Defense Media Network

Global Trends 2030: Technological Game Changers

Part 8 of a series covering the National Intelligence Council's look into the future

Perspective

As we noted in the previous post, the United States remains among the world’s most open, innovative, and flexible countries.  Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, E-Bay and others are household names worldwide, and are known for their innovation, having produced more than their share of technological game changers.

But the United States does not have a monopoly on innovation or on innovative technologies. Far more than the four previous issues of Global Trends, Global Trends 2030 places a huge emphasis on technology in general and on what it considers potential (and likely) “technological game changers” in the foreseeable future, at least out to 2030.  For industry readers of Defense Media Network, these potential game changers are of enormous significance to investment and other business decisions.

 

Technological Game Changers

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (front, second from left) is shown an array of products locally farmed at the Centre Songhai, a non-governmental organization specialising in research, training and development of sustainable agricultural practices, in Porto Novo, Benin. The development of precision agriculture will go a long ways toward meeting the world's food needs. U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (front, second from left) is shown an array of products locally farmed at the Centre Songhai, a non-governmental organization specializing in research, training and development of sustainable agricultural practices, in Porto Novo, Benin. The development of precision agriculture could go a long way toward meeting the world’s food needs. U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe

In an earlier post, we looked at the six major game changers that will affect the world we experience in 2030. Under the “Impact of New Technologies Game Changer” we said the following:

GT2030 notes that technology will figure prominently in what kind of future world we live in.  It asks the question, will technological breakthroughs be developed in time to boost economic productivity and solve the problems caused by the strain on natural resources and climate change as well as chronic disease, aging populations, and rapid urbanization?

Additionally, we listed the four areas Impact of New Technologies Game Changers lived in.  To recap these technological game changers briefly:

Resource Technologies: Technological breakthroughs pertaining to the security of vital resources will be necessary to meet the food, water, and energy needs of the world’s population. Key technologies likely to be at the forefront in this arena will include genetically modified crops, precision agriculture, water-irrigation techniques, solar energy, advanced bio-based fuels, and enhanced oil and natural gas extraction via fracturing.  Some of these most potentially game-changing technologies include:

  •  Genetically-modified (GM) Crops
  •  Precision Agriculture
  •  Water Management
  •  Bio-Based Energy
  •  Solar Energy

Automation and Advanced Manufacturing Technologies: These technologies are changing the business model of mass production and how future products and services will be delivered to the increasingly important middle classes in both developed and developing countries.  Asian manufacturing enterprises have already built the competencies to develop novel automation and advanced manufacturing applications from their current capabilities, and they are poised to dominate many emerging markets, like China has recently done in photovoltaic panels.  Among these most potentially game-changing technologies are:

A family in Tarialan, Uvs province, Mongolia, uses a solar panel to generate power for their ger, a traditional Mongolian tent, July, 28, 2009. Solar energy will likely be a key resource technology game changer. U.N.  photo by Eskinder Debebe

A family in Tarialan, Uvs province, Mongolia, uses a solar panel to generate power for their ger, a traditional Mongolian tent, July, 28, 2009. Solar energy will likely be a key resource technology game changer. U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe

  • Robotics
  • Remote and Autonomous Vehicles
  • Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing

Information Technologies:  These technologies are entering the “big data” era.  Process power and data storage are becoming almost free; networks and the cloud will provide global access and pervasive services; social media and cyber-security will be large new markets. Some of these most potentially game-changing technologies are:

  • Data Solutions
  • Social Networking
  • Smart City Technologies

Health Technologies: New health technologies will continue to extend the average age of populations around the world, ameliorate debilitating physical and mental conditions, and improve overall well-being.  Some of the most potentially game-changing technologies include:

  • Disease Management
  • Human Augmentation

There isn’t room in a brief online post to discuss all of these game changers populating these four areas in detail. For that, the reader should consult the 15 pages of analysis in GT2030 found here: http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/GlobalTrends_2030.pdf.  However, some of the more important technologies to the defense industry will be described below.

Selected Defense-Related Technological Game Changers

While space does not permit a full exploration of the impact of all potential game changing technologies, two technologies in particular, a wide-array of IT technologies and autonomous vehicle technologies, would seem to provide the most fertile ground for industry to invest R&D funds to look for game-changing possibilities.

 

IT Technologies

A woman and her infant child at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 14, 2011. The Centre was visited by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as part of his three-nation Southeast Asian tour of maternal and child health facilities. New health technologies that address disease will be a game changer. U.N. photo by Mark Garten

A woman and her infant child at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 14, 2011. The Centre was visited by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as part of his three-nation Southeast Asian tour of maternal and child health facilities. New health technologies that address disease will be a game changer. U.N. photo by Mark Garten

It would be difficult to find a company in the defense industry that is not heavily invested in, as well as developing, IT technologies.  During the next 15-20 years, the hardware, software, and connectivity aspects of IT will experience massive growth in capability and complexity as well as more widespread diffusion. This growth and diffusion will present significant challenges for governments and their militaries, which must find ways to capture the benefits of new IT technologies while dealing with the new threats that those technologies present.

