A recent article in Joint Force Quarterly, “Cheap Technology Will Challenge U.S. Tactical Dominance,” highlights a number of technologies that the author suggests will enable smaller states (and, he admits, some non-state actors) to disrupt the tactical dominance that the US has enjoyed in recent decades.
The key technologies that the author identifies are:
- Additive manufacturing
- Nanotechnology (nanoenergetics and nanomaterials)
- Commercial space-like capabilities: (space-based surveillance and air-breathing surveillance)
- AI (navigation and target identification)
- UAVs, UUVs, and UGVs
Early in the article the author introduces the transitional period between WWI and WWII, presenting it as an analogous period in which the US military witnessed the introduction of a number of new and potentially disruptive technologies. He sets up the well-known issue with institutions (in this case, the military), having a choice between investing in bolstering the established platforms in their model (in this case, the battleship) or investing in the new technology and transforming the institution (in this case, aircraft).
At the end of the article the author poses the question, will the US today choose to invest in the equivalent of battleships or aircraft. It is a reasonable question. Of course, there are a number of things that impact our answer to that question, not least among them our belief in (or preference for) the institution’s ability to change enough to retain its current dominance in future conflict with established and emergent actors.
And to assess that, we need to go farther than the article did in exploring how the listed technology – and many other potential developments – could be used by other human beings to create conflict and to prosecute conflict in new ways. And this of course leads us to thinking more deeply about the many potential emergent actors – and specifically not other states – that would logically exert themselves in big and small ways on the global stage.