Engineering, Technology, and National Defense

NORMAN R. AUGUSTINE

When we were putting this symposium together, we wanted our keynote speaker to be someone with an important perspective of national security matters, a person with a very strong set of academic credentials, and a very dynamic speaker. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here. So what, you might ask, am I doing up here at the podium? I am pinch-hitting for John Deutch, who was unavoidably detained in Washington.

But please don’t be disappointed. John Deutch and Norman Augustine have much in common. We both served on the Defense Science Board; we both served two terms with the government; we both served in the Department of Defense; we both were born on July 27; and we both were married on January 20. But there the similarity ends. In all modesty, Augustine is much cleverer, more sophisticated, handsomer, and a far better tennis player than Deutch. Most important from your perspective, Deutch couldn’t be here today and Augustine could.

If you don’t like my lecture, I hope that you will write John and tell him you are angry at him for messing up your day. If you do like my lecture, I particularly hope that you will write and tell him you didn’t miss him at all. In short, feel free to write to John and share your thoughts with him. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.

Today, I’d like to focus on several trends affecting global technology and national defense. One obvious theme in both arenas is change. There are many ways to measure the pace of change in technology, but among the most intriguing I’ve seen is the effort to evaluate change quantitatively. For example, I’ve seen studies that look at college-catalog course descriptions in engineering. It turns out that the half-life for the material covered in these courses is about 5 to 10



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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium Engineering, Technology, and National Defense NORMAN R. AUGUSTINE When we were putting this symposium together, we wanted our keynote speaker to be someone with an important perspective of national security matters, a person with a very strong set of academic credentials, and a very dynamic speaker. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here. So what, you might ask, am I doing up here at the podium? I am pinch-hitting for John Deutch, who was unavoidably detained in Washington. But please don’t be disappointed. John Deutch and Norman Augustine have much in common. We both served on the Defense Science Board; we both served two terms with the government; we both served in the Department of Defense; we both were born on July 27; and we both were married on January 20. But there the similarity ends. In all modesty, Augustine is much cleverer, more sophisticated, handsomer, and a far better tennis player than Deutch. Most important from your perspective, Deutch couldn’t be here today and Augustine could. If you don’t like my lecture, I hope that you will write John and tell him you are angry at him for messing up your day. If you do like my lecture, I particularly hope that you will write and tell him you didn’t miss him at all. In short, feel free to write to John and share your thoughts with him. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you. Today, I’d like to focus on several trends affecting global technology and national defense. One obvious theme in both arenas is change. There are many ways to measure the pace of change in technology, but among the most intriguing I’ve seen is the effort to evaluate change quantitatively. For example, I’ve seen studies that look at college-catalog course descriptions in engineering. It turns out that the half-life for the material covered in these courses is about 5 to 10

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium years. When one examines the utilization of engineering library reference documents, these tend to have an even shorter useful half-life—about 1 to 2 years. And it has even been demonstrated that my own books reach their half-life the moment they hit the shelves! Another quantitative measure of the pace of technology is the interval between generations of integrated circuits. In the case of random access memory, a generation turns over every 2 to 2 1/2 years. This has been true since the invention of the semiconductor chip, which itself represented a great technological leap. For most of us who are members of this Academy—whose median age, I have computed, is 70—the principal calculating tool for the bulk of our careers was the slide rule. The invention of the Friedan and the Marchant seemed like an enormous breakthrough to most of us. Along with the slide rule, we used blueprints and French curves. Compare that with engineering projects today, in which you have teams of engineers working on computers all around the world interacting every few moments without ever coming in direct contact. Qualitatively, just in my lifetime, we have seen the advent of nuclear weapons, sent a dozen Americans to the surface of the moon, created television, launched weather satellites, created jet travel, designed and built electronic computers, cellular telephones and precision navigation systems, invented polio vaccines, and perfected heart surgery. The list of accomplishments is as astonishing as it is seemingly endless. And the pace of such developments would seem, if anything, to be accelerating. Similarly, in the area of national security concerns, the only constant seems to be change. When I was a youth, the overriding national security objective was to win the Big War. We did that. For the next 40 years, the principal goal was to deter a Bigger War. We did that, too. Today, our objective has once again changed substantially. The objective, as I would characterize it, is to deter smaller conflicts, and that has proven to be no less daunting than our previous goals. Somehow, the end of the balance of terror seems to have made the world safe —for smaller wars. That is the irony of the situation in which we find ourselves today. National security considerations have changed vastly as the world ’s political underpinnings were restructured following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. For example, one of the things that now distinguishes the United States from the former Warsaw Pact nations is that the United States has a legal Communist party. The last time I was in Moscow, the lines outside of McDonald’s restaurant were substantially longer than the lines outside Lenin’s tomb. (I might add that the crowds outside McDonald’s were generally happier and more flamboyant, too!) And when I was in what was then Leningrad, I met a very distraught politician who had just run for re-election unopposed—and lost. These are just a few vignettes I have personally observed, but they suggest the vast transformation we’ve seen in a very short period of history. Looking back, I have to remind myself that it was just a few years ago that a NASA

