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Current Topic: Military Technology

Caught in the Net: Lessons from the Financial Crisis for a Networked Future
Topic: Military Technology 5:15 pm EDT, Aug 30, 2009

Gautam Mukunda:

The crisis shows that while networks can substantially improve organizations' efficiency and performance, they can also leave them vulnerable to an unpredictable cascade of failures. The network-centric approach promises to allow commanders to understand battlefields with unprecedented clarity and fidelity. The financial crisis, however, shows that these tools can mislead as well as illuminate due to their simplification of a far-more complicated underlying reality.

The fog and friction of war push today's force, as they pushed all of its predecessors, toward generalization. The force deals with the unexpected, so its individual components retain the ability to succeed at a variety of tasks, rather than focusing on performing a single mission with the highest degree of effectiveness. Leverage for a financial institution is, in two crucial ways, akin to specialization for a military unit. The more specialized any organization is, however, the less slack capacity it will have to deal with unanticipated contingencies, and the more it will have to transform itself when unpredicted events occur.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

Many hedge fund managers ... are just picking up pennies in front of a steamroller. And sometimes the steamroller accelerates.

Michael Schrage:

The economics of 'information-rich' environments inherently inspire perverse incentives that frequently generate unhappy outcomes. The military must rigorously guard against the threat of 'diminishing returns' on its net-centric investments. Drawing on the author's private sector experiences with net-centric transformations, several approaches for reassessing the military value of information transparency are suggested.

Ross Anderson:

Information insecurity is at least as much due to perverse incentives. Many of the problems can be explained more clearly and convincingly using the language of microeconomics: network externalities, asymmetric information, moral hazard, adverse selection, liability dumping and the tragedy of the commons.

Gautam Mukunda:

The "fallacy of misplaced concreteness", first articulated by the influential philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, played a key role in the financial crisis and poses a threat to the network-centric military of the future. The fallacy is captured by the phrase "the map is not the territory." A map is a simplified representation of the territory it describes. A more detailed map is not necessarily a more useful one. More detail provides a closer reflection of reality, but it can also confuse those who do not need such complete information. The fallacy of misplaced ... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

Caught in the Net: Lessons from the Financial Crisis for a Networked Future

The ironic cloud
Topic: Military Technology 7:49 am EDT, Jun 29, 2009

D. Graham Burnett and Jeffrey Andrew Dolven:

Irony is a powerful and incompletely understood feature of human dynamics. A technique for dissimulation and "secret speech," irony is considerably more complex than lying and even more dangerous. Ideally suited to mobilization on the shifting terrain of asymmetrical conflict, inherently covert, insidiously plastic, politically potent, irony offers rogue elements a volatile if often overlooked means by which to demoralize opponents and destabilize regimes. And yet while major research resources have for forty years poured into the human sciences from the defense and intelligence community in an effort to gain control over the human capacity to lie (investments that led to the modern polygraph, sodium pentothal-derived truth serums, "brain fingerprinting," etc.), we have no comparable tradition of sustained, empirical, applied investigation into irony. We know very little about its specific manifestations in foreign cultures; we understand almost nothing about the neurological basis of its expression; we are without forward-looking strategies for its mastery and mobilization in the interest of national defense. This project-a sustained three-year, three-pronged, interdisciplinary investigation, drawing on social scientists, engineers, and neurobiologists--will position Lockheed Martin for field leadership in a crucial new area of strategic and commercial growth.

H.P. Lovecraft:

From the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.

Justine Cooper:

What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain darkness as well. A Gothic quality.

We do quite a good business with the more affluent residents of South Central. They, at least, have a sense of irony. I suppose they have to.

John Gray:

The irony of the current phase of globalization is that it universalizes the demand for a better life without providing the means to satisfy it.

On Barbara Kruger:

By using familiar images and text from modern advertising, she forcefully exposes the misleading and aggressive lies of pop media. Her works involve humor and irony, though they are often disturbing at the same time.

Recently, ubernoir on Decius:

An accusation that I have heard repeatedly leveled at Americans is that they have no sense of irony. I think I might bookmark [a post by Decius] as Exhibit A in my case for the defence.

Marc Siegel:

We live temperature-controlled, largely disease-controlled lives.

And yet, we worry more than ever before.

The ironic cloud

Pentagon Cyber Unit Prompts Questions
Topic: Military Technology 1:05 pm EDT, Jun 14, 2009

Ellen Nakashima:

The Pentagon's development of a "cyber-command" is fueling debate over the proper rules to govern a new kind of warfare in which unannounced adversaries using bits of computer code can launch transnational attacks.


We support. Technical support. I see that as our role. And I think that's where you need us.

Kevin Chilton, USSTRATCOM:

You always ... want to bring those two elements together so that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

James L. Jones, national security adviser:

There is no right-hand, left-hand anymore.

General "Buck" Turgidson:

Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice ...

Louis Menand:

The interstates changed the phenomenology of driving.

Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Pentagon Cyber Unit Prompts Questions

My Manhattan Project
Topic: Military Technology 5:58 pm EDT, Apr  5, 2009

Michael Osinski:

Here's one thing that's definitely true: The software proved to be more sophisticated than the people who used it, and that has caused the whole world a lot of problems.

I was wondering why I was making more than anyone in my family, maybe as much as all my siblings combined. Hey, I had higher SAT scores. I could do all the arithmetic in my head. I was very good at programming a computer. And that computer, with my software, touched billions of dollars of the firm's money. Every week. That justified it. When you're close to the money, you get the first cut. Oyster farmers eat lots of oysters, don't they?

From January:

When I started in the business in risk management a veteran trader drew me a picture of the money river to tell me how everyone got paid.

