Emerging innovations within today’s most cutting-edge science and technology (S&T) areas are cited as carrying the potential to revolutionize governmental structures, economies, and life as we know it; others have argued that such technologies will yield doomsday scenarios and that military applications of such technologies have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power.2 Those S&T areas include artificial intelligence and robotics; hypersonics; additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing); meta-materials (nanotechnological materials that enable stealth/invisibility across multiple parts of the spectrum); directed energy weapons; energy generation, storage, and transmissions; the cognitive neurotechnologies (for brain-computer interface); biotechnology, including systems biology; and the intersection of each with information and communications technologies (ICTs).
When NATO conducted its first strategic review since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, almost a decade ago, it observed:
Less predictable is the possibility that research breakthroughs will transform the technological battlefield. Allies and partners should be alert for potentially disruptive developments in such dynamic areas as information and communications technology, cognitive and biological sciences, robotics, and nanotechnology [emphasis added]…The most destructive periods of history tend to be those when the means of aggression have gained the upper hand in the art of waging war.3
That passage conceptually highlights the uncertainty, complexity, and issues of interdependence that exist in trying to understand the interactions between emerging technologies and international security. Predicting how these new innovations and breakthroughs in scientific understanding may be used is a challenge. Looking to history is one valuable past insight. One must be careful, however, to not be purely technologically deterministic. That is to not assume that because something is possible, or because something potentially may come about, that it is inevitable. History shows us that human ingenuity and use is more often a function of political decisions, regional security threats, and other factors of social, political, historical, economic, and cultural origin.
While the suggestion that such emerging technologies will enable a new class of weapons that will alter the geopolitical landscape—including questions of challenging or changing strategic stability—remains to be realized, a number of unresolved security puzzles underlying the emergence of these new technology areas have implications for U.S. national security, defense policy, foreign policy, governance, and arms control regimes. The extent to which these emerging technologies may exacerbate or mitigate the global security and governance challenges that Russia currently poses and will pose in the future to the United States and NATO allies will be examined.
As the United States looks to the future—whether dominated by extremist groups co-opting advanced weapons in the world of globalized non-state actors or states engaged in persistent regional conflicts in areas of strategic interest—new adversaries and new science and technology will emerge. Choices made today that affect science and technology will impact how ably the United States can and will respond. The changing strategic environment in which security operations are planned and conducted impacts S&T policy choices made today and affects how S&T may play a beneficial or deleterious role in the future. Some game-changing technologies have received global attention, while others may be less well known; these new technologies and discoveries may significantly alter military capabilities and may generate new threats against military and civilian sectors.
Future trend analysis is a tricky task. Colin Gray said, “Trend spotting is easy. It is the guessing as to the probable meaning and especially the consequences of trends that is the real challenge.”4 How, when, where, and in what form the shifting nature of technological progress may bring enhanced or entirely new capabilities, many of which are no longer the exclusive domain of the United States, is contested and requires better analytical tools to enable assessment. Contemporary analyses of these emerging technologies often expose the tenuous links or disconnections among the scientific and technical realities and mainstream scholarship on national and international security, especially with regard to the potential to have impact on strategy and policy. The research underway is advancing the strategic understanding of these game-changing technologies and the development of meaningful and testable metrics and models to help reduce that surprise.
This paper, prepared for the Hoover Institution’s Governance in an Emerging New World project, seeks to assess the implications of new and emerging technologies for national security, with specific emphasis on Russia, NATO, and the European Theater. The paper begins with an introduction and overview of what the authors consider the broader importance of the role of technology as a factor (not *the* factor) of importance in national security and military affairs. Next, the paper places itself in the context of previous work on disruptive, emerging, and advanced technologies and conflict, including the idea of revolutions in military affairs. That is followed by a discussion of Russian technology development, including leveraging historical experience from the Cold War and institutional politics. This is critically important in order to avoid the trap of technological determinism, i.e., assuming that a state will pursue something on technological grounds only. An analysis of the national security implications of select emerging technologies—additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), machine learning and artificial intelligence, advanced stealth via metamaterials, hypersonics, and directed energy weapons—follows. A brief discussion of trends in U.S. entrepreneurship follows. The paper closes with an analysis and conclusions pertinent to the charge from the Governance in an Emerging New World project’s organizers, to assess implications of emerging technology for U.S. national security with emphasis on NATO and Russia.
Broader National Security Environment
In order to understand the changing paradigms for national security in the 21st Century, it is crucial that policymakers have an awareness of the factors driving new and emerging capabilities; possess the ability to analyze the changing nature of technological progress and assess potential impacts on the nature of conflict; and understand the relationships among cutting-edge science, advanced technology, other trends, and national security.
Dominance in both conventional and sophisticated military operations has been enabled in the United States by a technological advantage in precision, speed, stealth, and tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as compared to adversaries. Equally innovative and more revolutionary capabilities will be required in order to ensure dominance and security in the 21st Century—when adversaries span from peer competitor nation-states to disperse insurgencies and lone-wolf non-state actors.
In 2006, the Defense Science Board (DSB) was charged with looking back to the Cold War and the technologies and concurrent capabilities—precision, speed, stealth, and tactical ISR —that gave the U.S. a technological advantage over adversaries and identifying equivalent technological capabilities for the 21st Century.5 They concluded that technological superiority is a strategic differentiator for the United States. As a result of evolving conditions, the U.S. cannot assume that it will stay ahead of its adversaries by simply spending more on research, development, and procurement. The DSB report also concluded that the global environment in which the DoD operates had fundamentally changed, and that the DoD no longer leads most technology development. Globalization of technology has leveled the playing field internationally, and the U.S. faces more complex security challenges than at any time in its past. Additionally, adversaries are increasing their ability to adopt and adapt technology more rapidly than the DoD. The changing global environment requires the DoD to carefully evaluate, shape its programs in response, and be willing to take risks.
Scientific and technological innovations have been the backbone of American economic, military, and political power since the advent of the industrial revolution. Federal support for research and development was invigorated by the arguments and evidence put forth in Vannevar Bush’s now-famous report to the President in July 1945.6 At that time, the revolutionary power and security implications of research-driven development of the atomic bomb was palpable to American policymakers, the civilian leadership in the Department of War, and the armed forces. Advances in federally-sponsored technology made the United States and its armed forces the most technologically advanced in the world.
What are the roles and significance of emerging technologies and how should the national security community respond to the promise and perils of emerging technologies? How will these nascent scientific and technological developments impact local, regional, and international security, stability, and cooperation? What are the most likely sources of technological surprise with the largest threat capacity, and how can the national security community better identify them sooner? Emerging technologies present regional security challenges and may exacerbate (or mitigate) the geo-political, military, energy, and economic challenges in the future to a state or region and the potential impacts on U.S. interests and national security. Deep strategic and practical understanding of the significance of emerging technology and its diffusion as well as extending thinking concerning how science, technology, and inter- and intra-national social relations interact to shape and facilitate management of the changing global security landscape is a pressing need for the 21st Century.
The authors readily acknowledge that there are additional factors beyond technology that play a role and may drive a changing, new strategic environment. These include, but are not limited to, demographics—smaller populations in some states, youth bulges, and increasingly aging populations in other states. Outside of Russia, much of the discussion revolves around megacities and dense urban conflict, which is about people and environments not just structures.
The balance across the acquisitions “iron triangle” of survivability, mobility, and lethality (or firepower) will very soon reach the end of an ‘era’ of physical mass providing protection, even for ground troops. With a near-peer competitor and other operating scenarios, it is likely to be those capabilities that shift the approach to survivability from protection via mass (which is limiting) to capabilities for active defense, capabilities such as meta materials, which can make objects invisible, or ideas like the use of “swarms” by adversaries. In terms of lethality, directed energy weapons are needed; we have to get away from solely relying on traditional explosives and heavy projectiles. New ways to generate, store, and convert power are needed, including at the individual level, such as through harvesting otherwise wasted energy of bootsteps striking the ground or other movements.7 Information and communications technologies are emerged—not emerging technologies. When the individual is directly connected to the internet or other enhancements are possible, what does that mean for the laws of war? People are likely to learn more quickly by computers hooked into the mind. Do we want to go to that? We may be forced to go to that. The use of augmented reality and man-machine interface portends questions of how such cutting-edge capabilities will affect balance of power and conflict. The authors do not claim to project how an adversary will fight—no one’s crystal ball has that level of fidelity—but looking to such emerging technologies offers scenarios to capabilities in which mass is relied upon to provide protection so it doesn’t limit mobility.
Communication of those new discoveries is occurring faster than ever, meaning that the unique ownership of a piece of new technology is no longer a sufficient position, if not impossible. The information revolution and globalization themselves have been major drivers. It is widely regarded that recognition of the potential applications of a technology and a sense of purpose in exploiting it are far more important than simply having access to it today. Technological surprise has and will continue to take many forms. A plethora of new technologies are under development for peaceful means but may have unintended security consequences and will certainly require innovative countermeasures. For example, tremendous developments in biotechnology have occurred since the advent of recombinant DNA and tissue culture-based processes in the 1970s. If the potential for biotechnology to affect fundamental security and warfighting doctrines had been more clearly recognized twenty years ago, the situation today could be very different. Defense against biological weapons—from both states and non-state actors—currently presents a threat that is difficult to predict and for which traditional solutions are increasingly less effective and offers an area for strategic foresight to be valuable.
The dual use conundrum applies to all modern technologies. Because of the other characteristics of the changing strategic environment, it is of greater concern. Historically, dual use previously referred to technologies that could be meaningfully used by both the civilian and military sectors. In light of an ever-changing security environment in which the potential for technologies to be misused by both state and non-state actors has become increasingly prevalent, however, a new conceptualization of dual use, in which the same technologies can be used legitimately for human betterment and misused for nefarious purposes, such as terrorism, has emerged. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Science Policy has promulgated a similar understanding of dual use in its discussions and policies on biosecurity. In keeping with these understandings, this work adopts a similar definition of dual use as research “conducted for legitimate purposes that generates knowledge, information, technologies, and/or products that could be utilized for both benevolent and harmful purposes,”8 i.e., research that can have beneficial impacts as well as unintended deleterious consequences.
Technology and War—The Scholarly Context
Within international security, there is a rich literature exploring the intersection of science, technology, and understanding the outcomes of armed conflict.9 Similarly, for scholars of science and technology studies, the intersection of new technology and weapons application has a rich literature.10 For strategists and scholars of revolution in military affairs (RMA)11 and of fourth and fifth generation warfare (4GW & 5GW),12 the nexus between technology and military affairs is not just speculation but a reality that bears directly on the propensity for conflict and outcomes of war, as well as the efficacy of security cooperation and coercive statecraft. It is a critical variable in international security: military outcomes and technological advances are intricately tied.
The offset strategy is a central concept applied to national security involving technological capabilities. Offset strategies have used technical innovation to counter the strength of adversaries and deter them. Three offset strategies since WWII are commonly cited. The first offset strategy used a nuclear-based deterrence strategy to offset Soviet land forces, proximity to Europe, and conventional superiority in Europe. In order to counter and deter the Soviet adversary, the United States relied on massive retaliation and use of nuclear weapons. The first offset strategy was a success. The second offset began in the 1970s. As the Soviets developed their nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, a new strategy was needed to counter and deter the Warsaw Pact’s numerically superior conventional forces and address Soviet advances in strategic nuclear capabilities in the late stages of the Cold War. The second offset strategy invested in the development of stealth aircraft, precision guided munitions, and space-based reconnaissance and navigation capabilities. Second offset capabilities and U.S. military superiority were demonstrated during the First Gulf War.
