Tag Archives: AI

Unmanned Mission Command, Pt. 1

By Tim McGeehan

The following two-part series discusses the command and control of future autonomous systems. Part 1 describes how we have arrived at the current tendency towards detailed control. Part 2 proposes how to refocus on mission command.

Introduction

In recent years, the U.S. Navy’s unmanned vehicles have achieved a number of game-changing “firsts.” The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) executed the first carrier launch and recovery in 2013, first combined manned/unmanned carrier operations in 2014, and first aerial refueling in 2015.1 In 2014, the Office of Naval Research demonstrated the first swarm capability for Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV).2 In 2015, the NORTH DAKOTA performed the first launch and recovery of an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) from a submarine during an operational mission.3 While these successes may represent the vanguard of a revolution in military technology, the larger revolution in military affairs will only be possible with the optimization of the command and control concepts associated with these systems. Regardless of specific mode (air, surface, or undersea), Navy leaders must fully embrace mission command to fully realize the power of these capabilities.

Unmanned History

“Unmanned” systems are not necessarily new. The U.S. Navy’s long history includes the employment of a variety of such platforms. For example, in 1919, Coast Battleship #4 (formerly USS IOWA (BB-1)) became the first radio-controlled target ship to be used in a fleet exercise.4 During World War II, participation in an early unmanned aircraft program called PROJECT ANVIL ultimately killed Navy Lieutenant Joe Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s older brother), who was to parachute from his bomb-laden aircraft before it would be guided into a German target by radio-control.5 In 1946, F6F Hellcat fighters were modified for remote operation and employed to collect data during the OPERATION CROSSROADS atomic bomb tests at Bikini.6 These Hellcat “drones” could be controlled by another aircraft acting as the “queen” (flying up to 30 miles away). These drones were even launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier (almost 70 years before the X-47B performed that feat).

A Hellcat drone takes flight. Original caption: PILOTLESS HELLCAT (above), catapulted from USS Shangri-La, is clear of the carrier’s bow and climbs rapidly. Drones like this one will fly through the atomic cloud. (All Hands Magazine June 1946 issue)

However, the Navy’s achievements over the last few years were groundbreaking because the platforms were autonomous (i.e. controlled by machine, not remotely operated by a person). The current discussion of autonomy frequently revolves around the issues of ethics and accountability. Is it ethical to imbue these machines with the authority to use lethal force? If the machine is not under direct human control but rather evaluating for itself, who is responsible for its decisions and actions when faced with dilemmas? Much has been written about these topics, but there is a related and less discussed question: what sort of mindset shift will be required for Navy leaders to employ these systems to their full potential?

Command, Control, and Unmanned Systems

According to Naval Doctrine Publication 6 – Command and Control (NDP 6), “a commander commands by deciding what must be done and exercising leadership to inspire subordinates toward a common goal; he controls by monitoring and influencing the action required to accomplish what must be done.”7 These enduring concepts have new implications in the realm of unmanned systems. For example, while a commander can assign tasks to any subordinate (human or machine), “inspiring subordinates” has varying levels of applicability based on whether his units consist of “remotely piloted” aircraft (where his subordinates are actual human pilots) or autonomous systems (where the “pilot” is an algorithm controlling a machine). “Command” also includes establishing intent, distributing guidance on allocation of roles, responsibilities, and resources, and defining constraints on actions.8 On one hand, this could be straightforward with autonomous systems as this guidance could be translated into a series of rules and parameters that define the mission and rules of engagement. One would simply upload the mission and deploy the vehicle, which would go out and execute, possibly reporting in for updates but mostly operating on its own, solving problems along the way. On the other hand, in the absence of instructions that cover every possibility, an autonomous system is only as good as the internal algorithms that control it. Even as machine learning drastically improves and advanced algorithms are developed from extensive “training data,” an autonomous system may not respond to novel and ambiguous situations with the same judgment as a human. Indeed, one can imagine a catastrophic military counterpart to the 2010 stock market “flash crash,” where high-frequency trading algorithms designed to act in accordance with certain, pre-arranged criteria did not understand context and misread the situation, briefly erasing $1 trillion in market value.9

“Control” includes the conduits and feedback from subordinates to their commander that allow them to determine if events are on track or to adjust instructions as necessary. This is reasonably straightforward for a remotely piloted aircraft with a constant data link between platform and operator, such as the ScanEagle or MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial systems. However, a fully autonomous system may not be in positive communication. Even if it is ostensibly intended to remain in communication, feedback to the commander could be limited or non-existent due to emissions control (EMCON) posture or a contested electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. 

Mission Command and Unmanned Systems

In recent years, there has been a renewed focus across the Joint Force on the concept of “mission command.” Mission command is defined as “the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based upon mission-type orders,” and it lends itself well to the employment of autonomous systems.10 Joint doctrine states:

“Mission command is built on subordinate leaders at all echelons who exercise disciplined initiative and act aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission. Mission-type orders focus on the purpose of the operation rather than details of how to perform assigned tasks. Commanders delegate decisions to subordinates wherever possible, which minimizes detailed control and empowers subordinates’ initiative to make decisions based on the commander’s guidance rather than constant communications.”11

Mission command for an autonomous system would require commanders to clearly confer their intent, objectives, constraints, and restraints in succinct instructions, and then rely on the “initiative” of said system. While this decentralized arrangement is more flexible and better suited to deal with ambiguity, it opens the door to unexpected or emergent behavior in the autonomous system. (Then again, emergent behavior is not confined to algorithms, as humans may perform in unexpected ways too.) 

In addition to passing feedback and information up the chain of command to build a shared understanding of the situation, mission command also emphasizes horizontal flow across the echelon between the subordinates. Since it relies on subordinates knowing the intent and mission requirements, mission command is much less vulnerable to disruption than detailed means of command and control.

However, some commanders today do not fully embrace mission command with human subordinates, much less feel comfortable delegating trust to autonomous systems.  They issue explicit instructions to subordinates in a highly-centralized arrangement, where volumes of information flow up and detailed orders flow down the chain of command. This may be acceptable in deliberate situations where time is not a major concern, where procedural compliance is emphasized, or where there can be no ambiguity or margin for error. Examples of unmanned systems suitable to this arrangement include a bomb disposal robot or remotely piloted aircraft that requires constant intervention and re-tasking, possibly for rapid repositioning of the platform for a better look at an emerging situation or better discrimination between friend and foe. However, this detailed control does not “function well when the vertical flow of information is disrupted.”12 Furthermore, when it comes to autonomous systems, such detailed control will undermine much of the purpose of having an autonomous system in the first place.

A fundamental task of the commander is to recognize which situations call for detailed control or mission command and act appropriately. Unfortunately, the experience gained by many commanders over the last decade has introduced a bias towards detailed control, which will hamstring the potential capabilities of autonomous systems if this tendency is not overcome.

Current Practice

The American military has enjoyed major advantages in recent conflicts due to global connectivity and continuous communications. However, this has redefined expectations and higher echelons increasingly rely on detailed control (for manned forces, let alone unmanned ones). Senior commanders (or their staffs) may levy demands to feed a seemingly insatiable thirst for information. This has led to friction between the echelons of command, and in some cases this interaction occurs at the expense of the decision-making capability of the unit in the field. Subordinate staff watch officers may spend more time answering requests for information and “feeding the beast” of higher headquarters than they spend overseeing their own operations.

It is understandable why this situation exists today. The senior commander (with whom responsibility ultimately resides) expects to be kept well-informed. To be fair, in some cases a senior commander located at a fusion center far from the front may have access to multiple streams of information, giving them a better overall view of what is going on than the commander actually on the ground. In other cases, it is today’s 24-hour news cycle and zero tolerance for mistakes that have led senior commanders to succumb to the temptation to second-guess their subordinates and micromanage their units in the field. A compounding factor that may be influencing commanders in today’s interconnected world is “Fear of Missing Out” (FoMO), which is described by psychologists as apprehension or anxiety stemming from the availability of volumes of information about what others are doing (think social media). It leads to a strong, almost compulsive desire to stay continually connected.  13

Whatever the reason, this is not a new phenomenon. Understanding previous episodes when leadership has “tightened the reins” and the subsequent impacts is key to developing a path forward to fully leverage the potential of autonomous systems.

Veering Off Course

The recent shift of preference away from mission command toward detailed control appears to echo the impacts of previous advances in the technology employed for command and control in general. For example, when speaking of his service with the U.S. Asiatic Squadron and the introduction of the telegraph before the turn of the 20th century, Rear Admiral Caspar Goodrich lamented “Before the submarine cable was laid, one was really somebody out there, but afterwards one simply became a damned errand boy at the end of a telegraph wire.”14

Later, the impact of wireless telegraphy proved to be a mixed blessing for commanders at sea. Interestingly, the contrasting points of view clearly described how it would enable micromanagement; the difference in opinion was whether this was good or bad. This was illustrated by two 1908 newspaper articles regarding the introduction of wireless in the Royal Navy. One article extolled its virtues, describing how the First Sea Lord in London could direct all fleet activities “as if they were maneuvering beneath his office windows.”15 The other article described how those same naval officers feared “armchair control… by means of wireless.”16 In century-old text that could be drawn from today’s press, the article quoted a Royal Navy officer:

“The paramount necessity in the next naval war will be rapidity of thought and of execution…The innovation is causing more than a little misgiving among naval officers afloat. So far as it will facilitate the interchange of information and the sending of important news, the erection of the [wireless] station is welcomed, but there is a strong fear that advantage will be taken of it to interfere with the independent action of fleet commanders in the event of war.”

