July 21, 2020 —
Members of Congress and Pentagon officials are increasingly focused on developing emerging military technologies to enhance U.S. national security and keep pace with U.S. competitors. The U.S. military has long relied upon technological superiority to ensure its dominance in conflict and to underwrite U.S. national security. In recent years, however, technology has both rapidly evolved and rapidly proliferated—largely as a result of advances in the commercial sector. As former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has observed, this development has threatened to erode the United States’ traditional sources of military advantage.1 The Department of Defense (DOD) has undertaken a number of initiatives in recent years in an effort to arrest this trend. For example, in 2014, DOD announced the Third Offset Strategy, an effort to exploit emerging technologies for military and security purposes as well as associated strategies, tactics, and concepts of operation.2 In support of this strategy, DOD established a number of organizations focused on defense innovation, including the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group.
More recently, the 2018 National Defense Strategy has echoed the underpinnings of the Third Offset Strategy, noting that U.S. national security will likely be affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…. New technologies include advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology—the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.3
Although the United States is the leader in developing many of these technologies, China and Russia—key strategic competitors—are making steady progress in developing advanced military technologies. As they are integrated into foreign and domestic military forces and deployed, these technologies could hold significant implications for congressional considerations and the future of international security writ large.
This report provides an overview of selected emerging military technologies in the United States, China, and Russia:
lethal autonomous weapons,
directed energy weapons,
and quantum technology.
It also discusses relevant initiatives within international institutions to monitor or regulate these technologies, considers the potential implications of emerging military technologies, and outlines associated issues for Congress. Such issues could hold implications for congressional authorization, appropriation, oversight, and treaty-making.