The disruptive technology of the second offset has proliferated widely and adversaries (specifically, near-peers) have narrowed the technology gap. In 2014, the call for a third offset was put forward.13 The DoD sought a strategy-based, technology-oriented approach to maintaining and renewing U.S. military advantage.14 Technologically, the third offset focuses on autonomous learning systems, human-machine collaborative decision-making, assisted human operations, advanced manned-unmanned system operations, and network-enabled autonomous weapons and high-speed projectiles.15 In addition to technology, the third offset emphasizes operational and organizational innovation, and innovative military and civilian talent management.
To be disruptive, technologies do need not be radical or novel from an engineering or technical perspective.16 In fact, another class of disruptive technology is important to acknowledge: Innovative use of existing technology. Using a combination of existing technologies in ways that are novel can result in a capability that is disruptive.
Disruptive technology is distinctive because it upsets the established way of doing things. Disruptive technology causes shifts that change the world. Novel technologies are one of the principal means of surprising advisaries or competitors and of disrupting established ways of doing things. It is, however, important to recognize that not all innovative, novel, new, or emerging technologies or innovative uses of technology are disruptive. Some new technologies and capabilities stay in the laboratory, many start-ups fail when taking the technology to market, and plenty of new and innovative technologies or uses of technology never disseminate.
When examining a potentially disruptive technology, the scale of dissemination is a useful factor in determining whether a technology is truly disruptive. Adoption is one critical measure of a technology becoming a disruptive technology. If a technology is not adopted, then it cannot be employed. Understanding what technologies are adopted and then disseminated widely is key to determining which technologies will earn disruptive status. Based on the discussion and sources above, for the purposes of this paper, disruptive technology is defined as: an innovative technology or use of technology that triggers unexpected effects and also upsets the established way of doing things.
Disruptive technologies are distinct from “normal” technology because of the scale of their impact. As discussed above, not all scholars agree on the criteria for disruptive technology. What is important to garner from this definition is that disruptive technology has a wide and profound impact on the established ways of doing things. By its very nature, global stability can be challenged by technology that disrupts the established governance system.
New and unpredicted technologies are emerging at an unprecedented pace around the world. Communication of those new discoveries is occurring faster than ever, meaning that the unique ownership of a new technology is no longer a sufficient position, if not impossible. In today’s world, recognition of the potential applications of a technology and a sense of purpose in exploiting it are far more important than simply having access to it.17 Advanced technology is no longer the domain of the few. In the 21st Century, both nation-states and non-state actors will have access to new and potentially devastating dual-use technology.
Anticipating the types of threats that may emerge as science and technology advance, the potential consequences of those threats, the probability that new and more disperse types of enemies will obtain or pursue them, and how they will impact the future of armed conflict is necessary in preparing for the future security of the nation. The potential synergies among the emerging technologies not only suggest tremendous potential for advancement in technology for military applications but also raise new concerns.
With Russia, one needs to consider not only advances in high technology for traditional military applications but also innovations and uses below the level of declared war, i.e., what is referred to as hybrid warfare, the grey zone, non-linear war, or war below the line (of the Gerasimov “doctrine”). These terms have been taken to mean literally the use of subversion, information warfare, and covert activities to prepare the battlefield before intervention, or what George Kennan called political war: “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives,”18 seeking to undermine U.S. influence abroad and in Europe specifically and to weaken the post-WWII international order. Leveraging all aspects of national power, political warfare spans military, diplomatic, information, and economic arenas and includes both covert and overt activities.
Additionally, while the calculus for use in a traditional state-on-state military conflict may not have changed substantially,19 Russia and its allies are using chemical agents in non-traditional ways. Chemical weapons, which once seemed to be nearing status as an artifact of history in the first decade of the 21st Century, have re-emerged as weapons for targeted assassinations by states like Russia and the DPRK and for use against insurgents and civilians as part of Syria’s civil wars. The long-standing chemical weapons taboo has been shattered, repeatedly.
Understanding Russian approaches to technology development would not be complete without acknowledging the role that dezinformatsiya, disinformation, and maskirovka, military deception, play in interactions with external actors. Soviet training manuals trace the ‘science’ of disinformation back to 1787, when mock villages were built in Ukraine to give an impression of prosperity as Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, passed through the countryside.20 Traveling throughout Russia in the 1700s, the French Marquis de Custine noted in his journals, “Russian despotism not only counts ideas and sentiments for nothing but remakes facts; it wages war on evidence and triumphs in the battle.”21 Two centuries later, the Soviets instituted deception as a national policy, distorting perceptions of their society and laying the foundation for modern disinformation campaigns in military conflict. Personal leadership, geopolitics, operational context, and evolution of technology all influence the conduct of disinformation campaigns.
Overview of Russian Technology Development
There are aspects of Russian strategic culture that have remained consistent from the early origins of the Russian state, throughout the Tsarist and Soviet periods.22 In the words of one scholar who highlights the militarized nature of Russia’s culture, “[t]he continuity of Russian strategic culture through all of these changes, strategic in their character, is truly striking.”23 Russian and Soviet military strategic cultures have shown remarkable tenacity in the midst of societal upheaval, political restructuring, and changes in capabilities.24 When examining the literature about Russian innovation, there is significant overlap between scholarship produced during the Cold War and that of the contemporary literature. This is a consequence both of the remnants of Soviet government and culture that color, if not dominate, the Russian Federation today and the sheer volume of literature on the subject produced by military and academic scholars during the decades-long arms race. This section will attempt to outline the variety of approaches to this topic that have helped shape both Western and Russian scholars’ understanding of this phenomena. It will begin with a brief overview of scholarship about the Soviet process of innovation and then summarize the work of contemporary scholars attempting to make sense of the current Russian system of innovation.
Scholarship regarding military and technological innovation within the Soviet Union provides an insight into the evolution of Western opinions toward Russia. Early writers center their theories about Soviet innovation squarely in the predominant theoretical model of the time: Realism. These authors tend to approach their subject with a particular conceit; they believe that the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union stemmed from a sense of competition between the two states and wrote dozens of articles illustrating how this model shaped the politics of the Cold War and how it should shape relations between the two countries in the future.
Much of the early literature summarizing Russian technological innovation is grounded in the decades-long arms race of the Cold War. Although the specific details of the cases addressed in these studies may appear superficially outdated, many of these frameworks are useful to the discussion of the current state of innovation in Russia because they provide benchmarks by which one can compare aspects of contemporary Soviet efforts to innovate. In this model, Soviet and American leaders were locked in an endless cycle of arms balancing ‘one-upmanship’ that the authors refer to as the “action-reaction” dynamic of innovation between the two states.25
Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara utilizes a similar frame of reference in a much later article as he attempts to provide guidance on how the United States should address and improve relations with Russia and China in a post-Cold War world. The United States is the greatest power in the international system, and, as such, is the “winner” of the Cold War. However, he credits Russia’s desire to modernize both its military and its economy to a variety of policies and actions that the United States has adopted in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Three “betrayals” that occurred during the 1990s are especially important. The first, America’s expansion of NATO in the late 1990s, violated what the Russians understood to be America’s promise not to expand the organization eastward in the wake of the Cold War.26 Not only did the passage of the bill break this promise, but it also provided the Russian government evidence that the United States was attempting to contain them and their influence in Europe despite the Cold War being long since over. Secondly, the Russians understood the United “Founding Act” of May 1997 as an opportunity to obtain a commitment from the United States and NATO that would “limit the expansion of NATO’s military capabilities[…]; disavow any intention to use force against any state except in self-defense or unless authorized by the U.N. Security Council; and grant Russia a role in NATO’s political decision making.” Although Russia secured the first two objectives, its failure to accomplish the third led directly to what McNamara considers the third betrayal: the bombing campaign against Belgrade. While the West conceived of this bombing as a means of forcing the Serbs to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo, Russia saw the bombing as a flagrant violation of the Founding Act. The violation, in combination with the ineffectiveness of the Serbs military equipment against NATO forces drove the Russian government to improve its conventional weapons so that the country could defend itself against potential NATO attacks with something other than nuclear weapons. Such theories provide a plausible explanation for the Russian government’s mistrust of the United States and its intense focus on improving its conventional weapons systems. Like the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation’s process of innovation is predicated upon its desire to keep pace with the United States.
Beginning in the 1970s, however, a different program of research began to emerge on this subject. Rather than focusing solely on the balance of military capabilities of individual countries, scholars sought to understand the connection between a state’s military innovation capabilities and various social-political-economic-institutional factors, as well as the long-term influence of history, known as strategic culture.27 The literature of this time can be generally scoped into six avenues: civil-military, intra-service, international, cultural, top-down, and bottom-up.28
The differences between American and Soviet military innovation can be attributed to a series of cultural variables rather than strictly to military competition. Notable scholar Dima Adamsky attributes the pattern of Soviet innovation following American innovation to the structure of the Soviet military itself.29 In his view, the highly centralized, administrative structure of the military meant that any decision to begin development of a new weapon or weapons system came from the General Secretary of the Communist Party. As such, Soviet military innovation was entirely dependent on the leaders’ perception of American military strategy. Specifically, he posits that “The relationship between technology and military innovation is not deterministic, but rather socially constructed; national military tradition and professional cultures interact with technology, affecting the course and outcome of military change.”30 According to this theory, the Soviet Union constitutes a “high-context” society that draws frequently on a sense of shared history and tradition. Time is also perceived in a very non-linear manner; individuals’ frequent reliance on past experience creates a culture where the present is colored heavily by the past. There is a strong sense that “everything will happen in its time” and that “everything is connected to everything else.”31 Adamsky claims that this understanding of time leads to workplace behavior that is less-than-ideal for innovation; specifically, he claims that cyclical behavior is common in the workplace, meaning that individuals frequently change from one task to another and, though they may understand a great deal, do not concentrate on any one task for long periods of time.
Another scholar, Cornell University’s Matthew Evangelista, also attributes Soviet innovation to a set of particular cultural ideals but focuses on how these ideals were codified in the larger structure of the Soviet military. He is particularly interested in the intersection of the Soviet military’s tradition of suffering as a precursor to strength and forbearance and the prevailing political notion of Communism. In his book Innovation and the Arms Race: How the United States and Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies, Evangelista argues that Russia was a “late, late industrializer” that instituted a “costly campaign of forced-draft industrialization,” inadvertently creating a highly centralized government and a very weak society.32 He goes on to explore the State’s military and history of innovation, comparing it with the United States in regards to centralization, complexity, formalization, interconnectedness, and organizational slack, five structural characteristics “that appear to affect organizational innovativeness.”33 After comparing the two states in these areas, the United States’ R&D apparatus makes it inherently more innovative because the Soviet Union’s “highly centralized, hierarchal,” system, “characterized by excessive secrecy and compartmentalization,” hinders both its ability to innovate and its ability to implement those innovations.34 The centralization of the Soviet system, which was carried over to the Russian Federation, prevents the technologists who are willing and able to innovate from doing so until large-scale structural changes can take place in the leadership’s vision for the future.
