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The US defense R&D establishment has been seeking new ways to preserve the American advantage in asymmetric warfare. DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO) unveiled its updated approach to winning or deterring future conflicts during an event which attracted about 300 innovators and entrepreneurs. STO program managers outlined new areas of interest and explored innovative technology solutions for strategic national security challenges.

STO’s new strategy rests on the recognition that traditional U.S. asymmetric technology advantage—such as highly advanced satellites, stealth aircraft, or precision munitions—today offer a reduced strategic value because of growing global access to comparable high-tech systems and components, many of which are now commercially available.

Additionally, the high cost and sometimes decades-long development timelines for new military systems can’t compete with the fast refresh rate of electronics component technology on the commercial market, which can make new military systems obsolete before they’re delivered.

According to military-technologies.ne, STO’s updated strategy seeks a new asymmetric advantage—one that imposes complexity on adversaries by harnessing the power of dynamic, coordinated, and highly autonomous composable systems.

“In ‘mosaic warfare,’ individual components can respond to needs in real time to create desired outcomes,” said Tom Burns, director of STO. “The goal is to fight as a network to create a chain of effects—or, more accurately because these effects are not linear, ‘effects webs’—to deter and defeat adversaries across multiple scales of conflict intensity. This could be anything from conventional force-on-force battles to more nebulous ‘Gray Zone’ conflicts, which don’t reach the threshold of traditional military engagements but can be equally disruptive and subversive.”

U.S. military power has traditionally relied upon monolithic military systems where one type of aircraft, for example, is designed to provide a single end-to-end capability tailored to a very specific warfighting context—and be a significant loss if shot down. In contrast, the composable effects webs concept seeks a mosaic-like flexibility in designing effects for any threat scenario.

By using less expensive systems brought together on demand as the conflict unfolds, these effects webs would enable diverse, agile applications—from a kinetic engagement in a remote desert setting, to multiple small strike teams operating in a bustling mega city, or an information operation to counter an adversary spreading false information in a population threatening friendly forces and strategic objectives.

Mosaics can rapidly be tailored to accommodate available resources, adapt to dynamic threats, and be resilient to losses and attrition.

“Applying the great flexibility of the mosaic concept to warfare, lower-cost, less complex systems may be linked together in a vast number of ways to create desired, interwoven effects tailored to any scenario. Even if an adversary can neutralize a number of pieces of the mosaic, the collective can instantly respond as needed to still achieve the desired, overall effect,” said Dan Patt, deputy director of STO.

STO’s strategy stands to enhance the effectiveness of existing military capabilities across all domains – maritime, ground, air, space, and cyberspace, as well as enable new, low-cost unmanned systems that the Services, DARPA, and companies anticipate building in the future.

To further the new vision, STO has identified specific areas of interest for proposals to achieve next-generation composable effects webs: Situation Understanding, Multi-Domain Maneuver, Hybrid Effects, System of Systems (SoS), Maritime Systems, System of System-Enhanced Small Units (SESU), and Foundational Strategic Technologies and Systems.