As Defense Budgets Decline, Threats Rise

July 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
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Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns of new national security threats in an address at Joint Warfighting 2012, held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 15-17.

Emerging technologies add to the complexities that both boost and bedevil modern forces.

The Free World’s militaries are entering a period of retrenchment just as adversaries are developing new and deadly threats to challenge Western national security. These new threats, many of which are based on the same technologies that have empowered modern defense forces, have the potential to imperil entire nations. Countering them will tax the capabilities of military forces that already are facing reductions in capabilities and size because of severe budget cuts imposed by the global financial crisis.

Destructive weapons are becoming available to more hostile militaries as well as to smaller groups such as terrorists. These weapons can be kinetic or digital, as cyberspace offers the potential for a devastating attack on both the military and the homeland itself. Defending against these security challenges will require cooperation among many defense, civil government, industry, academia and nongovernmental organizations.

Complicating this challenge is the changing nature of warfare itself. Potential enemies are learning new ways of waging, and possibly winning, wars against the United States and its allies. Free World militaries must confront the likelihood that the next conflict will be defined by the aggressor’s choice of asymmetric warfare, for which these militaries must prepare with fewer resources than expected.

These were among the key points discussed at Joint Warfighting 2012, held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 15-17. Sponsored jointly by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute, the conference gave attendees equal views of both the challenges facing the Free World and potential solutions to the emerging threats.

“If you like the complexity and uncertainty of today, you’re really going to like tomorrow,” said Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, USMC, director, J-7, the Joint Staff. He elaborated that the battlespace of the past was linear with clear definitions, but the future battlespace is multidimensional with several domains. Now the homeland is part of the battlespace, and the democratization of technology is closing the gap between the West and its enemies.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the proliferation of more types of destructive weapons meant that the U.S. homeland will not be the sanctuary it has been before. In addition to the threat to the public, many of the global capabilities that underpin the U.S. military are operated from the homeland. Attacks on the U.S. cyber infrastructure or the power grid could disrupt military operations globally. U.S. forces face the possibility of not being able to operate without their networks, especially as both space and cyber are likely to be contested exponentially more than they are today.

“The worst-case scenario might be the most likely scenario,” he warned.

In that context, when asked how cyber could be a warfighting realm when it could not wreak destruction as kinetic weapons could, Vice Adm. Bernard J. McCullough III, USN (Ret.), former commander of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, pointed out that a cyber attack could generate a kinetic effect.

Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the inaugural Harold Brown Chair in defense policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the changes that have redefined the U.S. military over the past decade of war may have left it ill-equipped to fight whatever type of war it faces next.

Even the newest military systems may be vulnerable to new types of attacks. Gen. Cartwright declared that the state-of-the-art F-35 strike fighter is “not ready for a world with cyber.” The general related that systems used to have a switch to turn off all electronic emissions. Now, platforms should have a switch to turn off all apertures, which are vulnerable to cyber attack. He added that he sees a nexus coming between cyber and electronic warfare.

The effect of commercial technologies on military operations was described by Michael T. Jones, chief technology advocate for Google Ventures. Jones noted that Google has several efforts underway to provide increased global situational awareness. The broad availability of geospatial information is turning providers such as Google into more than just media engines. “What if companies like Google were to become national technical means? It’s not a hypothetical question—it’s happening now,” Jones declared.

In-depth coverage of Joint Warfighting 2012 is available online at:


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