Adam Stulberg and Michael Salomone focus on another critical, often overlooked aspect of transformation: changing an organization’s culture, or more specifically, ensuring that internal mechanisms manage and sustain change, writ large, once introduced.35 Looking at Russian nanotechnology development, Stulberg highlights the uncertainty associated with that emerging technology area, and he notes the structural factors that hinder revolutionary technology development.36
In Soviet military writings that were classified by the Soviet Union, as early as 1962, military thought leaders discussed a coming revolution in military affairs for which the Soviet Union‘s military would be required to change its theory and practice in military operations.37 In the late 1960s, Soviet military writers emphasized the importance of detecting a surprise nuclear attack given the development of precision-guided weapons.38 In 1983, the Soviet Union was convinced that the United States and NATO planned a pre-emptive nuclear strike under the guise of NATO Able Archer exercises according to declassified documents, including a transcript of a speech by Andropov, head of the KGB at the time, to the Soviet Communist Party Congress.39 A persistent world view that Russia and its territories, under the Tsars and later as the central Soviet apparatus, is indefensible and subject to surprise attack by “imperial powers” pervades the Soviet military and civilian leadership’s thinking during this time, driven in part by what the Soviet military community deemed a “Military Technical Revolution” with the introduction of precision-guided weapons, and later named the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).
Post-Cold War military writings about the RMA include aspects of information technology as well as precision-guided weapon systems and their potential impact on war. A 1997 analysis of these publications in Russian military journals revealed that there is some disagreement as to how future war will be waged, but a common theme seems to be an emphasis on the impact of technology on Command and Control as well as discussion of indirect methods of war.40 Though General Gerasimov’s 2010 comments on indirect methods of war are sometimes discussed by national security scholars as the origin of Russia’s current military philosophy, it should be noted that retired military officers were debating as early as 1994 the importance of indirect methods of warfare and the role of information operations as integral to a Russian approach to modern war.41
We are able to account for the Soviet military’s inability to capitalize on its understanding of the coming Revolution in Military Affairs in that the leadership predicted but could not implement. Scholarship about contemporary Russian innovation draws heavily on existing commentary on innovation in the Soviet Union. Prominent authors argue that many of the current problems plaguing the Russian government’s efforts to streamline innovation lie in its desire to both restructure and preserve aspects of the Soviet government that have endured in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, an artifact of the hybrid nature of the current government structure.
Others assert that the current state of the Russian government is influenced by the country’s conflicting desires to both retain the remnants of the Soviet Union that remain in the government structure and reform the government entirely.42 Such analysis of the Russian government’s current attempts to spur innovation in its economy step into the gap left by theories of Soviet innovation by explaining the extent to which the Russian Federation’s current policies are predicated on its past. Radosevic argues that Russia is currently in the midst of an innovation crisis due to its desire to both restructure and preserve what remains of the Soviet innovation infrastructure. While understandable, there are two major problems with continuing to employ this model in the future. First, because the Soviet Union understood R&D as the main generator of technological innovation, other important aspects of the innovation process such as “the role of users, engineers, and others not directly involved with R&D” were never considered.43 As such, these avenues continue to be neglected by the current government. Secondly, the Soviet government perceived technology as a commodity that, once developed, “could be transferred into or introduced into production without need for continuous adaptations and improvements.” The latter is problematic not only for continuing to foster innovation within the scientific community, but also for the quality of Russian products meant to compete on the international stage. As such, many scholars find it impossible to begin to understand the Russian government of today without accounting for its past.
Attempts have been made to synthesize many of the Russian government’s current innovation efforts by examining recent legislation attempting to generate ties between the primary engine of innovation in both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation—the independent research institute—and universities.44 The difficulty of enacting such change, which seems utterly logical to a Western audience, takes on an entirely new meaning if the role of the university in the Soviet Union is understood. A.I. Terekhov has also written a great deal on the evolution of scientific research programs within the Russian Federation.45 Citing a number of factors already articulate, he also highlights what he calls “the crisis of national research personnel” due to negative demographic trends.
Russia’s unique strategic situation results in the deeply rooted assumption that Russia requires a unique approach to security and conflict. According to Paul Nitze, asymmetries favorable to the Soviet Union in civil defense and industrial dispersion impacted their calculations regarding various warfighting strategies.46 Russia’s unique political-military landscape and economic-technological base continue to inform its strategy. This concept is exemplified in the development of the Russian concept of hybrid warfare as, “a modern example of strategic uniqueness in Russia’s culture producing an asymmetric approach to war that diverges from Western concepts and practice.”47 By basing an approach on Russian strengths and the weaknesses of adversaries, it becomes inevitably different from that of their neighbors and adversaries. Russian strategists actively acknowledge these differences and deem them necessary for strategic success. Regardless of Russian intentions, the difference in assumptions and values in Russian strategic culture and those shaping strategic culture in the West will impact European security.
Although the authors and subjects mentioned above are diverse, each fills an important role within the literature at large. The Russian Federation is notoriously resistant to sharing information about the manner in which their government functions, which gives these authors’ work an important weight when attempting to ascertain where the Russian Federation is in implementing its plans for the future. It is impossible to synthesize such a large and varied literature without omitting important voices on the subject; the authors and reports included above, however, represent the most widely cited papers in this field. As such, the views and arguments can be understood to represent a far larger body of work in each area.
Legislation, Policy, and Organizational Structures
Because the Russian R&D apparatus remains highly centralized, the majority of prominent organizations encouraging innovation are tied to the government. The Russian government’s current approach to innovation in many ways mirrors the process that took place in the Soviet Union. Just as the Soviet government funded the bulk of R&D activities through state-owned branch research institutes, Russia’s current structure boasts a large network of research institutes that are largely separate from both industrial firms and the university system.48 These institutes, known collectively as the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), are more than thirty component organizations that publish independently and compete for state funding as individual entities. Among the most prolific of these institutes are: The Nesmeyanov Institute of Organoelement Compounds RAS, The FSI Technical Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials, Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), The Institute of Microelectronics Technology and High Purity Materials (IMT) RAS, and The Landau Institute for Theoretic Physics (ITP) RAS.49 While similar institutions can be found throughout Western Europe and the United States, the model under which Russia’s current innovation initiatives continue to cling is reminiscent of what existed under the Soviet Union. One hallmark of this model of development is the large gap that exists between the RAS research institutes and the university system.50 As in the past, many universities remain responsible for educating students but conduct very little research. As such, Russia’s research institutes lack the ability to attract young minds to their research. This is problematic both because of the increasing need for competent young scientists to carry on the research of the aging scientific community and because it may prevent many of the mechanisms by which the Russian government hopes to stimulate economic growth in the scientific community from being sufficiently successful in the future.
Legislation enacted in the last decade provides evidence that some of the traditional government structures responsible for inciting innovation are beginning to be reformed, however. While still in the early stages, many of the Russian government’s programs in this area seem to aim to increase growth in the private sector rather in particular. In 2005, the government passed a law incentivizing the creation of special economic zones (SEZs) to attract investment in manufacturing and “high-technology” development.51 Incentives such as tax and customs breaks, financial guarantees, and “special credit conditions” are included in the bill for up to ten years as long as member corporations are willing to register with the government. After ten years, government incentives are lessened considerably in an attempt to ensure that startup corporations in these regions are able to function as competitive entities. The law also requires all member corporations—including multinational corporations (MNCs)—to submit to the same vetting process for residency in the SEZ and to apply for any grants made available to residents of the city. MNCs could thus be denied participation in the SEZ if their proposed projects fall outside the goals of the technopark. Although turning established corporations away seems counterintuitive, the government’s oversight in this manner is one of a series of legislative necessities associated with successful SEZ.
A second component of successful SEZs was incorporated into Russian law in January 2008 when the Russian government passed the Federal Law On Science, which allows research institutes and universities to share material resources, workforce, and facilities free of charge.52 More importantly, the law allows universities and research institutes to form joint entities.
Law 217 seeks to encourage further collaboration among universities and private industry by “encourag[ing] companies to establish partnerships with universities and get engaged in joint R&D activities and technological innovations.53 Federal Government Directives 218-220 provide the legal authority for the collaborations to begin.
These collaborations allow universities and research institutes to become more responsive to the needs of the market, one of the biggest problems that the Soviet innovation system faced prior to its dissolution. For many years, the government’s research demands usurped the market’s, meaning that innovation occurred outside of the realm of citizens or investors’ wants or needs. Increased collaboration between the research institutes and universities is meant to address this problem by providing the research institutes an arm that targets consumer needs specifically. Such changes are essential if Russia is to stimulate innovation in its economy and keep pace with other nations who it views as its largest competitors.
Even as these programs seek to stimulate the economy, however, the obvious continued reliance on the government as the driver of innovation harkens back to the Soviet apparatus. While some steps are being made to loosen the government’s control over many of the major institutions within the innovation apparatus, reality of the country’s current economic state and population poses its own problems. While the Soviet Union was long regarded as one of the leading countries in the number of highly educated individuals within its population—Russia still retains one of the best-educated populations in the world according to OECD data—strict divisions between the government, military, universities, and research institutes have led to a smaller number of science and engineering graduates over the years.54 The decreasing number of science and engineering graduates means that research institutes are hiring increasingly fewer staff with masters or doctoral degrees. As such, the quality of the work being released by these entities is falling, but it also calls into question their future sustainability. Both of these considerations could prove disastrous for the SEZs slated for development in the country, as the reputation of the corporations participating in these startups is a key measure of quality.55 The possibility of investing in a collaboration that may or may not have the skilled personnel to carry on the projects in the future is not likely to attract much foreign investment, especially when more qualified, stable technoparks and other SEZs are thriving in Asia.
Additive Manufacturing, aka 3D Printing
Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing technology is a rising industry with applications that traverse all sectors of the economy. A variety of users can use 3D printing commercially or recreationally to make objects in plastic and metal, thus it has caused concern among the security community regarding its potential dual-use capability by states or non-state actors. Despite the concern, current AM capabilities give little cause for alarm. What AM possesses in flexibility, it lacks in depth; AM has limitations in size, material strength, and cost of objects compared to traditional manufacturing methods. The United States and international community should work together to continually examine AM capabilities in the near term and begin to update export control mechanisms, re-examine signatures of proliferation for the intelligence community, and promote collaborative efforts between the AM technical community and the public sector to alert of disruptive ability of the technology.
The onset of what some have called the fourth industrial revolution,56,57 is marked by technologies that integrate the digital age (third industrial revolution, following steam power and electrification) into society and even the human body. Technologies in the fourth industrial revolution include: artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, advanced robotics, the Internet of Things, and advanced manufacturing capabilities, especially additive manufacturing. In the post-digital age, unprecedented manufacturing techniques are seen as having the potential to alter the current manufacturing paradigm and supply chains.58,59
Traditionally, engineers have designed and created products according to subtractive manufacturing techniques, i.e., removing material from a fixed-size object. Economies worldwide have perfected these techniques to optimize the speed and cost of the production of goods. Recent improvements in additive manufacturing, i.e. adding layers to create objects, have risen in the past couple decades. The private sector has capitalized on its use in creating quick prototypes of products, which has given rise to a function-based synonym for 3D printing, rapid prototyping. A 3D printing machine will add layer-by-layer material of some plastic, resin, or metal. Common methods to produce these objects include extrusion (unwinding a wire-shaped feed material), stereolithography (shining light on surface to bond molecules of a liquid polymer together), laser sintering or melting (focusing a laser on metal powder to bond molecules and successively adding powder layers on top). These methods require a computer-aided design (CAD) file as an input; a computer program or the printer itself will deconstruct the image into many cross-sectional layers to be used as steps for the printer.
What are the current capabilities of 3D printers? For commercial 3D printers, they spread the gamut of sizes and prices. The cost ranges from several hundred to a few thousand dollars, and the feed filament costs approximately twenty dollars per kilogram.60 Most household 3D printers are relatively small, and their application is only relevant to relatively small objects less than half a meter in one dimension.61 The physical limitations render it useful only for low-quality objects, such as gears, screws, household tools, etc. However, even “household” 3D printers can have resolution up to the sub-millimeter scale. A plethora of websites contains ready-to-print stereolithography (STL) files,62,63,64 which feed into most 3D printers or allow conversion to a similar format.
