Bridging the Gap in Emerging Technology: “Overmatch”

Bridging the Gap in Emerging Technology: “Overmatch”

Originating in the 2017 National Security Strategy, the United States is underway with its philosophy of “Overmatch” to bridge the gap in emerging technologies with Russia and China.

Calling for increased spending in nearly all domains of defense, the key area of investment to note, however, is emerging technologies. With recent advancements by the Chinese in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and the announcement by Vladimir Putin that Russia will be fielding its Avangard hypersonic missile system by the end of 2019, the United States has had not quite another “Sputnik moment” – but certainly a renewed sense of urgency.

Overmatch: A Guiding Principle

In the 2017 document, the Pentagon stated that, “The United States must retain overmatch—the combination of capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success and to ensure that America’s sons and daughters will never be in a fair fight.” Aiming to not only match, but exceed money invested in research, development, and deployment of both conventional and unconventional weaponry, this overarching framework will serve as a guiding principle during investment and operational planning similar to the way “Containment” during the Cold War, or the “Global War on Terror” shaped nearly all aspects of foreign policy and defense.

Finally apparent to senior Pentagon officials, Russia and China have quietly surpassed the U.S. in these critical areas of warfare technology. One reason for this, offered by the U.S. undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Dr. Michael Griffin, is that the Department of Defense and other government agencies have allowed, and even assisted, defense contractors to merge into a few “large super companies.” By reducing internal competition, defense companies have atrophied – making the resurgent necessity for innovation under Overmatch potentially problematic.

Budgetary Decisions

With a proposed budget of $686 billion for FY 2019, an increase of $74 billion from FY 2018, Congress has recently begun passing legislation allocating funds to remedy the recent decades of technological degeneration.

Griffin, in an April testimony to Congress stated his priorities for emerging technologies as: hypersonics, directed energy, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and quantum science. Among these areas, Griffin noted hypersonics to be his highest priority. Despite Putin’s recent comments, according to the undersecretary, “the most significant advance by our adversaries has been the Chinese development of what is now, today, a pretty mature [hypersonic] system for conventional prompt strike at multi-thousand kilometer ranges.” While more work still needs to be done, the Pentagon has taken notice with a $928 million contract to Lockheed Martin earlier this year for a “hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon.”

Concerning other necessary areas of advancement, the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, slotted to begin operations in April 2019, will continue much of the work of Project Maven. The Center will “coordinate artificial intelligence research across the Department, and with government labs and private companies.” In quantum computing, China currently outspends the U.S. at a ratio of 30 to 1. Among other uses, this technology could render current U.S. stealth technology obsolete. Attempts have begun to bridge this gap. Congress recently passed the National Quantum Initiative Act, allocating $1.275 billion over five years to research and development.

With the FY 2019 budget still to be finalized, the long-term consequences for U.S. foreign policy and defense planning are uncertain. Whether Overmatch is successful depends upon the manner in which it is implemented.

Much of the discussion thus far has been devoted to advancement in emerging technologies. However, the 2017 National Security Strategy included that this philosophy of “overmatching” opponents applied to conventional weaponry as well. In order to radically alter the United States’ standing in emerging warfare technologies, across-the-board increases in investment will hamstring these efforts.

Asymmetric Advantages

One reason Russia and China surpassed the U.S. in this area is because their respective military strategies treated these technologies as a priority, not an addendum. Knowing well the conventional superiority of the United States military, they are seeking to leverage their asymmetric qualities. The United States will likely not be able to close the gap with these technologies while simultaneously developing conventional capacities for ground, air, and maritime activities to the extent Overmatch prescribes.

Reorienting itself toward facing Russia and China, the United States is in a similar situation to the beginning of the “Global War on Terror.” For example, counterterrorism operations heavily rely on special operation forces, drone technology, and all-source intelligence gathering. Even after operations commenced in the Middle East, the United States heavily invested in conventional weaponry which went largely unused.

Countering Russian and Chinese capabilities, while different than counterterrorism, will require strategies comparably unconventional in their approach. The success of this push toward supremacy will depend on the extent to which money is spent on hypersonics, AI, and quantum computing. Certainly, conventional capabilities will be required in the future. The level to which they usurp the United States’ renewed push for technological advancement, however, remains to be seen.

Categories: North America, Security

About Author

Jonathan Hall

Jonathan Hall is a security and political risk analyst with a focus on Eurasian geopolitics, military affairs, and emerging technologies. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from Central European University and has experience living and working in Eastern Europe. He can be found on Twitter @_JonathanPHall