Trends, drivers and future shocks: What’s shaping the army of tomorrow?
This spring the Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs, a unit within the Land Staff, will publish Army 2040: First Look, a wide-ranging strategic foresight exercise intended to provide senior leaders with trends, plausible futures and their possible implications for the army. Vanguard recently sat down with the Concepts Team – LCol Michael Rostek, Peter Gizewski, Regan Reshke, Maj John Sheahan and Maj/Padre Steve Moore – to discuss their research and its impact on the army. Excerpts of our conversation follow.
What does your research suggest about the army of 2040?
Peter Gizewski: I think the whole definition of what an army is and the kind of skills that it needs to be effective is going to change. Security will have to be defined more broadly and our skills and capabilities in achieving it might grow somewhat. I think we’ll see that a lot of the traditional security issues of 20 or 30 years ago, that had a strong military focus, will not be solvable in the future unless we are prepared to change the way militaries think and behave. We have to take a much more multifaceted view of security than we ever have before. The mere fact that we are starting a process where we’re thinking about where we might end up in 20 or 30 years suggests to me a broader thinking army – we haven’t always thought this way. Ten years ago, if you’d mentioned things like comprehensive approach in a war-gaming exercise, you’d have been laughed out of the room. That’s no longer the case. To me, the intellectual process that we’re dealing with here is hopefully going to translate into a broader vision.
Michael Rostek: It is certainly suggesting a more versatile, flexible army.
Steve Moore: There will also be a greater interface between the military and civilians, so there will be a softer approach and less hard security than we see today. You’ll have civilians in higher places within the military structure, the emphasis on the security-development nexus will be greater and the militarizing of the humanitarian space in operations that seems to be the debate today will be greatly lessened. The Americans have traditionally had phases 1, 2, 3, 4 of a campaign; in 2008, they introduced phase 0, which is pre-conflict and therefore non-kinetic.
Regan Reshke: It will depend on how the next 30 years play out. We have suggested four alternative futures and a lot will be dependent on where the trends lead us. It’s hard to think about what the force is going to look like globally until we go through the exercise of examining what we might need in each alternative future and, from that analysis, draw out the common themes and capabilities.
Convergence within science and technology is fairly well recognized; your research seems to suggest greater convergence across legal, economic, political and social dimensions. What is the challenge for the military in trying to connect all these dots?
Gizewski: One of the challenges is to ensure that we are not too wedded to one particular way of doing things. We have to maintain a certain amount of flexibility. I don’t necessarily mean equipment standards (though that’s part of it), I mean mentally. With the degree of connectivity that now exists, I think it becomes theoretically possible to tap into resources that before we would have never thought of tapping into. There are still an awful lot of connectivity issues related to security that we have to deal with. But at the same time this idea of a comprehensive approach goes beyond simply working in an operational theatre; it involves branching out into society and thinking about where the resources are to solve problems. And if we have soldiers who start thinking that way, we’ll have a much more intelligent military and more chances of solving what are often non-traditional issues.
Rostek: To paraphrase Sir Michael Howard: even if current doctrine is wrong, what matters is ensuring we are agile and flexible enough to get it right when it matters. So on procurement, even the traditional method of selecting a piece of equipment has to be studied further because you really need to think about where you see yourself in the future, and how that piece of equipment will be inventoried. We have researched what is called “tech insertion” – more frequent, smaller rebuilds as opposed to a larger rebuild process that may happen once or twice during the life of a piece of equipment. We believe this may allow the army to adjust more readily to the ever-changing security environment.
In terms of connecting the dots, we try not to be too specific in the concept phase. But as we design a new force employment concept, which is about 4-5 years away, we will become more detailed about what it means for the army. Our alternate futures tried to point out the convergences between energy and the environment coupled with a number of other indicators such as demographics. One of the key issues we discovered was that innovation requires energy. So if you are wasting it now, and there is a finite supply, you may well limit your potential to innovate in the future.
Reshke: But energy and population, for example, converge differently depending on whether you have lots of energy or little energy. Where you have little energy, labour becomes an important resource. Where you have ample energy, then innovation becomes more important because you can offset the deficit in labour. So the way in which the key indicators converge changes depending on which alternative future you are in.
But as we move forward, we’re going to have to look at what equipment the army is buying today and test it against the four quadrants representing the alternate futures to determine just how relevant that equipment might be in that 2040 timeframe. If it appears completely irrelevant, then it’s time to start considering where we need to modify things.
That suggests gaps in the existing system. Do you have a sense yet of where those might be?
Reshke: I think the army’s energy efficiency, or lack thereof, is a key area that we need to improve upon. Three of our four alternative futures demand energy efficiency, either from an environmental perspective or a lack of energy perspective, so it’s important to get that piece right.