Industrial 3D printers, as expected, come with higher costs yet more robust capabilities. The majority owners of higher-tech 3D printers include Department of Energy national laboratories, defense contractors, and large companies such as General Electric and Hewlett Packard. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) printed the first-ever 3D printed car, a 2014 Shelby Cobra with their Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine.65 Lockheed Martin uses additive manufacturing to produce prototypes and parts for satellites and fighter jets; it also operates several AM innovation centers and an AM machine that can print metal objects up to nineteen feet long.66 Raytheon, another defense contractor, successfully printed the components and assembled a small missile.67
The end uses for many commercial and industrial applications include rapid prototyping of objects and making objects that are traditionally difficult to manufacture. Should it be timely and cost-effective, it has the potential to replace staple manufacturing processes such as casting, molding, and forming. Because each layer is added successively with AM as opposed to relying on the hardening or shaping of feed material, orientations that are traditionally challenging to manufacture become either achievable, more efficient, or both. Current 3D printing technology lacks time efficiency on a large scale, therefore the technology is most applicable to rapid prototyping. The Shelby Cobra took six weeks to go from the start of printing to drivable car;68 most weapons and single-use systems will have a higher threshold for performance. The effort to produce a single sample object requires less effort in machining. Furthermore, even if an actor or organization does not possess the technology, 3D print shops and services, although not ubiquitous, are available.
Additive manufacturing has several implications for U.S. national security. First, 3D printing technology is of dual-use in nature. It can be utilized benevolently to make products such as prosthetics, implants, and car parts, but it can also be used to make potentially harmful objects. For example, an organization called Defense Distributed circulated a design file for a handgun called the Liberator.69 The State Department asked the organization to recant the file, which prompted Defense Distributed to sue the U.S. State Department stating its violation of several constitutional amendments. The U.S. Government won the case due to its argument’s focus on national security.70 Governments may have difficulty with sensitive objects such as the Liberator because it is challenging to regulate its spread under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which aims to limit the proliferation of traditional arms as their proliferation could enable terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Because 3D printers maintain the flexibility to print objects of virtually any shape, this new technology requires exploration in its ability and likelihood to impact conflict. For this paper, we will examine how AM may contribute to WMD proliferation. The threat of a rogue state or non-state actor obtaining WMD relies on their ability to secure sensitive chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material (CBRN) and to obtain the necessary components. It is hypothesized that AM could disrupt traditional acquisition means of the materials needed to create a WMD. Rather than purchasing the required technology, an actor could print the pieces themselves. An actor must gain knowledge to produce the pieces, but the knowledge to produce pieces via 3D printing is lower than that using traditional manufacturing methods. Design, pre/post processing techniques, and process surveillance are not as labor- or knowledge-intensive with AM, although not to understate the importance of tacit knowledge. Lockheed Martin and other corporations have also demonstrated that techniques such as laser sintering and melting allow production of higher-strength metals.71,72 The facile procurement of computer files over the Internet permits almost any actor to have access to these files. The files are not so easily detectable, and the end use of the eventual 3D-printed object can be unclear. Evidently, weapons of mass destruction pose a threat to U.S. citizens at home and abroad as well as threaten the security offered by the strategic position of the United States.73 An easier acquisition of these weapons decreases the significance of the U.S. deterrent threat.
In addition to the relative ease in fabricating machined parts, widespread use of AM could make it difficult to design counter-WMD strategies and further complicate efforts to detect, monitor, and prevent proliferation. It decreases the size of facilities that could be used to create WMD, thereby “rendering detection by international inspectors or national intelligence agencies much harder.”74 AM is touted as a technology that can bring 3D printing to each household, therefore it is not unfathomable to assume that AM weapons production could be dispersed throughout a wider area or in multiple, smaller buildings. This phenomenon could increase the security dilemma for the United States; the probability of successful detection of a covert WMD program decreases and the transparency of weapons manufacturing decreases.
Current thinking on the evolution of additive manufacturing also raises two potential long-term impacts on U.S. security interests: energy efficiency and economic dominance. Increases in energy efficiency maintain positive economic and environmental impacts on the United States; citizens save money and pollution is reduced. Additive manufacturing, as compared to subtractive manufacturing, produces little waste due to the nature of the technology. Subtractive methods can use as little as 5% of the input material whereas the additive methods can use 98% or more of the input material in its final product; additive methods have also been shown to use approximately 50% less energy to produce parts.75 If these statistics are true, the United States has a lot to gain from this technology. Another potential consequence of international implementation of the technology is that it could reduce the dominance of the United States manufacturing sector. The United States relies on protecting its infrastructure to maintain economic security in international markets.76 3D printers could decrease the infrastructure threshold, equalizing the capabilities among states. Both of these claims are of little significance currently as AM has not grown to the scale of traditional manufacturing and thus will not be examined here. Little evidence proves that these are immediate concerns, but the actualization of these speculations could impact long-term U.S. national security.
Little exploration of this technology and its impact on WMD and counter-WMD has been performed. A prominent work detailing the threat of additive manufacturing to the spread of nuclear weapons specifically is a 2015 piece by Kroenig and Volpe,77 in which the authors assert that 3D printing enables WMD-proliferation because it requires little technical knowledge and potential facilities that could produce WMD-sensitive parts can be widespread and impossible to detect. Although they offer logical conclusions, they simplify the technology without further examining it and how it would be realistically implemented by a WMD-seeking actor and the international regimes that could re-analyze proliferation threats with respect to AM technology. they simply assume that rogue states or non-state actors will covertly pursue the technology. They fail to answer the question of how, i.e., what would a covert AM-driven nuclear WMD program look like?
Another gap in the existing literature is more speculative and draws on comparison to successfully disruptive technologies such as the Internet and personal computers.78 In both instances, technologies gave informational and entrepreneurial power to the individual. Experts have created analogies between these technologies and additive manufacturing, but they fail to dive past the surface level. They believe that the individual nature of these technologies warranted its success, and therefore additive manufacturing will follow a similar trajectory to that of personal computers. They assume advancements in AM are inevitable and exponential, hence disruptive over a short period. Many articles cite the attention and investment AM has received over recent years, with AM innovation centers surfacing in the United States, Europe, and Asia, as the main indicator of its potential.79 Some scholars, however, have projected that AM rests at the top of its hype curve and that it requires great technological and institutional demands to overtake traditional manufacturing methods.80 Some assessments state that “the ability to produce weapons outside traditional fabrication channels also carries additional challenges” yet fail to dig deep into the feasibility and investment necessary to actualize that path.81
Other sources have focused on the application of additive manufacturing in the military industrial complex82 and the spread of 3D-printed traditional munitions.83 The former does have implications in the speed of the military to actualize a product, while the latter does pose real international security concerns. Both fail to accurately connect these changes to their potential impacts on weapons of mass destruction. The former article states that there are “catastrophic consequences [with] the prospect of additive manufacturing technologies being applied to produce weapons of mass destruction.” Generalizations are made about how quantities are lower for successful production and the facilities are easier to hide. There lacks an understanding of the detailed implementation should a state or actor pursue a WMD through these means and which technologies are most sensitive should an actor pursue an AM capability. What facilities should military forces seek and target? How can the international community limit these capabilities through export control? What are indicators of proliferation through this technology?
Current research fails to acknowledge or discredit the role of additive manufacturing as it relates to WMD acquisition by rogue states and non-state actors. Although concessions exist that the technology is not up to par to be viewed as immediately threatening, scholars tend to shortcut to the end point where AM is the ideal disruptive technology due to ideal characteristics that it has yet to currently achieve. A technical breakdown of the technologies is necessary to examine the practical use of the technology to analyze the true threat to U.S. national security interests.
The nuclear proliferation threat relies on two main components of the nuclear fuel cycle, enrichment, and reprocessing capabilities. Because highly-enriched uranium can only be produced with enrichment technology and weapons-usable plutonium can only be produced with reprocessing capabilities, these are the technologies of concern for WMD proliferation. Of these two sensitive stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, one must be implemented for the successful acquisition of a nuclear bomb. The exception to that is the case where a fabricated nuclear bomb is stolen, however this risk is not heightened with the advent of advanced manufacturing technologies.
Enrichment capabilities are used to increase the fissile content of natural or low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade uranium. The most current case of uranium enrichment for WMD-seeking purposes is Iran. Based on publicly available data, Iran reportedly had upwards of 19,000 gas centrifuges of the IR-1 to IR-8 models. The models all have similar dimensional orders in terms of eights and diameters, no more than 0.65 meters and no more than 2.5 meters, respectively.84 With size constraints, these centrifuges could theoretically be 3D printed with a moderately large 3D printer. Components that require the smallest resolution in a gas centrifuge, e.g., two millimeters, such as the molecular pumps and motor stators, could also be made.85
A major problem with centrifuges is that they require highly corrosive-resistant materials. Uranium hexafluoride, the form of the uranium in the centrifuge, is highly corrosive to most metals. Maraging steel or strong aluminum alloys is required for rotating components to avoid corrosion; neither of these materials are used extensively outside sophisticated laboratories. Variations of maraging steel and aluminum alloys have been commercially and experimentally listed as below the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) threshold for ultimate tensile strength necessary for a gas centrifuge component.86 Even if the strength of the material met NSG standards, exporting it to a non-weapons state would disregard international treaties. If an NSG country wanted to disregard the agreement, it could do so without any consideration or use of AM technology.
In addition to these technical limitations, logistical limitations also exist. The theoretical time required to additively manufacture, assemble, and arrange hundreds or thousands of centrifuges would render it impractical. AM have solely been proven effective, disregarding economics, for small-scale production or prototyping. An actor deciding to pursue these weapons would more likely decide to invest in a “tried and true” method, such as through the experience of the A.Q. Khan network.87 Furthermore, an enrichment facility requires the cascading, or joining, of hundreds or thousands of centrifuges to increase their utility. Such a facility could likely be detected through surveillance methods, as was the case with the Natanz facility in Iran.88 A compelling case would be if a new centrifuge configuration could be designed to fit in a smaller space, yet this novelty would not be due to improvements in additive manufacturing.
Reprocessing capabilities, on the other hand, were developed to chemically separate uranium from plutonium in spent nuclear fuel. Reprocessing technology has been the preferred route for several proliferating countries, including the ostensibly-proliferated countries of India, Pakistan, and Israel. The main ingredient in nuclear reprocessing is already-used nuclear fuel. Many processes exist to separate plutonium, but the most widely used is the Purex (plutonium uranium extraction) process. Purex is a solvent extraction method that uses nitric acid to separate plutonium and uranium by their oxidation states.89 Albeit a straightforward chemical process, Purex implementation requires expertise in nuclear-related disciplines. Nuclear fuel to be reprocessed will be at high levels of radioactivity, therefore advanced hot cells are a necessary technology. Criticality safety experts are needs to ensure subcritical, and therefore nonexplosive, results of the process. Radiation shielding materials, such as concrete, are also required to limit dose to workers at the facility. These materials and expertise are the main barriers to constructing a reprocessing plant with enough throughput to fabricate a plutonium weapon. Slabs of concrete and the complicated, large components for hot cells needed to handle nuclear fuel are not feasible hurdles for AM to surmount. Traditional manufacturing methods have the advantage in this regard; AM would not be worth the financial and knowledge investment to develop a reprocessing facility. This excludes the assumption that an actor has access to a significant quantity of fissile material and therefore must bypass current nonproliferation efforts.
