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Emerging Threats and Opportunities


The UK Chief of General Staff (CGS), General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, spoke on 29 Sep about how the UK Army is prepared for the challenges of the future. The full speech is available here, with the following quote being of note: “It is the capability to war-fight which provides the credibility to underpin a form of flexible modern deterrence – ensuring resilience in defence and unpredictability in offence – and it is this capability that drives our competitors to operate in the shadows.” This quote invokes the ‘stability/instability paradox’ of classic nuclear deterrence theory, and highlights why the CGS affirmed roles across the spectrum of conflict to respective functional areas of UK Defence.

Major Power Competition

The outbreak of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over past weeks has reportedly differed from previous outbreaks in violence, through the presence of Turkish military support alongside Azerbaijan. This support reportedly includes Syrian mercenaries. Complicating the situation is the religious lens created through an Armenian Christian majority and an Azerbaijani Shi’a Muslim majority. While this is not the dominant lens, it lends consideration of involvement of Iranian interests (Iranians served with Azerbaijan in the 1991 conflict) and Russian interests (Russian support for Armenia likewise occurred in 1991). A visual explainer of the conflict is available here.

This conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been described as a ‘frozen conflict’, with no political resolution, and therefore a latent potential to re-ignite. The Atlantic Council claim this condition also exists in South Ossetia, Transnistria, Abkhazia, Crimea, and Luhansk and Donestsk. The Warsaw Institute argues that ‘Russia maintains frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet zone because such a solution impedes further development of Euro-Atlantic integration,’ thereby maintaining her influence.

International Crisis Group presented on the risks of a conflagration of the Nagnorno-Karabakh conflict when the long-standing Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, was ousted in Armenia’s 2018 ‘Velvet Revolution.’ Whether regional powers compete through this new conflict will be a point of interest over coming months, particularly for NATO. Also, for those not yet familiar with the FORCOMD adoption of the Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE) training adversary that imitates frictions in the Caucasus; the primer is available here (DPN).  

Information Warfare, Irregular Warfare and Terrorism

The newly-published National Cyber Power Index 2020 (NCPI) has scored Australia eight out of 30 major nations for its ‘cyber intent’, compared to sixteenth for ‘cyber capability’. The report highlights Australia’s sizable capability gap in regards to its actual cyber power.

From Modern War Institute, an analytic piece examining the recently released Irregular Warfare Annex to the US National Defense Strategy. This piece argues that in a context of Major Power Competition, 'preparing only for high-intensity conflict is insufficient to preserve influence, legitimacy, and credibility against adversaries who are not waiting for an outbreak of hostilities in order to compete.' Understanding how the U.S. intends to compete across the spectrum of conflict is therefore of interest as both a policy and deterrence statement.  

A recent report from CNA examined the study of social media bots to explore their implications for US special operations forces (SOF) and the broader national security community. This report is based on a differing context – the US special operations community includes the U.S. military’s PSYOPS capability – but nonetheless explores the threat of automation and the role of social media bots as a tool of disinformation. This report builds upon earlier analysis by CNA exploring the role of SOF in Great Power Competition. This earlier report shares themes advocated by the UK CGS, above, while highlighting the importance of new modes of influence (e.g. offensive social media attacks).


CSIRO has recently released a report examining opportunities for key industries to leverage science and technology to help restore economic growth and resilience. This report is of interest to Defence in the areas of Digital, Energy, and Manufacturing trends and recommendations.

AlphaBeta recently released a report examining Australia’s digital resilience that included the following conclusion. ‘Australian businesses implemented as much change in some technologies over the past year as they had over the past 10 years. Newly adopted technology improved the resilience of many Australian firms, helping them to cushion the impact of COVID on their sales, employment and productivity… those that have adapted by introducing complementary changes to workplace practices and systems are three times more likely to improve productivity.’ The report therefore reinforces themes articulated from the AARC throughout 2020 of the pandemic as an accelerant to existing trends of change. Also of note within this report is the observation that ‘the productivity performance of firms was stronger among those that introduced new systems and workplace practices to make the most of new working arrangements.’

Mad Scientist Blog have promoted a report from the Army War College examining Technology Convergences and the application of such emerging technology to military needs. The report shares many similarities with the DSTG Science and Technology Outlook 2020 and discussion regarding the impact of Quantum Computing, discussed within this AARC Seminar.

The US Army is moving forward with the development of electric engines for their tactical and combat vehicles. LTGEN Eric Wesley, deputy commander of the US Army Futures Command, stated electric engines would be quieter in tactical settings, simpler to maintain, and it will increase operational range. LTGEN Wesley explained the challenge with electric engines will be how a land force can recharge its vehicles in remote battlefield settings.


  • New America and Arizona State University recently held their annual Future Security Forum online. The program can help steer you toward presentations of interest, published on YouTube here
  • 13 October, 1730-1830, AIIA Victoria is hosting an online presentation on ‘The Kurds in a Fragmenting Middle East.’ Details are available here.
  • 23 October: Defence Innovation Network’s: Virtual Industry Forum: High-speed Sensors, Effectors and Directed Energy. This is an online event. Details are available here.
  • 1 November: DSTG is hosting their Emerging Disruptive Technology Assessment Symposium Agile Command and Control (AC2). Details are available here.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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