It was one year ago I left the cushy confines of the Washington, D.C. political world and arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin service to my nation as a United States Army officer. While in D.C. I had worked on and in media spoke on a variety of national security and defense policy issues now I was going to firsthand partake in the gritty groundwork of securing our nation.
After a year swirling around bases and seeing the functioning of our armed forces firsthand, I’ve personally come to believe even more how technology is increasingly not only becoming an essential military driver but perhaps the most important one of our foreseeable security future.
War is no longer fought with grand armies facing off on some forsaken battlefield just as security is no longer in troop numbers or fortresses. In the latter half of the 20th century nuclear weaponry was seen as the holy grail of protecting a state’s existence, a technological ward against any and all due to its destructive capability.
The 21st century has rapidly shown how the cyberspace, hardware, artificial intelligence, and aeronautical realms are the fields on which military dominance and security can be achieved. Unmanned drones have permitted everything from surgical strikes deep in enemy territory to reconnaissance to reducing the need for frontal assaults at all. Cyberspace, due to the reliance of much of the world economy, society, and government operations on the Internet, is increasingly a “battlefield” in which coders, hackers, and more compete for superiority, resources, and control.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is at the forefront of immense frontier developments in artificial intelligence for automating vast tasks previously undertaken - and risked - by boots on the ground. Low Earth orbit - and beyond - are increasingly sensitive and a realm in which protection is needed due to the prevalence of satellites and other uses of space, as the recently revitalized U.S. Space Command and potential U.S. Space Force may address.
Just as how the development of firearms changed the strategies and demands of warfighting from those of armor-clad knights and spear-wielding infantry so do our modern security requirements significantly change how we need to prepare and adapt to properly protect the United States and its interests in this technology age.
"If Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wants to serve his county in the military, we could probably make him an E-4 at cyber command” said a former Pentagon personnel chief in 2016 of the Facebook CEO. “There was no way to have him come in with the stature his professional abilities demand” said him in a follow-up in 2018. That recently changed, as the military has begun potentially offering direct commissions even up to the rank of Colonel for those deemed especially at need for our country’s defense, particularly in the cyber and technological realm.
As the 21st century moves forward we are likely to see the move towards not just a technology-supplemented but technology-based military security strategy. A future of wars fought almost entirely by machines, controlled and overseen - or not in the case of self-automated ones - by military persons back at headquarters, is not entirely guaranteed. Yet, with current trends, it’s not too far off a possibility either.
A bigger question too is how our military and society will adapt too as these changes become increasingly prevalent and demanded. I saw firsthand in Washington, D.C. how concerned policymakers are over the increasing security implications of rapid technological developments, many of which are well outside the realm of government control but still with immense, dramatic impact.
The 20th century was the age of technology in the sense of human-controlled and operated machines. However the 21st century will be the one in which we see machines increasingly operating on their own, designed and programmed and set loose. The impact and effects remain uncertain and pending.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.