Table 1 shows the risk associated with each sensitive nuclear technology and summarizes the previous few paragraphs into a qualitative chart. It notes that AM adds no risk in obtaining radiological or nuclear material itself. Most technologies fall under the low risk category due to handling of toxic gases or the need to constrain materials in vacuum. The simplest pieces of equipment (end caps, casing, etc.) pose the greatest threat of any technology in the table due to the ability of AM to build pieces with precise specification without excessive bulkiness of the objects. The relative utility of making these pieces with AM has the potential to be marginal, but the flexibility of the machine to make these pieces can increase in the future with suggested improvements in material properties. One could easily produce casing and end caps for centrifuges, as they fit within size constraints, should advance metal AM techniques like laser sintering become commercially available and cost effective.
The Chemical Weapons Convention identifies three main classes, called Schedules, of controlled substances.90 Schedule 1 substances have no peaceful use outside chemical weapons while Schedules 2 and 3 substances have small-scale and large-scale uses, respectively, outside chemical weapons. The main substances discussed in this section are sulfur mustard (“mustard gas”) and nerve agents, as well as their precursors. Chemical weapons are traditionally difficult to produce due to highly toxic and corrosive chemicals, and their sophistication can vary as evidence of production by the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Iraq.
Sulfur mustard production requires large amounts to be militarily effective. Even if produced in a small quantity, it is difficult to store and transport. It also possesses a relatively low casualty rate, and medical care has developed to ensure increased recovery rates. Its production historically involves ethylene oxide and hydrogen sulfide,91 both of which are gases at room temperature and therefore difficult to fathom production with AM. The intermediary product between these two chemicals and sulfur mustard is thiodiglycol, which is a common liquid solvent used in ballpoint pen ink and other plastics. It is of interest to private corporations, including Hewlett Packard, who cited it as a functional material in its patent for 3D printing technology in 2017.92 This patent does not indicate a threat of thiodiglycol production, but it signals interest of using it by private corporations. Without its direct application, exploration of similar chemicals with 3D printing could generate publicly or commercially available knowledge with utilizing it. Therefore, thiodiglycol is a medium risk in the long term, indicated in Table 2. Thiodiglycol requires hydrogen sulfide to produce the sulfur mustard, therefore proliferators need additional anti-corrosive equipment not aided with the use of 3D printing.
The tabun nerve agent poses a similar challenge as the required hydrogen cyanide reagent is necessary.93 Sarin and soman, other nerve agents, require hydrochloric acid or hydrogen fluoride, both highly corrosive. 3D-printed containers would not withstand storage or transport of these materials. The AM community would need to experiment more with corrosive reactions on mostly metal materials to ensure advantages over steel pipes and containers. Therefore, materials associated with nerve agent production pose a minimal threat. Table 2 shows the relatively small threat that chemical weapons alone pose.
It’s been well-recognized that moderately advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries can enable chemical weapons production.94,95 Successful acquisition would require conversion of a standard plant to one that could produce chemical weapons. It is therefore possible that AM could be used to create equipment originally intended for a chemical plant that is eventually converted to a chemical weapons facility. An article has proposed effects of current AM technology on the chemical industry to include surgical preparation and drug delivery devices,96 although both are only projected and have not been demonstrated outside of an experimental setting. Many 3D printing applications for chemical application cross into the biomedical and biotechnology arena.
Biological weapons have overlaps with the production of chemical weapons with a few exceptions. One hypothetically needs to produce a significantly smaller amount of harmful biological material to create the same number of casualties as a chemical weapon. They typically fall into two categories, microbial pathogens or toxins. Most research requires technologically sophisticated facilities capable of examining living organisms at the cell level.
Because of this fact, additive manufacturing adds little to a direct threat from biological weapons. Microbial pathogens such as anthrax, brucellosis, and tularemia, must grow in a controlled environment. Producers of these weapons must ensure sufficient protection of the workers to not infect their own population. Bioprinters are typically designed to work with biocompatible material to make pieces to be inserted in or on the human body.97 Some research has explored the confinement of small bacteria populations within a hydrogel,98 but interactions between bacteria and conditions that permit growth of large populations is not well understood. Additive manufacturing adds little to the picture if a sophisticated facility with highly trained experts is required to understand the phenomena itself let alone the fabrication of a weapon. Building up to a larger set of facilities to acquire an operational capability is not facilitated with additive manufacturing.
Openly-published literature about bioprinting is important. Greater transparency in the capability reduces the security dilemma of biological research. Research on development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria does not intersect with advances in additive manufacturing. The area of interest for potential disruptions is genetic engineering, which alone has the potential to create “supergerms” that are highly resistant,99 notwithstanding overuse of antibiotics.
Current methods to grow biological weapons material with microorganisms involves a seed culture that is fermented. Although advances could improve on growth of microorganism communities, they are not a substitute for the organic material itself. Fermenters for organic culture growth, typically called bioreactors, are complicated machines that are made of stainless steel.100 Sizes can range from that of a microbial cell (a few square centimeters) to commercial sizes of hundreds to thousands of liters. Smaller sizes have potential to be manufactured with AM, yet supplemental pieces will also be required. This information on AM threats to biological weapons is included with the chemical weapons in Table 2.
Weapons and Delivery Systems
Acquiring the 3D printer capable of missile component production would be difficult. It can be assumed that a missile needs to be manufactured out of high-strength, versatile metals. Even the most advanced equipment has trouble creating these ideal metals. At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), for example, scientists are running into issues with 3D printing of metals using laser powder bed fusion, currently “the dominant method for producing 3D printed metal structures.”101 The technology is advanced, but this knowledge would be difficult to transfer to less-advanced facilities or poorly equipped actors. Porosity remains an issue for these researchers as they are still trying to understand the science of metal vapor in the process. The scale of their implementation is small, at the millimeter level. Making a full missile solely from AM would be almost an insurmountable technical challenge with today’s technology.
The only institutions capable this far of producing some objects for advanced technological systems are the large American corporations. As mentioned earlier, Raytheon 3D printed a missile, but printing spare parts for the satellites is still on the horizon. SpaceX has recently 3D printed a full SuperDraco rocket engine through laser sintering. However, the material used was a superalloy of Inconel, which is several times more expensive than stainless steel. Obtaining access for strong materials necessary for a well-designed weapon remains a hurdle, but one could claim that a state (or sub-state actor) only needs a crude weapon to successfully set off a WMD. It will still need to invest in an additive manufacturing system to meet that goal. Conservative estimates of an AM machine cost are around $500,000.102 This cost would increase for a potential proliferator given lack of sufficient technical expertise and economic infrastructure to produce necessary components.
Because additive manufacturing is a technology in its early stages of development, it is unlikely that a proliferator will want to pursue two challenging technologies of which they lack expertise if a cheaper alternative to the same or superior (to what they could produce) technology is available. That increases the uncertainty of success as well as the time to acquire the technology. Some ballistic missiles even use solid fuel, but it is not likely that a proliferator would attempt to make fuel with a 3D printer (even if the materials were available) because solid fuel adds more technical and practical knowledge to understand how to manage it. Liquid fuel is almost always preferred, and 3D printing has no advantage with liquids.
Importance of Tacit Knowledge
Some alarmists of the threat of additive manufacturing continue to understate the importance of tacit knowledge in AM, often conceding that some of it is necessary but then assuming that once a piece is finished, it is ready to be used. It is important to note that 3D-printed objects require a fair amount of post-processing. Casting and molding the piece may be irrelevant, but objects are rough coming off of a 3D printer. A delivery system such as a missile or aircraft needs to be finished properly for aerodynamic considerations. Different aerodynamic properties could decrease the accuracy of the weapon, rendering it useless for an actor’s mission of destruction should they choose to target a specific location and not wreak general havoc. Grinding, sanding, and polishing would be skills required to bring the object to its intended use. Expertise in that area is still being developed. This is not to say that finishing a 3D printed object requires a significant amount of effort, but it is important for sensitive weapons systems. Welding is another skill that is necessary for AM applications. If a nation wanted to 3D-print a missile, they are most likely going to have to weld materials together. The 3D printers that can print the ORNL Shelby Cobra or a small plane are the highest quality printers in the U.S. infrastructure. It is unlikely a nation to indigenously manufacture a 3D printer of that quality or to buy it from the United States.
Nuclear weapons have an extensive history of proliferation through spread of tacit knowledge as well as technology. The AQ Khan network remains the most infamous nuclear proliferation networks, which contributed to the nuclear weapons acquisition of North Korea.103 Scholars have also noted the understatement of tacit knowledge in the spread of biological weapons/terrorism.104 Tacit knowledge is similarly important in 3D printing as machine failures and material wastes can be significant without technical experience. The adoption of 3D printing technology is not simply a matter of detailing scientific or engineering advances to a new process.”105 Tacit knowledge is important in all emerging technologies, including CBRN weapons development. A prominent example includes safety precautions in order to prevent harm to operators; it is challenging to know problems without having operated the equipment before. Safety concerns are of little importance to 3D printers, but economic considerations are important to ensure functionality of a machine with little technical support for proliferators. Communal tacit knowledge by a small group or larger scientific community may not transfer well to a proliferator that can obtain a sophisticated 3D printer. Tacit knowledge highlights the actualization of weapons-usable material after technological acquisition. Equating the two is an invalid assumption.
Analysis and Assessment
Spread of sensitive nuclear technologies is not possible with the technology in the near future. Delivery systems are more worrisome, yet their actualization probability remains low. Additive manufacturing overall poses a miniscule threat of WMD acquisition. CBRN material cannot be produced with 3D printers alone, and the mechanical and chemical processes are challenging with today’s technology. Little signs point to a disruptive capability of AM to proliferate WMD to aspirant proliferators. Delivery systems remain the most prevalent opportunity for proliferators to use AM; small yet complex objects like casing or bodies of these systems are ideal candidates for AM pieces. It is important as well to view weapons acquisition with AM through the lens of relative gains compared to traditional manufacturing methods or other means of technological acquisition; proliferators could look to AM or other similar technologies as covert, innovative, and cost-effective ways to increase their power and leverage.
While additive manufacturing is not on the brink of threatening international stability, it would be wise to monitor its progress in the near future. Although 3D-printed missiles or aircraft capable of delivering WMD may not be used next year, the industry is growing rapidly. Currently, there is not a strong need to strictly limit the technology, but with more advances in sensitive areas, AM should be viewed as a dual-use technology. Although detection will be challenging, export controls will need to be enacted to ensure proper end use of the technology.
Due to the potential transferability of files, cybersecurity should be strengthened of organizations, such as defense contractors, that may use this technology for military applications. Understanding of computer design programs is more widespread, and it would be easier for a relatively unskilled actor to print the 3D file. It would also be wise to limit the domestic use of AM for sensitive technologies or to split into multiple files. Saving a 3D file for a centrifuge, for example, is too risky to maintain on a single file. Even if an actor could not 3D print the piece, insight can be gained from the file itself, e.g., specific geometries or supplemental systems. It is possible to entertain the idea of making some of the manufacturing techniques confidential so as the spread of this eventual dual-use technology is curtailed. This action could also aid the U.S. economy should AM become a viable large-scale production method.
An undesired implication of AM is that decreasing transparency of production can potentially worsen the security dilemma. If states do not have a clear picture of what types of materials different states are using to build different types of equipment, it makes it harder to discern whether the produced equipment is inherently defensive or offensive in nature. While this most likely will not be a concern at first since AM is primarily focused on repairs and limited amounts of small munitions, this could become worse as the ability of AM expands to more offensive weapons and military systems. Further research could be pursued to identify how this decrease in transparency could affect the security dilemma. Even though the material inputs are slightly more standardized for 3D printed parts, there are still some specialized materials that must go into the production of weapons systems. Identifying those materials and how they can be tracked should be a priority in the context of understanding the implications of additive manufacturing on U.S. national security.