Military historian Martin van Creveld related a more recent lesson of technology-enabled micromanagement from the U.S. Army. This time the technology in question was the helicopter, and its widespread use by multiple echelons of command during Viet Nam drove the shift away from mission command to detailed control:

“A hapless company commander engaged in a firefight on the ground was subjected to direct observation by the battalion commander circling above, who was in turn supervised by the brigade commander circling a thousand or so feet higher up, who in his turn was monitored by the division commander in the next highest chopper, who might even be so unlucky as to have his own performance watched by the Field Force (corps) commander. With each of these commanders asking the men on the ground to tune in his frequency and explain the situation, a heavy demand for information was generated that could and did interfere with the troops’ ability to operate effectively.”17

However, not all historic shifts toward detailed control are due to technology; some are cultural. For example, leadership had encroached so much on the authority of commanders in the days leading up to World War II that Admiral King had to issue a message to the fleet with the subject line “Exercise of Command – Excess of Detail in Orders and Instructions,” where he voiced his concern. He wrote that the:

“almost standard practice – of flag officers and other group commanders to issue orders and instructions in which their subordinates are told how as well as what to do to such an extent and in such detail that the Custom of the service has virtually become the antithesis of that essential element of command – initiative of the subordinate.”18

Admiral King attributed this trend to several cultural reasons, including anxiety of seniors that any mistake of a subordinate be attributed to the senior and thereby jeopardize promotion, activities of staffs infringing on lower echelon functions, and the habit and expectation of detailed instructions from junior and senior alike. He went on to say that they were preparing for war, when there would be neither time nor opportunity for this method of control, and this was conditioning subordinate commanders to rely on explicit guidance and depriving them from learning how to exercise initiative. Now, over 70 years later, as the Navy moves forward with autonomous systems the technology-enabled and culture-driven drift towards detailed control is again becoming an Achilles heel.

Tim McGeehan is a U.S. Navy Officer currently serving in Washington. 

The ideas presented are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense.

References

[1] Northrup Grumman, X-47B Capabilities, 2015, http://www.northropgrumman.com/Capabilities/x47bucas/Pages/default.aspx

[2] David Smalley, The Future Is Now: Navy’s Autonomous Swarmboats Can Overwhelm Adversaries, ONR Press Release, October 5, 2014, http://www.onr.navy.mil/en/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2014/autonomous-swarm-boat-unmanned-caracas.aspx

[3] Associated Press, Submarine launches undersea drone in a 1st for Navy, Military Times, July 20, 2015, http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/tech/2015/07/20/submarine-launches-undersea-drone-in-a-1st-for-navy/30442323/

[4] Naval History and Heritage Command, Iowa II (BB-1), July 22, 2015, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/i/iowa-ii.html

[5] Trevor Jeremy, LT Joe Kennedy, Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, 2015, http://www.aviationmuseum.net/JoeKennedy.htm

[6] Puppet Planes, All Hands, June 1946, http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/archpdf/ah194606.pdf, p. 2-5

[7] Naval Doctrine Publication 6:  Naval Command and Control, 1995, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a304321.pdf, p. 6

[8] David Alberts and Richard Hayes, Understanding Command and Control, 2006, http://www.dodccrp.org/files/Alberts_UC2.pdf, p. 58

[9] Ben Rooney, Trading program sparked May ‘flash crash’, October 1, 2010, CNN, http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/01/markets/SEC_CFTC_flash_crash/

[10] DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, March, 2017, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf

[11] Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_0.pdf

[12] Ibid

[13] Andrew Przybylski, Kou Murayama, Cody DeHaan , and Valerie Gladwell, Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol 29 (4), July 2013,  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563213000800

[14] Michael Palmer, Command at Sea:  Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century, 2005, p. 215

[15] W. T. Stead, Wireless Wonders at the Admiralty, Dawson Daily News, September 13, 1908, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=41&dat=19080913&id=y8cjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KCcDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3703,1570909&hl=en

[16] Fleet Commanders Fear Armchair Control During War by Means of Wireless, Boston Evening Transcript, May 2, 1908, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19080502&id=N3Y-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=nVkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=470,293709&hl=en

[17] Martin van Creveld, Command in War, 1985, p. 256-257.

[18] CINCLANT Serial (053), Exercise of Command – Excess of Detail in Orders and Instructions, January 21, 1941

Featured Image: An X-47B drone prepares to take off. (U.S. Navy photo)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, AI

Fiction Topic Week 

By Mike Matson

Julien swayed in his seat as the train clattered through the tunnel. He had always liked the tube, and even in the most stressful times, he found riding trains soothing. His body was lean like a runner’s, his casual clothes unremarkable, his cropped brown hair firmly in place. In his late 40s, Julien was plain in every way, the perfect look for an MoD intelligence officer.

Today however he was secretly agitated. He had sent the “emergency contact” signal ten days ago and today was the day.

Julien’s signal had sent a ripple of activity through the Russian Rezidentura, triggering pre-planned emergency procedures. His handlers had seen the signal, and provided the confirmation two days later.

To complete the three-way handshake and verify the original signal was real, the next day Julien had left the blinds open in one window. If it had been the left window it would have meant contact needed. But Julien had left the blinds open on the right window. He was requesting emergency extraction from Britain.

Today, Saturday, was the first operational window to attempt the extraction.

For three hours, he had been conducting a surveillance detection route across London, attempting to draw out surveillance teams, something he knew was damn near impossible these days with ubiquitous CCTV coverage, micro drones, and smart dust. But he was classically trained, and he had seen time and again proper tradecraft still mattered.

He had not picked up any sign of MI5’s surveillance teams, but something didn’t feel right. Is my subconscious picking up something, or am I just nervous? He wondered to himself. He was approaching his final go / no-go point where he had to decide whether to commit to the extraction.

“You haven’t picked up any matches correct?” he sub-vocalized in his throat.

“No facial recognition hits, anomalous movement patterns, or statistically significant facial expressions on any passengers,” replied his personal digital assistant through speakers on his AR glasses. His assistant, a government issued AI programmed for intelligence matters, had been continuously scanning the crowd, looking for the one item of place which might indicate he was under surveillance.

“What can you find on him there?” He tagged a fellow commuter across the way with a blink.

“Just a moment sir.” The AI snapped the QR dots lining the person’s glasses and obtained a readout: name, social media, marriage status, and an invite to contact for more information. He was a clerk at an investment house. The AI relayed it to Julien. Julien grunted.

“What about the signal traffic?” His clothing had special fibers weaved into his coat designed to intercept radio frequencies. His AI evaluated the sensor readings.

“Encrypted MI5 traffic remains higher than normal, and drone channels are in restricted mode.” Something was happening and Julien wasn’t sure if it was related to him.

His instincts from 20 years of field work were telling him to bail. A part of him knew he was violating the cardinal rule of field work – if it doesn’t feel right, walk away. There’s always tomorrow.

But he was convinced he was about to be exposed at work, if he had not been already. He had noticed subtle restrictions on his access over the last two weeks. The CI teams were onto him, or had him on a very small list of possible suspects. The noose was tightening, he could feel it.

The train approached the station. The doors opened and he decided to commit to the extraction. All he had to do was go up the escalators and as he walked out onto the street, a car would pull up and he would calmly get in. He was moments from safety. He took a deep breath. “Stay sharp,” he muttered to his assistant.

He followed the crowd and came around the curve towards the escalators. Standing to the right of the escalators was a woman with two small children. She was clutching an umbrella in her left hand. She looked annoyed as she tried to control her kids.


Jack said it a half second before Section Chief Lamb.

“He knows,” stated the AI android standing impassively next to SC Lamb as Lamb blurted out the same thing, along with a curse.

MI5’s primary counterintelligence AI assistant was watching the video feed with SC Lamb in MI5’s operation center. They had just watched Julien Burrows make an imperceptible half stutter step before regaining his composure and smoothly veering to his left down another hallway.

“Confidence level?” asked SC Lamb, although his gut told him they were right. Burrows was a pro who had grown up doing field work in the age of AI. He was trained never to make any break in his physical pattern when operational because the machines were always watching. But something had thrown him for a half second and then he had veered across the flow of traffic in an awkward manner. It was enough.

“87 percent and rising sir.”

“Attention!” Spoke SC Lamb into his throat mic. “We’ve been burned! Surveillance teams close the gap and body double him until the QRF armed response officers arrive. QRF move to intercept.”

The original plan was to take him down with his handler in the act of passing intelligence. The plan just changed on them.

As his forces expertly shifted gears, SC Lamb, tall, slim, and dressed as impeccably as any banker in London, contacted the Home Office and requested lethal force authorization – just in case.

Jack spoke up with what would later be assessed as the first inkling something else was in play.

“Sir…” Jack paused. “It appears we do not have any QRF assets close enough to reach him within the next five minutes, nor additional surveillance assets. But several Russian personnel are closing on his position.”

“What the hell Jack?” Jack was responsible for positioning MI5’s assets. SC Lamb suddenly looked nervous.

“I don’t know what happened sir, working to reposition assets now.”

­­­

Julien knew he had only seconds. He had been shocked at seeing the emergency evade signal in the form of the Russian diplomat’s wife with her kids. They somehow knew he had been compromised. Based on contingency procedures they had worked out a year before when he had met his handler in Portugal, he had one high-risk chance to escape the arrest which was probably imminent and that was the approaching in the next hallway – if they had timed it right.

He slipped off his jacket and unclipped his smart watch. As he rounded the next corner he ditched the jacket, phone, and watch. He tossed his glasses on the ground in front of him and stepped on them.

There was a short flight of stairs in front of him. He saw two men coming down the right side, almost holding hands. He made eye contact as he came up. Just as he got to them they separated and the two-part device they had been holding separated, revealing a faint blueish field. Julien’s teeth tingled as he went through it. As soon as he was through he took off running.


