April 13, 2024

The Emerging Tech Needed in Indo-Pacific

EMERGING TECHNOLOGY HORIZONS: The Emerging Tech Needed in Indo-Pacific


Wilson Miles and Jacob Winn

iStock illustration

If the United States is serious about preventing a potential invasion of Taiwan by China, the Defense Department will need to create an overwhelming advantage and mitigate urgent operational challenges. The Indo-Pacific region is both vast and distant from the continental United States.

The Defense Department will need to be equipped with tools that provide long-range precision strike capabilities, penetrate enemy anti-access and area-denial capabilities, enable interoperability between systems across domains and ensure resilient logistics.

Credibly deterring aggression and projecting power will depend on rapidly developing, testing and deploying emerging technologies and systems that can deliver effects against a technologically sophisticated and numerically superior adversary.

Hypersonic weapons — if fielded at scale — would present commanders with a capability that credibly raises the costs of aggression by ensuring that adversaries’ air defenses could not prevent overwhelming attacks on military facilities, infrastructure and war-making industries. To scale this capability, combatant commanders would need to make their operational requirements clear to industry and service leadership.

Electromagnetic spectrum domination is also a top priority for Indo-Pacific Command leaders. 5G and FutureG capabilities are critical for joint communication and for the fielding of distributed manned or unmanned systems. These capabilities must be resilient in the face of sophisticated jamming techniques but provide decisive tactical advantages when available.

Directed energy weapons also provide a suite of capabilities with a lower “cost-per-shot” and logistical burden for countering both traditional airborne threats, such as rockets and artillery, and next-generation threats such as autonomous platforms. Similarly to hypersonic weapons, defining the use cases and articulating a plan for moving some of the promising prototypes into production can help ensure that these systems are widely available to warfighters across multiple platforms.

New integration tools can help the military address technical interoperability challenges. One difficulty lies in enabling legacy and new systems to work together across domains to deliver joint operational effects. The Defense Department’s focus has historically centered around developing one-size-fits-all standards and interface controls. Now, promising software integration tools can permit systems with varying data formats and interfaces to exchange information effectively and quickly to support joint fires and command-and-control missions.

In addition to interoperability, the assured ability to rapidly move personnel, equipment and supplies is critical to deterring or winning a conflict in the Indo-Pacific. In fact, resilient logistics is a key tenet of the Pentagon’s Joint Warfighting Concept.

The ability to enhance logistics operations by automating sustainment is central to distributed operations in the Indo-Pacific region. Machine learning algorithms can support decisionmakers with analysis, such as transportation optimization, network modeling and advanced pattern recognition. Tools that aid planners in reacting to rapidly changing operational environments, whether those changes are due to weather patterns or to enemy action, will be in alignment with the rapid decision-making pace intrinsic to future warfare.

Additionally, defense planners need a better understanding of the resource constraints that warfighters will face during operations. Wargames have historically underestimated the constraints on U.S. forces. Wargames that test operational concepts in the Indo-Pacific should not assume that the warfighter will be logistically supported throughout the entire exercise or have the industrial base needed to continuously support operations.

Incorporating operational and system performance data into these simulations would improve understanding of how supplies and equipment will move over great distances, likely within the weapons engagement zone expected in theater.

The Indo-Pacific theater also presents unique operational energy challenges for forces. To deliver fuel to forward deployed units, the military will rely on an extraordinarily complex and geographically distant network of bases and other island outposts.

Opportunities to address these challenges could include more prototyping of certain energy-efficient concepts like blended wing body airframes, hybrid-electric engines and modular nuclear reactors for the electrification and resiliency of forward operating bases.

However, despite the range of available prototypes across many technical areas, more must be done across the military to articulate quantifiable goals for using these solutions. Doing so will allow the services and combat support agencies to plan out joint development and procurement activities.

These emerging technologies, if integrated across operational and logistical missions, promise to make operations in the Indo-Pacific more effective, resilient and coordinated. The command recognizes the challenge of synchronizing different technology acceleration efforts.

To help plug in emerging technologies, the Defense Department established the Joint Mission Accelerator Directorate, which Indo-Pacom Commander Navy Adm. John Aquilino announced during the National Defense Industrial Association’s first Emerging Technologies Conference and is designed to pull together Defense Department elements for the command’s needs.

NDIA’s Emerging Technologies Institute has done a series of reports on these issues including the Joint War­fighting Concept, advanced technology supply chains and data analytics to support system maintenance — all of which are available on our website. The use of emerging technologies to support operations in the Indo-Pacific and other regions will be a focus at the second Emerging Technologies Conference in Washington, D.C., Aug. 7-9. ND

Wilson Miles and Jacob Winn are associate research fellows at the Emerging Technologies Institute. If you are interested in working with us, please reach out: ETI@NDIA.org.

Topics: Global Defense Market, International

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