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Course Motivation

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For the first time since the start of the Cold War, Americans are being confronted with the prospect of being unable to prevail in future conflict. In 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, warned that “In just a few years, if we do not change the trajectory, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage.” Those few years have passed and this dire warning is arguably coming to fruition.

A range of technologies are emerging today that radically change how we will be able to fight and deter threats across all conflict domains—air, land, sea, space, and cyber. But prevailing in future conflicts will require more than harnessing this revolution in technology; it will require a revolution in the thinking of how this technology can be integrated into weapons systems and other defense platforms to drive new operational and organizational concepts that change and optimize the way we fight.

Continued reliance on making incremental upgrades to existing military systems and sustaining the tactics, operations, and strategies these legacy systems support threatens to expose critical vulnerabilities that our adversaries can employ asymmetric approaches to exploit. Competing effectively in the modern international system and regaining America’s competitive edge will require not only the rapid adoption of advanced technologies but more significantly by the degree and speed in which these new technologies are leveraged to operate in the new ways required to survive and prevail in the 21st century threat environment.


This course explores how new technologies will create new types of military systems that will be developed and deployed to win future conflicts. Further, the course will examine the new operational concepts and strategies that will emerge from acquiring, funding, and fielding these technologies, including the roles of Congress, incumbent contractors, lobbyists, and start-ups.

The course begins with an overview of the history of military innovation; US strategies developed since World War II to gain and maintain our technological competitive edge; and contemporary US strategies and military plans for defending America’s interests in this era of great power rivalry and competition. The course observes that innovation in the military systems has followed a repeatable pattern: technology innovation > new weapons > experimentation with new weapons/operational concepts > pushback from incumbents > first use of new operational concepts.

In the second part of course, we’ll use this framework to look at the military applications of emerging technologies in Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning, and Autonomy.

Students will develop their own proposals for the new operational concepts, defense organizations, and strategies to address these emergent technologies while heeding the funding and political hurdles to get them implemented.

The course draws on the experience and expertise of guest lecturers from industry and from across the Department of Defense and other government agencies to provide context and perspective. The course builds on concepts presented in MS&E 193/293 “Technology and National Security” and provides a strong foundation for students interested in enrolling in MS&E 297 “Hacking for Defense”.