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium witness, testifying before a congressional committee on behalf of the newly proposed Apollo program, was asked by a very skeptical member of the panel, “If you do go to the moon, what do you expect to find when you get there?” And the witness very seriously eyed the member of Congress and replied, “Russians, sir. Russians.” Today, an answer like that would seem to be emanating from another planet. Similarly, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting the United States in the late 1950s, he met CIA Director Allen Dulles in a receiving line. Khrushchev, who was not known for his humor, looked Dulles in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Oh yes, I believe we have some of the same people working for each other.” Today, in all candor, we can say we have come full circle: Many of the same people do work for both the United States and the states of the former Soviet Union—not in espionage but in business, science, and other areas. The extent of these and other changes makes me think of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who said that we’re expected to believe three impossible things before breakfast every morning. That is kind of the world in which we find ourselves living. DEFINING NATIONAL SECURITY OBJECTIVES In these unsettled times, I would suggest that we have three principal national security objectives. The first is to protect ourselves and our allies against nuclear attacks. In that regard, this is the first time in the history of the world that a vast empire has broken apart with 26,000 or so nuclear weapons scattered around the countryside. You may have noticed—I certainly did—that right after the war in the Persian Gulf, the Indian defense minister said, “The principal lesson to be learned from the war in the Persian Gulf is never fight America without nuclear weapons.” I am sure there were others who noted that view, and some perhaps agreed with it. The principal tasks we have in terms of this first national security objective is to: try to preclude additional parties from obtaining nuclear weapons; destroy many of the existing weapons and do so peacefully; and deter the use of the weapons that remain. With regard to the last point, if we are not fully successful, we must be prepared to destroy the weapons just before they are used or defend against them after they are released. Unfortunately, it is probably only a matter of time before we are going to be confronted with a renegade nation or organization in possession of a nuclear weapon. We must squarely face that very unpleasant prospect. In any case, our first and overriding objective is to be certain that we can protect our populace against the use of nuclear weapons. The second major national security objective is to preserve and protect our national interests short of nuclear warfare. I include in this category such things as dealing with direct attacks, as we saw in Pearl Harbor, or indirect threats, such as those which occurred in the Persian Gulf, where resources of vital interest to the United States were involved. We must also prepare for new kinds of threats,

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium such as “information warfare” in which an adversary uses computer viruses or other means to disrupt militarily vital communication or information systems. Either unilaterally or as part of multinational efforts, we must be prepared to selectively use our forces in widely varied parts of the world (such has recently been the case in Panama, Serbia, Somalia, and Haiti). I happen to think it is also a legitimate use of military force to undertake humanitarian missions (such as in Rwanda and Northern Iraq), as the national will dictates. The third objective must be to provide an insurance policy for the unforeseen. That is, we must retain the ability to deal with the re-emergence of, for example, a newly militaristic Russia or a change in our relationship with China or Iran. That insurance policy will require the maintenance of a robust, multifaceted defense capability. In that regard, our nation’s considerable technological and engineering expertise is of vital importance, especially in the sense of preserving basic research capabilities, maintaining viable design and prototyping teams, and continuing to seek technological breakthroughs. The challenge over the next several years will be to meet these ambitious objectives with far fewer resources. Today, we have a defense budget that is about the size of the interest on the national debt, or about one-fourth of what we spend on health care. And even that level of funding is going to shrink. More than 1 million defense workers already have lost their jobs, and many more job losses are yet to come. The die is cast for at least the next 2 years due to the lag time between the federal budgeting and expenditure process. Continued major declines in defense spending will have a significant impact on the engineering profession, as a great many of us have been heavily involved in defense-related work. That means our profession is going to have to make some fundamental adjustments just to remain viable. THE GLOBALIZATION OF TECHNOLOGY One way to counteract the effects of the decline in defense spending is through technology. Technology has long played a critical role in U.S. defense policy, offsetting the relatively smaller size of American military forces. Furthermore, it is to the everlasting credit of the American people that they have a great aversion to accepting U.S. casualties on the battlefield. The notion that we have won the war if the last soldier standing is an American is offensive to our national morality. But however laudable this goal, it does limit substantially our ability to act. It also means that there will be a much greater demand for enhancing military capability through avenues other than maintaining a large standing army. Achieving the conflicting goals of fewer casualties and a smaller armed force depends on continuing to create superior technology. This will be the case increasingly as we encounter the threats of the next century. One trend relevant to this vision of future U.S. defense needs is the globalization of technology, resulting in part from the decline of the defense sector as

