Disruption 101: Preparing for the unknown

Defence Research and Development Canada is proud to partner with Vanguard on a new series of articles showcasing DRDC’s accomplishments. This month, our first collaborative project looks at the notion of disruption. What is it, and how are the Canadian Forces preparing for it in a context of defence and security?

Disrupt: to bother, interrupt, make major changes to, destroy the structure of. All around us, thousands of disruptions alter our habits without putting us at risk. The advent of the MP3 file, for example, which displaced the CD, has not affected our ability to survive. Nevertheless, when disruptions that affect security and defence come at us from the four corners of the world, the importance and value accorded to studying and understanding them takes on a whole new significance.

Just 10 years ago the concepts of disruption and disruptive technologies were beginning to attract the attention of DRDC leadership; today, the agency is keenly aware of the need to closely examine and prepare for these new realities.

What exactly is disruption? According to Pierre Lavoie, Chief Scientist at DRDC, disruption from a scientific and technological perspective in a defence and security context is defined primarily by the reaction it provokes in the parties involved. “Disruption can be seen as a change in people’s behaviour generally,” he says. It may arise from a variety of origins, notably technology, innovation and the implementation of new strategies. Regardless of where it comes from, though, the result is the same: the disruption demands that we adapt to the immediate situation and that we change the established way of doing things.

Knowns and unknowns
At DRDC, there has been an increased effort over the last four years or so to prepare the Canadian Forces for future disruptions. This involves two major aspects. The first, which is operational in nature, focuses mainly on the behaviour of our forces in the theatre of operations. In particular, research on this aspect seeks to determine how forces react to a sudden disruption caused by the enemy, such as a novel offensive tactic that has never been observed before.

The other aspect concerns mainly CF capability development. This consists of a longer-term approach that is both anticipatory and reflective, aimed at maximizing the capabilities of the Forces. It seeks to determine which initiatives should be adopted and developed in the future, as well as which material resources are most appropriate to the realities of the theatre of operations.

Winds of change
The focus of research has evolved over the course of the last decade. While initially the main objectives were awareness and recognition, as well as reflection on the scientific and technological advances that could have disruptive effects on defence and security, today the preferred approach is to invest systematically in the overview, identification and rigorous analysis of disruptions related to science and technology.

In concrete terms, this vision translates into an increased production of knowledge about disruption. DRDC aims to promote the acquisition, exchange, accessibility and generation of knowledge on a global scale. As Lavoie points out, there is no need to reinvent the wheel in order to do so. “Our objective at DRDC is to leverage our efforts so as to multiply the knowledge already acquired in the commercial sphere, in the field of intelligence and in partnership with our allies, in order to better prepare our forces for intheatre realities,” he affirms.

The greater and more varied the quantity of information available about potential disruptions, the greater the multiplying effect on the capacity to anticipate and to observe the early signals and warning signs. Moreover, the accumulation of this information impacts on other decision-making levels by helping to clarify issues such as: What are the areas in which there is the greatest justification for investment? What aspects of training should the Canadian Forces be emphasizing? What are the preferred tactics to be used in the theatre of operations?

This is one of the reasons why the DRDC plays a critical role in the preparation of the CF.

Through vision and concrete effort, DRDC is constantly redefining the importance of disruption at the heart of its projects. And this is only the beginning. Lavoie believes that this approach needs to become an integral part of the daily reality of DRDC, one that must be systematically affirmed and realized, in terms of both adequate funding and the intellectual commitment of the workers in science and technology. As he so aptly points out, “it must become as natural as sleeping or breathing!”

Nancy L’Étoile is a public affairs officer at Defence Research and Development Canada.

Author: Nancy L’Étoile from the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 issue published

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