New Tools for War and Peace: Technology Game Changers: Militaries and Civilians Alike Plan for Technological Change, Says Security Consultant John Watts. Tools Such as Analytical Gaming Can Be Useful to Both Military and Civilian Planners for Developing New Concepts

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The use of aerial drones by military forces and some civilian governments has attracted considerable public attention--and controversy--in the last few years. Drones are, however, only one of a number of potentially "game-changing" technologies that John Watts, a security consultant with the Australian firm Noetic Group, expects could shake up military and civilian life in huge ways in coming years. Others on his list include drugs that boost soldiers' strength and intelligence, as well as swarms of insect-sized nanobots that decimate an enemy military force's vehicles before the firing even starts.

Watts is helping both civilian and military professionals in Australia and in the United States to prepare for radical innovations such as these. In workshops, he guides clients through a brand of scenario-planning exercises called analytical gaming, based on military war games that assess how battle plans might play out. Over the last year, in an ongoing series of NeXTech workshops, Noetic has worked with Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, to help audiences think in new ways about the near-future ramifications of such game changers as drones, cutting-edge software, bio-modifications, energy weapons, and 3-D printing.

He discussed his methodology and his thoughts on future military technology in the following interview with THE FUTURIST, conducted by associate editor Rick Docksai.


THE FUTURIST: Let's start by talking a little about NeXTech. Is it an ongoing project?

John Watts: It's a series of four events that we've been holding over twelve months, with the final one on March 27-28. The intent of the project was to build a framework for thinking about game-changing technologies. We've developed a framework through the project that we are testing and validating through these workshops. We will be producing a final report for our client that will come out later this year, and we're looking at releasing other papers based on our experiences examining the focal technologies during the events. The primary client is the [U.S.] Department of Defense. They want to understand the impacts of emerging technologies, but also new ways to think about them.

[NeXTech] builds off of the Evolved Irregular Threat project we ran in 2011, which looked at the capabilities of groups like Hezbollah, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, LET--the group that undertook the attack on Mumbai--and other irregular substate groups that have the ability to generate statelike capabilities.

Drug cartels have homemade submarines. Organized crime syndicates in Mexico have developed makeshift armored vehicles. Many of these groups are turning out technologies that are not as sophisticated as [what] a state player has, but they're not far from it. Groups like Hezbollah have aid agencies and civil engineering units. They have the full range of statelike capability, across from diplomacy and the administration of government services to, on the other end of the scale, capabilities for coercion and violence. We look not only at their ability to cause harm, but also at their ability to deal with the media and govern.

One of the findings we had was that groups could take emerging technologies and adapt them to their use a lot quicker than a state actor could, and, if they did, then we would actually be behind the curve. So the goal of the NeXTech project was to see what constitutes a game-changing technology: How do we identify what will be a game changer, and how do we keep pace with it?

Much of the innovation today is coming out of the private sector, not the government field. We see the government now taking on iPads and iPhones and adapting them to their systems, but most government officials are still walking around with BlackBerrys, which are five or six years out of date.

THE FUTURIST: Cyber warfare does garner concern among leaders in the United States and in many other countries' armed forces. …


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