Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)
Army Cyber Institute, Mathematical Sciences, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
This report asks the questions: What are the future implications of Emerging Disruptive Technologies (EDTs) on the future of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) warfare? How might EDTs increase the lethality and effectiveness of WMDs in kinetic warfare in 2040? How can civic leaders and public servants prepare for and mitigate projected threats?
In the coming decade, state and non-state adversaries will use EDTs to attack systems and populations that may initiate and accelerate existing geopolitical conflict escalation. EDTs are expected to be used both in the initial attack or escalation as well as a part of the detection and decision-making process. Due to the speed of EDTs, expected confusion, and common lack of human oversight, attacks will also be incorrectly attributed, which has the capacity to escalate rapid geopolitical conflict to global military conflict, and ultimately, to the use of nuclear WMDs.
The use of EDTs in the shadow of nuclear WMDs is also expected to create an existential threat to possible adversaries, pushing them to “lower the bar” of acceptability for using nuclear WMDs. EDTs will enable and embolden insider threats, both willing and unknowing, to effect geopolitical conflict on a global scale.
In addition, the combination of multiple EDTs when used together for attacks will create WMD effects on populations and governments. Furthermore, EDTs will be used by adversaries to target and destabilize critical infrastructure systems, such as food, energy, and transportation, etc. that will have a broader effect on populations and governments. EDTs will enable adversaries to perpetrate a long-game attack, where the effect and attribution of the attack may not be detected for an extended period -- if ever.
To combat these future threats, organizations will need to conduct research and intelligence gathering paired with exploratory research and development to better understand the state of EDTs and their potential impacts. With this information, organizations will need to conduct collaborative “wargaming” and planning to explore a range of possible and potential threats of EDTs. The knowledge gained from all of these activities will inform future training and best practices to prepare for and address these threats.
Organizations will also need to increase their investments in EDT related domains, necessitating countries to not only change how they fight, but also evolve their thinking about deterrence. Expanded regulation, policy making, and political solidarity among members will take on an increasingly more significant and expanded role. Broader government, military, and civilian cooperation will be needed to disrupt and mitigate some of these future threats in conjunction with broader public awareness. All of these actions will place a higher value on cooperation and shared resiliency among NATO members.
Vanatta, Natalie; Johnson, Brian David; Brown, Jason C.; Lindsay, Greg; and Carrott, James, "Future Implications of Emerging Disruptive Technologies on Weapons of Mass Destruction" (2022). ACI Technical Reports. 49.