Some threats that come from conflicts will always be the same. There will always be the threat that the enemy has a larger population or more expansive landmass. There’s the threat of alliances which could create an enemy that’s overpowering or the threat of losing allies that could weaken defenses. But the biggest threat of all is the threat of uncertainty. Emerging threats come to us because of progress, which is why we have to use progress to fight back.

A cornerstone of the Third Offset Strategy is planning for that uncertainty. Perhaps it sounds like a contradiction, but that’s exactly what risk management is. It’s not planning for the things that will happen, it’s planning for the things that could happen, even only hypothetically. Most of the potential risk centers around the uncertainty that technology creates and how it can be exploited.

A Lesson Learned From the Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project, the project that would lead to the development and eventual use of the first nuclear weapons, was started not out of innovation but fear. Following the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, the US became extremely worried that this type of power that could be weaponized. The Manhattan Project was born as a reaction to German physicists discovering the power of nuclear energy. But for the efforts of both Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, it’s possible the US may have never recognized the true destructive power of nuclear fission.

While the US didn’t discover the potential of nuclear energy first, they were the first to figure out how to weaponize it. Most don’t realize how close it came to going the other way, as Germany had an atomic project of its own. This close call and the continuing growth of nuclear technology is what spurred the beginning of offset strategies in the 1950s.

Nuclear fission was the catalyst for nuclear technology. It was an emerging technology at the time and one that, once harnessed, swayed the outcome of a war. The goal of the first offset strategy was to make the US the place that discovered these emerging technologies first. Specific to the military, an emerging technology is one that:

  • Presents a major competitive advantage to those who first discover it – An example of this would be caseless ammunition. At first blush, a bullet that can fire without a cartridge may seem unextraordinary. However, without cartridges, firearms will be able to fire faster, with less chance of jamming. Accuracy would improve as would supply, as materials for cartridges would not be needed.
  • It must be hypothetically possible – A particle beam like in “Star Trek” may seem like it would be great in warfare, but it’s not hypothetically possible. “Hypothetically possible” means that while the item may not have been developed yet, there’s a solid scientific theory in place that indicates it can be done.
  • It marginalizes prior technology or a process designed for the same use – An emerging technology is one which makes prior iterations of the same type of technology obsolete. An example of this would be cloaking devices which use light rays to make the user invisible. Believe it or not, this technology is in the development stage. If it can be harnessed on a mass scale, it would make camouflage obsolete.

Those are the basics of what can be considered an emerging technology, though it’s not an exhaustive list. These technologies aren’t just being experimented with in the US. They are in progress in just about every developed nation, with varying levels of success, making these emerging technologies potential threats.

Planning A Defense Around Emerging Technologies

The primary goal of the Third Offset Strategy is to discover emerging technologies first. However, it’s also a goal and necessity to discover how to combat those technologies. Take the cloaking mechanism example from above. Those developing it know that if another nation discovers it first, they will have a significant competitive advantage. As such, researchers are also developing ways to combat it. For every emerging technology, an opposite preventative technology needs to be developed. Here are a few examples of this when it comes to the Third Offset Strategy:

  • Advanced unmanned aerial weapons versus satellite warning systems – Unmanned aerial weapons are expanding past drone warfare, to the point where fully functioning helicopters and jets could be used in combat. While the US is working on expanding these capabilities, they’re also developing satellite warning systems to detect them, as it’s known that China and Russia have these in development as well.
  • Cloud-based battle systems versus cyber counterintelligence – Battles can be strategized and managed via the use of computers and satellite systems. However, someone illicitly taking control of these systems could lead to defeat. As such, some cyber intelligence activities have moved online to protect these systems and attempt to breach others.
  • Counter-intelligence measures versus mass vetting – The US is always gathering information and other countries are consistently trying to gain information from them. Mass vetting, using tools like RRA, optical scanning, and social media mining are all tools to monitor for these threats.

Innovation breeds threats. Any emerging technology is going to present both opportunities and risks. The countries that get to it first are best prepared for those risks. This is why the Third Offset Strategy is supported through effective research and development of new technologies.

Clearspeed offers one of these emerging technologies, using a mass vetting system which is mobile, flexible and cost effective. Our proprietary technology was designed to measure risk not just quickly, but accurately. For more information, contact us.

Image Source | Unsplash user Simon Abrams