Long before the federal government charged two defendants in 2018 for ransomware attacks on municipal computer systems—including Atlanta’s—cities found ways to make do during these outages. Police wrote reports by hand, traffic tickets were paid in person and social media kept everyone informed in a way that showcased a city’s resiliency.
Well, 2019 has flown right by, and so my monthly column for SIGNAL Magazine comes to a close. It has truly been a privilege to present these columns to the AFCEA community. I hope they sparked some fresh thinking about the many changes and innovations we see all around us. The U.S. military community is at an inflection point, and it is critical that we continue these important discussions into the future.
My columns so far have centered on various components of modernization and innovation that I think are needed for the U.S. military to reposition itself for success on future battlefields. Emerging technologies, culture, workforce, partnerships—all play critical roles and must be recalibrated for a future that will be increasingly complex and dynamic.
As the Defense Department moves to embrace more innovation, it will change the way our future wars will be fought. Defense planners already are working to understand this in detail, and the vision they have devised is called multidomain operations (MDO).
Part one of a two-part series.
Nothing keeps Defense Department leaders up at night more than today’s cyber threat. This heightened concern was clearly reflected in the September 2018 DoD Cyber Strategy, which noted that “competitors deterred from engaging the United States and our allies in an armed conflict are using cyberspace operations to steal our technology, disrupt our government and commerce, challenge our democratic processes, and threaten our critical infrastructure.”
Just about everybody who has worked for the Defense Department has encountered this: A new technology is deployed—a software application, new hardware, a piece of gear or a tool—and after using it, people discover it falls short of expectations. Perhaps it was difficult to operate. Or maybe it didn’t do what was needed. Or it might have done what was needed but did it poorly. Or it worked well enough for some use cases and not others.
Ever since British polymath Alan Turing posed the question, “Can machines think?” in 1950, mathematicians and computer scientists have been actively exploring the potential of artificial intelligence (AI).
To be sure, much of the buzz around AI since then has been more hype than reality. Even today, no one credibly argues that machines can match the suppleness and complexity of human intelligence. But we are at a point where machines, when tasked for specific use, can do many things humans can do—such as learn, problem-solve, perceive, decide, plan, communicate and create—and some things even humans can’t do. And that’s a huge leap from where we were only a decade ago.
Within the last year and a half, an exciting development has taken place at the Defense Department: It has turned the corner on cloud.
For years, the department had followed a cautious, even wary, approach toward cloud adoption. But after reading the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the department’s new artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud strategies, one can only conclude that top defense leaders now view cloud as the cornerstone of our future military readiness.
“The Army is engaged in a protracted struggle to out-innovate our future competitors, and right now, we are not postured for success.”
This statement kicked off congressional testimony by four senior U.S. Army leaders, including now-Gen. John Murray, USA, commanding general of the new Army Futures Command (AFC). The command’s mission is to “out-innovate” our rivals.
I think this statement succinctly captures the paramount challenge of being hidebound by bureaucracy, fragmented efforts, conventional processes and, most importantly, an acute intolerance of perceived risk.
In today’s increasingly complex, dynamic and digital-centric world, the Defense Department’s success will hinge on how well it takes on the characteristics of an agile workforce. This requires qualities such as agility, responsiveness, efficiency, resiliency, innovation and hyperawareness of the many environments it inhabits.
Information technology, smartly managed, can deliver all these capabilities. So it is no surprise that in the most successful agencies, technology is leading the charge toward new business models and new ways of thinking and working.
One of the most pressing issues Defense Department leaders confront today is preparing its vast workforce for future challenges.
The military’s capacity to exert global influence, deter wars and, if necessary, fight and win conflicts in the future will depend on its ability to rapidly and smartly incorporate emerging technologies into day-to-day operations and decision-making. And doing that requires ready access to advanced skills, especially in information technology regarding cybersecurity, software development, data science and analytics, networking and intelligent automation architecting.
Welcome to the first of a new monthly column I will be writing for SIGNAL!
First, let me say what an honor and thrill it is to be asked by SIGNAL Magazine to contribute a regular column. SIGNAL and the entire AFCEA community have long served as a critical public square for airing the important technological issues that confront the Defense Department, and I look forward to participating in that discussion.
It is hard to believe that a full year has passed and this is my final column for SIGNAL. I have greatly enjoyed writing these pieces, and I thank AFCEA for this opportunity. I have enjoyed and been enlightened by your feedback—good and bad—and I very much appreciated many of the discussions that happened because of these columns. I would like to use this final column as a summary and a reminder of what I believe is coming with technology and with some social issues.
One of the fundamental ingredients to a secure future is having a sustainable and engaged technology-savvy workforce. This means we must be preparing our youth for today’s and tomorrow’s technologies. We need to cultivate the next generation of technology innovators and masters.
While traveling this spring and summer, I met and spoke with many high school and college-age students. I heard quite a bit about their desire to better understand and be more involved in cybersecurity. Specifically, they asked about authentication solutions for mobile applications, better identity management, and how to protect and understand their data.
I wasn’t sure how to define this article. I tossed around some ideas, but none seemed quite right. Are we winning the technology race? Are we still the best and brightest? Is the United States losing ground because it is too late to adopt technology? Instead, I will answer questions I have been asked as I travel the globe. These frequently asked questions come from governments, allies, industry, academia and the media.
Second of two parts. Read part one.
Technology can either multiply time or diminish time, depending on how you manage it. Unfortunately, email and text communications are frequently mismanaged. But the technology isn’t at fault. You the leader must own the technology and not let the technology own you.
Don’t be a slave to texts and emails. If an issue isn’t important, then don’t respond to a message immediately.
Be careful about the number of emails or texts you send, and talk with your team about how they are managing emails and texts. Resist the temptation to jump into a discussion if you are copied.
Today you can read many articles, absorb numerous interviews and watch programs about the effects of technology on business and personal life. One effect is that more people are putting a true dollar value on their time. Growing technology businesses are focused on giving people back time in their lives. New businesses have recognized that more people, especially those under 40, are willing to pay for it.
Today, government and industry increasingly are on the wrong side of the cybersecurity spend.
Criminal groups, nation-states and individual hackers often force organizations to spend much more to defend against cyber attacks, or the threat of attacks, than attackers spend to carry them out. How do we slow down this trend and reverse the spend, forcing the attacker to pay a higher price?
Technology and a better-educated workforce will help, but these solutions may not really reduce the spend or increase the cost to the attacker.
The best way to do this is through significantly increased partnering as well as more timely and greater sharing of threat data and real-time attack information.
Fifth-generation (5G) superfast cellular technology is coming. And it will revolutionize the way we think about networks, the amount of data and analytics that can be presented in real or near real time, and how we use this data and related analytics to make everyday decisions. 5G is going to enable a national high-speed virtual highway. Much like the rollout of the physical national highway system, the introduction of 5G will affect defense and business and change individual behavior in ways we haven’t even thought about yet.
In today’s world, the most valuable resource is information. The fastest-growing companies are data companies. Firms that can apply decision-quality information in time to affect critical business decisions are reaping the greatest success. Just as in warfare, the force that can bring intelligence to the battle edge in near real time will have a tremendous advantage in any engagement.
This is my first article as the new author of Incoming. I want to thank AFCEA for the opportunity to write this monthly piece, and I hope I will continue the tradition of offering thought-provoking articles on timely topics important to the information technology and communication community. I also want to thank my predecessor, Maj. Gen. Earl D. Matthews, USAF (Ret.), for his work and excellent contributions that were informative and certainly advanced thinking on a wide variety of issues. Well done, Earl.