In the defense sector, threats drive strategies, strategies (kind of) drive investments, and investments drive budgets. Theoretically, at least.
Analysts expect very few parts of the U.S. defense budget to grow over the next decade. One portion expected to swell, however, is the military intelligence budget. And Defense Intelligence
Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has a threat list — and, by theoretical extension, an investment wishlist.
With the U.S. heading for then avoiding — for now, at least — a proxy war with Russia and Iran in Syria. Reporters covering the Senate’s on-then-off march toward a vote on a measure authorizing military force in Syria quipped this week that “the Cold War is back.”
Not so fast, according to Flynn.
During a talk Thursday at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance-sponsored conference in Washington, the military’s top spook described his threat list.
At the top were forces that will drive U.S. defense and intelligence budgets for years — but might be hard for weapon manufacturers to figure out just what systems to develop to help the military and intelligence agencies address them.
Flynn’s list started with “projected demographic, migratory, technological, and economic changes that we foresee over the next 50 years will undoubtedly tax our future national security enterprise.”
Here’s how Flynn sees it:
“ For instance, aging first world populations, widening gender gaps in developing countries, and a growing pocket of young, underemployed males in third-world and largely economically struggling regions will change the military face of many of our allies and enemies. Regional disputes over critical natural resources that are quickly dwindling in supply, especially water, energy, and rare earth elements and minerals, will threaten already tenuous political and social balances – immediately, the delicate balance between nuclear Pakistan and India comes to mind.”
It’s the kind of scenario that keeps U.S. intelligence and White House officials up at night.
Next on Flynn’s list was the “rapid advancement in technology for destructive or disruptive purposes will challenge us to not only keep up with the pace of change, but stay one step ahead and secure our systems that increasingly rely on technology to exist.”
And because potential state foes and small groups — even individual actors — can access technology, that creates the opportunity of cyber attacks on crucial U.S. systems.
“We are also fully aware of our vulnerabilities. We understand that our nation’s infrastructure remains largely unprotected, that U.S. private companies do not have the resources or imperative to guard against increasingly sophisticated cyber encroachment. We understand that almost everything in our society has a cyber element in it – from the cell phones we carry, a pacemaker in someone’s chest, the computer we use every day, the elevators we ride, all the way to the targeting software our military uses to precision guide our missiles to their targets.”
As Flynn put it, “it’s a scary reality.” He says U.S. officials are “all aware of the danger as information technology marches on in exponential advancement.”
But, increasingly, officials and lawmakers are warning Washington and the private sector have failed to put in place the systems and procedures to avoid a catastrophic cyber attack.
In fact, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., made that very case earlier Thursday at the same event.
But, alarmingly, Flynn candidly noted it’s not just the U.S. financial system that’s vulnerable.
“While we grow ever more worried about the threats to infrastructure and our increasingly wired society, DIA is increasingly focused on the threats that can degrade our military capabilities. Militarized cyber weapons are a new world. One where we need to understand doctrine and intent of our cyber foes in order to best manage the risk they pose.”
That’s something we bet industry would like to help you solve, General.
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