In 1991, as part of an education program I was taking, I had an opportunity to visit several factories that were using robotics. That included visits to an automobile assembly factory in Kentucky and a Hitachi assembly plant in Japan. I was impressed with the precision and efficiency of the robots I saw in those plants. At the time, factory robots performed mostly routine, repetitive or dangerous tasks. They saved time and money, provided precision assembly and improved productivity, in part by reducing human errors. They precisely drilled every hole for every rivet.
The onslaught of COVID-19 is changing society in an unprecedented manner, and AFCEA is fully enmeshed in preparing for what will likely be a changed new world. In addition to taking major steps to safeguard its staff, its members and its broad range of partners, the association has begun planning for the post-COVID-19 virus age. This new era will be characterized by changes in technology and in methods of operation.
The coronavirus has justifiably prompted deep concerns over the security and stability of the U.S. supply chain and major portions of the critical infrastructure upon which our nation and our partner nations have become so dependent. Prompted by the shift to globalization, over time this has led to the outsourcing of many products, services and technologies that were once considered core national capabilities. Consequently, we have created dependencies and vulnerabilities that conflict with our national security. Some of these liabilities are evident in our efforts to bring the necessary resources to bear against the coronavirus.
Many people looking at the technology of the future have focused on electronics and software. While these two have fueled the information revolution, another technology is poised to impose significant changes on life at large. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has the potential to alter the way items are made and economies of scale are leveraged.
The electronics supply chain is the aorta to the global economy. Both the military and the commercial sectors rely on it to provide the lifeblood necessary to flourish, yet the security of that same supply chain, with its ubiquitous importance, potentially holds the key to their demise.
Various threats menace the security of the electronics supply chain. It is susceptible to attacks from many different vectors and from a diverse set of actors. These attacks can serve any number of purposes and take on many guises.
The current National Defense Strategy looks at the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Consequently, the military services are thoughtfully making strategic adjustments and adapting their operational concepts to meet new and emerging threats. Those changes are especially significant in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Advances in sensor mechanics and the advent of artificial intelligence have cleared the way for robots to play an increasingly greater role in military operations. Their growing versatility allows them to serve multiple functions in the military, from basic assistance to assumption of full combat roles. They can inter alia, lighten a warfighter’s load, provide search and rescue capabilities, perform surveillance missions, engage in casual evacuation, provide resupply and conduct hazardous route reconnaissance. Within 10 years, we may see them driving supply vehicles in convoys.
Key moments in history are often determined after the fact. But today, we have the luxury of knowing that we are at an important nexus in geopolitics. We stand at a crossroads in the Indo-Pacific region, and the actions we take now may well determine the future of the region and beyond.
Issues abound. India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, have witnessed an increase in hostility along their common border. Terrorist organizations flow from Southwest Asia into the archipelagos of southern Asia, and North Korea remains a secretive puzzle with a massive potential for violence.
Every modern military today owes a major portion of its capabilities to electronics-based technologies that have automated or improved warfighting capabilities. Defense electronics have promoted and driven a revolution in military affairs that shows no signs of abating, and their impact is likely to increase in the coming years. Further, commercial electronic technologies are taking an ever-expanding role in the national security market. But this revolution brings with it potential hazards that go beyond conventional threats.
The intelligence community is in for major changes as it confronts new and emerging threats across the entire spectrum of operations. While the challenges have developed over time, the intelligence community’s changes must be revolutionary, not evolutionary.
As different as the war on terrorism was from the Cold War, so is the current threat picture from traditional conflict profiles. Kinetic operations vie with cyber and social media activities for dominance in the new battlespace. Often, all three act in concert. Intelligence must focus not only on determining enemy activities before they have an effect, but also on waging operations that prevent or neutralize adversarial operations.
The discovery and taming of fire changed the way humans lived. Its broad range of uses came with both benefits and hazards. It could enable life in harsh environments, but it could also serve as an instrument of destruction. The same dichotomy holds true with social media today, but its ill effects cannot be easily extinguished.
Technology has given U.S. forces an immutable edge for more than three decades. No nation dared confront the most powerful military in the world head-on. But over time, the technological benefits enjoyed by our military have waned, and adversaries are rapidly cutting into our technological warfighting strength.
Both the economy and education are national security issues. A nation cannot be strong militarily if it is not strong economically. Nor can a nation expect to prevail against adversaries over the long term if it does not continuously generate a trained and educated populace.
One of the biggest challenges facing industry, government and academia is the ability to recruit, develop and maintain a skilled and effective cybersecurity workforce. Businesses in the information technology realm must add skilled cyber and information technology workers to generate innovation.
The phrase, “These are critical times for the NATO alliance,” has been used so often it is almost a cliché. But these times are not defined by a cliché, as the alliance faces multiple challenges within and without. Deliberate discussion has always been the method of determining NATO policy and direction, but the window for that approach is narrowing. NATO must decisively confront several challenges.
Information has long been a tool of learning, an agent of influence and a weapon of conflict dating back to Darius I and the Persian Empire. Just as Gutenberg’s printing press fueled the promotion, expansion and spread of dogma and new ideas during the Renaissance, today’s information technologies and their inherent capabilities have enabled information, disinformation and misinformation to be disseminated more rapidly to a much broader audience than ever before. Enabling technologies such as the Internet and artificial intelligence allow more rapid and effective targeting in terms of message content and selection of recipients.
All elements of the military play a crucial role in maintaining peace and security, and all domains are challenged by a diverse set of adversaries. Given this understanding, the maritime domain faces unique challenges that could conceivably hamper efforts in other domains and areas of vital national interest. Necessary resources must be provided and appropriate capabilities developed.
The coming year will be full of activity and progress for AFCEA. The association continues moving in a positive direction, and the efforts that initiated this progress will persist.
We are not going to simply stay the course. Internal changes will be assessed, and the professional expertise inherent in our community will address many of the national and global challenges facing the United States, its allies and partner nations.
The past three decades have seen technologies rapidly transform the face of society. Robots, coupled with artificial intelligence, machine learning and other developing capabilities such as the Internet of Things (IoT), are among the latest technologies to offer the promise of labor-saving capabilities, improved efficiency in manufacturing, better precision in the medical field and enhanced capabilities in national security, to name just a few applications.
In a rapidly changing and dynamic world, we are lacking a most important ingredient for policy making: honest, constructive political debate. Civil discourse, in which responsible and thoughtful people discuss proposed policies and events based on facts, logic and reason in an atmosphere of mutual respect, has all but disappeared. It is being replaced by one-sided, confrontational politics wrapped in narrowly focused biases that give no quarter to opposing views. Emotion and deception have ousted integrity and truth. Moderate voices are being driven to the sidelines or silenced altogether.
China is at the heart of many key geopolitical issues confronting the Indo-Pacific region. It has seen dramatic and unprecedented economic growth in the last three decades and is embarked on a path supporting that growth with a major expansion in military capabilities. China is a nation on the move, and its strategic behavior underscores a long-term goal of seeking hegemony over the vast Indo-Asia region where it resides and likely exerting extraordinary influence over global affairs.
China’s growth continues apace. Having surpassed Japan in gross domestic product, China is poised to overtake the U.S. economy as the world’s largest in the next decade. By some widely accepted standards, it has already done so.