Magazine article National Defense

Yesterday's Weapons Race Is Taken over by High-Stakes Technology Competition

Magazine article National Defense

Yesterday's Weapons Race Is Taken over by High-Stakes Technology Competition

Article excerpt

Most experts agree that weapons modernization-which is the process of envisioning and subsequently producing the systems that will be needed two or three decades from now-is crucial to the long-range security of the United States and its partners in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in this troubled world.

And unlike the public at large, alas, these professionals know that the grunt work for the systems that the United States will require to stay on top, in say, 2020, must be started today.

The road leading to modernization is fraught with obstacles. The money problem alone is formidable, but there are many other issues that must be resolved before the nation may be deemed to be safely on its way.

One especially critical challenge hinges on how the Defense Department pursues its multiple research and development programs. This question fortunately received adept attention in the fiscal year 2000 Defense Authorization Act, thanks to the efforts of Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and key members of their respective staffs.

By way of background, Lieberman predicts that the breakthroughs that have been achieved in science and technology in recent years will provide the means for even greater strides in the future. This astute extrapolation points to a quantum leap in the management and execution of 21 st century conflicts no matter what their scale-assuming, of course, that the nation continues to capitalize on its previous research successes.

This brave new world will be, indeed, remarkable.

"With advanced communication and information systems," Lieberman offers, "it may be possible to fight a war without concentrating forces, making force organizations impossible to kill. With advances in robotics and miniaturization, it may be possible to fight a ground war with far fewer people. With advances in nuclear power, hydrolysis and hydrogen storage, it may be possible to create virtually unlimited sources of on-site power. These opportunities are complemented by numerous challenges, also brought forth by technology: urban warfare; space warfare; electronic/information warfare; chemical, nuclear and biological warfare, and warfare relying on underground storage centers and facilities.

"As the variety of opportunities and threats continues to climb, and as increasing numbers of nations emerge in the high tech arena, I believe the military arms race of the past will be replaced by a military technology race. Instead of simply accumulating ever greater numbers of conventional armaments against a wellestablished foe, as we did in the Cold War era, we will have to concentrate on producing fewer, but even more rapidly evolving, and ever more specialized weapons to counter specific asymmetric threats."

Looking Ahead

To pave the way for the development and fielding of these agile systems, Lieberman, Roberts and Bingaman have inserted language in the authorization act that is calculated to not only accelerate the tempo of technology innovation but also to move the military away from the R&D edifice it created in the wake of the Cold War threat and apparently still maintains. …

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