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June 7th, 2008
Technological innovation and national security
Another model is Disruptive Technologies. The term is widely used in the Pentagon, CIA, and industry today to mean a big game-changer. It's partly right to see the Apple iPod, for example, as a disruptive technology in consumer electronics because it blew apart the existing market structure of dominant players. But I want to go into this in a little more sophisticated way.
First, the Disruptive Technology argument has two parts. There are sustaining technologies and disruptive technologies. Who is being sustained? The industry leaders. Certain technologies reinforce the power of the industry leader. Others disrupt that position. They favor new upstart companies or countries that are trying to break into the big leagues. It's a scoring system about whether they are sustaining or disruptive technologies. Sustaining technologies that enhance the power of the US military to fight and win wars like we won against Iraq in 1991 and in March 2003, at least until the counterinsurgency started in April 2003, include cheap integrated circuits, dense-wave division multiplexing (amplifying light beams and switching them in fiber optic lines), stealth, nanotechnology, quantum computing - these are areas where the Pentagon is putting its money today, both in terms of R&D and in terms of conceptualizing the future and what it means for the US I would argue that cheap rockets and simple cruise missiles are disruptive technologies because if other countries such as China and Iran and non-state actors like Hezbollah get them, they're very simple to operate, do not cost a lot of money, and they make life horrible for the sustaining technology player, the US.
The Disruptive Technology argument is interesting because it doesn't just recognize game changers, it says there's a dimension to this which advantages some countries over others. We're putting technology into a larger management framework.
A second part of Disruptive Technologies argument is frequently overlooked when we discuss whether we're still ahead of China (which we are, on almost any technology). If you picture a gap between the position of the US in military stock and a rising country coming up with Disruptive Technologies, it isn't the gap that the disruptive technology must fill, but only the gap up to a midpoint of what the customer needs. What will sell in the marketplace? As one national security example of this, China today is developing a very substantial military capability. Is the gap closing? No. When it comes to quantum computing, nanotechnology, dense-wave division multiplexing, we are way ahead of the Chinese. But the Chinese only need to reach some midway level, far short of this. If you take some old technologies like over-the-horizon radar and marry them to cruise missiles, you will in future years, many believe, be able to kill anything on the surface of the ocean. If you can find it, you can kill it. China today shoots up missiles which ask our GPS satellites, "Where am I?" They can then do a mid-course correction to come down into what they call a basket of space, say, with a US aircraft carrier in it. In ten years, the Chinese may be able to kill any target in the western Pacific out to 2,000 miles.
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