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The Catalyst Looks at the Military the U.S. Needs in an Age of Technology

April 27, 2017 by William McKenzie
The spring issue of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute features several contributors who address technology’s impact on the military. They also present recommendations for dealing with so many changes.

As we all know, technology is changing everything we do from driving a car to fielding a phone call to watching television. The world of the military is no different. Technology has brought rapid changes to the ways of providing security and even the definition of the battlefield. Like the rest of society, the military has had to race to keep pace with these changes.

The spring issue of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute features several contributors who address technology’s impact on the military. They also present recommendations for dealing with so many changes. 

  • Marie O’Neill Sciarrone, former Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, looks at the new battleground of cyber warfare and what it means. Says Sciarrone in her essay

    Cyber warfare should not be thought of as computer against computer, but a much broader concept. It is an effort through cyber space or using a digital means to attack an opponent. These attacks could range from state-sponsored infiltration with the objective of disrupting information systems, to individual hackers trying to make a political statement or influence outcomes.  
  • General Norton Schwartz, former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force and now head of Business Executives for National Security, explains that the U.S. must make sure the military can nimbly support and acquire the next generation of technology. Some of this starts with the Pentagon adapting better to a fast-moving environment. He describes the challenge this way:

    For all the promise of this type of technology, it will be all for naught unless the Department of Defense finds a means to improve its all-too-bureaucratic acquisition system. Our enemy combatants operate across the land, sea, air, space, and cyber space domains with breathtaking speed. We've learned after a decade-and-a-half of combating terrorism and the hacking of our government and business servers, just how adaptive those adversaries are.  
  • Rep. Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoes the need for greater adaptability to modern threats. As he writes: 

    Our 1950s bureaucratic organizations and processes cannot keep up with the pace of change of threats and the pace of technological change. 
  • Admiral Patrick Walsh, former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and now a senior fellow at SMU’s Tower Center, argues that the military must be adept at training and developing technologically-savvy young Americans. According to the 34-year Navy veteran:

    We need to open the aperture in terms of how we look at tapping into a pool of very talented people but who don’t follow the traditional sorts of norms for military recruits. In many cases, these may be people who did not go to or graduate from college. But they are exceptionally competent and proficient in the technical environment. It is self-defeating if we won’t talk to these guys because we don’t like the tattoos they’re wearing.
  • Tim Kane, author of Bleeding Talent and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, examines how the military can better identify and evaluate talent, especially rising young leaders. According to Kane: 
    The immediate problem is not that millennials are different, rather that warfare is different. Faster. The Pentagon is different, too. Slower. Although millennials volunteering for service are extraordinarily talented and agile, the military personnel bureaucracies are rigid.

 Each of these pieces offers solutions, including ways in which the U.S. military can prevail in a technological age. As Thornberry writes: What we can do is be prepared and be agile. 


William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

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