President's Commentary: Gear Up for a New Technology Thrust

August 1, 2016
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

The United States and the entire world owe a great deal to technology and the pace of technological change. The standards of living that define advanced societies, along with the advanced national security elements that guarantee their freedom, are the result of a constant march of technological innovation that characterizes the last century and continues at breakneck speed. The United States must continue to promote and enable technology development to meet new challenges and ensure continued freedom, prosperity and security. This tenet applies to all facets of national security.

The ability to develop technologies to improve our lives and international security is embedded in our national DNA. From inventors and innovators such as Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers to the Apollo lunar program and the innovation that pours daily out of our high-technology hubs, U.S. history is rich in the ability to promote and advance its technological edge. Unfortunately, many of the Cold War threats to our warfighting technologies are re-emerging along with new ones. We must thoroughly identify and validate the required command, control, communications and computers (C4) capabilities for the future so that our technological prowess and resources can be appropriately focused. 

Many lessons from our Cold War days need to be rediscovered for the United States to be prepared for the next war. In many ways, it is “back to the future” as our military prepares for the future fight. Luckily, this point is not lost on our armed services, as one observes the increased awareness and emphasis they have placed on operating in denied or degraded environments. Still, many capabilities need further emphasis or development as we prepare for the future, especially at the operational/tactical level of warfare. 

Today, several potential adversaries have the ability to leapfrog technologically or to adapt technology and neutralize or negatively affect the edge we have enjoyed for so long. The United States and our partners increasingly must focus our technological might on several capabilities to ensure our place in shaping global affairs. The capabilities that stand out as areas of contention cross multiple areas of national security, from the homeland to our ability to project power and protect U.S. interests abroad. 

First, we need improved low-probability-of-intercept and low-probability-of-detection capabilities that support the undetected and unhindered movement and communications of our forces. Potential adversaries are improving their capabilities to detect and counter our actions. 

Improved antijam capabilities also must be added to our emitters to meet the emerging threat and ensure that radio transmissions are not denied. 

Self-healing and self-organizing ad hoc mobile networks—and all they entail—should be connected with multiband emitters that sense and exploit available radio frequency (RF) spectrum and automatically and rapidly reconfigure those networks in a contested or denied RF environment. 

Advanced antenna technology would provide real-time loading and tuning across a broad range of frequency bands and take advantage of the available RF spectrum. 

A resilient and protected space communications capability is needed to provide rapid launch capability that supports theater operations. 

Lastly, automated network management tools are vital to hide and make transparent the complexity in the control and management of the RF spectrum and associated data networks. 

These focus areas should not be approached as a series of stovepiped efforts but instead addressed as interoperable requirements that fall under the guise of a future joint warfighting capability.

Other associated key areas requiring development include longer-lasting and lighter battery and portable power technologies; a truly protected and resilient global space communication capability that can operate against known threats; and command and control and intelligence visualization tools that are intuitive and adaptable in meeting the needs of individual learning and understanding styles. 

Now is the time to look back to the future as well as move forward. Just as Sputnik impelled a burst of U.S. innovation, so too must today’s emerging challenges launch a new round of dedicated research in areas that are unique to the military and homeland security mission.

None of the challenges I have highlighted are new. In the past, they were at the forefront of government and defense industry research and development. However, over the years, they have lost their advocacy for various reasons. As we move back to the future, they need fresh emphasis to equip our forces and our allies with capabilities to meet both new and emerging threats. This will require a trusting relationship between industry, government and academia, one that leverages our proven national strength in innovation and creativity.

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