Citing Mumbai attacks, US General predicts uncertain future in complex world

At the Taj Hotel, dedication to the memory of victims of 2008 Mumbai attacks

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Virginia Beach, Virginia – The US military is operating in an increasingly dangerous world in which it will have to do more with less, given an increasingly tight budget, the Joint Staff’s director of joint force development told the sixth annual 2012 Joint Warfighting Conference on Tuesday.

“I like to say about the environment that if you like the complexity, the uncertainty and the increasing danger of today, you’re really going to like tomorrow,” US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn told the audience.

“Nothing is really going to change. The world is going to remain complex, uncertain, and it’s going to be increasingly dangerous,” Flynn said.

Flynn emphasized the greater availability of information potentially empowering conventional and nontraditional government agencies. He referenced a Harvard Business Review article detailing the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks as an example.

“All the mission planning was done via Google Earth,” he said. “There was no investment in technology of (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms or anything like that.”

Flynn said the terrorists used cellular phone networks as command and control, in addition to social media to track and thwart the efforts of Indian commandos. “How much technology or how much investment was made to create that terrorist capability?” he rhetorically asked.

Flynn noted that in the future operating environment, both the technology and the threat will continue to increase at greater rates of change due to the accessibility of information.

“Now, in many ways, technology has been democratized,” he said. Years ago, billions of dollars on research and development could provide an operational advantage in technology for years, but today, because of the Internet, the same investment would only provide that advantage for days, or maybe months, he added.

All of this change, including rapid developments in the Arab world, he said, is coming at a time of sharp fiscal restraint.

“Nobody is writing us more checks,” he said. “When I go to work in the morning, nobody says, ‘Here’s some more money, see what you can do with it.’ Everybody says, ‘What can you do with less money, and can you deliver the same way?'”

Flynn pointed to the Cold War and the Arab Spring as examples of change in the operating environment.

“The Cold War lasted 42 years,” he said. “It was an evolutionary event characterized by deliberate change. The world was connected, but it was characterized by very deliberate change in our connectivity, and it was a chance to understand the context all the time.”

In contrast, he said, the Arab Spring occurred over only three to four months.

“This was revolutionary, and it caused us to have reactive change,” he said. “Through the hyper-connective world – the media environment – word of these events spread almost instantaneously, and our strategy, at best, was to hope to influence the events and the way the world would change.”

Space and cyber, the general said, are also influential in why the homeland is now part of the battle space. “Space and cyber will continue to play an increased role in events, with each becoming increasingly contested domains – so it’s a new domain that we’re going to have to contest,” Flynn said. “Security challenges will have both local and global aspects, we think, with events occurring across the globe.

“So the bottom line (is that) if you liked the past challenges of the past 11 years, you will like the future,” he said. (IATNS – With input from the American Forces Press Service) 

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