“He just ghosted!” yelled out a tech. Julien had stepped through a low powered EMP field designed to fry smart dust. Julien’s house, car, and cloths had been saturated with smart dust for months, billions of nano-sized RFID transmitters coded to his CI case. Everywhere he went, when he passed near an RFID reader, it had transmitted his location.

London had thousands of RFID readers installed by the police and security services which allowed for near continuous tracking of subjects. Coupled with CCTV, and insect drones following him in every public space, there was nowhere Julien had gone for months without SC Lamb, his team, and the ever-vigilant Jack knowing about it.

Julien’s code-word level access had also warranted MI5’s elite physical surveillance team to be assigned to cover him. They relied on old school hand signals to maintain contact while on target in order to defeat frequency monitoring, and they knew every street in the city better than a taxi driver – in fact they all had to pass the legendary London taxi exam to make the team.

Today the entire 30-person team had the eye, but MI5’s other teams were also active because at dawn the entire Russian Embassy staff plus family had bombshelled out of their living quarters to stretch MI5’s surveillance assets. The other MI5 teams scrambling to cover the dozens of Russians flooding the city was the cause of the radio traffic Julien’s AI had intercepted.

The Russians had been patiently preparing for this occasion. Bombshelling was nothing new. But Moscow Center mathematicians had developed specific travel routes across London designed to attack Jack’s algorithm.

The diplomats’ routes had been designed to manipulate the deep learning skills underpinning MI5’s automated CI program, and train the program to respond in an anticipated manner. Although the Russians didn’t know the program was named Jack, they had obtained part of its source code and knew how Jack operated.

The Russians had learned that deep learning algorithms could be tricked if fed enough repetitive data. And they devised a dedicated attack on Jack’s programming.

The Russians had conducted five near-identical bombshells in the last year, building up a pattern Jack would recognize. Jack anticipated where everyone was going this morning based on prior bombshells, and pre-positioned surveillance and QRFs accordingly.

This morning the Russians had introduced slight variations in the routes. Jack had compensated, recommending shifts in resources to address the changes. The math nerds in Moscow Center had calculated a 71 percent chance Jack would miss the crucial, fleeting advantage the new patterns created.

They were right.

What the route planning had done was create a temporary, surveillance-team free bubble around the tube station that developed just before Jack arrived at the station, isolating Julien with the few surveillance personnel maintaining contact with him on the train, while supporting teams were elsewhere or slowed by highly predictable London traffic.

At the precise moment, the Russians crashed the bubble, racing people into place to help Julien during the small window of advantage before Jack, SC Lamb, and MI5 realized they’d been played and could recover.

As part of the mathematical Maskirovka, a wife of a Russian diplomat who had never been used operationally before and therefore had a low score on Jack’s threat meter, was directed to stand in the tube station with her kids and carrying an umbrella. It was the warning signal.


Julien raced up the stairs and heard a commotion behind him. The two men who had ghosted him appeared to be wrestling with two men and a woman trying to get past them.

One of them the damn clerk from the tube car!

He pushed harder and hit the exit of the tube station. He had to make one of three planned rendezvous locations (RVs) within the next five minutes or he was on his own.

Turning, he walked along the sidewalk at a fast pace. Ordered to close in, the remaining surveillance team members were forced to break cover to keep up. Now Julien’s classical tradecraft kicked in, as he easily picked up two separate surface-level surveillance teams trying to reposition. He automatically recognized they were using a box pattern, allowing him from experience to anticipate where the other members were.

Julien hit the corner of the street. There was no one waiting for him, the first RV was empty.

He crossed the street and boldly pushed right into one of the arriving surveillance elements. He had guessed which team it was, whom he knew were unarmed and not authorized to apprehend a target. They blended back into the crowd, one of them making eye contact with him. He winked.

Do the unexpected, that’s the best way to beat the programming!

He knew from his training MI5’s command center would be frantically attempting to reacquire full containment. The QRF had to be only minutes away. If the pickup wasn’t at the second RV he would probably never make the third. He risked a glance upwards looking for insect drones.


“QRF 30 seconds out sir. Wasn’t expecting him to cut across the box like that. Delta element reported they were clearly made.”

“We know he was good, he’s attacking the damn procedures just like he was trained. No matter, we still have the eye and have two insect drones on him. Twenty seconds to intercept.”

Jack was not convinced.

“Section Chief Lamb, I think they are attempting a pickup. Traffic sensors indicate a car approaching from behind at high speed. They will get there before the QRF.”

“Then red light the traffic signals and gridlock that street!”

“It will take approximately three minutes to obtain Home Secretary approval and coordinate it with City of London. They will be gone by then.” SC Lamb cursed under his breath as he watched via video Julien step up to the curb. The operation was breaking down fast. But Julien was still in the middle of London. SC Lamb held the overall advantage.


An Audi pulled up to the curb with a squeal. The trunk popped open and Julien dived in and pulled the lid shut as the car pulled away.

Inside the trunk he stripped out of his remaining clothes, leaving only his underwear. The car came to another hasty stop a few minutes later and the back seat folded outward. He rolled into the back seat, helped by three sets of hands.


“Sir the trunk is thermal shielded. Two people in the back seat, one in the front. Entering the underpass now. Another diplomatic vehicle is entering from the other direction.”

“Time to reacquire the eye?” The Russians had successfully put themselves in the clear. As they had pulled away from the curb with Julien in the trunk, one of the Russians had leaned out the back window with a device he waved for 20 seconds behind them in a fan pattern. It was likely an anti-drone gun since the insect drones had dropped off the net.

All MI5 had left tracking Julien at the moment was a high-altitude drone following the car from 8,000 meters, which could not see into the underpass, but which had given them a body count via FLIR.

“Two minutes until acquisition. Normal time to traverse the underpass is approximately 10 seconds. They have already surpassed that.” Jack spoke with a clinical eye as his backend supercomputer mainframe endlessly churned through data and possibilities.

SC Lamb paced back and forth, the bridge larger than life in front of them on the screen.

“Contact! We have both cars exiting the tunnel in different directions. Total time in tunnel 47 seconds.” Lamb ordered QRF teams onto both cars.

SC Lamb was reminded of three card Monty. He wondered if that had ever been programmed into Jack. He noticed Jack was replaying the last twenty minutes of activity on a side screen, moving it forward and back time and again.

“What do you see Jack?” asked Lamb, looking at the replays going by at x8 speed on the screen.

“Not sure yet. Still working on the math. I’ll let you know if I find something.” Jack sounded pensive and distracted for a moment. Then he came back into focus. “Checking thermals on both cars…” Jack scanned the readouts.

“Both cars’ trunks are thermal shielded. I can’t tell you which car he is in.” SC Lamb chewed on his lips as he watched dashcam video from one of the mobile teams chasing to catch up.

“Sir, mobile teams are asking for permission to stop the diplomatic vehicles.” SC Lamb thought it over briefly.

“Granted. QRF are to stop both cars and seize the target.” He’d let Whitehall clean up the diplomatic mess. He figured he had some quid-pro-quo what with the Russians using EMP weapons.

SC Lamb thought back to the card analogy. Where was the third card?


The two Muslim ladies in full hijab with the small, darker-skinned child in hand walked down the sidewalk in the tunnel and watched as a car rocketed through, horn blaring. They looked at each other and kept walking.

Moments after that several pedestrians came running into the tunnel. One paused and gave the ladies a hard look, saw the child and the shopping bag full of groceries, and continued on his way, waving to the others.

The ladies continued out of the underpass, holding the child’s hand, along with their groceries, casually turning to take a flight of stairs up to the overpass. There they walked to a bus station and got on the driverless double decker bus that pulled up. The taller lady paid for all three of them and moved to the back of the bus where they talked quietly.


Fifteen minutes later SC Lamb knew the operation was well and truly blown.

“Sir, both GRFs indicate they have fully searched each vehicle and there is no sign of Mr. Burrows,” reported the lead communication tech. “The Russians are vehemently protesting their detention and claiming diplomatic immunity.”

“I fucking hate three card Monty!” growled SC Lamb. “Let them go but seize any EMP weapons.” He stewed for a few moments and the techs made themselves busy. SC Lamb spoke to Jack.

“Figure out what we missed.”

It was terabytes of data, but Jack’s processing capability and Lamb’s highly trained operators, who worked with Jack and the other systems with the help of machine-brain interfaces, pieced together what had happened in only a few minutes.

It was the shoes which first gave it away.

Reviewing body camera footage, it was a human tech Lamb was pleased to note who saw the two Muslim women were wearing men’s shoes. It was just a glimpse of a toe and heel but it was enough. The child’s face was then matched to a Russian diplomat’s child. Based on that, Jack enhanced processing of the thermal of the Audi and noticed one person in the back seat was statistically larger.

Back tracing the car’s route over the morning, Jack reviewed three dozen different CCTV views of the car in seconds. In two the angle was just right to backlight the passengers despite the tinted windows. One of them had a child sitting on their lap.

“Son of a bitch,” Lamb said with a bit of awe when Jack put the picture up on the screen. The child was a prop nobody had anticipated. It had worked perfectly.

“All right, they have a 20-minute head start. Work the bus route and follow the Russians’ dust trail, redeploy the teams into a containment net. I want teams at all the major train stations. Push his mug out to the Met Transport Police. I’m authorizing real time facial recognition on every CCTV in the city. Find him!”  The SC touched the ear bud to call the Director.


After three stops the two Muslim women got out and headed into a multi-story department store. There they split up. The Russian agent had debriefed Mr. Burrows and now it was critical he got back to the Embassy. He pulled off the hajib in one fluid motion and left it behind a display, heading back outside with his daughter.

He knew he would be instantly marked, but he didn’t care, Burrow’s intelligence was in his head. He called the Embassy and provided the one-word success signal.


