January 22, 2014

CNAS Scholars Release First “20YY Warfare” Report

Washington, January 22, 2014 -- The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) today released the first report in its new “20YY Warfare” initiative -- a multiyear effort to explore how emerging technologies may shape the future of warfare. Written by CNAS Chief Executive Officer Robert O. Work and CNAS Executive Vice President and Director of Studies Shawn Brimley, 20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age calls upon the United States to prepare for war in new era in which “unmanned and autonomous systems will play central war-fighting roles for the United States, its allies and partners, and its adversaries.”

The authors warn of a not-too-distant future where “guided munitions and battle networking technologies have proliferated widely and are employed by both state and non-state actors,” making all military operations more deadly and costly. At the same time, and notwithstanding changes in the strategic environment, the spiraling costs of personnel and crewed combat systems means the U.S. armed forces will likely be smaller in the future than in the immediate past. In response to both of these trends, the authors argue that U.S. planners will increasingly turn to unmanned and robotic systems for answers, and these systems will be increasingly capable and autonomous in action.
Download a copy of 20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age.
Mr. Work and Mr. Brimley write that “a warfare regime based on unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change our basic core concepts of defense strategy, including deterrence, reassurance, dissuasion and compellence.”  Since they say that such a regime will take time to evolve, they dub it “20YY” to avoid “needless debate over what decade or year it might occur.” 
The authors conclude that the developments they identify present opportunities for the United States, but only if policymakers make “smart choices during the ongoing defense downturn.”  Likewise, they warn, “poor decisions and a slow recognition of these powerful trends will put tomorrow’s U.S. military at unnecessary risk.”