Rostek: We are quite interested in research on self-sustainment for an expeditionary force – not only do you have a lower carbon footprint but you’re not drawing on a host nation’s resources. As you know, the army is a huge consumer of energy with a huge carbon footprint.
Gizewski: A lot of what we see does suggests a certain degree of organizational change as well – less hierarchical, perhaps, flatter in terms of being able to draw from different parts of a society to get what is needed.
Rostek: There is also the comprehensive approach, unmanned systems/robotics – we’re not clear enough on these. Cyberspace and space are two other areas we think we need to leverage, so we’re doing research specifically in those areas. And of course there is always the question of what does this mean to the individual soldier skills and competencies. All of those are areas have become individual focus areas of research because greater clarity is required.
Does this degree of convergence mean greater frequency of shocks?
Gizewski: It’s a personal opinion, but I would say yes. But what is a shock to one person is not necessarily a shock to another. Development issues and environmental issues are going to affect various groups and regions differently. There’s an argument concerning whether the world is becoming more complex. Well, a good historian will tell you that it’s always been complex. The difference – to my mind – is in the type of complexity that exits, and you are seeing things move faster because of the way information is produced and disseminated, and that will create a lot of perturbations in the system.
Reshke: There is also the complicating issue of cascading failures, due to the fact that all of our systems are interdependent – modern societies depend on communication networks, energy, electrical, water and sanitation distribution systems, etc. – so it will depend on the level of redundancy that is built into the system and just how far things cascade before a tipping point is reached from which you can’t recover.
How much of the 2040 timeframe is automated?
Reshke: I’m not sure how much the military will automate, but certainly society as a whole will be exceptionally well automated. I would expect that the military will be more prudent with automation, that we won’t arm our automated tools too quickly. This is all about moving cautiously so that we implement robotics and automation where we have a good understanding of what some of the consequences might be.
Gizewski: One big question for a lot of futurists revolves around the nature of being human in the decades ahead. Given increased man-machine interface, how does that affect how one acts, thinks, what one believes? Some of those questions have huge ethical and moral implications.
Moore: My hope is that as we develop greater skill at the human dimension we’ll enhance our ability to interface with other cultures, especially those that are not as technologically advanced as us. So we have to be careful that we don’t become so automated that we can’t interface with the societies where we are deployed. Hopefully we will become more effective at engaging the other.
Rostek: With Crisis in Urlia, we went through this thought process. Concerning engagement with the local populations: is it through robotics, reach back, an avatar, a robot with a human face? We discussed all these aspects and we eventually concluded that there must remain an obvious human element to what we do.
Reshke: We also studied how rapidly these developing nations are getting into the networking environment. In some cases they are ahead of us in their level of networking. So we definitely see the network being much more fully developed in 2040.
Moore: But I wonder how that works as it rubs up against the religious element of those cultures – the elders who resist anything that is modern. There is a rub of the old resisting the new.
John Sheahan: There are a lot of countries where the cell phone has been taken to a level beyond ours. There are huge volumes of micro payments in the range of pennies, nickels and dimes. In some ways they are replacing currency through a network.
Reshke: But from a human dimension perspective, my view is that you can’t separate humans and technology. In fact, they are converging. So much about the human experience deals with the integration and convergence of technology into society.
Rostek: I agree with Regan but to build on what Steve said, the force employment model has evolved from the underlying singular paradigm of close combat to now including close engagement alongside close combat. Close engagement speaks to that new human dimension aspect. We’re wrestling with that now as we move forward with a study on attributes and competencies for the future soldier. What does our new recruit looking like, what do we teach him and what do we expect him to come in the door with? We’ve got a lot more work to do in this area.
What does the individual soldier look like within this context? He can’t be Robocop?
Rostek: Right now the cohort we recruit is the 17-24 year old, rural Canadian male. Perhaps in 2040, it is the 25-35, urban Canadian male? I say that to be purposely provocative, but those changes are taking place in our cities and around the world.
Reshke: We’re equally provocative in the fictional story, Urlia, because we suggest that the safest environment in 2040 is going to be the anonymous, electronic environment – the virtual world. In the virtual world it doesn’t matter who you are. You can look like, and be, whomever you think the person on the other side wants you be.
Gizewski: It may be an indigenous soldier from that region that we have trained properly.
Rostek: I’m more of a minimalist. I don’t like the big storm trooper idea. Based on what I think is emerging in terms of nano and other science advancements, your flak vest will be significantly more lightweight, your communication and health systems will be woven into your clothing and the soles of your boots will contain nano batteries generating power as you walk. It’s minimalist and unobtrusive. I think we have to get away from this storm trooper idea because soft skills are becoming so much more prominent.