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium the major contributor to technological innovation. There is no better example than information technology, a field in which, few would argue, the leading edge in research and development is located outside the defense industry. The bulk of such work today is clearly in the commercial sector. Fifteen years ago, roughly half of all integrated circuits were bought by the Department of Defense. Today, the department buys just 2 or 3 percent. Similarly, in the information world, knowledge is extremely fluid, with engineers and scientists migrating virtually anywhere their talents are prized. Barriers previously established to keep defense information from moving outside U.S. borders are no longer leakproof, and other nations are actively challenging U.S. technological superiority through their own efforts. Both of these developments have profound implications for national security. For example, the United States was not the first but the thirteenth nation in the world to deploy antiship missiles, which can pose a major threat even to capital ships. Antitank missiles have spread throughout the world and threaten even the most advanced tank. Shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles number in the hundreds of thousands and are a serious problem for any aircraft penetrating their zone of coverage. There are, of course, other ways to look at technological challenges, as is illustrated by a couple of Augustine’s laws. In terms of creating new technological capabilities, we in the United States have certainly excelled. But in terms of our ability to control costs, some would say we have failed. You may, for example, be familiar with my attempts to project the unit cost of tactical aircraft over time. According to my calculations, we are on a course that simply cannot be sustained —not just in aircraft but in spacecraft, tanks, submarines, and surface ships as well. The extremely capable military hardware that we are producing is becoming unaffordable, particularly given the smaller defense budgets we have. With the spiraling costs of new technology, as the price of a weapon goes up, we buy fewer of them; the unit price then goes up some more, and we buy still fewer. According to my law, which tracks a trend that began in the era of the Wright brothers, the unit cost of a tactical aircraft increases by a factor of four every decade. This means that in the year 2054, the entire defense budget will buy only one tactical airplane! My projection was first made in 1966 and was based on real data. Unfortunately, we are still right on course. Clearly, something is going to have to change. Another one of my laws addresses the increasing electrification of aircraft. In the original Wright brothers’ aircraft, about one-tenth of a percent of the plane’s weight was comprised of electrical equipment. About 1 percent of the weight of World War II fighters was devoted to electronics. In the series of modern fighters, it is now about 10 percent, and we continue to see order-of-magnitude increases. I’ve projected this trend forward, and in only a few years, the entire weight of an aircraft will be consumed by electronics. There will be no room for engines, fuel, a pilot, or anything else.

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium How, you may ask, can both of these laws be true? On the one hand, the cost of aircraft will keep rising by a factor of four every 10 years, and on the other hand, there soon won’t be any room left to add anything. The only way both of these laws can be true is to create something that can be added to airplanes which costs a lot but weighs nothing. It is a great tribute to the ingenuity of American engineers that they have in fact developed just such a substance—something that weighs nothing, costs greatly, and obeys the laws of thermodynamics. (Like entropy, it will always increase.) That substance, of course, is software. LOOKING AHEAD Where are all these trends leading us? For one thing, I think we are likely to continue to see much more international cooperation among engineers working in the commercial sector and—to a lesser extent—in the development of military products. The internationalization of the engineering enterprise could have some interesting and challenging sociological effects, particularly in the commercial sphere. I serve on the board of a company that is highly internationalized. Interestingly, the transnational employees of this global firm show more togetherness, camaraderie, and teamwork with each other than they do with employees in competing companies in their own countries. Internationalization is particularly significant in engineering, because engineers live at the front lines of the global marketplace. Contrast their experience to that of physicians. Most doctors I know consider as competitors physicians who live within 10 miles of them. However, doctors are only modestly affected by the activities of medical professionals located more than 10 or 20 miles away. The same is true of most lawyers. Engineers, on the other hand, are increasingly being called upon to compete globally in order to meet world-class standards. Internationalization poses another challenge. Today, one can hire highly qualified engineers in India, many of whom are trained in the finest schools in America. They will work for about one-tenth of what we pay engineers in this country. In Russia, one can find engineers who will work for about one-tenth of what engineers will work for in India. The question is, should we let the free market work unfettered? Should we hire foreign engineers and lay off American engineers? That is one unpleasant option. But if we do that, what are the ensuing implications for maintaining national security capabilities? For maintaining our standard of living? I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. But it goes without saying that we still have far too much engineering capability in this country devoted to national defense as compared with what we seem to be able to afford. Thus, we have to consolidate to stay efficient. There is a certain irony in our current situation. We know that technology is going to be increasingly important to national security. Yet, most of this technology will originate from commercial industries whose activities are increasingly

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THE GLOBAL AGENDA FOR AMERICAN ENGINEERING: Proceedings of a Symposium global in scope. As a result, the United States no longer will be able to control the diffusion of many militarily important technologies. Our task—a difficult one, to be sure—is to respond to this challenging set of circumstances in a way that ensures both our national security and the health of the U.S. engineering enterprise.

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