Report to Congress on Emerging Military Technologies

October 22, 2021 7:56 AM

The following is the Oct. 21, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Emerging Military Technologies: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Members of Congress and Pentagon officials are increasingly focused on developing emerging military technologies to enhance U.S. national security and keep pace with U.S. competitors. The U.S. military has long relied upon technological superiority to ensure its dominance in conflict and to underwrite U.S. national security. In recent years, however, technology has both rapidly evolved and rapidly proliferated—largely as a result of advances in the commercial sector. As former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel observed, this development has threatened to erode the United States’ traditional sources of military advantage. The Department of Defense (DOD) has undertaken a number of initiatives to arrest this trend. For example, in 2014, DOD announced the Third Offset Strategy, an effort to exploit emerging technologies for military and security purposes as well as associated strategies, tactics, and concepts of operation. In support of this strategy, DOD established a number of organizations focused on defense innovation, including the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group.

More recently, the 2018 National Defense Strategy echoed the underpinnings of the Third Offset Strategy, noting that U.S. national security will likely be

affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…. New technologies include advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology—the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.

The United States is the leader in developing many of these technologies. However, China and Russia—key strategic competitors—are making steady progress in developing advanced military technologies. As these technologies are integrated into foreign and domestic military forces and deployed, they could hold significant implications for the future of international security writ large, and will have to be a significant focus for Congress, both in terms of funding and program oversight.

This report provides an overview of selected emerging military technologies in the United States, China, and Russia:

  • artificial intelligence,
  • lethal autonomous weapons,
  • hypersonic weapons,
  • directed energy weapons,
  • biotechnology, and
  • quantum technology.

It also discusses relevant initiatives within international institutions to monitor or regulate these technologies, considers the potential implications of emerging military technologies for warfighting, and outlines associated issues for Congress. These issues include the level and stability of funding for emerging technologies, the management structure for emerging technologies, the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining technology workers, the acquisitions process for rapidly evolving and dual-use technologies, the protection of emerging technologies from theft and expropriation, and the governance and regulation of emerging technologies. Such issues could hold implications for congressional authorization, appropriation, oversight, and treaty-making.

Download the document here.

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