Reshke: Even with nanotechnology, though, we will go through cycles as we did with body armour for example. As soon as a weapon could pierce metal body armour – and you couldn’t build it any thicker and still carry it – either the material changed or tactics changed; we’re going through those same cycles. We are seeing high-powered weapons that can penetrate Kevlar and we’re rapidly approaching the point where soldiers cannot carry any more armour. Protective technologies will change and adapt, but it will be just a short period before the threat technology catches up. That’s why I’m keen on the idea of networked virtual environments that will certainly be well developed by 2040; people are not physically vulnerable when communicating face-to-face as avatars in the virtual environment.
Gizewski: The psychological literature suggests that many people still prefer face-to-face. On the other hand, that’s now. What younger generations will find as normal, may well change to create a “new” normal.
Clearly, the human dimension cuts across most of what you are seeing. Is there a challenge to integrating it within the future army?
Rostek: We’re a very equipment-focused army and one of the key things we see coming out of our research is the importance of not losing sight of what the human dimension is all about – a human effect. The human effect on the ground is our raison d’etre. If you consider singularity – machine-man interface – it demands a high degree of responsible innovation. So when we look at these larger ethical issues, the human dimension jumps out at us. There will always be the negative side to scientific advancement, so we want to make sure that does not get lost in our research. We often say we are all about soldiers, but it has been my experience that that gets sidelined pretty quick in terms of how we deal with the future.
As an example of non-kinetic effects, we’re working on research with the Influence Activity Task Force. We’re wrestling with the idea of “red teaming,” making it a capability in the CF. There are also human domain analysis teams, which are similar to the Human Terrain Teams in the U.S. Religious leader engagement, cultural awareness, comprehensive approach – which we consider a very human issue, not a technology issue – all these soft kinetic issues are playing a much bigger role.
In general, then, is there a need for more social sciences within military planning?
Gizewski: I would say so. It also requires an understanding that some of these issues can’t be as easily broken down into separate variables as they might have been before. Some of the methodologies that we traditionally use can only take us so far, and we have to look at things in a much more holistic manner. That becomes very clear to me in looking at some of the problems we face in the future, some of the singularities and the way things can interact given the wired, interconnected world we are in. Furthermore, many of the conflicts we are beginning to see don’t necessarily lend themselves well to quantitative methods and analysis. A lot of it has to do with the mind, how one is perceived, with issues of religion, culture and things that a lot of the more traditional operational research analysts are not comfortable with.
Reshke: I think so-called hard scientists by nature are quite conservative. They don’t want to stretch too far given the nature of science – they want to be able to test their hypotheses using the scientific method; with what we do, there can be no testing – it’s structured speculation in many cases. Within the office of the chief scientist at DRDC, though, there is a small group that practices foresight and considers futures issues. So even in corporate headquarters amongst the so-called hard scientists, there is an acknowledgement that you need to have a group that thinks a bit outside the box.
Rostek: I think the reason we’ve been so successful is that we blend the two and understand there are no sacred cows.
2040 does not specifically address the role of religion in future conflict but it is part of your ongoing research. How does the rise of religion affect the future army?
Moore: Extreme expressions of religion are becoming a factor of conflict. What we’re finding is that not only are there people in western religious communities coming forward to offer whatever they can, but secular think tanks are beginning to write about this, that governments need to bring in anthropologists, theologians and religious leaders to learn from their knowledge. USAID came out last year with a toolkit to sensitize workers and leaders about a religious interface because they recognize the importance of this. If you misstep or miscalculate because of not having enough information, it can create tremendous problems for you in an operational setting.
Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman recently noted the willingness of women to martyr their sons and the ubiquity of terrorist training via the Internet. There is a paucity of strategy in the west about how to broach that topic with this generation. We’ll be at this for at least two generations, Hoffman said. So all the more reason to look at how we can empower and engage the tolerant voice of religion. These are often influential people, both at the grass roots level and at higher levels in community, regional and federal life.
Reshke: It highlights a paradox – that on the one hand we see convergence in globalization but on the other you have this ideological fragmentation.
Moore: I recently met with American chaplains and they are finding that commanders in the field are looking to them to engage local religious leaders on a variety of levels. But if we are to move in this vein, even though we have a natural rapport and common ground, chaplains still need more expertise and more understanding in this area. In talking with the Americans, especially the army chaplain school which has a staff of 120 and trains 3000 chaplains, the demand is so great that they are training their captains as quickly as possible.
So the chaplain branch is moving this into doctrine. I think in the years ahead we will find that this will become an aspect of operations, written into operational plans. We will be introducing a program called religious area analysis and assessment so that captains can provide commanders a fairly in depth overview of what the religious element looks like in that operational setting.
