The prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, the growing centrality of information warfare, and threats to traditional command and control are redefining combat in the age of strategic competition. Amidst debates on the use of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) and pressure to modernize U.S. defense capabilities, what steps must the United States take to maintain its military advantage? CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation about the deployment of autonomous weapons and other defense technologies to enhance U.S. military readiness. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.
More than Half the Battle
Gaining an advantage in managing information and exercising command is a precondition of victory in warfare. This necessity has become even more acute as military organizations have integrated information technology into their forces and operations. The Pentagon’s belated response to these strategies appears overly technological and unrealistically fixated on regaining the kind of information dominance that the U.S. armed forces enjoyed in the aftermath of the Cold War. A new CNAS report by Chris Dougherty examines how the Department of Defense (DoD) can embrace, rather than fight against, the changes in the character of warfare and learn to thrive within its chaos in ways that China and Russia may be unable to match.
AI and International Stability: Risks and Confidence-Building Measures
In recent years, the machine learning revolution has sparked a wave of interest in AI applications across a range of industries. Nations are also mobilizing to use AI for national security and military purposes, write Paul Scharre and Michael Horowitz. It is therefore vital to assess how the militarization of AI could affect international stability and how to encourage militaries to adopt AI in a responsible manner. Doing so requires understanding the features of AI, the ways it could shape warfare, and the risks to international stability resulting from the militarization of artificial intelligence.
The Defense Industrial Base of the Future
America’s future leadership in the world and on the battlefield will be dependent on its ingenuity. Yet, while America remains the world’s leader in technology, its relative advantage wanes, argues Mikhail Grinberg in a CNAS policy brief. Future military operating environments will require technology from more diverse sources and business models that enable faster innovation cycles. Grinberg concludes that the superiority of next-generation weapon systems will be derived from progress in science, and the next National Defense Strategy needs to help the nation prioritize basic research as a source of competitive advantage.
Principles for the Combat Employment of Weapon Systems with Autonomous Functionalities
An international debate over lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) has been under way for nearly a decade. A new CNAS report by author Robert O. Work offers seven new principles that concentrate on the responsible use of autonomous functionalities in armed conflict in ways that preserve human judgment and responsibility over the use of force, and help minimize the probability of loss of control of the system or unintended engagements.
Sharpening the U.S. Military’s Edge: Critical Steps for the Next Administration
Michèle Flournoy and Gabrielle Chefitz argue in a CNAS policy brief that the United States is losing its military technological advantage vis-à-vis great-power competitors such as China, and reversing this trend must be DoD leadership’s top priority. Doing so will require focused and empowered leadership, increased investment in the development of new concepts and capabilities, new pathways and incentives for promising prototypes to bridge the “valley of death” into production, a willingness to make hard program and budget choices, the development of a more tech-savvy workforce, and greater partnership with Congress to pursue these goals together.
It’s Time for the Pentagon To Take Data Principles More Seriously
"The Defense Department’s data still remains predominantly siloed, messy, and unused," write Robert O. Work and Tara Murphy Dougherty in War on the Rocks. "While defense leaders rightfully become seized with the importance of data, it should move faster. Defense leaders should create the policies, processes, and programs to turn data into useful information quickly and accurately, thereby enabling more effective decision-making."
All About Eve: What Virtual Forever Wars Can Teach us About the Future of Combat
"Within minutes, hundreds of pilots at terminals around the world, all responding to similar notifications, have logged in and are being briefed on our mission objectives," writes Thomas Shugart in War on the Rocks. "One might think that this is a fanciful vision of the future of warfare conducted remotely by networked military forces. But in fact it’s happening right now, albeit virtually, in the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games—specifically, in the universe of EVE Online. For some time now there has been interest from the defense sector in looking at video games as a source of innovation. Certainly, as anyone knows who has spent much time both playing modern computer games and using military hardware, the defense world could learn a lot from the gaming world. In some cases, it already has."
Institutional Roadblocks to the Defense Department’s Adoption of AI
"Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) present remarkable opportunities and novel challenges for America’s national security institutions," observe Megan Lamberth and Martijn Rasser in a CNAS commentary. "As a general-purpose technology analogous to electricity or the internal combustion engine, AI can be particularly transformational for the Department of Defense, enabling new capabilities in areas as varied as warfighting, logistics and maintenance, command and control, surveillance, intelligence collection and analysis, and healthcare. Overcoming institutional and cultural barriers is one of the foremost challenges to successfully adopting and deploying AI technologies critical to U.S. national security."
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Paul Scharre, Chris Dougherty, and Megan Lamberth
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
Sign up to receive the latest analysis from the CNAS expert community on the most important issues facing America's national security.
More from CNAS
Foreword By Richard Fontaine Rapid technological change touches virtually every aspect of life today. This includes defense and national security, and for good reason: To main...
By Douglas A. Beck
Surge in Drone Warfare Leads Pentagon to Open School for U.S. Troops
Small inexpensive “off the shelf” drones like those Ukraine is using against Russia, and Hamas is deploying against Israel, are transforming modern warfare. To train American ...
By Stacie Pettyjohn
The missile war over Ukraine
The World's host Carolyn Beeler speaks with Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the Defense Program at the Center for New American Security, about the civilian toll, Ukraine's respo...
By Stacie Pettyjohn
How to Stop Our High-Tech Equipment From Arming Russia and China
The U.S. government’s efforts to stop Russia and China from using American equipment to boost their defense sectors have resulted in tough rules — but leaky enforcement. As a ...
By Chris Miller & Jordan Schneider