Exploiting the time dimension may prove to be a critical asymmetrical means in achieving military superiority in the next two decades.
Estimated time to read: 5 min
By Caitlin Thorn
On Wednesday we published an article addressing how the acquisitions process may be used to exploit the dimension of time in response to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s (CSAF) question, “How can the Air Force exploit the dimension of time to prevail in 2040?” As peer adversaries continue to narrow the capability gap at alarming rates, the US must capitalize on asymmetrical means to maintain the competitive advantage. Exploiting the time dimension may prove to be a critical asymmetrical means in achieving military superiority in the next two decades.
As humans cannot physically manipulate time to our advantage, we must resort to exploiting this dimension through other means: speed. Speed in military operations can be achieved by leveraging physical maneuver through multiple domains, operational tempo, and processes and procedures. Previous articles published on Over the Horizon have addressed advantages of physical speed through hypersonics and directed energy, as well as implications of speed in the acquisition process. A future article on the cyber domain will provide insight on current and future advantages the cyber domain affords, to include enabling operational tempo. The means in which to apply these game-changing technologies to our advantage are linked together via a common theme: speed. This article discusses three ways in which the Air Force can use speed to exploit time and gain an advantage against peer adversaries in the future operating environment.
Physical speed is the most obvious means in which to exploit the time dimension in military operations and is a key component of four of the five Air Force Core Missions. Air Superiority is decidedly dependent on highly maneuverable supersonic fighter aircraft with first look, first shot, first kill capability. For ISR capabilities, speed has been dubbed “the new stealth” with the projected use of hypersonic vehicles for use in reconnaissance missions. The Rapid Global Mobility mission demands speed for effectiveness, as rapidly projecting power is critical to conducting global operations. Physical speed perhaps has the most significant implications for affecting the Global Strike mission in future operations. The speed behind hypersonic missiles and weapons increases survivability and makes them difficult to defend against. Significantly narrowing the time gap between weapon release and target impact make detection and weapon interception or impact avoidance extremely difficult. This will pose as a considerable challenge to defend in future operations and may be countered by future directed energy weapons. The last Air Force Core mission, Command and Control, is critically dependent on the use of the cyber domain to enable the speed of operations, and is discussed next as a second critical means to exploit the time domain.
Speed of Operations
Perhaps the most significant increase in speed over the last couple of decades has been gains in computing power and resulting processing speed, which has almost single-handedly contributed to increasing the speed of operations. The ability to flow information and data through the cyber domain in fractions of a second to virtually any number of personnel across the globe has in itself resulted in more efficient operations and enabled a significant increase in operational tempo. The cyber domain has enabled a high tempo of interconnected, multi-domain operations in which we are now highly dependent on to be able to contest peer adversaries. Decreasing time required to seize the initiative and respond to adversary actions is a force multiplier and will be crucial to maintaining a competitive edge over adversaries. But as dependence on the cyber domain increases, so does vulnerabilities. Defensive cyber capabilities may prove to be equally important to offensive capabilities as ease of access to network systems continues to proliferate. The further development of Quantum computing will further increase operational tempo with capabilities to analyze tremendous amounts of data in a fraction of the amount of time current computing speed allows. Although this technology is still in its infancy, it may have the most potential for further accelerating the speed of operations.
Speed of Processes and Procedures
Just as physical speed and operational tempo are critical to exploiting the dimension of time and enabling effective execution of the Air Force core missions, the speed of processes and procedures that enable the effective delivery of these technologies will be equally significant. Unfortunately, as operational tempo and speed of physical maneuver has increased significantly in recent decades, the speed of processes and procedures has failed to keep up, with acquisitions timelines actually declining. This is alarming as our technological innovations are only as good as the rate at which they can be delivered to the warfighter. With this in mind, one of the greatest threats to our National Security may in fact be self-inflicted: the inability to provide the timely and relevant delivery of technologies to the warfighter for operational use. The has been addressed in previous articles on Over the Horizon and although may be viewed as a secondary factor to innovation itself, is actual equally critical to ensuring a competitive edge. Of the three means in which to exploit time in future operations, the speed in which to deliver technologies for operational use may be the most vulnerable area in which the US may fall behind peer adversaries, and yet also may hold the most significant implications for future operations.
Exploiting the dimension of time is a critical means in which to ensure a future competitive advantage. The US has exploited this dimension relatively effectively through technologies that facilitate speed in executing the Air Force core missions, however, the lagging behind of the processes and procedures in which to enable these innovations operationally may be exploited by peer adversaries as the Achilles heel of the US military. Acquisitions processes must be able to keep up with technological innovations and this may well be the most effective way the US can exploit time to achieve military superiority. Capabilities are imperative to military superiority, but timing is everything. Will the US be able to exploit the time dimension to our advantage?
Only time will tell.
Caitlin Thorn is an engineer in the United States Air Force. She is currently a student at Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the US government.