Atlantic Council launches major commission to ensure US and allied military advantage in software-defined warfare

Commission chaired by former Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, former Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox, and President of Purdue University, Mung Chiang to inform US and allied priorities on how to realize a strategy of software-defined warfare.

WASHINGTON, DC – December 8, 2023 – Today, the Forward Defense program in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security launched the Commission on Software-Defined Warfare. The Commission’s co-chairs — former Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, former Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox, and President of Purdue University, Mung Chiang — will lead a distinguished group of commissioners in a focused effort to develop recommendations that would adopt or modify the relevant laws, regulations, policies, processes, or practices necessary to digitally transform and enable the US military and its allies.

The continued proliferation of commercial technology is transforming the battlefield; the advent of low-cost attritable drones, autonomy, and artificial intelligence is changing battlefield dynamics and could alter existing military balances of power. Competitors to the United States recognize and are adapting to this paradigm shift, with China investing in networked and autonomous weapon systems to achieve competitive advantages in multiple domains. Russia is demonstrating some of these systems against Ukraine. Yet, while US and allied commercial industries are at the leading edge of software advancement, the US Department of Defense and its partners are largely pursuing a twentieth century, platform-centric approach to capability development that prevents the United States and its allies from taking full advantage of cutting-edge developments in the digital space.

As such, this Commission will consider how the Defense Department and US allies ought to approach software-defined warfare, which consists of leveraging modern software practices to optimize or improve defense practices through iterative updates and the application of new software capabilities to existing defense systems and processes.

“The United States and its allies face the challenge of balancing today’s demands to update and extend the readiness of the current force while also building the hyperconnected, AI-enabled, manned and unmanned force of the future,” said Esper. “Commercial software, when integrated with existing military hardware, can help bridge the joint force we have today with the one we need tomorrow.”

This Commission follows the success of the Council’s 2022-2023 Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption, which advanced recommendations for the Defense Department to rapidly absorb commercial innovations at scale. The Commission on Software-Defined Warfare will consider the role of key players across the defense enterprise in enabling the United States to maintain an enduring competitive edge in the race for technological and military superiority vis-à-vis China.

The Commission’s work will culminate in a framework for the US legislative and executive branches, defense prime contractors and tech start-ups, and US allies and partners to holistically approach software capability development and integration with military hardware. The Commission’s three co-chairs will be joined by a team of Commissioners comprising former government and current industry leaders, to include:

  • Rob Bassett Cross, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Adarga
  • Prashant Bhuyan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Accrete AI
  • Michael D. Brasseur, Chief Strategy Officer, Saab, Inc.
  • John Brennan, General Manager, Public Sector, Scale AI
  • Gen James E Cartwright, USMC (ret.), Board Director, Atlantic Council; 8th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC (ret.), Board Director, Atlantic Council; 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Steve Escaravage, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Frank Finelli, Managing Director, The Carlyle Group
  • Dan Gelston, Group President, Defense & Security, CAE
  • James “Hondo” Geurts, Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition
  • Susan M. Gordon, Former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence
  • Jon Gruen, Chief Executive Officer, Fortem Technologies
  • Lt Gen S. Clinton Hinote, USAF (ret.), Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Air Force Futures, US Air Force
  • Jags Kandasamy, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Latent AI
  • Paul Kwan, Managing Director, Global Resilience, General Catalyst
  • Rob Lehman, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Saronic
  • Ellen M. Lord, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, US Department of Defense
  • Sean Moriarty, Chief Executive Officer, Primer AI
  • Nathan Parker, General Manager, Defense and Public Sector, Kodiak Robotics
  • John Ridge, CBE, DirectorDefence Innovation, UK Ministry of Defence
  • Nadia Schadlow, Former US Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy 
  • Gundbert Scherf, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Helsing
  • Lt Gen John Shanahan, USAF (ret.), Inaugural Director, Artificial Intelligence Center, US Department of Defense
  • Stu Shea, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Peraton
  • Trae Stephens, General Partner, Founders Fund
  • Tyler Sweatt, Chief Executive Officer, Second Front Systems
  • ADM Scott H. Swift, USN (ret.), 35th Commander, US Pacific Fleet
  • Jim Taiclet, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Lockheed Martin
  • Mark Valentine, President, Global Government, Skydio

To learn more about the Commission, please visit here. To keep up with the project’s latest developments, subscribe to Forward Defense.

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Image: Defense Acquisition University