Three technology developments with an IT focus have the power to change the way we will live, do business, and protect ourselves before 2030:

  • solutions for storage and processing large quantities of data;
  • social networking technologies; and
  • “smart cities” encompassing a host of urban technologies enabled by enhanced and secure IT systems.

Advances in data storage and analysis herald a coming economic boom in North America; advances in a host of urban technologies will be shaped by the giant investments in smart-cities infrastructures in the developing world.

 

Autonomous Vehicle Technologies

From any perspective, the defense industry is strongly invested in autonomous vehicles, and with good reason.  Their use by the U.S. military – and increasingly by other militaries – has exploded over the past decade.  Today, remote and autonomous vehicles are mostly in use in the military and for specific industrial tasks in remote locations. A remote vehicle refers either to remote-operated versions of traditional land, sea, and air vehicles, or to specialized mobile tele-robotic platforms such as bomb-disposal robots and tethered submersibles.

“My view is that technology sets the parameters of the possible; it creates the potential for a military revolution.”

Max Boot, War Made New

These remote vehicles are controlled using radiofrequency transmission or via a tether, and incorporate electric or hydraulic actuators for manipulation, as well as cameras and other sensors for surveillance. Autonomous vehicles, which are mobile platforms that can operate without any direct human control, incorporate sensors and control software to orient the vehicle and avoid obstacles. Autonomous vehicles may also use radar or laser-based rangefinders to detect objects and data from global navigation satellite systems and geographic information systems to facilitate navigation and maneuvering.

The X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator's first flight in cruise configuration provided an important measure of its maturity and readiness to begin the next phase of flight testing. Autonomous vehicle technology has seen incredible growth. Northrop Grumman photo

The X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator’s first flight in cruise configuration provided an important measure of its maturity and readiness to begin the next phase of flight testing. Autonomous vehicle technology has seen incredible growth. Northrop Grumman photo

Autonomous vehicles are today transforming military operations and conflict resolution, while simultaneously presenting novel security risks that could be difficult to address.  They may well usher in revolutionary possibilities by 2030.  Recently, Undersecretary of the Navy, the Honorable Robert Work, acknowledged: “In past days, frigates would be the eyes of the fleet.  In the future, BAMS [Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV] and P-8s will provide these eyes.”

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already being used to spy or launch missiles. By 2030, UAVs could be in common use to monitor intrastate and interstate conflicts, enforce no-fly zones, or survey national borders. Low-cost UAVs with cameras and other types of sensors are being increasingly used by troops on the ground to provide local situational awareness. As the DoD Unmanned Systems Roadmap puts it:

The Department of Defense’s vision for unmanned systems is the seamless integration of diverse unmanned capabilities that provide flexible options for Joint Warfighters while exploiting the inherent advantages of unmanned technologies, including persistence, size, speed, maneuverability, and reduced risk to human life.  DoD envisions unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.

Industry has virtually unlimited opportunities to provide DoD with better autonomous vehicles of all kinds, and to provide them to a hungry overseas market, witness the recent commitment by the Australian Defence Force to procure BAMS.

 

U.S. Sailors with Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 deploy an unmanned underwater vehicle May 2, 2012, in Sydney, Nova Scotia, during Frontier Sentinel 2012. Frontier Sentinel is a combined U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Forces exercise focusing on mine countermeasures and migrant vessel scenarios off the east coast of the United States and Canada. The proliferation of autonomous vehicles will only continue in the coming decades. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte, U.S. Navy

U.S. sailors with Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 deploy an unmanned underwater vehicle May 2, 2012, in Sydney, Nova Scotia, during Frontier Sentinel 2012. Frontier Sentinel is a combined U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Forces exercise focusing on mine countermeasures and migrant vessel scenarios off the east coast of the United States and Canada. The proliferation of autonomous vehicles will only continue in the coming decades. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte, U.S. Navy

Industry and Technological Game Changers

Global Trends 2030 has done an admirable job of bringing these technological game changers the military – as well as other users – will need in the ensuing decades.  Industry can seize the high ground by getting ahead of the power curve and anticipating military’s needs in these areas.  The DoD Unmanned Systems Roadmap is one place to begin exploring the U.S. military’s needs for better, smarter autonomous systems.

One area of particular emphasis for the U.S. DoD is reducing total ownership costs (TOC).  This is an area ripe for innovation by defense companies that produce autonomous systems.  The days of the “One operator, one joystick, one UxS are long over.  Defense contractors who can help the DoD solve this TOC issue will have the high ground and inside track to increased profitability.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...