibilities are evolving into something new and unfinished.
Defense spending shifts globally
Western countries reduce defense expenditures
Western military services become smaller but more expensive, particularly the
infantry. Tradeoffs between security and fiscal responsibility spur wealthier
nations to rely increasingly on alliances. One example is NATO’s Smart Defense
program, under which members agree to concentrate on national strengths and
coordinate planned defense budget cuts. R&D spending declines. In the 2000s,
militaries rely on stealth, speed, and precision to stay ahead. By 2020, these
evolve into survivability, computation, and persistence—all capabilities allowing
for constant, undetected monitoring at very high levels of resolution.
Growth of Asian military spending
With healthy economic growth, the Asia-Pacific region increasingly serves as
the go-to market for defense suppliers. Peer competition and state-versus-state
standoffs in the region drive up defense spending.
By 2021, total spending by NATO nations
falls below non-NATO spending for the first
time in decades.
The Asia-Pacific military market is expected
to grow by 27 percent from 2013–2017,
with more than 60 percent of the growth
accounted for by China alone.
Singapore and other countries eschew traditionally heavy and expensive Western
defense models, instead “leapfrogging” to unmanned, autonomous models. Just as
mobile phones allowed developing countries to skip land lines, the self-sufficiency and
cost-effectiveness of emerging tools strengthen these actors’ roles in future conflicts.
China, among others, effectively skips years of costly R&D, allowing it to benefit from
speedy weaponry and equipment modernization, thereby reducing the competitive
edge of foreign nations. Iran, taking advantage of less expensive and widely available munitions and battle-networking technologies,
develops ballistic missiles and guided munitions, and transfers them to non-state proxies.
Security cooperation and multinational forces take center stage.
Building partnership capacity
Security cooperation, once seen primarily as a way to offset reductions in defense spending, now plays an increasing role in bolstering
allied capabilities and advancing domestic interests, particularly in light of budget constraints, operational limitations, and
persistent sovereignty concerns. Many countries re-examine their ability to field the full spectrum of military capabilities. Allied
countries coordinate to prioritize or divest certain capabilities. Close allies engage in comparative advantage by concentrating on
those capabilities where they have a strategic interest or strength, permitting their partners to assume different responsibilities.
Increased operational tempo for multinational forces
Joint forces gain positional advantage with decisive and overwhelming operational speed. Widely dispersed joint air, land, sea,
special operations, and space forces, capable of scaling and massing force rapidly secure advantage through the application of
information, deception, engagement, mobility, and counter-mobility capabilities.
Improved communications for multinational forces
Today’s multinational forces often have problems communicating, and not only
due to language differences. Technical incompatibility between communications
systems can hinder information sharing and timely command and control
decisions. In 2020, these technological problems are overcome via advances
in mobile technology, allowing coalition forces to communicate seamlessly in
Changing force posture
Army’s fluid adaptation
Speed and adaptability become all-important as asymmetric warfare becomes the norm. Twenty-eight nations now have weapons-grade
plutonium. Troops must deal with the proliferation of proxies, collapsing governments, and humanitarian disasters
beyond the scope of anything seen previously. Turmoil in Arab nations and weapons proliferation pose new risks. Coalition
building around specific problems becomes more common, making the survival of existing alliances such as NATO problematic.
Soldiers have more operational flexibility against a myriad of state and non-state actors. Enlisted personnel are less likely to specialize
but receive more varied training in ground combat, clearance operations, paratroop experience, and extraction. Officers
become more specialized, and then teach those under their command on the job in different environments. Traditional military
structures are transformed. For example, instead of an army, air force, and navy, some nations move to a reaction force (high readiness,
light force), prevention force (heavy force used for deterrence), and integration force (joint military-civilian, multi-agency
Long-range, rapid strikes supplant stealth
Speed becomes more important as evolving air defenses degrade the utility of stealth technology. In light of intensifying anti-access/area-denial
threats in some parts of the world, greater emphasis is placed on long-range, rapid strikes (for example, prompt
global strike), including long-range bombers operating from protected domestic facilities and the hypersonic delivery of conventional
Direct-energy lasers may eliminate the need for conventional shipboard cannon, creating a big impact on logistics and space
availability. Their tremendous speed and unlimited “ammunition” offers an asymmetric advantage to those with this capability.
Space defense becomes priority
A variety of issues dealing with the protection of space assets, ranging from policy to technology investment, give rise to new
defense priorities. Significant investments are required to develop effective countermeasures to new state-of-the-art technologies.
Examples include end-to-end capabilities supporting maritime operations in the absence of satellite connectivity and miniature
space satellites called CubeSats weighing only a few kilos and propelled by ion beams.
Transformed weapons procurement
Asia-based commercial IT supply chain brings new vulnerabilities
Software is increasingly obtained overseas, particularly from Asia. Each node within the global IT supply chain presents adversaries
with an opportunity to introduce a cyber-threat or exploit the system for their own purposes. The navy uses IT hardware
and software developed overseas every day. Acquisition systems seek greater visibility and more effective controls across the entire
Incentivized innovation results in reduced defense R&D costs
Governments provide incentives to contractors to do more with less, including greater use of fixed-price contracts that force contractors
to meet both deadline and price. Build contracts remain single source due to the sheer number of suppliers.
More military assets are shared and joint procurement offices strengthened. Joint acquisition strategies within militaries lead to
greater efficiencies including streamlined acquisition processes, standardized acquisition procedures, a fusion of acquisition regulations,
and, perhaps most importantly, agile centers of excellence capable of meeting the dynamic needs of the military and other
Rapid prototyping of defense weapons via 3D printing
The current holy grail of additive manufacturing is to build entire systems (for example, engines, wings) rather than parts. As the
cost of 3D printing declines, it will become possible to make the additive machines bigger and more relevant to weapon manufacturing.
By 2020, a majority of parts for aircraft engines are created using additive manufacturing. Smaller countries leverage this
technology and other advanced industrial techniques to enhance their ability to create next-generation military capabilities and
produce them in quantity.
Network model applied to defense R&D
In a departure from historic military R&D
norms, challenge prizes become more popular,
“pulling” great ideas to the surface,
shortening the time to production and
Military healthcare transformation
Dressing wounds in the battlefield
Some wounds sustained by soldiers receive anti-infection treatment in the battlefield before arriving at the hospital. High-quality
facial restorations with fewer surgeries become the norm, resulting in improved healing and a corresponding reduction in scarring
and the need for further surgeries later on. New technologies may include agents that can be sprayed on a wound on the battlefield
to decrease infection, inflammation, and scarring; the harvesting of adult stem cells from fighters to use in controlling inflammation;
and the development of peptides that destroy bacteria in wounds.
Resource optimization in military health
Budget cuts force militaries to consolidate and rationalize resources for military health care and graduate medical education. The
focus is on applying commercial best practices, upgrading the skills of military healthcare staff, and preventative care.
Integrated military health care model
Military health agencies increasingly offer an integrated care model
that coordinates care delivery, health insurance, interaction with multiple
entities, and more, producing better outcomes for beneficiaries.
More emphasis is placed on health and patient engagement, involving
family members in patient care, redesigning primary care, and aligning
financial systems and incentives toward better outcomes.
Health insurance exchanges substitute for veterans’ care
In the United States, veterans, retirees, and their families can now obtain
insurance through Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges, Tricare, or
VHA. Under ACA, many veterans and retirees will qualify for Medicaid
and others might get lower-cost insurance coverage. This could render
the existing separate health system for veterans redundant.
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