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War Game Examines Energy as a Disruptive Technology

October 20, 2009
Rita Boland
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Energy as a weapon and an enabler could dominate future battlefields, according to a recent war game that focused on military energy requirements. Participants in the 2009 war game, which had the theme “Future Energy Requirement on the Battlefield,” examined energy produced, packaged and used in novel ways to enable persistence.

The Director of Defense Research and Engineering’s (DDR&E’s) Technical Intelligence Program is briefing the results of its 4th annual future disruptive technology war game to offices within the organization and other participants. This year’s game, which took place in June at the NationalDefenseUniversity, focused on the effects that a breakthrough energy technology could have on U.S. warfighting capability and science and technology investment. The exercise did not limit participants to any specific ideas such as traditional or alternative fuels or near- or long-term solutions, but rather sought to examine any possibility and its ramifications.

Technologies employed for energy generation, transformation and transport that would or could support high-energy weapons systems on the future conventional battlefield garnered the most attention, according to Capt. Robert Barton, USNR, commander of the DDR&E Joint Reserve Unit, the office responsible for the event.

War game personnel considered the impact of technologies and applications required to enable or disrupt future battlefield operations requiring vast amounts and various forms of energy. The goals of the event were to determine which commercially available technologies—prioritized, if possible—could be used or combined into applications to produce either a capability advantage, or conversely, a disruptive threat; technology or application areas in which potential adversaries would be likely to make investments that would deter or mitigate a U.S. technological advantage; the impact of identified potential threats from a Defense Department perspective and the effectiveness of current capabilities in mitigating the impacts; and the science and technology areas the department should invest in to counter or mitigate those threats.

Col. Dave Robie, USAFR, vice commander of the DDR&E Joint Reserve Unit, explains that the energy focus is important to the military, which currently operates in an unconstrained energy environment. Though the supply can be expensive, U.S. forces never have lacked the resources they need. As the Defense Department moves forward, energy may become more constrained, and leadership will have to make decisions about all types of energy sources, not just fossil fuels.

The final, approved results of the event are not available for public release. They are delivered to leadership and participants who include members of the Defense Department, industry, venture capitalists, academia and other government laboratories and agencies. Those who are briefed can use the information for additional studies. Overall success was judged by the effect that the game results and recommendations have in informing the science and technology planning process and spotlighting a need for future assessment.

The war game supercharges other analyses by completing a great deal of background work and research. Col. Robie explains that the military is preparing to conduct an energy study on the battlefield that will start out at a higher level because of what was accomplished in the war game. The outcome is of interest to several Defense Department organizations and the service branches.

One of the big challenges for the war game each year is determining what will be a disruptive technology. “That’s the trick,” Capt. Barton says, adding that quite often the answer is a convergence of several developing technologies that combine to become a game changer. War game personnel examine what would create a significant impact on U.S. forces if such technologies were available to them or their adversaries.

To help identify the most important technologies, a variety of subject matter experts on different topics gather to assist with the war game. Lt. Cmdr. Mike Richman, USNR, another member of the DDR&E Joint Reserve Unit and the war game co-chair, says that with enough brainpower, diversity and technical expertise, the event feeds itself and results in thought-provoking exercises that help answer what the technologies and capabilities can do in future conflicts.

Capt. Barton emphasizes two key takeaways from the annual war game. Because it is an intellectually unconstrained environment, it yields unique and valuable insight that, along with other factors, inform policy, budget and follow-on deep-dive study efforts. Also, it leverages the nation’s citizen-soldier brain trust coupled with intelligent personnel from other areas to solve difficult military problems. The citizen soldiers involved with the effort bring their civilian life knowledge and contacts to bear in the experiments.