Burrows went up a floor and quickly walked into a women’s WC where he entered a stall with his bag of groceries. There he pulled out his instructions for his extraction. Reading them three times, he tossed the flash paper in the toilet where it instantly dissolved.

Hidden under the groceries was a reversible backpack with a set of clothes and a set of tear away paper clothing to go over it. Accessories included a wig, new glasses, cheek inserts, two burner phones, two hats, and a reversible jacket. A wallet with pre-paid credit cards and a large amount of cash was also included. The wallet had a set of IDs and pocket litter. The instructions indicated one of the burner phones had a bitcoin wallet on it.

He waited until it sounded like the loo was empty, then rushed out, eventually making his way onto the street. He powered the first burner and walked a block to a bike station and checked out a commuter bike with the bitcoin wallet. He headed for the train station, his now long black hair flowing behind him.


Burrows parked the bike and walked into the station. He used the phone to purchase a ticket and got onto the train. Once on he walked forward. He took off his jacket as he reached the gap between the first two cars. Sliding open the door, he stepped between the cars and in one fluid motion, tore off the paper clothing, revealing the second set of clothes. He pulled off his wig, dropping it all in the gap.

At the next gap he reversed his jacket and backpack. He slipped his activated burner phone into a seat back in the third car. At the gap of the third car he put on his new sunglasses which would block iris scanning, added the mustache and clip-on earing, positioned the cheek inserts to alter his facial profile, and a popped on a cap and got off. He casually walked down the platform and out of the station, living his third disguise in the last hour.


It took considerable time and processing power but eventually Jack and the team cross referenced all the CCTVs with cell tower pings, and a few weak, residual smart dust hits from Julien’s contact with the Russian IO, and located Julien on camera biking to the train station.

Once they reconstructed his movements, cell phone pings and CCTV placed him on the train which had departed for the coast two hours before. Transport police on the train had been alerted.

“You know he’s not on the train, right?” asked Jack to SC Lamb. The SC gave a curt nod.

“I know but we have to check. Good to see you’re starting to figure this game out. What gave it away?” He was mad, embarrassed, and by this point resigned to the fact Julien had gotten away.

“I understand now Julien would know we would identify the new cell phone hitting the network just after he got off the bus. He intentionally left it turned on to draw us to his disguise and the train.”

“Yep.” A pause. “I gather the use of children was something unanticipated in your programming. It burned us twice today.”

“Yes, the children were an excellent tactic. As was their possible long-term effort to condition my response to put the target in the black at the crucial moment.” While working on the active case, Jack had still been spending time in the background unravelling the mathematics he suspected had been targeting his algorithm. He was already drafting a full report on it. “That will be something I’ll be working with the programmers on for some time I gather.”

“Any idea where he is headed?”

“I’m working several scenarios but still collecting data.” Jack seemed subdued, despite the fact the android’s face could not convey emotions.

“Well keep me informed, I have to go see the Director. We are expected at the PM’s residence in an hour.” SC Lamb was not convinced he’d still have a job in two.


“Thank you for the report Director Keane. That will be all.” The group of hound-faced men and one woman turned to go. “Not you Director Simmons, I want a word with you.” The tall, graceful head of MI6 nodded at her colleagues while the Home Secretary, Director of MI5, head of Military Intelligence, and SC Lamb shuffled out. After the door closed the PM and Director looked at each other for a moment.

“Did you help him?” asked the PM. He leaned forward on his desk in interest.

“Not today. He had to make the escape on his own to sell it. But I tipped the Russians yesterday over a compromised phone line by discussing MI5’s arrest operation with my Chief of Staff.” The PM let out a long breath.

“How will he get out of the country?”

“We honestly don’t know. And we’ll do everything we can to stop him. But every service has rat lines in place to smuggle out an agent. We have them. They have them. I doubt we’ll catch him.” She shrugged. The Director tried not to look smug now that her counterparts were out of the room.

“The hypnotic implant will wear off in two years, correct? Then he’ll try to get home?” Director Keane had briefed the PM on this operation the day he was sworn in. Only eight people knew of the operation in MI6, as did the PM and the prior PM.

MI5 and MoD had been kept in the dark. Everyone’s AI was too good to successfully run a traditional dangle operation. Everything had to be perfect and legit down to the neurological level. But the very real near-term potential of conflict with the Russians had demanded the risk.

“Yes, he had agreed to the operation before his Moscow attaché posting. We did a deep hypnosis, along with intense machine-brain stimulations to create the correct neural patterns to survive lie detector tests and brain and facial deception scans.” The Director took a sip of water and continued. “When he arrived in Moscow he was a disgruntled officer who made subtle indications he was approachable. The FSB handled the recruitment. After 18 months, we posted him back here to the Russia desk.

“Once here the material he had access to was 90% real and 10% fake. The fake material was related to three MI6 or MoD recruitments of Russian agents which didn’t actually exist. We kept feeding them hints through him about the moles, but never gave him a name to pass until last week. They have been tearing apart their services for over a year.”

“Who did you throw under the bus?”

“We picked a high-ranking FSB officer who had been privy to his recruitment, but not a participant. That’s what triggered Julien to run. He knew if the FSB officer was actually a MI6 spy, then we knew he was a Russian spy.” She smiled and continued.

“MI6 has been developing a logical data trail of corroborating ‘evidence’ for the FSB to uncover now that they have a name. Days when an MI6 officer passed within 100 yards of him on the way to work. References in cable traffic, things like that. The final bit was the officer’s daughter graduating from London School of Economics this week. We picked her up yesterday and have her at a safe house, claiming her Dad is in danger. He was planning on coming to London for the graduation. It will look like he had been planning to defect, which is why Burrows had to make emergency contact.”

“What will happen to the FSB officer?”

“He’ll be interrogated, probably tortured, and eventually shot,” The Director responded coldly. The PM whistled.

“We gave up all that real information for this one operation? Seems excessive.”

“Tensions with the Russians have never been higher since they annexed Belarus. Everything is on the table. The Russians also have been led to believe they have two moles in the SVR. Burrows was able to pass along that one was likely recruited in Delhi, the other in Mexico City. Both are large Rezidenturas, it will taint everyone in them. They’ll waste years hunting for our non-existent penetrations.”

“As we did to MI5.” Director Keane nodded her head in acknowledgement of the fact.

“And they revealed today they could exploit Jack to isolate Burrows against our surveillance. That is a huge reveal for us. We already have GCHQ tearing up the math behind it.

 “Once the hypnosis wears off we’ll do the reverse of what they did today and smuggle him home. After that happens they’ll realize all their AI-assisted tools to discover deception in a recruitment are flawed, and everything ever passed by Burrows will become suspect. In addition, they’ll suspect every other recruitment. We think there is at least one real penetration we haven’t identified, and this hopefully helps neutralize the problem in the future. We are messing with their source base for the next decade.”

“Jesus,” the PM breathed. He looked up at a painting on the wall, his mind wandering for a moment. “Is this protecting any actual recruitments we have?” He looked at the Director. The Director started at him and said nothing, a totally neutral look on her face. Finally, the PM nodded once. “Understood.”

“If that is all Prime Minster, I must go help with the efforts to catch Mr. Burrows.” Keane smiled.

“Yes. Good luck with that. Please keep me informed.” With that the Director walked out.


A week later…

The Mercedes pulled up to a dacha east of Moscow. As the car stopped a guard stepped forward from a group waiting for him and opened the door. Julien got out.

“Lt. Colonel Burrows, an honor to meet you,” an older man standing in the middle of the group said as he stepped forward, his hand outstretched. “Welcome to Russia, we have a lot to discuss.”


Mike Matson is a writer based in Louisville, Kentucky, with a deep interest in international affairs. He has 20 years of government experience, and degrees from The American University and the Joint Military Intelligence College, both in Washington, DC. In addition to 13 years in the Beltway before escaping to Kentucky, he has lived, studied, and worked in Brussels and Tallinn. He can be found on Twitter at @Mike40245.

Featured Image: Sci Fi City by Tom Gardner (via Art Station)

Emissions Control

Fiction Topic Week

By Jeffrey B. Hunter

Bells rang through the passageways and selected berthing spaces of the Navy’s newest, first-in-class destroyer, the USS JOHN POINDEXTER, as the smooth and melodic voice of one Seaman Halsey roused the morning watch from their beds with his traditional greeting.

“Rise and shine, shipmates! It’s another fine Navy day, so let’s show’em what we’re made of.”

A series of groans reverberated through the darkened hollows of berthing two as Halsey incrementally increased the lighting to each bunk. Jonas blinked in the slowly retreating darkness with a reluctant sigh. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had the luxury of not choosing between taking off his coveralls and sleeping over four hours.

 “Screw you, Halsey,” shouted one of the other disgruntled residents, stumbling out of his rack and stretching his tall, emaciated frame as much as the cramped space would allow.

“Neg, leave it alone,” Jonas replied, rubbing his eyes and rolling out of his rack. Normally as berthing supervisor, Jonas would try to be more patient with his bunkmates, but he just wasn’t in the mood.

“You know he can hear you, and what happens if you piss him off. Just get your stuff and…oh, Jesus…put some fricking boxers on, you tool. No one wants to see that.”

 “First,” Ng said, scratching his temple with a long, skeletal middle finger, “it’s Ng, jack ass, as in ‘swing’, ‘fling’, ‘spring.’”

“That’s Petty Officer Jackass to you,” Jonas shot back, quickly accompanied by a series of cat calls reminding him that he’d never actually left elementary school.

 “Second,” Ng continued undaunted, propping a hairless chicken leg as high on the ladder next to his bunk as possible, “everyone wants to see this. How could they not?”

“Because they have eyes, you CHICOM,” piped up Pulaski from a couple bunks down. Jonas groaned; this was going to be long morning if they were already getting into the ethnic jokes.

“CHICOM?! I’m not Chinese, you ignorant fascist. What are you, eighty?” Ng shot back, now assuming his best superhero pose. “Besides, you can’t even see me.”

“Ng, you’re six-two and weigh a buck five,” Pulaski replied, popping his shaved head out from his bunk with a wry smile, “you look like Lurch on a juice-fast.”

 “Lurch? Really? God you’re old,” Taylor cackled as he passed only to be rewarded by a thump on the shoulder from the amateur boxer.

“It’s okay, Taylor,” a voice Jonas thought was Moore said from the back of the berthing, “I don’t think that have Netflix in Poland. Not ever since ‘ze Germans…”

A chorus of the “’ze Germans” began to make the rounds through the space, Pulaski egging on the cheers like a football player pumping up the crowd after retrieving his glasses from under his bunk.

There was a time when Jonas might have been horrified by the relative insensitivity of poking fun at the great grandchild of holocaust survivors, but…the Navy had really beaten that out of him by this point.

Nothing was sacred in the berthing unless someone raised a stink and Pulaski was one of the more even keeled members of berthing two. In his own way, he seemed to own his family tragedy with a strange sense of pride and could probably turn anyone who crossed the line into a fine paste. Jonas would just step in and fix things before that happened.

While a fight or two might break out on other ships, no one was stupid enough to try it on the POINDEXTER. On other ships, issues could be solved by berthing supervisors, the Chief’s mess, and maybe even the Junior Officers before things got out of hand and people’s careers got snuffed. Here, Seaman Halsey would screw all of them before anyone could intervene and everyone knew it.

“If by Lurch, you mean an Adonis…” Ng continued, doing his best Usain Bolt victory pose.

“I don’t.”

“…and by a juice-fast, you mean bathed in mana and sunlight…”

“No, not really,” Pulaski replied matter-of-factly.

“…then you would be close,” Ng continued, undeterred. “But you see, my bespectacled friend…”

“Guys, seriously,” Jonas interrupted sharply, pulling the laces on his work boots to the point where his fingers turned white, “we don’t have time for this. They moved quarters up to ’15 for the broadcast from Third Fleet. So shave, shower, and shove off. ”

“Fifteen,” Ng spat, pulling a towel out from his bunk with the closest thing to urgency he could muster, “are you kidding me? When’d they put that out?”

“During mids last night,” Jonas replied, grabbing a razor and ducking into the head, “check your POST.”

The razor grated against Jonas’s skin, each bristle burning as though it were being individually excised and leaving the occasional red streak on his otherwise sun-starved skin. He hated dry shaving, but they just didn’t have the time.

Halsey hadn’t adjusted for the change in shift times, Jonas just knew it. Chief didn’t like submitting anything to Halsey which meant that everyone essentially had two schedules: Chief’s and Halsey’s. Both schedules had to be adhered to and rarely would match each other. Jonas had somehow managed to keep his section on track until now. He’d been too stupid to set an early alarm for everyone and now it was finally going to bite them.

At least Jonas had checked his POST before racking out. The Navy’s Personal Operating System Terminal, or POST, was one of the newest innovations big Navy had come up with for the POINDEXTER. It was essentially a smartphone, although the gents from the blue tile area got testy whenever you called it that. They’d tell you it was a vital link in the communication chain between the work centers, leadership, and Halsey. In reality, the POST was just one more way for the Navy to keep its thumb on you every hour of every day.

 “Man, this bull shi…”Ng started, but Jonas didn’t let him finish.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever man. You can let Chief know after quarters. I’m sure he’ll get right on it.”


The stench of oil-soaked dust and sweat filled the Combat Information Center as all of the POINDEXTER’s forty sailors crammed into the container sized space. Normally, they’d hold quarters on the helo-deck, but the admiral apparently wanted to address the whole crew before she arrived and the CIC was the only room equipped for the job.

That meant that instead of the crew getting their only bit of sunshine for the day, everyone was now tripping over each other trying to stay in some semblance of a formation amidst the CIC’s chairs and workstations.

Meanwhile, Chief Graven was trying not to step on the contractors setting up the teleconference while simultaneously delivering one of his usual morning speeches. The guys called it Ravin’ with Graven and was about as close to a comedy skit as any of them were going to get underway.

“Jesus Christ,” he’d always start; his thick Bangor accent filling the space while sweat dripped down his scalp, “fifteen minutes ‘arly. Naught five, naught ten, naught friggin’ faurteen. Fifteen. Any a you chuckle-heads thinks the friggin’ admral is gaunna wait fa ya?”

No one answered as the question was entirely rhetorical. Still, Jonas was not remotely surprised to hear Pulaski whisper behind him, “No, but I guess she’ll wait on you.”

Jonas just kept his eyes straight ahead. He was one of three second class petty officers on the POINDEXTER eligible for taking the first class exam and was still trying to recertify on his Information Warfare pin. It was bad enough that he was a weather specialist in an information technology billet, but now there were only three Chiefs on board to administer his board. He didn’t have room to piss off Graven, especially since Seaman Halsey was watching. Oddly enough, monitoring the crew was the only area that Chief and Halsey seemed to get along.

“…my Grandmatha…” Graven continued, the smacking a monstrous russet knife hand on the workstation in front of him brining Jonas back into the discussion just in time to meet Chief’s eyes while he took a sip of coffee from his Big Gulp mug.

This was a ritual of theirs. Graven would watch for any sign of anyone drifting off or spacing out and the crew would try to time their momentary lapses before he could catch them. They knew Chief would occasionally get a text on his POST from Halsey if he’d missed someone, but they’d also gotten pretty good at finding out how to keep Halsey guessing too. Ng had even tried to take up ventriloquism, but had so far only managed to get a few compromising photographs published on the daily work roster.

“Wait, how did we get onto his Grandmother,” Ng whispered to Jonas’s right.

“I don’t know, I must’ve had a stroke or something,” Pulaski answered, stifled laughter sweeping the workstations behind Jonas.

Chief’s POST vibrated on his belt as Halsey clearly noticed and ratted on him. Graven barely even paused to check the name on the screen before taking another sip of coffee and getting right to business.

“Haulsey tells me ya gaut somethin’ ta say, Pilski,” Chief began, his sharp smile made slightly menacing by the dark bags beneath his bloodshot eyes.

“Nothing Chief,” Pulaski answered, though there was too much laughter in his voice to miss.

“Oohohooo,” Graven cackled, a new bounce in his step, “Does lil’ Timmy Pilski wanna crack jokes in quaatas?”

“Is that even a word, Chief?”

“I’ll get to you in a moment, Neg,” Graven replied, his beady eyes shooting from one sailor to the other.

“Chief, I’m pretty sure that’s racist.”

Half the “formation” broke into raucous laughter while the rest froze like chameleons in a tree, praying Chief would just ignore them.

Graven took a moment to take another sip of coffee, clearly deliberating Ng’s fate while shaking his head and glaring pityingly at his junior sailor.

“Jesus Christ, Neg,” Chief continued with a reluctant laugh, “you aah dumb as dirt. Jonah, when do I get to replace this dink?”

“About two more months, Chief,” Jonas said with a smile, though he begged the two of them to shut up. It was bad enough sticking around for the admiral, but he knew Chief would talk to him about bearing after this and he just didn’t have the time.

 “Gawd help us,” Graven exclaimed with a bemused smile, “Ahright, listen up. Neg, you’re retaaded. Seaman Timmy, when I want yor apinion…”

“Hey, Gary,” one of the techs working the teleconference interrupted, “I think that’s it. The connection should dial up pretty quick.”

“Gary Graven,” Ng whispered, “are you fricking kidding me?”

“Stow it, Neg,” Graven grunted, a digital ring tone coming over the loud speaker.

“Wait, where’s the Captain and LT,” Taylor asked Jonas, though Jonas didn’t answer. He hadn’t seen either of the ships’ officers since his in-call a month ago. As far as he knew, Chief and Halsey had killed them and chucked them overboard.

“Standby, incoming call from U.S. Third Fleet Headquarters; Commander, Third Fleet on the line,” Seaman Halsey announced over the speakers. Simultaneously, everyone’s POSTs began vibrating, the same words emanating from their hips and creating an eerie harmony.

“Standby,” Halsey said again, though this time over the bridge’s loud speaker. “Attention on deck!”

A chorus of boots smacking together accompanied the opening of the bridge’s port hatch and the appearance of Lieutenant Commander Hall, swiftly followed by Lieutenant Shivaza, who promptly took their places at the head of the “formation.” Not a moment later, the feed connected and the enormous figure of Admiral Tyco appeared, greeting them in her usual subdued and robotic way before jumping right to business.


A sickening chill ran down Jonas’s spine as he crossed from the soothing tapioca of the ship’s second deck general spaces to the speckled azure of the restricted section.

The admiral’s speech had been thorough and fact-filled, which is why everyone had nearly fallen asleep. The only real nugget that had everyone stand to was the announcement that they’d be conducting a live fire test of the railgun. More than that, Seaman Halsey would be the one manning the guns.

As expected, the crew of the POINDEXTER maintained their bearing with this unexpected news; that is right up until the teleconference ended and the Captain and Chiefs began barking orders like stockbrokers on Black Friday. Jonas had barely escaped the chaos since he was still technically a meteorologist and had yet to complete his Information Warfare re-certifications.

Up until recently, this fact had caused him innumerable sleepless nights of studying and binge-watching online trainers. Now it meant that he could flee to the confines of the Axis until this particular horror show was over. The only downside was that the Axis was in the blue tile area.

On every other ship in the Navy, blue tile was flag officer country and one of two places where happiness went to die. Jonas wasn’t cleared to work in engineering, so that fortunately limited his levels of the Inferno to just the one. Still, Jonas hated this part of the ship, even if it wasn’t officer country.

The only reason Jonas even dared to cross the blue tiles’ threshold was to talk to Kyle, one of the mid-level contractors working with Halsey to keep the ship up and running. As a former chief electrician and expert on the POINDEXTER’s computer and electrical systems, he’d been approved as acting certifying official for his rates’ new electronics qualifications. Normally, the Navy would raise a stink on having a civilian do the job, but they didn’t have any sailors onboard who were qualified, so it was a moot point.

“General Quarters, General Quarters,” Seaman Halsey’s unwavering tenor rang through the passageway swiftly followed by the high-pitched whine of the combat siren, “all hands man your battle stations.”

Jonas sighed and shook his head.

“Here we go,” he said to himself swiping his security badge through the scanner outside the Auxiliary Quantum-Computing Server room, or “Axis room” as they called it, keying in his security pin, and putting his thumb in the fingerprint scanner.

A moment passed before the keypad flashed green and he heard the slick click of magnetic locks being released.

“Are you ready, man?” Kyle greeted him from behind the catacombs of computer servers as Jonas stepped into the frigid recesses of Axis and re-sealed the hatch.

“Kyle, the only people who get excited about a weapons firing are newbies and SWOs and I…”

Jonas stopped speaking as he began to recognize the music Kyle was playing.

“Daisy, daisy, give me your answer please…” sang a vinyl-rich tune. Suddenly Jonas’s hair began to stand on end as he navigated his way to Kyle’s lonely computer terminal in the back corner of the space.

“Are you seriously playing that right now,” Jonas asked testily, taking a moment to stop and appreciate a collage of kitchen magnets resembling a giant red eye on one of the servers opposite Kyle’s desk.

“Why not,” Kyle asked, brushing some granola bar off his nearly luminescent aloha shirt. “Seems only fitting.”

“It’s creepy.”

“Only if you believe in fate…”

Another chill ran down Jonas’s spine while Kyle began to chuckle.

 “You know you suck, right,” Jonas said, taking a seat in one of the spare fold-out chairs.

“Yeah, I know,” Kyle answered with a knowing smile, “but you have to admit, it’s pretty cool.”

“Sure,” Jonas replied, absentmindedly reading the ship system data on the TV monitors above Kyle’s desk, “One small leap and all that…”

“Man, you have no sense of occasion,” Kyle chided, clapping his hands together and typing furiously on the keyboard, “here we go…”

In moments one of the TV monitors flashed to live footage from the ship’s air defense gun while the second streamed video from an observation drone cueing between the POINDEXTER and a small target drone flying circles in the distance. A few more clicks of the keyboard, and chat windows from the different centers appeared beneath the videos, each either discussing the different aspects of the test or ranting about fantasy football.

Jonas shivered and began rubbing his hands, trying to ignore the faint clouds of steam leaving his nostrils.

“So why can’t we get a space heater in here,” he asked Kyle, who had taken to reviewing the Axis’s processing performance.

“Can’t let the place get too hot,” Kyle answered, completely un-phased by the frigid conditions. “The computer’s entangled pairings need to stay near 4 Kelvin to keep the system working. That and we need to shield them from electromagnetic radiation or the whole system starts to shut down.”

Jonas cast a skeptical glance at the large magnetic mural opposite them.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Kyle said with a smile, “the towers are shielded against minor fields like that and we’ve got superconductors shielding the Axis from signatures outside. The Axis is basically impenetrable, in that respect anyway.”

“Huh,” Jonas said, starting to feel a little impressed. 

“Standby for test,” the LT’s voice flashed over the speakers. “Seaman Halsey has assumed fire control.”

Kyle’s eyes lit up immediately as the processing draw on his screens began to spike.

“Target identified and acquired,” Halsey said confidently. The gun’s camera slewed to port and centered on its target, zooming in so that Jonas could even see the propellers rotating from miles away.

“Target is an MQ-8 FIRE SCOUT. Firing solution plotted, capacitors charging.”

“Capacitors charging for a minimum range shot,” said a voice Jonas guessed was one of the contracted engineers working the railgun.

 “Confirmed Captain,” the LT chimed in, “firing solution looks good. No other aerial or surface contacts in the line of fire.”

 “Understood,” the Captain answered, “alright, Halsey, here we go; on my mark…four, three, two, one, fire.”

The ship jolted as the round left the rails, nearly knocking Jonas out of his chair. In an instant, the round tore through the helicopter-shaped drone, shattering the frame beneath the immense force of impact.

“Yeah!” Kyle shouted, raising his fists in triumph before pausing. Moments passed and Jonas was tempted to ask what was wrong, but thought better of it. There was far too much focus and too little patience on Kyle’s pale, computer-lit face for it to be anything but a big problem.

“Wait, wait,” he muttered, peering into the monitors, “where’s the charge? There should’ve been an explosion.”

Kyle snatched up his radio.

“Hey, Kelly, did you see an explosion?”

 “No, no explosion,” the woman said, clearly a little confused, “target’s still pretty dead, though.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Kyle answered, now sounding worried, “I mean from the round. I don’t think the round detonated.”

Seconds passed before the observation drone’s feed began slewing dramatically beyond the wreckage, scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

“There,” Jonas said, spotting a small white plume on the gun’s feed. Kyle scanned the feed and nodded, giving Jonas a thankful thumbs up.

“Hey, Kelly,” Kyle said into the radio, “pan a few more miles down range. We just saw some spray.”

In moments, the drone’s feed caught sight of the spray and what lay at its source.

A massive, dark cloud filled the black and white images of the drone’s feed and Jonas could see the chunks of flotsam scattered around a pool of foam at its center. He couldn’t see anything that looked like pieces of a ship, but that didn’t keep his heart from jumping into his throat. He doubted anything would look like its former self after that.

“What the hell did we hit?” the Captain’s dead-pan voice came over the radio. “I thought we were clear down range, Lieutenant.”

“We were, sir,” the LT replied, “we didn’t see anything.”

“Then what am I looking at? Halsey?”

Another plume erupted in the corner of the observation drone’s feed.  

“We appear to have struck a pod of marine mammals, Captain. Dolphins to be specific,” Halsey replied, a small, light figure appearing at the cloud’s epicenter before dissolving back into the carnal stew.

A palpable silence hung over the radio.

“Dolphins?” The captain repeated incredulously.

 “Dolphins!” Kyle exclaimed, his face growing scarlet with laughter and relief, “Frigging dolphins! Are you kidding?! Oh my god…”

Jonas stayed silent. Killing marine mammals was a big deal, especially in U.S. waters with the admiral coming on board and Seaman Halsey’s penchant for following regulations to the letter. Somebody was going to get hammered over this. Still, he hadn’t been anywhere near the CIC so at least it wasn’t his problem.


The mid-shift bell rang hollowly through the Axis while Jonas absentmindedly tapped his fingers on the desk and tried to figure out a way to get some games on his POST. Things had been pretty dull since Halsey had learned how to make bottle-nose bisque.

Kyle had been called away to deal with problems in the main server node while Chief Graven had ordered Jonas to stay put in the Axis and monitor things under pain of peeling potatoes with Ng down in the galley. Apparently with all of the contractors occupied solving technical glitches, Jonas was the most qualified person left to sit the Axis watch.

Jonas could have been frightened at the idea; mustered some measure of apprehension at the notion of an underpaid meteorologist being placed in charge of a multi-million dollar piece of experimental equipment. There was even the potential for him to be astounded that leadership had ignored his words of warning as to just how bad of an idea this was. Instead, Jonas was hungry.

Dealing with the absurd was just another day in the Navy, but doing it on an empty stomach was just cruel.

 Suddenly, a voice from the intercom rose over the din of humming servers.

“Jonas, oh Jonas…”

Jonas rolled his eyes, spying a freakishly tall tuft of black hair blocking the Axis’s external security camera.

“What do you want, Ng?” Jonas asked testily.

“I have a surprise for you,” Ng replied in a voice Jonas could only liken to a cartoon pedophile.

“Dude, I’m not in the mood.”

“Just open the door, man” Ng said, his voice returning to its usual register.

“Are you even cleared to be in here?”

“Dude, they wouldn’t put me on the ship if I wasn’t. Now open the fricking door.”

Jonas sighed and scratched his head. This was a new ship, so they’d probably vet everybody coming on board.

“I have your din-din,” Ng continued, clearly sensing Jonas’s hesitation.

“Fine,” Jonas capitulated, swallowing his doubts for the chance to silence his growling stomach.

The magnetic locks clicked open and Ng soon emerged from behind the wall of servers, a black backpack in hand and wearing an unnervingly wide smile.

“Heidi ho, neighbor,” he said, slapping the backpack on top of the tower nearest Jonas with a large metallic thunk.

“Dude,” Jonas exclaimed, jumping out of his chair, “careful. You break these towers and we’re all screwed.”

“Why,” Ng asked wryly, “is this where they keep the porn?”

“No, numb nuts, this is where they keep Halsey,” Jonas spat back, gingerly inspecting the tower, “or part of him at least. They’re trying to fix his main server right now. These are all that’re keeping him running.”

Ng stared around at the rows of giant grey towers quizzically then shrugged.

“Oops,” he said, “my bad. So what’s wrong with good ‘ole Optimus?”

“He’s seized up fire control,” Jonas said, rolling his eyes. “Says we can’t trust our rounds and is refusing to fire any ordnance outside of a combat situation. Apparently he thinks that’ll prevent any further incidents. He also says we need to return to port for a hearing on Thursday with the EPA and has scheduled consultations for the Captain and LT with JAG.”

“Seriously? What a drama queen,” Ng said, removing some canned ravioli from his back pack and popping the can open. “Kills Flipper and suddenly has a nervous breakdown? Pansy…”

“Yeah, well…” Jonas paused to watch Ng remove what he could only conclude was Thor’s ping-pong paddle from his backpack, slapping the foil-encased monstrosity on the desk in front of Jonas.

“Ng,” Jonas asked, almost afraid to hear the answer, “what is that?”

“This, good sir,” Ng replied, caressing the electrical-tape wrapped handle and dumping the ravioli into the middle of the paddle’s large circular face, “is the future. Behold Ng’s homemade induction hotplate!”

Before Jonas knew what was happening, Ng whipped the extension cord at the end of the object’s handle with a dramatic flourish and plugged it into the nearest wall outlet. Then, as Jonas’s eyes began to widen, Ng turned what looked like a stove top nob on the handle’s side as far as he could until the child-like handwriting on the nob saying, “Hi,” matched the red arrow of a “Sign Here” sticker attached just above.

In an instant the hotplate and its contents smashed into the red eye of Kyle’s favorite server tower, marinara dripping from the scattered magnets like blood-stained tears. The computer screen next to Jonas went blank as a hideous metallic screeching noise echoed within the server tower accompanied by the sound of metal being strained from the adjacent towers.

“Well that’s not good,” Ng muttered before Jonas began shouting.

“Turn it off you idiot! Are you fuc…”

“Ah, Jonas,” Kyle’s voice came over the radio, which ceased its slow crawl toward the hotplate as soon as Ng unplugged the device, “what’s going on down there? Halsey’s stopped talking to us and we’re reading some pretty big failures in the comms, navigation, engineering, and electrical management systems.”

At that moment the lights of the Axis died and were replaced by the dim fluorescents of the emergency back-ups. The humming of the servers ceased and was replaced by the eerie silence of inactivity. The Axis was dead.

Jonas didn’t dare reply. What could he say? Instead he just stared at the blood dripping from Halsey’s eye, wondering if he’d be charged with sabotage or murder. Then he slowly migrated his gaze to Ng who stood still as the grave, though appeared he to be lamenting the damage done to his weapon of mass destruction. It was then, staring at the all too recalcitrant cooking specialist that the tension in Jonas’s mind snapped like a worn guitar string and he decided that he may as well go down for both crimes.

“You moron,” Jonas screamed, leaping over the desk and slamming the bewildered man into the bulkhead behind him.

“Well,” he raged on, disgustedly smacking the ruined hotplate out of Ng’s hands with a definitive clank when the man refused to meet his eyes, “what should I say, Ng?! Huh?! What exactly should I tell them the problem is here?”

A flash of Ng’s impish smile crossed his lips before disappearing in fear, Jonas grabbing him by his collar and pulling the taller sailor down so that Jonas could look into his limpid brown eyes.

“What, Ng,” Jonas said threateningly, “what was that? Come on…”

The smile cautiously returned to Ng’s lips as he timidly nodded toward Halsey’s bloodied eye.

“Human error,” he said as though it were a question.

Jonas’s mind froze. He wanted to hit him, wanted to stay mad and exact his vengeance, but he couldn’t stop the chuckle from escaping his lips. He couldn’t possibly be this stupid.

“Human error?” Jonas replied incredulously, “Ya think?”

Jeffrey B. Hunter is a fresh face to the literary community, having separated from the US Navy this month after ten years of service as an intelligence officer to pursue his dream of being a fulltime author. While most of his previous creative and writing endeavors are classified, Jeff’s non-fiction piece “Updating the Information Environment” was featured in the August 2015 edition of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine. Jeff lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter, is an avid rock climber and traceur, and is currently working on his first science fiction novel. You can follow Jeff’s progress on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.hunter.503092.

Featured Image: Battleship by Gerardo Justel (via Art Station)

Hyper-Converged Networks and Artificial Intelligence: Fighting at Machine Speed

By Travis Howard

Lieutenant Stacey Alto sits in the Joint Intelligence Center aboard the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault ship USS ESSEX (LHD 2). As the Force Intelligence Watch Officer (FIWO), her job is to absorb relevant information related to current and future operations of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, as well as the general intelligence within the operating theater. Her zero-client, virtual desktop environment (VDE) 6-panel display at her watch station allows her a single-pane-of-glass into Unclassified, Secret, Top Secret, and Coalition enclaves through the Consolidated Afloat Networking and Enterprise Services (CANES) network.

One of her watch standers, an Intelligence Specialist Second Class, approaches her desk with new information from the Joint Operations Center (JOC), the nerve center of ARG operations, announcing new orders from the fleet commander to enter the Gulf of Oman, which represents a shift in operating theater from their current position in the Arabian Sea.

Stacey goes to work immediately, enlisting the help of two Intelligence Specialists and one of the Information Systems Technicians standing watch in the Ship’s Signal Exploitation Space (SSES). She queries the onboard widget carousel on her CANES SECRET terminal. Using a combination of mouse, keyboard, and touchscreen, she pulls together several ready-made widgets and snaps them into place, each taking advantage of a pool of “big data” information stored on the ship’s carry-on Distributed Common Ground System-Navy (DCGS-N) and off-ship sources from the intelligence cloud. Her development work gets passed to the next watch team, as they set the application’s variables for data parsing, consolidating inputs, and terrain mapping to put together a relevant, real-time intelligence picture.

By the time Stacey returns to her watch station almost 24 hours later, the IT personnel in SSES have put the new application through the automated cybersecurity testing process and have released it to the onboard “app store,” which Stacey can now install on her virtualized, thin-client desktop within seconds. She calls the JOC, the Marine Landing Force Operations Center (LFOC), and the ship’s Combat Information Center (CIC) announcing the system’s readiness with separate logins at the appropriate classification level for each watch station. By the time ESSEX enters the Gulf of Oman, the application has mapped adversarial positions and capabilities, pulled from several disparate databases afloat and ashore, all at varying levels of classification necessary for operational planning throughout the ship.

Building a More Maneuverable Network Afloat

The above scenario is almost a reality, representing several emergent advances in network technology and application portability (the “mobility” factor) that the Navy will soon capitalize on: a hardware and network-layer software architecture known as hyper converged infrastructure (HCI). The performance and cost efficiencies realized by this architecture will pave the way for disruptive changes to how we maneuver the network across the entire spectrum of operations: as a business system, as a decision support system, and as a warfighting platform.

Hyper-convergence is the integration of several hardware devices through a hypervisor, which acts as an intermediary and resource broker between software and hardware. Independent IT components are no longer siloed but combined, simplifying the entire infrastructure and improving speed and agility of the virtual network.1 The advantages of HCI seem obvious, but the real disruptive effect is how we can build upon it. The opening scenario describes on-demand application development at the tactical edge. This is achievable through HCI efficiency and another emerging network process known as Agile Core Services (ACS), a joint software development initiative being built into several programs throughout the Navy and Air Force, and one that CANES (as the afloat and maritime operations center network provider) is leveraging.

Hyper-Convergence in Network Hardware combines storage and processing power into a single appliance for simplified management, faster deployment, and could even lower acquisition costs ( Helixstorm.com)

ACS allows applications to use a common mix of services at the platform level, reducing cost and time of development but also forcing all applications to “speak the same language.” All that is needed to make on-demand, tactical application delivery a reality is a framework for plug-ins that takes advantage of big data we already have aboard ships and available at both the operational and tactical levels of war.

Previous articles in the United States Naval Institute’s magazine Proceedings have argued for thin-client solutions aboard warships,2 leveraging the CANES network program to ultimately achieve network efficiency that can remove “fat clients” (standard computer desktops) from the architecture to be replaced by thin or zero-clients (user workstation nodes with virtualized desktops and no onboard storage or input devices beyond keyboard and mouse). Removing clients from the equation eases the burden on shipboard technicians, consolidates the information security posture, and overall presents a more efficient network management picture through smart automation that makes better use of available manpower. HCI is the architecture solution that will eventually enable a full-scale, afloat, thin-client solution.

Hyperconverged.org is a website dedicated to delivering the message of advantages that HCI can bring,3 and lists ten compelling advantages that HCI brings to any IT infrastructure, to include:

  • Focus on software-defined data centers to allow faster software modernization and more agile vulnerability patching
  • Use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) commodity hardware that provides failure avoidance without the additional costs
  • Centralized systems and management
  • Enhanced agility in network management, automation, virtualization of operating systems, and shared resources across a common resource manager (such as hypervisor)
  • Improved scalability and efficiency
  • Potentially lower costs (caveat: in the commercial sector this may be truer than in the government sector, but smart contract competitions and vendor choices can drive down costs for the government as well)
  • Consolidated data protection through improved backup and recovery options, more efficient resource utilization, and faster network management tools

The advantages of HCI are numerous, and represent the true next step in IT architecture that will enable future software capabilities. How can we, as warfighters, take advantage of this emerging technology? It cannot be overstated that our current processes for procuring and delivering software-based services and capabilities must be revamped to keep pace with industry and take advantage of the speed and agility that HCI brings.

Faster, More Efficient Application Development is the Next Step

In our current hardware development methodology, programs of record within the Department of Defense (DoD) have little difficulty determining a clear modernization path that fits within the cost, schedule, and performance constraints outlined by the DoD acquisition framework. However, software development is an entirely different story, and is no longer agile enough to suit our needs. If we can iterate hardware infrastructure at near the speed of industry, then software and application development becomes the pacing function that we must address before we can realize the opening scenario of this essay.

The key term when discussing the speed of system development is agility, defined by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as “the speed of operations within an organization and speed in responding to customers…or reduced cycle times.”4 The federal government, DoD in particular, has been struggling with acquisition reform for some time, and with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act in fiscal year 2010, Congress placed renewed emphasis on the need to transform the acquisition process for information technology. Several programmatic changes to acquisition helped (such as the approval of the “IT Box” programmatic framework in the joint requirements process), but the agility of software development and modernization remains challenged. Ensuring proper testing and evaluation (T&E) methodology, bureaucratic approval processes to ensure affordability, joint interoperability testing, and lengthy proof-in testing are just some of the processes facing software applications prior to gaining approval for full-rate production and fielding to the warfighter.

Matthew Kennedy and Lieutenant Colonel Dan Ward (U.S. Air Force), in a 2012 article for Defense Acquisition University, argued for agility in system development by discussing flaws in the current “agile software development” model.5 Developed in the early 2000s, this model is not as agile as the name would imply, and still defines requirements to be developed in advance, which doesn’t leave room for innovation or rapid, iterative changes to keep pace with the speed of industry. Exciting initiatives are being fielded in the commercial sector, such as cloud-based development and learning models, and mobility technology that many of the services would use to great effect. Innovative prototyping of disruptive technology at the service or component level of DoD, such as the now-disbanded Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), proved that there are operational advantages to emerging tech such as wearable mobile devices, if only we could “turn a tighter circle” within our acquisition framework and work with agility to field newer and better versions to the force.

Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when implementing a more agile software development framework; we must take lessons from industry and apply them to the unique needs of each of the DoD components. This may be easier said than done, but Kennedy and Ward, and indeed likely many other acquisition professionals and scholars, would agree that it is entirely possible if leadership demanded it, and the policies, procedures, and resourcing followed suit to support it. Kennedy and Ward offered a common set of software and business aspect practices to support agile practices that would allow a predictable, faster software refresh cycle (not just patches, but cumulative updates) to ensure software remains agile and relevant to the warfighter. Using small teams for incremental development, lean initiatives to shorten timelines, and continuous user involvement with co-located teams are just some of the practices offered.6

Improving our software development and modernization framework to be even more agile than it is now is necessary considering the recent industry shift to software-as-a-service and cloud-based business models. No longer will software versions be deliberate releases, but rather iterative updates such as Microsoft’s “current branch for business” (CBB) model. With this model, Microsoft envisions that Windows 10 could be the last “version” of Windows to be released, which will then be built upon in future “service pack-like” updates every 12-18 months. Organizations that do not update their operating systems to the latest CBB will be left behind with unsupported versions. Not only does such a change demand a rapid speed-to-force update solution for DoD, but it represents a disruptive process change that will ultimately allow us to reach the opening scenario’s on-demand tactical application process, leveraging big data in a way that units at the tactical edge have never done before – and in a way that may never have been imagined by the system’s original developers.

Hyper-convergence infrastructure, together with agility-based application development and modernization, represents a near-term possibility that will enable true innovation at the tactical level of war and put the power of information superiority into the hands of the warfighter. While re-developing the acquisition framework to achieve this may be difficult, it is entirely possible and, many would say, necessary if DoD is to keep pace with emerging threats, take advantage of emerging technology and innovation, and ultimately retain its status as the best equipped and trained force the world has ever known.

Artificial Intelligence: The Next AEGIS Combat System

Now let’s imagine another scenario. USS LYNDON B. JOHNSON (DDG 1002), last of the Zumwalt-class destroyer line and used primarily to test emergent technology prototypes in real-world scenarios, slips silently through the South China Sea in the dead of night. She is the first ship in the U.S. Navy to possess Nelson, a recursively-improving artificial intelligence (RIAI). Utilizing an HCI supercomputer core, Nelson acts as an integrator for the various shipboard combat systems in a similar concept to today’s AEGIS Combat System, except much faster and with machine-speed environmental adaption.

American relations with China have broken down, resulting in a shooting war in the South China Sea that threatens to spill into the Pacific proper, and eventually reach Hawaii. In an effort to change the dynamic, DDG-1002 forward deploys in stealth to collect intelligence on enemy force disposition and, if the opportunity presents itself, offer a first-strike capability to the U.S. Pacific Command. JOHNSON is spotted by a surface action group of three Chinese destroyers, who take immediate action by firing a salvo of anti-ship cruise missiles followed by surface gunnery fire once in range.

At the voice command of the Tactical Action Officer, Nelson goes to work, taking control of the ship’s self-defense system and prioritizing targets in a similar fashion to Aegis, only much faster, while constantly providing voice feedback on system readiness, target status, and battle damage assessments through the internal battle circuit, essentially acting as a member of the CIC team. Nelson’s adaptability as an AI allows it to evolve its tactical recommendations based on the environment and the sensory input from the ship’s 3D and 2D radars, intelligence feeds, and even the voice reports over the battle circuit. Compiling the tactical picture on a large display in CIC, Nelson simultaneously responds to threats against the ship while providing a fused battle management display to the Captain and Tactical Action Officer. The RIAI does much to lift the fog of war, and automates enough of the ship’s defensive and information-gathering functions to allow the humans to focus on tactically employing the ship to stop the threat rather than reacting to it.

While hyper-convergence, coupled with agile and rapidly-developed software innovation, is the emerging technology, recursively-improving artificial intelligence is the ultimate disruptive technology in the near to medium-term and represents the giant leap forward that many research and development efforts are striving towards. AI has often been relegated to the work of science fiction, and while many futurists see it as the inevitable “singularity” to happen as soon as the mid-21st century, it has not quite gained acceptance in the mainstream technical community. What must be focused on from a warfighter’s perspective is the near-term (within the next 30-50 years) prospects of advances in quantum computing, neural networks, robotics, nanotechnology, and hyper-convergence. These advances could put us on a path towards artificial intelligence within the lifetime of generations currently serving or about to serve in the armed forces.

The debate over whether recursively self-improving artificial intelligence is possible continues,5 with some theorists stating that such an AI cannot be achieved because intelligence could be “upper bounded” in a way that transcends processor speed, available memory, and sensor resolution improvements. Others suggest that intelligence “is the ability to find patterns in data”7 and that, regardless of the more fringe theories surrounding AI, transhumanism, and the ontological discussions of the singularity, “a sub-human level system capable of self-improvement can’t be excluded.”8  It is the sub-human AI, capable of adapting to changing data patterns, that makes a combat system AI an exciting near-future prospect. 

Conclusion

This article presented two hypothetical scenarios. In the near-term, a Navy watchstander takes advantage of a hyper-converged infrastructure network environment onboard a U.S. Navy warship to rapidly develop a tactical application to take advantage of disparate databases and cloud data resources, ultimately producing a battle management aid for the ship’s next mission. This scenario took advantage of two emerging technological concepts: hyper-convergence in hardware infrastructure, a reality some major defense acquisition programs such as the Navy’s CANES has already resourced and on-track to field in the coming years, and agile software development in defense acquisition, which is a conceptual framework that must be developed to ensure more rapid and innovative software capabilities are delivered to the force.

The funding for these technological advances must remain stable to deliver HCI to our operating forces as a hardware baseline for future development, and policy makers must continue to find efficiencies in IT acquisition that lead to agile software development to really take advantage of the efficiencies HCI brings. Additionally, DoD IT leaders must think critically and dynamically about how future software updates will be tested and fielded rapidly; our current lengthy testing and evaluation cycle is no longer compatible with either the speed of industry’s vulnerability patching, a fluid content upgrade schedule, or the pace of adversarial threats.

The second scenario describes a near-future incorporation of recursively-improving artificial intelligence within a combat system, which builds upon hyper converged hardware and recursively improving software to deliver a warfighting platform that can defend itself more rapidly and learn from its tactical situation. The simple fact is that technology is changing at a pace no one dared dream as early as 20 years ago, and if we don’t build it, our adversaries will. A recent (2016) article in Reuters, and reported in other media outlets, showcases the People Republic of China’s (PRC) desire to build AI-integrated weapons,9 citing Wang Changqing of China Aerospace and Industry Corp with saying “our future cruise missiles will have a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation.” DoD must adapt its processes to keep pace and remain the world’s leader in incorporating emerging and disruptive technology into its warfighting systems.

Travis Howard is an active duty U.S. Naval Officer assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington D.C. He holds advanced degrees and certifications in cybersecurity policy and business administration, and has over 16 years of enlisted and commissioned experience in surface warfare and Navy information systems. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

References

1. Scott Morris. “Putting The ‘Hyper’ Into Convergence.” NetworkWorld Asia 12.2 (2015): 44. 28 Jan 2017.

2. Travis Howard, LT, USN. “’The Next Generation’ of Afloat Networking.” Proceedings Magazine, Mar 2015, Vol. 141/3/1,345

3. Hyperconverged.org. “Ten Things Hyperconverged Can Do For You: Leveraging the Benefits of Hyperconverged Infrastructure.” Retrieved Feb 2 2017, http://www.hyperconverged.org/10-things-hyperconvergence-can-do/

4. Matthew Kennedy & Lt Col Dan Ward. “Inserting Agility In System Development.” Defense Acquisition Research Journal: A Publication Of The Defense Acquisition University 19.3 (2012): 249-264. 4 Feb 2017.

5. Ibid

6. Ibid

7. Roman Yampolskiy. “From Seed AI to Technological Singularity via Recursively Self-Improving Software.” Cornell University Library. arXiv:1502.06512 [cs.AI]. 23 Feb 2015.

8. Ibid

9. Ben Blanchard. “China eyes artificial intelligence for new cruise missiles.” Reuters, World News. 19 Aug 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-defence-missiles-idUSKCN10U0EM

Featured Image: Electronic Warfare Specialist 2nd Class Sarah Lanoo from South Bend, Ind., operates a Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) console in the Combat Direction Center (CDC) aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as it conducts combat operations in support of Operation Southern Watch. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Patricia Totemeier)