(Refer to Supporting Data below)
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Machine learning leverages large computational power to quickly analyze large amounts of data to produce useful information. While the theory and approaches are decades old, only in more recent years has sufficient computer power become available to make it useful to solve large and complex problems. One of the most remarkable successes of machine learning was the defeat of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov at the hands of IBMs’ Deep Blue chess computer in 1997.106 Kasparov, the reigning world champion at the time, had defeated Deep Blue a year earlier, losing the first match but developing strategies that exploited the machine learning approach’s weaknesses to come back and win the series. In the ensuing year, the algorithms were updated, and more computational power was added; Deep Blue won the series that came down to the final match. The field of machine learning has matured in parallel to increased computation capabilities. Such systems have proven able to solve very complex problems at speeds orders of magnitude faster than humans.
The effective use of machine learning in a military context is not science fiction. The Swedish defense department used machine learning to analyze submarine incursions into its territorial waters in 1986-95.107 The goal was to learn from patterns of observations and then make future predictions based on incoming intelligence reports. Given the limited data set and the varying reliability of reports, their goals were modest but useful for predicting future events:
A statistical analysis based on a simulation of the method showed that the probability of a correct prediction was at best 54%, with an accuracy in predicted position of 5 kilometers and in predicted time of 48 minutes. Prediction rules with a probability and an accuracy such as these should be very useful if they can be approached in practice.108
Contrast this to the earlier application of selecting a chess move, especially near the end of the game when few pieces remain. In the chess example, the moves are deterministic (a pawn attempting to capture a rook legally will capture it 100% of the time), information is complete (the location of each piece is known with 100% accuracy 100% of the time), and the information is completely reliable. Further, the evaluation criteria (win by checkmate while avoiding being checkmated first) are clear and constant.
In security applications, machine learning will have to process incomplete information of various (and unknown) accuracy and validity. Its predictions of behavior will not be deterministic, and even the desired outcomes may sometimes be in doubt. The underlying models may be limited or unknown. This is a very different problem, and expectations must be tempered accordingly.
The machine learning discussed so far is characterized by a computer system manually optimized for the specific indicator analysis required by human experts. It must be provided with properly discretized and verified data to do a specified analysis. This is the realm of the current day and the near future. Despite decades of effort, the “quantum leap” to a generalized AI system has not yet happened.
A generalized AI system, for purposes of this section, is an AI that not only could seek out its own data without specific discretization, formatting, and verification, but also figure out the right sub-questions to ask and do analysis between data sets in unexpected, unprogrammed, perhaps even creative directions. It can take simply stated objective questions and attempt to answer them without much further guidance. It could also ask for data it lacks that it thinks would be valuable in analysis. It is unbounded by processing power or data storage in any meaningful way, and thus can handle any amount of useful data, or filter a very large data stream for useful bits. Most distinctly, it can improve its own analysis in a recursive manner as it works—it need not depend on human programmers past initial setup. Such an AI could make efforts at far fewer binary indicators and analyze situations that lack large data sets or precedents.
The state of the art for imagery analysis is surely classified in the United States. There has been research conducted in open source about using imagery analysis to detect and determine environmental impacts, including excavation.109
Metamaterials are synthetically manufactured material that possesses special physical properties that allow it to disguise the user from detection. The practical application of metamaterials is to use them to camouflage personnel, vehicles, ships, or planes from some portion of the infrared spectrum. Metamaterials have a high refractive index meaning that light ‘flows around’ the material rather than reflecting off. Successful implementation of metamaterial adaptive camouflage (MMAC) would be a paradigm shift in camouflage and anti-detection technology which could cause significant disruptions to conflict dynamics. Revisionist actors, as well as non-state actors, will benefit from acquiring a MMAC capability but will struggle to do so due to the technical challenge of advanced R&D. The implication is that status quo powers—whom will be the first to develop a viable capability—must emphasize parallel development of countermeasures and control the diffusion of the technology.
Adaptive camouflage, or active camouflage, is a technology which allows the user to conceal itself from plain sight.110 Other proposed variants of adaptive camouflage include cloaking from a broader range of the infrared spectrum. Adaptive camouflage technology is currently in the early stages of development and is not deployed in the field. There are prototypes in development including, most promisingly the ADAPTIV Cloak of Invisibility from BAE systems that provides the user with the ability to cloak a vehicle with a honeycomb plating which can adjust the projected appearance and temperature of the vehicle to match the surroundings or mimic another type vehicle.111 The company claims the technology could be used to conceal anything from trucks to helicopters and even buildings. ADAPTIV conceals the vehicle from IR detection but does not offer plain sight disguise.
Aside from military contractors which are developing adaptive camouflage technology, many artists are also attempting to use existing technology to fashion their own cloaks of invisibility. There are certainly challenges impeding the development of a true cloak of invisibility but most of the informed speculation from the scientific community is cautiously optimistic about the future of adaptive camouflage technology. However, the potential of adaptive camouflage technology can be inferred by examining its scientific foundations.
Adaptive camouflage development is inspired by the biological cloaking systems used by reptiles, amphibians, and fish.112 The goal of active or adaptive camouflage is to make a person, vehicle, or weapon invisible to enemy much like an animal conceals itself from a predator or prey. Invisibility is achieved by altering either color or luminescence. Scientists believe the best chance for humans to replicate the cloaking capabilities of animals is the development of metamaterials - synthetic materials exhibiting unique properties with respect to refractiveness.113 Metamaterials, essentially, have the ability to bend electromagnetic radiation - light, radar, infrared - giving the illusion that the material is not present. The earliest serious attempts at creating invisibility cloaks from metamaterials were successful in 2006 when Duke physicist David Smith created a microwave bending metamaterial.114 Smith’s cloak used copper spring resonators and only worked in two dimensions. The concept was advanced by replacing the copper with gold and layering them over a synthetic silk which only interacts with a restricted region of the electromagnetic spectrum (terahertz waves). Synthetic materials composed of gold and silk derive their visual characteristics from their chemical compositions. These materials have a negative refraction index resulting from the materials’ variable permittivity and permeability.115 Ostensibly, the material can rearrange its cellular structure to accommodate varying levels of interaction with electromagnetic spectrum. In essence, manufactured meta-materials woven into a surface can be configured in such a way as to deny interaction with subsets of the electromagnetic spectrum - including light. The surface does not reflect light, rather light flows around the surface like water around a stone in a stream.
The development of metamaterials is still in its infancy and truly is an emerging technology. The materials are expensive to create and there are scalability issues due to limitations in the fabrication process of a large metamaterial surface, fabrication is done the scale of micro- and nano-meters. There is also the challenge of broadening the range of angles at which invisibility is achieved. Currently, the best concepts can only achieve invisibility at viewing angles around 60 degrees from head on, leaving the surface exposed from above and below.116 In the immediate future, metamaterials are unlikely to be a viable due to the prohibitive expense of manufacturing large amounts of the materials.117 There are also unanswered questions about the durability cloaks. Would the precisely manufactured surfaces stand up to real world wear and tear? 2D optical carpet designs are composed of precisely woven interdependent magnetic threads that create the illusion of invisibility. In a real world battlefield scenario, particles like dust and sand are constantly barraging and buffeting surfaces. As of now, optical carpets are not robust enough to endure continuous operations. There is also the question of operationalizing the carpet outside of lab perfect environmental conditions: temperature and humidity.
As more research is done on metamaterials, and specifically the mass production metamaterial cloaking surfaces, adaptive camouflage will become a more viable technology. Current R&D efforts are focused on developing metamaterials for primarily medical applications.118 A shift toward camouflage specific applied R&D will lead to quicker development of metamaterial adaptive camouflage. The basic science behind MMAC is progressing relatively quickly. However, the technology is not advanced enough to do human visual spectrum cloaking, the current capability is limited to a bulky system of IR cloaking which is hardly groundbreaking. In order to be effective in a realistic environment, the applied research stage will have to reduce manufacturing costs and address the environmental challenges facing MMAC.
Environmental challenges suggest two options for the development of a practical metamaterial adaptive camouflage. The manufacture of robust materials that can withstand harsh conditions in the long term, or low-cost materials that can be quickly and affordably applied and re-applied e.g., paint-on camouflage. The primary driver of the prohibitive cost of manufacturing metamaterials is the level of precision required to scale complex three-dimensional structures. Other industries like aerospace and automotive have also struggled with the precision problem and turned to 3D printing as a possible solution. 3D printers normally print precise and complex plastic components which cannot be efficiently produced with a traditional injection mold. Researchers from Duke have begun investigating using special metal 3D printers to produce electromagnetic metamaterials. Their prototypes can produce a unit in a fraction of the time as traditional methods.119 The method not only makes production easier, it also serves as a catalyst for research collaboration. Instead researchers of spending time replicating a complex manufacturing method every time new research is handed off from another team, they can go straight to production with this method, making the discovery process much faster.
Are meta-materials a disruptive innovation representing a new paradigm in stealth? As of now that answer is clearly no due to the environmental and cost constraints on the technology. However, if the pace of R&D in the field continues to progress rapidly, then MMAC could be a game changer in a few decades. Below are scenarios in which MMAC’s have the most potential to disrupt the nature of conflict.
One of the major markers of modern state vs. state warfare is the challenge of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD). A2AD is the restriction of movement into (A2) and within (AD) the theatre of conflict. A2AD is not a concept in the history of warfare. A common thread in conflict from the Ancient Greeks to modern America is the desire to deny the adversary at longer and longer ranges. However, A2AD is unique in the short-term context because of the fairly unimpeded access enjoyed by the United States following the fall of the Soviet Union. From the early 1990’s to the late 2000’s the U.S. Navy could move into and within virtually any region and “show the flag.” Aircraft carriers give the United States global presence and the ability to project power effectively in a crisis situation.
A2AD is challenging the paradigm through the use of advanced anti-ship missiles—namely the Chinese DF 21 ‘carrier killer’ and Iranian small boat mounted cruise missiles. The two threats present different challenges to the United States. The ‘carrier killer’ scenario will not be addressed in this paper. The Iranian challenge, however, is on the opposite end of the technological spectrum and may be more closely representative of a challenge from a resurgent Russia. The Iranian Navy has equipped Fast Inshore Attack Craft—speedboats—with anti-ship cruise missiles. The fast boats are relatively inexpensive and therefore a cost-effective means for deterrence through shear saturation. The conventional wisdom is that fast boats would swarm and overwhelm an American ship in the Strait of Hormuz—an artery for global energy transportation. While one or a few cruise missile-equipped fast boats would be no match for an American ship, a swarm could be lethal according to naval wargames.120 Traditional means for ship to ship combat in this scenario are unfeasible due to cost asymmetry between American Tomahawk cruise missiles and the Iranian fast boats. The navy has investigated the use of lasers and smaller, less expensive missiles as a counter to fast boats. 121
Metamaterial camouflage could be complicating factor in either of the two A2AD scenarios. In the hands of the United States, the camouflage could potentially ensure freedom of movement into and within the theatre by countering the already precarious Chinese C4ISR capabilities and further complicating Iranian fast boat swarms. Conversely, if the technology were to be utilized by the Chinese or Iranians, the A2AD challenge would be much greater. With the added ability to evade detection of U.S. anti-ship missiles, Chinese vessels would become more brazen in their maneuvers in the South China Sea. Likewise, MMAC would be a force multiplier for Iranian fast boats looking to overwhelm a U.S. ship. The proposed counter measure to fast boats is a ship mounted. Laser guided hellfire missile. Metamaterials could render the laser fire and forget guidance systems ineffective or severely hampered.122 The Chinese scenario is impacted less by the introduction of MMAC due to the myriad methods of detection in the larger South China Sea theatre.
