China Defense Industry Defense Policy Defense Technologies East Asia Indo-Pacific National Security Security & Defense United States and Canada
Report November 30, 2020

The Five Revolutions: Examining defense innovation in the Indo-Pacific region

By Tate Nurkin



Watch our video for a preview of the report’s key insights, featuring remarks from Forward Defense Deputy Director Clementine Starling, Thales North America Vice President Jacob Markish, and report author Tate Nurkin.

An emerging center of gravity

in Forward Defense‘s latest report, generously supported by Thales, author Tate Nurkin assesses the dimensions and relevance of technological innovation across the Indo-Pacific region in order to better understand and prepare for the most important emerging defense trends.

In only the last few years, the Indo-Pacific region has become an increasingly dynamic environment for defense innovation. China’s rapid military modernization and increasingly aggressive behavior have prompted parallel technology investments by other Indo-Pacific nations, while the region is now at the heart of the geopolitical and military contest between the United States and China. This significant acceleration will likely impact the balance of power in this prominent theater for great-power competition. Moreover, the trends and developments currently underway in the Indo-Pacific may be indicative of the future conduct of warfare among great and middle powers around the world.

The Indo-Pacific region has become a center of gravity for innovation in defense technologies and emerging military capabilities.

Tate Nurkin, The Five Revolutions

Drivers of defense technology priorities in the Indo-Pacific region

The report begins by exploring a series of strategic and operational forces and tensions that are shaping innovation priorities in the region, especially for China and the four nations of the reinvigorated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad”): the United States, Australia, Japan, and India. Key drivers include:

  1. An increasingly assertive China, which is at the center of geopolitical concern and, as a result, of defense modernization and innovation efforts among many states across the region;
  2. A variety of traditional and nontraditional security challenges, including the prevalence of and continued potential for gray-zone contingencies; and
  3. Activity in and across three “new” domains of space, cyber, and the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a powerful driver not just of military capabilities and competition, but also of how militaries in the region organize to better operate in a multi-domain environment.

The “Five Revolutions” framework

Assessing the dimensions and relevance of technological innovation across the Indo-Pacific requires examination not just of the what of technology development, but also the why. Accordingly, the report advances a new “Five Revolutions” framework to capture defense technology and investment efforts in the region, focused on the intended military effects of new capabilities rather than on their technological characteristics alone. The framework tracks efforts to achieve revolutions in five broad capability areas:

  1. Toward Perfect Situational Awareness: A Revolution in Perception, Processing, and Cognition
  2. An Age of Hyper-Enabled Platforms and People: A Revolution in Human and Machine Performance
  3. New Efficiencies and the Impending Design Age: A Revolution in Manufacturing, Supply Chains, and Logistics
  4. Connectivity, Lethality, and Flexibility: A Revolution in Communication, Navigation, Targeting, and Strike
  5. Monitoring, Manipulation, and Weaponization: A Revolution in Cyber and Information Operations

Key takeaways

The report summarizes key themes and policy implications of the high-level review of defense-technology development in China, Japan, India, Australia, and across the region. Key takeaways include the following:

  • Key technology- and capability-development activities among US allies and Quad partners are focused, first and foremost, on enhancing the ability to detect security threats and challenges that are increasingly difficult to anticipate or recognize.
  • Building improved situational awareness and multi-mission capabilities will be a priority as militaries seek to become more agile and better equipped to respond to a diverse set of possible threats and challenges.
  • Improving the range of possible responses available to operators and decision-makers—including more non-kinetic capabilities—will offer militaries more options for crafting appropriate responses to traditional and nontraditional contingencies in the region.
  • Technology development will also be centered on building more lethal forces, in order to enhance deterrence and to ensure the capacity to fight in a high-intensity kinetic conflict, even if such a conflict is less likely than other, more subtle, challenges.
  • Collaboration between the United States and its allies on defense-technology development—as well as other areas, such as operational concepts, training, technological standards, and ethics and safety of technology use—should be encouraged and expanded in order to ensure a higher degree of interoperability, especially in the relatively newer domains of cyber, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Forward Defense, housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, generates ideas and connects stakeholders in the defense ecosystem to promote an enduring military advantage for the United States, its allies, and partners. Our work identifies the defense strategies, capabilities, and resources the United States needs to deter and, if necessary, prevail in future conflict.

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Image: US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham