By Capt. Tuan N. Pham, USN
Part one of this two-part series calls for a bilateral technology roadmap to field and sustain a lethal, resilient, and rapidly adapting technology-enabled Joint Force (Multi-Domain Defense Force) that can seamlessly conduct high-end maritime operations in the Indo-Pacific.
Part two underscores the imperatives to do so, and provides geostrategic context by framing the growing technology competition within the region through the lens of Great Power Competition (GPC) in the 21st century. China, Russia, America, and Japan are intertwined in GPC, with all four nations fully committed to national security innovation for competitive advantages.
China – Seeking Global Technological Dominance (Technological Revisionism)
China has embarked on a whole-of-nation effort to achieve civil-military development and integration of emerging technologies, seeking to become a Science and Technology (S&T) superpower with a strong economy, a powerful military, and a harmonious society – able to fight and win global conflicts across every domain of strategic competition (economic, political, ideological, and military). Using national tools – government, industry, and academia – to promote domestic technological innovation and access foreign technology, Beijing hopes to leapfrog the United States and the other industrialized nations in technological prowess en route to global preeminence and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. China invests heavily in advanced dual-use technologies, hoping that they will improve the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities and increase its capacities to achieve battlefield dominance across contested and interconnected warfighting domains.
The Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy’s ultimate goal is the “gradual build-up of China’s unified military-civil system of strategies and strategic capabilities.” The strategy is not an addition to China’s other national strategic priorities, but rather a “supporting strategy whose parts integrate into China’s system of national strategies to form a broad national strategic system” that advances the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) overarching security and development goals and realizes its strategic aspirations (Chinese Dream). General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping described the MCF strategy as a “major policy decision designed to balance security and development, and is a major measure in response to complex security threats and a means of gaining strategic advantages.”
As the name suggests, the strategy seeks to synchronize and integrate civil and military operations, activities, and investments. The civil aspects encompass the economic and social systems that relate to national security as well as the contested domains and competitive technologies such as maritime, space, cyberspace, autonomy, and artificial intelligence (AI) that are intricately linked to the development and sustainment of “New Type Combat Capabilities.” The military aspects cover every aspect of national security to include the PLA and enabling national defense technologies and infrastructures. The MCF strategy gives the PLA unfettered access into civil entities developing and acquiring advanced technologies, to include state-owned and private firms, universities, and research programs such as the Thousand Talents Program. All in all, the strategy’s core goals are the optimization of national resource allocation, generation of combat readiness, and manifestation of economic prosperity.
The drive for technological dominance is not a new policy. The fixation with advanced technology dates back to the founding of the country and the founder Mao Zedong. Mao envisioned the “socialist world’s overwhelming superiority in S&T and came to see technological strength as central to economic, ideological, and geopolitical power for China” – a view that CCP leaders still hold today. Xi characterized the national pursuit of technology as “ganchao” (catch up and surpass). The strategic objective is one of the CCP’s most defining and enduring goals, and provides an essential policy framework to understand “China’s ambition to become a technological superpower, bringing together the legacies of Marxism, Maoism, and the relentless drive toward modernization [realization of the Chinese Dream] by the CCP.”
Xi embraced “ganchao” and made it his own. In January of 2013, shortly after assuming power, Xi laid out his vision for China’s future through the lens of national rejuvenation and reinvigorated national efforts to “catch up and surpass,” reinforcing the legacy linkage of technological advancements to the ideology and identity of the CCP. Four years later, at the 19th National Congress of the CCP, Xi reaffirmed the strategic roadmap for the Chinese Dream. Xi moved China forward from Mao’s revolutionary legacy and Deng’s iconic policy dictum – “observe calmly, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership” – and heralded a new era in Chinese national development. To Xi, technological innovation, by all means, is necessary to surpass the West, and technological dominance is the path to realize global preeminence by 2049.
Beijing’s Made in China 2025 and Internet Plus policies are two key components of China’s strategic plan to achieve technological dominance by the end of the decade and global preeminence by 2049. The former aims to push the economy towards higher value-added manufacturing and services through digital technology and automation. It is a blueprint to upgrade the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese industries into a more technology-intensive dynamo. The latter aims to capitalize on China’s massive online consumer market by building up the country’s domestic mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, and Internet of Things (IoT) sectors. It is a roadmap to integrate information technology with the key industries of manufacturing, commerce, banking, and agriculture. Both policies have been characterized as an innovation mercantilism that leverages the power of the state to “alter competitive dynamics in global markets from industries core to economic competitiveness.”
In the maritime domain, Xi called for accelerating innovation in marine technologies to increase capacity and improve naval development capability, fostering the development of domestic marine industries in support of both PLA modernization and reform efforts and national civilian projects like the Made in China 2025 and Digital Belt and Road Initiative. He promoted marine connectivity and practical collaboration to develop “blue partnerships” among like-minded maritime nations under the One Belt and One Road framework at last year’s China Marine Economy Expo.
Russia – Rebuilding Technology Base for National Greatness (Technological Revanchism)
In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin presciently declared that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere [explicitly AI and implicitly technology at large] will become the ruler of the world.” The bold statement summarizes the purpose and intent behind the 2017 Strategy for the Development of an Information Society for 2017–2030, one of Putin’s key policy initiatives to restore Russia to its former glory. The strategy prioritizes areas deemed essential for the successful development of Russian information and communication technologies, specifically:
- New generation of electronic networks
- Processing of large volumes of data
- Electronic identification and authentication
- Cloud computing
- Post-industrial Internet
- Biotechnologies Information security
The strategy also devotes considerable attention to “ideological concerns, including the prioritization of Russian traditional spiritual and cultural values, popularization of Russian culture and science abroad, and proliferation of steady cultural and educational contacts with Russian compatriots living abroad.” The intent relates to the “Russian World” concept that aims to propagate Russian soft power abroad.
The 2017 Strategy for the Development of an Information Society supplements and complements the greater 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) that codifies Russia’s strategic interests and national priorities. The strategic document identifies Russian national interests as “strengthening the country’s defense, ensuring political and social stability, raising the living standard, preserving and developing culture, improving the economy, and enhancing Russia’s status as a leading world power.” The strategy reflects a Russia more confident in its ability to defend its sovereignty, resist Western pressure and influence, and realize its great power aspirations.
The Russian military remains essential to Putin’s ambitious and expansive strategic plan to restore Russia to its former Soviet greatness. The incremental modernization of Russia’s military depends on the future viability and sustainability of the Russian defense industry. Moscow funds or subsidizes its defense industry primarily through four state-supported investment approaches that provide insights into current defense priorities and future defense developments: “In certain areas, the Kremlin invested significant resources in recapitalizing key defense corporations indicating its prioritization of the systems they produce and the technologies they develop. In other areas, Russia engaged in enduring support of critical defense corporations demonstrating its long-term commitment to key technologies. Another approach reflects the incorporation of its defense corporations into state-owned enterprises. The last approach is speculative investment in dual-use technologies through means such as venture capital.”
America – Maintaining Global Technology Leadership (Technological Superiority)
The 2017 NSS charges the National Security Enterprise to promote American prosperity by leading in research, technology, invention, and innovation to sustain and expand competitive advantages in today’s strategic environment of GPC. The tasked priority actions include understanding worldwide S&T trends, attracting and retaining inventors and innovators, leveraging private capital and expertise to build and innovate, and rapidly fielding inventions and innovations. The NSS also charges the Department of Defense (DOD) to preserve the peace through strength by renewing military capabilities to retain military overmatch for competitive advantages. Overmatch strengthens diplomacy and shapes the international environment to protect and advance U.S. national interests. To maintain military overmatch, the United States must restore the ability to build innovative defense capabilities, force readiness for major conflict and strategic competition, and size of the force so that it is capable of operating at a sufficient scale and for a duration to win across a range of contingencies and interconnected domains. Lastly, the NSS calls on key allies and partners to modernize, acquire the necessary joint warfighting capabilities, improve force readiness, expand the size of their forces, and affirm the political will to compete and win.
Within the DOD, the 2018 National Defense Strategy, 2018 National Military Strategy, and Defense Planning Guidance collectively highlight the need for competitive technological innovation in national security to sustain and expand the U.S. military competitive advantages, and direct greater partnerships between the DOD and commercial enterprises to out-innovate global competitors. Nowhere is the need for commercial technological innovation more compelling than in the DOD. The 2019 Digital Modernization Strategy states that “technological innovation is a key element of future readiness and essential to preserving and expanding U.S. military competitive advantage in the face of near-peer competition and asymmetric threats.” The strategy calls for the ability, flexibility, and agility to innovatively and rapidly field technology-enabled warfighting capability to the warfighter faster than potential adversaries. The guiding principles for DOD’s acquisition of commercial technology capabilities underscore that “preserving and expanding our military advantage depends on our ability to deliver technology faster than our adversaries and the agility of our enterprise to adapt our way of fighting to the potential advantages of innovative technology.”
Within the Department of Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday emphasizes the role of allies and partners in enforcing international maritime norms and operating together as a technology-enabled Joint Force. He declared his intention to bring key U.S. allies and partners along with the U.S. Navy (USN) as it moves into high-end maritime operations at last year’s 12th Regional Sea Power Symposium. He told his contemporaries from more than 30 foreign navies that “today, the very nature of our operating environment requires shared common values and a collective approach to maritime security…and that makes steady, enduring Navy-to-Navy relationships more important than ever”. He concluded his remarks by addressing the fluid technological environment and how emerging disruptive technologies affect the character of naval operations and warfare (warfighting). He underscored tactical cloud computing, AI, and machine learning as technological drivers of change for the USN and by extension allied and partnered navies.
Admiral Gilday expounded on these points when he promulgated his initial guidance to the Fleet a few months later. The directive, in the form of a fragmentary order (FRAGO), simplified, prioritized, and built on the foundation of “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” issued by his predecessor. The FRAGO directs dedicated efforts across three critical areas – warfighting, warfighters, and the future Navy – and focuses on building alliances and partnerships to broaden and strengthen global maritime awareness, access, capabilities, and capacities.
The FRAGO aligns well with the Secretary of Navy’s (SECNAV) guidance to mitigate the unpredictability of the future by building and maintaining a “robust constellation of partners and allies to work with us to solve common security challenges which are beyond our ability to predict, or defeat alone.” The SECNAV underscored two key initiatives. First, cooperative international agreements jointly produce, procure, and sustain naval armaments to reduce U.S. and partner costs, improve bilateral interoperability, and forge closer ties between U.S. and partner nation operating forces and acquisition and logistics communities. Second, S&T and data exchange agreements facilitate Research and Development (R&D) and information exchanges with allied or friendly nations, and marshal the technological capabilities of the United States and our key allies and partners to accelerate R&D and fielding of equipment for the common defense.
The FRAGO also aligns well with the newly released Tri-Service Maritime Strategy (Advantage at Sea, Prevailing with All-Domain Naval Power). The joint strategy focuses on China and Russia and guides the Naval Service (USN, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard) for the next decade to prevail across the continuum of competition. The strategy has two main components. First, it articulates the employment of integrated all-domain naval power across the competition continuum. Second, it guides the development of an integrated all-domain naval force.
Japan – Advancing Toward Society 5.0 (Technological Evolution)
Japan takes a broader societal perspective of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled Society 5.0, a future society that leverages technology in the key pillars of infrastructure, finance technology, healthcare, logistics, and AI to achieve economic advancement and solve societal problems. The super-smart society (Society 5.0) is the fifth step in the evolution of human development. It follows the information society (Society 4.0), industrial society (Society 3.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), and hunting and gathering society (Society 1.0). The vision is to liberate people from routine tasks and to meet the needs of every person while not surrendering all control to technology. Society 5.0 boldly creates a social contract and economic model by fully integrating the technological innovations of the 4IR throughout every facet of Japanese society. The dual-use nature of these developing civil technologies also has national security applications and implications.
Like in the United States, GPC influences Japan’s national security perspectives as outlined in its NSS. The NSS shapes Japanese defense priorities through the lens of enduring regional threats like China, North Korea, and Russia; emerging contested and interconnected domains of space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS); the U.S.-Japan Alliance; and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Within the Ministry of Defense (MOD), the National Defense Planning Guidelines for FY2019 and Beyond, Mid-Term Defense Program FY2019-2023, and 2019 R&D Vision call for the development of a Multi-Domain Defense Force (Joint Force) that can conduct seamless and integrated cross-domain operations to preserve the security, prosperity, and independence of Japan. These operations fuse the new domains of space, cyberspace, and the EMS with the traditional domains of maritime, air, and land. The challenge for the MOD is how best to leverage the pervasive technological innovation happenings in the government, private industry, and academia within Japan and collaborate with the U.S. DOD on technological innovation.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), in coordination with the other services, continues to make prudent targeted investments to develop a Multi-Domain Defense Force, strengthen the U.S.-Japan Alliance, take better care of its personnel, and hedge for the future. The FY2019, FY2020, and FY2021 defense budgets (JMSDF allocation) focus on building capabilities and increasing capacities in command, control, communications, computers, ISR, and targeting (C4ISRT), information warfare, cyberspace network operations and defense, space warfare, undersea warfare, and ballistic missile defense. The JMSDF also makes investments in four enabling organizational areas. Firstly, enhance function in all phases through continuous enhancement of necessary capabilities. Secondly, better develop concepts necessary for defending the country by utilizing the JMSDF capabilities to their full potential. Thirdly, further strengthen cooperation through deepening relationships with other navies with the U.S.-Japan Alliance as its core, and through making full use of joint and comprehensive relationships with various partners. Lastly, improve personnel programs, the foundation of the JMSDF, both in quality and in quantity.
GPC is alive and well in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the contested technology domain. Russia, China, America, and Japan are entangled in a competitive technology race for economic prosperity and national security. Although allied Washington and Tokyo are fully committed to national security technological innovation as evidenced by their respective national defense strategies and mutual pursuit of a technology-enabled Joint Force (Multi-Domain Defense Force), the broader DOD (USN) and MOD (JMSDF) must better leverage emerging technologies and developing concomitant warfare concepts (doctrines) to adapt to the new way of fighting. Otherwise, the United States and Japan risk ceding the technology domain and consequently military superiority in the Indo-Pacific to revisionist China and revanchist Russia.
CAPT Pham is a maritime strategist, strategic planner, naval researcher, and China Hand with 20 years of experience in the Indo-Pacific. He completed a research paper with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) at the U.S. Naval War College (USNWC) in 2020. The articles are derived from the aforesaid paper. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the positions of the U.S. Government, USN, ONR or USNWC.
Featured Image: SAN DIEGO (Feb. 23, 2017) Cmdr. Mark Stefanik, commanding officer of the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), discusses the ship’s engineering capabilities with Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Director of Ships and Weapons Division, Capt. Shinichi Imayoshi. (U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman 1st Class Nathaniel J. Wells/Released)