DN - Defence Notes

I/ITSEC 2019: Space defined as key frontier in future Great Power conflict

3rd December 2019 - 15:21 GMT | by Richard Thomas in Orlando


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If a theme could be drawn across the range of exhibitions and conferences that have taken place in the US in 2019, it is a return to Great Power competition and the re-emergent and rising challenges of Russia and China.

The opening keynote at I/ITSEC 2019 in Orlando was no different, with the USAF Vice Chief of Staff Gen Stephen Wilson flatly pointing to China as being the greatest state competitor and one that in future could approach conflict as a peer rival to the US.

Further, the space domain would now be the key environment within which conflict would be won or lost.

‘Space is essential. If we lose [in] space, we lose. Period,’ Wilson warned.

Wilson went on to say that China’s advances over the past generation were born from an ‘all-of-nation’ effort that saw industry and the military working hand-in-glove.

‘For many years China was considered backwards, a developing state [but] the in the past four decades their growth has been tremendous. China is a legitimate competitor,’ Wilson stated. ‘China is all in to win, it’s an all-of-nation effort and what they call military-civil fusion.’

Wilson added that not only is China ‘a competitor’ but that in many respects it held an advantage over the US in areas such as purchasing power, number of STEM graduates and its efforts in VR, machine learning, space and hypersonic technology. In space, China achieved a global first in January 2019 when it landed a rover on the dark side of the Moon.

‘Fast forward ten years and ask yourself who the peer and who the near-peer will be,’ Wilson stated.

To this end, it was imperative that the US win the so-called ‘war of cognition’ and deliver next-generation technologies in VR and augmented reality to the military. According to Wilson, this would need to be a ‘whole-of-nation’ effort to deliver change ‘at the speed of relevance’, referencing the slow pace of military procurement programmes.

‘The defence department is embarking on the largest transformation in decades. We don’t just want industry’s help, we need industry’s help,’ he continued.

In an effort to create faster pathways for industry to get on contact to develop new technologies the USAF had created pitch days for companies to make their cases to the service, with decisions taken the same day regarding investment.

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