We’ve heard Responsibility to Protect invoked in recent weeks. Do evolving norms become laws by 2040?
Rostek: R2P or the Ottawa Process on anti-personnel landmines or the International Criminal Court (ICC) have developed with a greater recognition of a global society. Our research tried to convey the idea that law and legal issues may well take on a greater and demanding international flavour as we move forward. Even now, the ICC is investigating the issues surrounding detainees in Afghanistan. We have also seen significant “legalization” of the battlefield with increased legal representation in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Does the current fiscal state have any longer-term effect on these future scenarios or is it part of a manageable cycle?
Rostek: From the 2040 perspective, we just see it as a blip on the long-term radar. Yes, there will be some pain in the next five years as the army grapples with budget reductions: however, we try to take a longer view of things and understand how events today might send us on certain trajectories. For example, from a global perspective, it is quite clear that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are on the rise and by 2040 we certainly expect there to be economic change. So we are primarily interested in understanding the change in the global economy and how that might affect our Land Forces.
Reshke: The other thing to consider about the economic situation is that there is an acknowledgement that innovation remains important, so even when stressed financially, resources are still being put toward innovation. We might see a slowdown temporarily, but it will pick up again; innovation will still carry on.
Gizewski: Though we see this economic downturn as a blip in a longer line, we are very attuned to the possibilities of economic problems in the future. One of the aspects of the comprehensive approach that we are starting to study is the extent to which the approach itself is useful from an economic standpoint: that is, to marshal one’s resources in a much more efficient way than before, perhaps in a more cost effective way as certain technologies come online and one can get those synergistic effects between organizations that we’re hoping for. We’re not kidding ourselves in thinking this is all going to work beautifully, but perhaps over time, you start actually improving your economies of scale when it comes to dealing with problems.
Your alternate futures scenario expressly deals with the nexus of environmental change and energy. How does the Arctic play in that dynamic and what does it demand of the army?
Sheahan: You’ve got some suggesting the Arctic is ours and we’ve got to shake a fist and fire some bullets to show people we are there. But of the three areas where the military can contribute – sovereignty, security and safety – I would anticipate that we will be doing much more of the latter two. Certainly, from an army perspective, we have to be ready and trained to do all three. But while we’ll see more attention paid to the Arctic – the resource and transit issues are significant – it won’t become a flash point.
Rostek: From a capability development perspective, there are some real issues for us. Most people continue to think about the cold – that’s not what worries me. I am more concerned about the Arctic and global warming and what type of complex environment it will represent in the future. Between the permafrost and the lack of ice, mobility will be greatly reduced. The Arctic is also a fragile ecosystem and increase use for commercial or resource purposes must be managed carefully. This may very well lead to new roles for the army in that region.
Sheahan: We have aviation but we don’t have a lot of it, so it’s an issue we’ll have to work through. The pre-positioning supplies may become critical. We haven’t been aggressive in training for the north in a long time. In recent years this has been changing for the better, but it will take some time and we’ll have to continue to refresh skills as we progress. Right now we do much more winter indoctrination as opposed to winter operations. We’ve got a tasking for one company per area across the south to fire up an Arctic company on relatively short notice. That will develop a cadre of folks that will be really good. And we’re growing and re-equipping the Rangers. We’re getting more engaged and we are about to define more clearly what the army’s end state will be for each of those pillars.
Reshke: It will depend on how the situation develops over time, based on resource challenges globally. The more the Arctic becomes a key location for resource development, the more involved the army will become.
What is driving this conceptual process? And does the force development framework exist to support this?
Rostek: My personal opinion is that the CF force development framework is good. It can use some minor adjustments, but it’s simple and easy to understand. The framework describes how you take an idea, develop it into a concept and then build that concept into a capability. It provides a rigorous, academic foundation to how we think we need to spend our budget in the future. The nature of our business demands accountability and I think the force development process, properly disciplined, can provide that. From my perspective, accountability is really what drives a lot of the force development work and the importance of it.
Gizewski: The accountability issue is really important. In any system there are always going to be those acquisitions that deviate from what a systematic analysis might suggest as the best course, but if you at least have that process of assessment, it can create some pressure to explain why you have deviated, which goes to the issue of accountability.
Rostek: The whole premise of 2040 is to get people to rigorously think about and debate where we are headed as an organization. In this day and age, it is my opinion that we cannot afford to risk loosing the innovative thinking and foresight required in an increasingly uncertain and complex world.
Reshke: The framework is a disciplined approach to thinking about risks rather than a threat-based planning approach. Capability development in an undisciplined fashion would be unaffordable, because there are new tools, equipment and capabilities coming out practically every day now. By going through this process, you discipline your thinking about capabilities in relation to how you consider risks.