I'm teaching my first non-Lean startup class in a decade at Stanford next week; Technology, innovation and modern warfare: Staying ahead of America in an era of high power competition. The class is co-listed in the Stanford Department of International Politics as well as the School of Engineering, in the Department of Management and Engineering Sciences.
Why this course?
Five years ago Joe Felter, Pete Newell, and I realized that few of our students were considering a career in the Department of Defense or in the intelligence community. In response, we developed the Hacking for Defense course where students could learn about the country's emerging threats and security challenges while working with innovators within the Department of Defense (DoD) and the community of intelligence to solve real national security problems. Today there is a nationwide network of 40 colleges and universities teaching defense hacking. We have created a network of entrepreneurship students who understand the security threats the country faces and engage them in partnership with innovation islands within DOD / IC. The result of these classes provides hundreds of solutions to critical national security problems each year. It was our first step towards promoting a more agile, responsive and resilient approach to national security in the 21st century.
Fast forward to today. For the first time since the start of the Cold War, Americans may not be able to win in a future conflict. In 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a premonitory warning: "In just a few years, if we do not change course, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage." Those few years are now, and this warning is coming true.
New emerging technologies will radically change the way countries will be able to combat and deter threats in the air, land, sea, space and cyber. But winning future conflicts requires more than just embracing new technologies; it requires a revolution in thinking about how this technology can be integrated into weapon systems to drive new operational and organizational concepts that change the way we fight.
In early 2020 Joe Felter (formerly Deputy Secretary of Defense for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania and co-creator of Hacking for Defense) and I started talk about the need for a new class that gives students an overview of new technologies and explored how new technologies turn into weapons and how new concepts for using them will emerge. We recruited Raj Shah (formerly Director General of the Defense Innovation Unit who was responsible for contracting with commercial companies to solve national security issues) and started designing the class. We couldn't have hoped for a better set of co-instructors.
War, in one form or another, started with the first man. Ever since someone picked up a stone and realized you could throw it, humans have embraced new technology for warfare. Each new generation of technology (spears, bows and arrows, firearms, airplanes, etc.) inevitably created new types of military systems. But picking up the stone didn't win a conflict, it required the development of a new operational concept learning how to use it to win, i.e. which was better way to throw a stone, how many people needed to throw stones, the when you threw it etc. As each new technology created new military systems, new operational concepts were developed (bows and arrows were used differently from rocks, etc.). Our course will examine new operational concepts and strategies that will emerge from 21st technologies of the century – Space, Cyber, IA and Machine Learning and Autonomy. We'll describe how new military systems are acquired, funded, and commissioned, and also examine the roles of Congress, incumbent entrepreneurs, lobbyists, and start-ups.
This course begins with an overview of the history of military innovation and then describes the American strategies developed since WWII to gain and maintain our technological competitive advantage during the bipolar stalemate of the Cold War. . Next, we will address the challenge of our national defense strategy – we no longer face a single Cold War adversary, but potentially five – in what are known as "2 + 3 threats" (China and Russia plus Iran, North Korea and national non-state actors.)
The course offers students the perspective that for hundreds of years, innovation in military systems has followed a repeatable pattern: technological innovation> new weapons> experimentation with new weapons / operational concepts> pushback of incumbents> first use of new operational concepts.
In the second part of the course, we will use this framework to examine the military applications of emerging technologies in space, cyberspace, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and autonomy. Students will develop their own proposals for new operational concepts, defense organizations and strategies to deal with these emerging technologies while taking into account funding and political obstacles to implement them.
The course draws on the experience and expertise of guest speakers from industry and the Department of Defense and other government agencies to provide context and perspective. The two former Secretaries of Defense will be responsible for booking the class – Ash Carter and Jim Mattis.
Just like we did with our previous courses; – the Lean LaunchPad which became the National Science Foundation I-Corps (taught at 98 universities) and Hacking For Defense (taught at 40 schools) – our goal is to open this class to other universities.
As Christian Brose assesses in his premonitory book "The Kill Chain", our challenge is not a lack of money, technology, or a lack of competent and committed people in the US government, the United States. military and private industry – but a lack of imagination. This course, like its cousin Hacking for Defense, aims to harness America's comparative advantage in the innovative thinking and quality of its higher education institutions, to bring imaginative and creative approaches to develop the new operational concepts we need to compete and win in this era. of great power rivalry.
The class schedule is below:
Technology, innovation and modern warfare
Part I: History, Strategy and Challenges
September 15: Course introduction
Guest speaker: Ash carter
September 17: History of Defense Innovation: From Longbows to Nuclear Weapons and Offset Strategies.
Guest speaker: Max Boot
September 22: DoD 101: An Introduction to the US Department of Defense: How Military Technology Is Obtained, Acquired, and Deployed.
September 24: US Defense Strategies and Military Plans in the Age of Great Power Competition
September 29: Technology, ethics and war
October 1: Congress and the power of the stock market
Part II: Military applications, operational concepts, organization and strategy
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
October 6: Presentation
October 8: Military applications
Guest speaker: LTG (ret) Jack Shanahan, Managing Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC)
October 13: Presentation
October 15: Military applications
October 20: Presentation
October 27: Presentation
Part III: Building an Integrated Plan for the Future (Student Group Project)
How to build a plan for future war
November 3: conop planning
Guest speaker (s): COCOM and Joint Staff Planners
Nov 5: Budget and innovation
Guest speaker: OMB Defense Officer
November 10: teamwork sessions with DoD mentors
Group presentations and reviews
Nov 12: Groups 1-2
Guest review: American Indo-Pacom to be confirmed
November 17: Groups 2-4
Thoughts on the course
November 19: Defending a common vision for the future
Guest speaker James mattis