A second scenario in which metamaterial camouflage could be deadly is in a border and illicit trafficking situation. The volume of movement of people and goods across borders is higher than at any time in human history due to advances in transportation technology and an interconnected global economy. Illicit movement of people, money, weapons, drugs, and other valuable and stolen goods is also at an all-time high. Human and narcotics trafficking from the developing to developed world is a public health and human rights crisis. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are over 20 million victims of human trafficking and the industry generates over $150 billion in revenues each year.123 The global drug trade generates over $450 billion in revenues each year, much of which is fueling civil conflict and organized crime.124 Opium from the Golden Triangle in South East Asia and the states of Central Europe as well as cocaine from South American Andes is sold to pay for illegal weapons used in conflicts for control of the drug market. Drug conflict causes civil unrest and sows the seeds for civil conflict. In Afghanistan, Opium stocks the coffers of corrupt politicians and government officials as well as war lords and terrorist organizations like the Taliban. These organizations not only impede local development, but also export terrorism to the developed world.
Although initially metamaterial technology will be available to only the militaries of the most sophisticated countries, it could diffuse to smaller states and non-state actors decades in the future. If a criminal trafficking organization could obtain an invisibility capability, their ability to covertly cross borders with illicit goods would be greatly enhanced. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the United States already struggles to interdict maritime and ground based trafficking efforts. The addition of invisibility further complicates the efforts of border authorities to successfully detect and interdict illicit goods.
Perhaps a more worrying scenario than drugs or people is the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction across borders. A chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon crossing a border or into a protected area of a city in order to attack a high value target would be a dream for a terrorist organization. Metamaterials do not address the majority or the most important WMD countermeasures which do not rely on vision for detection. However, the entire border and diplomatic security paradigm is underpinned by the ability to visually perceive the threat space. In this scenario, the United States has no advantage in having metamaterials but is faced with a significant threat if the technology were to fall into the hands of an actor with both the means to operationalize the technology and motive to use it against high value targets or for trafficking illicit goods.
For great power conflict, the peer/near peer scenario, both actors will both have access to some form of metamaterial technology and use it in primarily in the aerial and maritime environments in conjunction with advanced systems like ships and strike aircraft. The United States will have a temporal advantage over other great powers due to its more sophisticated R&D efforts, but it is assumed that others will eventually gain a capability.
In the near future, challenger actors will gain access to the technology and have the incentive to use it to smuggle illicit goods across both land and maritime borders. The dominant power will also us the technology to counter the smuggling via stealth drone technology. Terrorist and insurgent organizations could also develop a rudimentary metamaterial capability in the far future. This could possibly present the most-dire challenge to status quo, dominant powers.
A policy implication is the importance of controlling access to the technology and restricting it only friendly actors as much as possible. In the long term this is not a viable strategy. However, it can bridge the gap between the time where metamaterial camouflage is developed and the time where appropriate countermeasures to the technology exist. Since the technology does favor challengers of the United States more than the United States as a status quo power, it would be beneficial to emphasize countermeasure development concurrently with the development of the technology itself.
Advances in stealth at the personal and small vehicle level—the areas which metamaterials are most promising—are likely to asymmetrically benefit actors seeking to disrupt U.S. national security through hybrid warfare, terrorism, trafficking, and insurgencies. There are applications where human invisibility would be beneficial for status quo powers—such as covert action and special operations. To mitigate the risk of proliferated metamaterial cloaking, status quo powers should seek to develop counter cloaking technology at a faster pace than cloaking technology and control the diffusion of the technology.
Hypersonics and Directed Energy Weapons
On 1 March 2018, Vladimir Putin announced the Russian ongoing effort to deploy six advanced strategic weapon systems.125 He asserted that with these systems, Russia aims to reestablish nuclear parity with the United States. Although following the lead of the United States in reducing the size of the strategic arsenal,126 Moscow is introducing new strategic delivery systems allegedly able to bypass any American deployable defense.
For the Russian president, these advanced weapons systems will offset the current status quo and repristinate the balance of forces between Washington and Moscow as it was before the United States unilaterally withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty and built up anti-missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In Putin’s words: “I deem it necessary to emphasize that Russia’s growing military power […] will preserve strategic parity and the balance of forces in the world, which, as is known, have been and remain a key factor of international security.” In other words, the new weapons will allow Russia to reestablish the nuclear strategic balance by bypassing the American strategic anti-missile defense systems.
Among the six systems presented, and perhaps the ones creating most concerns, are the hypersonic weapons, because they may be difficult to detect, nearly-impossible to intercept, and will compress the defense and attack time cycle.127 On the other hand, the American administration seems unimpressed by the advanced strategic weapons showcased by the Russian president. Then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis observed that “[These new systems] do no impact any need on our side for a change in our deterrent posture” and added “the systems the Russian president talked about are still years away.” 128 Echoing Secretary Mattis’ statement, Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, declared “the hypersonic weapons greatest impact is as tactical not strategic weapons.”129
The two systems employing hypersonics are the Kinzhal and the Avanguard. The first, the Kinzhal, is hypersonic missile, purportedly able to combine high speed and maneuverability. The missile is reported to have a range of over 1,200 miles and to be able to strike both ground and naval targets. The missile was first fired in March 11, 2018 from a modified MiG-31BM “Foxhound” in South-West Russia.130 The combination of maneuverability and speed make the Kinzhal extremely difficult to intercept in operational environments by any defense systems.
The second hypersonic weapons system, the Avanguard, is a gliding vehicle that, according to the Russians, can reach 20 Mach131 and hit targets in the United States homeland “like a meteorite, like a ball of fire.”
Hypersonic glide (or gliding) vehicles (HGV) denote a system that is typically released by an ICBM in the boosting phase, between 50 km to 100 km of altitude to glide to its targets with speed in excess of 5 Mach. HGVs can theoretically maneuver in every stage of the fight and glide at a lower altitude than conventional ICBMs. This makes the detection and interception of the HGV a challenging problem. A weapon system consisting of the complex Avanguard plus ICBM would provide a technical gain and it is a strategic offensive weapon, being designed to strike targets far in enemy’s territory.132
Nonetheless, there are limits and unknowns. The HGV speed decreases during the flight trajectory, tending to zero as it approaches the target. The potential vulnerability of the HGV in the terminal phase, i.e., when the speed is lower, can be mitigated through the addition of boosters. However, this choice will negatively affect the design complexity, the cost, and the aerodynamics of the vehicle. Maneuverability is limited by the HGV’s speed. It can be demonstrated that the turning radius is proportional to the square of the vehicle’s speed.133 Although the vehicle glides at lower altitudes than ICBMs, its radar cross-section is likely to be hundreds of times higher than the one of subsonic weapons. The heat management can be problematic. After entering the hypersonic regime, the air surrounding the glider ionizes, reaching temperatures potentially higher than 2000 K. This could damage the vehicle, particularly in correspondence of the tip if a wave-rider design is utilized. And finally, the ICBM used to take the glider to the right altitude is vulnerable in the boosting phase.
The strategic gain of the Kinzhal can be assessed through comparison with the RKV-15 aero-ballistic missile, which are currently deployed on Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers.134 The main difference between the Kinzhal weapons is the ability to maneuver during the flight. However, the maneuverability of the Kinzhal is not a crucial factor able to offset the strategic balance of power for two reasons. First, both the Kinzhal and the RKV-15 are equally vulnerable before being fired, i.e., the must be at less than 300 km from the target. The RVK-15 travels at hypersonic speed, i.e., speeds greater than Mach 5. For this reason, the time to intercept the missile limited to about 3 minutes. This makes the RKV-15 nearly impossible to intercept with the current defensive system, despite using an inertial guiding system. Therefore, the technical advantage is not likely to be translated in a significant gain from a strategic standpoint.
The last of the systems from Putin’s address is the Peresvet, a mobile, ground-based directed energy weapon to target drones, and, potentially, small missiles and manned vehicles. The laser entered duty, as an experimental system, with the Russian forces in December 2018 according to the Russian News Agency TASS.135
Little direct data is available on the Peresvet combat laser system. According to several analysts, it is most likely deployed to execute air defense and missile defense tasks against drones and cruise missiles in operative environments.136 This is compatible with the fact that, being a mobile weapon system, the source of energy for the laser is limited (probably to the hundreds of kilowatts). Several reasons have been put forward to justify the development of directed-energy deposition weapons.137 These include lower cost per shot. The fuel needed to generate the electricity for firing the laser should cost less than a dollar per shot. In contrast, the U.S. Navy’s short-range air-defense interceptor missiles can cost hundreds of thousands. Directed energy weapons potential offer faster engagement time and the ability to counter radically maneuvering air targets. Lasers can follow and maintain their beam on radically maneuvering air targets. Such systems also may enable graduated responses that range from warning the adversary to damaging it. These advantages, nonetheless, are counterbalanced by a few shortcomings, including atmospheric absorption. Gases and dust in the atmosphere can absorb and scatter the laser beam, hindering the efficacy of the directed energy weapons. Additionally, the ability of a laser to engage several targets in a short time-scale is limited by the time needed to redirect the weapon and the time the laser must dwell on the target to damage it. Finally, hardened targets may be less vulnerable to lasers in the kilowatts range.
The Peresvet, although constituting an example of technical innovation similar to the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System, which has been deployed by the U.S. Navy, cannot be categorized as strategic defensive system, because the energy pulse is extremely unlikely to be in the tenth-hundredths of Megawatts range, which is required to intercept incoming strategic ballistic missiles.
There is another area in which directed-energy weapons are likely to proliferate: non-lethal weapons (NLW), which have plausibility for urban and hybrid operations. Non-lethal weapons are not themselves a new or game-changing technology. However, new forms of NLW finally enable a standoff capability previously only available from traditional or lethal systems. These system architectures rely on directed acoustic or electromagnetic energy to achieve a desired effect in their targets, whether personnel or materiel.
NLW can be divided into three broad categories. The first is passive NLW, which would include caltrops, spike strips, counter-traction technologies, and the like. These systems are all similar in that once the NLW has been deployed, it requires no active control to engage or interact with its target. There is no chemical interaction between materials or input of energy necessary as the interactions are instead more traditionally physical. Example architectures include Anti-Traction Technologies (A-TT) or “Super Adhesives” which dramatically reduce and increase friction, respectively. Such systems can be applied to road surfaces or vulnerable components to introduce hazards to enemy equipment operation.138 Furthermore, Combustion Alteration Technologies (CAT) can prevent traditional combustion processes and therefore stall engines for as long as the compound remains present to inhibit standard operation.139 Lastly, foam and “entanglement” technologies can prevent physical movement of either materiel or personnel, but are physical-restriction based rather than physiological or chemical.140 All these NLW are notable for generating effects following active application by the operator. They are almost always inherently reversible; though there is risk of damage should opponents attempt to operate equipment in spite of NLW use (e.g., car crashes due to A-TTs). Passive NLW are also usually counter-materiel in purpose with the intention of making asset operation dangerous or impossible rather than destroying the equipment directly.