He drew the river and then in a prime spot, a dam. That's where management was. Then you had sales and trading rank and file down the river a bit, but on the bank dipping their pans in the river. Middle office was behind the river bank dipping in the occasional spill over.

My Manhattan Project

Atomic John
Topic: Military Technology 1:39 pm EST, Dec 13, 2008

A fascinating tale of a true hacker ... the mechanical engineering equivalent of a cryptanalyst.

I first came across John Coster-Mullen’s name in January of 2004, after I attended an exhibit by the artist Jim Sanborn (*, *, *, *, *, *, *, *), at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC.

Coster-Mullen’s research project can be construed as a danger to mankind or as a useless antiquarian endeavor. As maddening as his personality can be, it is hard to imagine what America would look like without the small and shrinking number of people who engage in painstaking, firsthand research in order to separate the truth from the body of supposed facts, and who keep the rest of us honest. A corollary of this insight, of course, is that much of what we think we know is wrong.

Atomic John

The Army's $200 Billion Makeover
Topic: Military Technology 6:34 pm EST, Dec  8, 2007

In the Army's vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It's as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

It's also one of the most controversial. Even as some early versions of these weapons make their way onto the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, members of Congress, government investigators and military observers question whether the Defense Department has set the stage for one of its biggest and costliest failures. At risk, they say, are billions of taxpayer dollars spent on exotic technology that may never come to fruition, leaving the Army little time and few resources to prepare for new threats.

See also DoD Transformation: Challenges and Opportunities, a recent presentation by the Comptroller General. Several other recent presentations are also available, including:

"U.S. Financial Condition and Fiscal Future Briefing," by David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States, before the Center for Governmental Accounting Education and Research's Annual Conference, at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. GAO-08-340CG, November 30.

"Saving Our Future Requires Tough Choices Today," by David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States, on the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. GAO-08-337CG, December 3.

"America's Fiscal Future," by David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States, before the Greater Washington Society of CPAs' Annual Not For Profit Organization Symposium, in Washington, D.C. GAO-08-339CG, December 5.

The Army's $200 Billion Makeover

Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation
Topic: Military Technology 5:12 pm EDT, Jul 28, 2007

There's nothing like the right TV spot to heal the sectarian divide.

Virtually every action, message, and decision of a military force shapes the opinions of an indigenous population: strategic communication, treatment of civilians at vehicle checkpoints, and the accuracy or inaccuracy of aerial bombardment.

Themes of US goodwill mean little if its actions convey otherwise. Consequently, a unified message in both word and deed is fundamental to success.

Business marketing practices provide a useful framework for improving US military efforts to shape the attitudes and behaviors of local populations in a theater of operations as well as those of a broader, international audience.

Enlisting Madison Avenue extracts lessons from these business practices and adapts them to US military efforts, developing a unique approach to shaping that has the potential to improve military-civilian relations, the accuracy of media coverage of operations, communication of US and coalition objectives, and the reputation of US forces in theater and internationally.

Foremost among these lessons are the concepts of branding, customer satisfaction, and segmentation of the target audience, all of which serve to maximize the impact and improve the outcome of US shaping efforts.

Beware the AdWords on Google Arabic:

We were surprised at the success with Arabic. Keywords in Arabic were among the top performers with click-through rates often exceeding 30%.

Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation

General Memetics, on Tom Ricks's Inbox
Topic: Military Technology 3:32 pm EDT, Jul 28, 2007

Here, in a study published in June 2006 by the military's Joint Special Operations University, two "information warfare" specialists mull over how the US armed forces and intelligence agencies might influence opinion overseas through foreign bloggers:

... [I]t may be easy for foreign audiences to dismiss the US perspective with "Yes, but you aren't one of us, you don't really understand us."

In this regard, information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence already within the target nation, group or community to pass the US message. ... Sometimes numbers can be effective; hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering. On the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the US military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names. People do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust.

An alternative strategy is to "make" a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however. ...

There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media ... in support of military deception activities. ... In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and nonattribution, as well as employing a well-thought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure.

General Memetics, on Tom Ricks's Inbox

Abizaid: US military has failed to embrace cyberspace in terror war
Topic: Military Technology 10:06 am EDT, Jul  9, 2007

Here is retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former CENTCOM commander, on June 20, at Transformation Warfare '07:

“The enemy is in fact more networked, more decentralized, and operates within a broader commander’s intent than any 20th century foe we’ve ever met,” he said. “In fact, this enemy is better networked than we are.”

Tapping information is particularly vital to empower lower-level American soldiers in theater, but the “architectures and the switches” are now being pulled by generals and politicians, he said.

He said because too many stovepipes and bureaucrats hamper the effective use of technology in the field, it may be time for a national dialogue after the 2008 elections about reforming the defense establishment to fight future wars.

Abizaid scolded reporters for not telling enough stories about the enemy.

Audio for sale here.

See also the on-scene report:

"It does take a network to beat a network, and our network must be better."

"It's more about people; it's more about taking risks," General Keys said. "It's more about changing the rules and (getting) a clean sheet of paper."

Abizaid: US military has failed to embrace cyberspace in terror war

DoD Announces 'Wearable Power' Prize Competition
Topic: Military Technology 11:08 pm EDT, Jul  6, 2007

The Director, Defense Research and Engineering, John Young today announced a public prize competition to develop a wearable electric power system for war fighters. The competition will take place in the fall of 2008 and the prizes are $1 million for first place, $500,000 for second place and $250,000 for third place.

The prize objective is a wearable, prototype system that can power a standard warfighter’s equipment for 96 hours but weighs less than half that of the current batteries carried. All components, including the power generator, electrical storage, control electronics, connectors and fuel must weigh four kilograms or less, including any attachments.

See the prize website for more information. (I think they should start by having a competition to design a better website for the competition.)

DoD Announces 'Wearable Power' Prize Competition

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