Scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations are often subject to public discussion about their capacity to affect international security, either by their military exploitation or their uptake and re-appropriation through non-state actors and terrorists. While accompanying proliferation and militarisation concerns are not new, the challenge of governing emerging technologies is as much about their often-unknown technical affordances as the way in which they capture the imagination of innovators, policy-makers, and public communities.
Drone attacks allegedly by Houthi rebels this past weekend on the Abqaiq facility and the Khurais oil field effectively knocked out five million barrels of processed crude oil from the world market. If this number doesn’t sound impressive, it amounts to about 5% of the world’s energy supply. Although the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have been targeting Saudi Arabia in retaliation for their participation in the civil war in Yemen, this attack is different. Knocking out this critical facility will potentially cause prices to rise significantly for almost every commodity due to the reduction of global energy supplies. Since energy influences the price of transportation, which in turn influences the price of food and other commodities, this may cause prices of goods and services of all types to rise globally. Recent estimates suggest that the price of oil may rise from $60 to over $100 per barrel. That is an enormous shock that will be felt worldwide.
The U.S. Navy faces a future where large portions of its fleet will be composed of non-traditional assets. Specifically, unmanned systems comprise a significant portion of the Chief of Naval Operations’s (CNO) “key platforms and payloads” which the Navy seeks to acquire.1 That direction from the top is further born out in the Navy’s most recent shipbuilding plan which includes 10 large unmanned surface vessels and 191 unmanned undersea vehicles of various sizes. These numbers contrast with the total of 55 “battle force ships” planned to be built over the same period.2 Tonnage obviously also plays a role in this type of comparison, but by sheer numbers the Navy is moving toward unmanned vice manned platforms. The Navy must think past the engineering hurdles and determine how to effectively employ these new assets. To do so, we propose that the Navy revisit history and revitalize the complex learning system it used to exploit an earlier set of new capabilities prior to World War II. Specifically, we call for the Navy to accelerating standing up a dedicated experimental squadron with the purpose of exploring advanced tactics for employing unmanned systems in a series of tactically challenging, objective-based exercises.
Since inauguration, President Trump has signaled a strong commitment to the use of force – especially to secure U.S. interests in the Middle East and to protect against the threat of terrorism. In his inaugural address, Trump promised to eradicate Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth” and he reiterated this policy objective during his speech to Congress last Tuesday. Yet the question remains – how will Trump use military operations to accomplish these objectives? Trump has at various times promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and commit 20,000 to 30,000 troops to a ground campaign, all the while sending “very few troops” to the Middle East. Given these contradictory statements, it is difficult to discern a coherent military strategy. Will Trump keep the U.S. footprint small by relying – like Obama did – on drone strikes and arming partner militaries? Or will he be more willing to send U.S. ground troops to the Middle East?