The second is active conventional NLW. These compounds either induce reactions (sedative, irritation, nausea, etc.) in humans or cause harm on a molecular level to equipment (liquid metal embrittlement, etc.). Similar to passive NLW, an active input from the original user is not necessary, though the actual non-lethal effects are the result of active interactions between the applied substances and the targets, usually with deeper effects than those of passive NLW. These active systems can include elements from passive NLW such as putting A-TTs into a landmine-like deployment system.141 Active conventional NLW can also affect both personnel and materiel. Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME) induces a chemical reaction with dramatically weakens the components of a targeted system, making it either dangerous of impossible to operate. Supercaustics are similar, but instead deteriorate systems and subsystems more directly.142 On the counter-personnel front, malodorants can discourage human activities in a given region while calmative agents can sedate opponents.143 Active conventional NLW also include more traditional “riot control” systems such as tear gas or TASERs. These systems all require active user deployment or ongoing interaction and usually cause more explicit chemical, physical, or physiological effects than the passive NLW discussed previously.
The third is directed energy NLW and the primary subject of interest. These systems use either specific electromagnetic (EM) or acoustic means to transmit energy to the target and cause a desired effect. These systems range from strobes to induce confusion to an electromagnetic weapon intended to disable vulnerable electrical equipment. Furthermore, this category of NLW is broad and ranges from area-effect systems such as the Area Denial System (ADS) to more targeted “pulsed energy projectiles” which are directed against single targets.144 On the counter-personnel front, NLW architectures are usually built around acoustic of electromagnetic energy-transfer means with the intention of causing intense discomfort in opposing personnel. Acoustic systems aim for disorientation or nausea while electromagnetic systems usually aim for inflicting pain with no actual physical harm.145 However, other electromagnetic systems such as the Low Energy Laser (LEL), Isotropic Radiators, or Visual Stimulation and Illusion (VSI) all instead can cause temporary blindness or disorientation in a target due to the bright flash or strobing (Bucha effect).146 These NLW can be effectively applied in a defensive position in order to discourage opponent attack. EM counter-materiel NLW are of incredible interest because a targeted electromagnetic signal can damage or disable vulnerable electrical systems.147 While the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is the most widely cited form of counter-material NLW, it is at present a difficult effect to produce and control short of detonating a nuclear device.
Non-Lethal weapons may be of utility against and concern regarding proliferation by state actors and in hybrid Warfare scenarios as epitomized by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Notably, these paired scenarios are dominated by mechanized or otherwise more-modern forces. As a result, electromagnetic counter-materiel systems are especially useful as they are effective deterrents against military actions. Area-effect counter-materiel NLW can prevent the movement of enemy goods or advanced equipment, such as the missile system used to bring down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.148 The conflict in Eastern Ukraine involves both urban elements and open-terrain and long-range vehicle combat and supply lines that are vulnerable or relevant to the conflict.
In terms of urban operations, the physical structures currently offer a degree of shielding from both EM and acoustic NLW, the revolutionary change is that NLW can affect target personnel and materiel without directly compromising the structures housing them. EM and acoustic NLW can hasten the process by implicitly protecting allied forces either by incapacitating opponent personnel or disabling opponent weaponry before damage can be dealt.
The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. – Sun Tzu149
Emerging technologies present regional security challenges and may exacerbate (or mitigate) the geo-political, military, energy, and economic challenges in the future to a state or region and the potential impacts on U.S. interests and national security. Deep strategic and practical understanding of the significance of emerging technology and its diffusion as well as extending thinking concerning how science, technology, and inter- and intra-national social relations interact to shape and facilitate management of the changing global security landscape is a pressing need for the 21st Century. Russian technology development at the high end is not the area to focus the majority of the national security attention. It cannot be ignored, but they are slow-followers, if at all.
There are actions, policies, and choices that the United States may elect to pursue that will enable us to remain the leader in science and technology. Many of these are based on lessons from history, as well as being cognizant of what has changed from the 20th Century. Some of the approaches require decisions to invest in science and technology and others require policy changes, or policy where none currently exists, particularly in the context of governance.
The sciences on which these new technologies are and will be based are not likely to come out of industry. Yes, industry will develop and manufacture them. Instead it is the importance of basic research. The focus in the United States should be on basic research at the leading or “bleeding”150 edge of science. It is the work winning Nobel prizes last decade that will form the basis of developments that will make industry millions and billions this decade and beyond and be the basis of technology developments. We need more ‘bleeding edge’ research.
In order to transform the current paradigm of incremental and evolutionary improvements of defense acquisition programs and systems, recognition of the need to leap ahead and embrace truly far-sighted concepts as well as foster integrated, multi-disciplinary, and cross-cutting basic research approaches is warranted—such as recent dramatic advances within and at the nexus of nanoscience, materials science, catalysis, supramolecular science, bioinformatics, cellular materials, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, information sciences, and the cognitive sciences. It’s much more important that just funding. It is program management, oversight, and management that is risk tolerant.
At a foundational level, it’s all about people. Within the United States, changes in patterns of new business formation, especially high-tech startups, have been observed. Tech-based entrepreneurship is dependent on U.S. research capabilities, institutions, and people. Recent trends as far as tech-based entrepreneurship in the United States are worrisome. Between 1978 and 2012, new business starts declined by 44%.151
Historically immigrants have disproportionately contributed to U.S. tech industry and capabilities. E.g., Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, emigrated from Russia when he was six. Some of the numbers are staggering:
“Since 1900, immigrants have made up one-third of U.S. recipients of Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine and economics. Immigrants account for more than one-quarter of the approximately 110,000 patents filed in the United States each year. There are more than 1 million foreign students in U.S. universities, representing about 5% of enrollees and providing an estimated U.S.$39billion annual stimulus to the economy. The United States came to its leading position in science and technology in part because talented immigrants could thrive here. The global nature of U.S. academia seeds connections and collaborations that make it stronger.152 The influx of scientists and engineers fleeing Nazi Germany (including Albert Einstein and computer scientist John von Neumann) remains the most dramatic example.”153
Science and technology is a strategic asset for American diplomacy and for asserting national power. It is our most valued “soft power” asset. The latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey from March 2013 shows that more than anything “U.S. science and tech advances” are viewed positively, e.g., ranging from 61% positive in Argentina to 85% in Kenya & Senegal.154 This should be an area to leverage for diplomacy and U.S. influence. If one analyzes the data specifically among “Middle-East/Conflict Area,” (Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan), it’s even more dramatic: “Tech/Science Advances” are cited by 86% as a “reason for liking the U.S.” More than anything else. It’s 73% cited across all Islamic states surveyed, i.e., Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. In South East Asia, 82% of those surveyed looked to America’s leadership in science and technology. To pre-emptively counter the criticism that one sometimes encounters: it’s not about ‘other countries liking us;’ it’s about leveraging what is most effective, efficient, and likely to be enable paths forward.
By contrast, the view (data) from the United States is basically the inverse; only 32% perceive “Tech/Science Advances” as a major reason for admiring the United States and our leadership globally, which may explain some of the lack of prioritizing this area in terms of foreign policy. Because we do not value or see it, we assume the rest of the world thinks the same.
Reducing the risk from misuse of technology will mean consideration of the highly transnational nature of the critical technology required. Traditional and innovative new approaches to nonproliferation and counter proliferation are important policy elements to reduce the risk of malfeasant application of technology that may enable advanced weapons or make production or dissemination of biochemical agents available to a much wider group of actors. Efforts to strengthen existing international regimes to control transfers of dual-use materials are important.155 Verification still remains a technical as well as diplomatic challenge. The role of international agreements and cooperative programs in the 21st Century is a contested intellectual and policy field.
One approach that would benefit the United States is reinvigorating science diplomacy. The instruments of science diplomacy include means like MOUs and other official government-to-government interactions: the classic tools of traditional Track I diplomacy. Science diplomacy has perhaps made the biggest impact in foreign policy as a part of Track II diplomatic efforts: informal diplomacy between individuals who are not officially empowered to act on behalf of the state but are acting in accordance with a state’s foreign policy goals interact through dialogue, exchanges, cooperative programs, or other means as part of increasing cooperation and transparency or decreasing conflict among states. Track II efforts with nuclear physicists and other scientists during the Cold War are legendary, in the best ways.
In many ways, nuclear diplomacy of the Cold War may be argued as the pinnacle of Track II science diplomacy. Overall, Track II science diplomacy has been an under-utilized tool since then, which may be ironic considering that since the early 1990s, the world has become increasingly technologically-dependent and technology has enabled the spread, at an unprecedented rate, of scientific knowledge, capabilities, and materials globally.
Initiated following the end of the Cold War, a core component of Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts aimed at redirecting the offensive or weapons-based knowledge and skill sets of scientists in former Soviet states to defensive or peaceful aims includes Track II science diplomacy. CTR has traditionally and by statute of the public funding focused on reducing the risks from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. One can envision a role for science diplomacy beyond the former Soviet states and beyond those weapons as part of pro-active 21st Century Cooperative Threat Reduction; for example, one might imagine a program in partnership with Russia to engage Pakistani and Indian scientists and engineers for cooperative threat reduction from misuse of nanotechnology or synthetic biology. As a model policy leveraging science diplomacy to increase global security, CTR offers opportunities in the diplomatic realm, in the engaging scientists and engineers, and for study by international affairs scholars.
In the 21st Century, major barriers to effective science diplomacy include three major risks: not being relevant, not being strategic, and not being at the table. Science and technology are increasingly complicated and complex. The ability to translate and make relevant the role and importance of science to foreign policy aims is critical. While there are notable exceptions, often this is not best accomplished by active research scientists. It’s also not often accomplished well by traditional Foreign Service Officers. In the global information age, there is a critical need for champions and for a cohort of individuals who can bridge across technical and foreign policy arenas.
With respect for the need to be strategic, this potential barrier reflects the need for effective science diplomacy to reach outside of science. Rarely, if ever, does science and technology itself drive foreign policy; the potential national security, economic, or other national- and international-level consequences of the application of science and technology to human endeavors is where science intersects with policy predominantly. Science and technology can be causal, intervening, or determinant factors. The ability to recognize, communicate, and identify nodes for intervention, change, or influence are strategic requirements for effective science diplomacy.
Most international legal and regulatory approaches to technologies and to emerging technologies—robotics, biotechnologies, synthetic genomics, gain of function research, nanotechnology, cognitive neurosciences, hypersonics, AI—are still driven by 20th-Century (or earlier) conceptions and institutions. Past methods for other technologies that do not take into account the international nature of the science and the industry are not adequate. Any international regime or approach must be interdisciplinary in focus, cognizant of the multi-polar post-Cold War world, and appreciate the role of private funders, commercial development, and transnational corporations. To be clear, there’s a lot of good in the arms control and nonproliferation existing institutions. Rather, these challenges are primarily political rather than technical. Being able to navigate and affect policy at the interface of science and international affairs is where we have immense value.
The tension between adoption and governance of technology must be considered as part of the balance of power. The utility of treaties may be better viewed as more than only a guarantee against using a weapon. Weapons treaties were never an ironclad guarantee that weapons would not be used. Treaties provide stability, reduce uncertainty; enable dialogue, and are confidence building measures. The utility of weapon prohibition treaties as balancing should not be ignored, not because of an idealized imagination that prohibition effectively and permanently limits proliferation or use of a technology but because the act of meeting, networking, building relationships, and negotiating provides a forum for interacting and addressing underlying issues. From this standpoint, governance approaches should be integral to an integrated military strategy for future capabilities development, not the afterthought that attempts to put the metaphorical genie back in the bottle.
General Philip Breedlove (U.S.AF, ret.) served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2013 to 2016 and is now a distinguished professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Margaret Kosal is an associate professor at the Sam Nunn School, where she focuses on technology, strategy, and governance.