WASHINGTON — The future of the U.S. military hinges on cutting-edge technology, the sort of stuff that enables a less bulky, more sophisticated force to reliably relay data and act on it quickly, the House Armed Services Committee chairman said March 3.

“It’s not just a matter of building a lot of things,” Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, said in conversation with the American Enterprise Institute. “We have to make sure that those things meet the technological challenges of today’s warfare.”

Improving the systems needed to stay informed is crucial in an international environment where communications are targeted and contested. Military officials have referred to data as the new ammunition — a talking point that drives home the consequences of lackluster networks.

“It’s the No. 1 way that China is making us vulnerable, is through their cyber capabilities and their anti-satellite capabilities that can effectively take down our command and control and our ability to move information,” Smith said.

An effort to revolutionize how war is waged and how battlefield players talk to one another, known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, is underway at the Pentagon.

“We’re doing a lot of work on figuring out how to pass data,” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said at a March 8 CSIS event. “You’d think, hey, we’re commanders, why are you worried about data? Data is going to be the secret of the future.”

JADC2 aims to better connect sensors and shooters, streamlining decision making and responses to threats while managing information overload.

“You can have the biggest force in the world. If it’s not survivable, if it can’t get into the place that it needs to get in to and fight, then it’s really not doing you too much good,” Smith said. “And that’s an iterative process. It’s no, like, one thing.”

Making use of technologies like drones and artificial intelligence will be key, the congressman said, citing recent conflicts, including in Ethiopia.

“I’m really struck by some of the relatively small conflicts that have happened in the last few years, where that drone technology and that ability to move information has changed it,” Smith said.

The Department of Defense is now juggling more than 685 artificial intelligence projects, including some associated with major weapon systems, like the MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

The DOD considers AI a priority — a 2018 strategy stated the tech is expected to “impact every corner of the department” — and has invested in it. For fiscal year 2022, the department sought $874 million to “directly support” AI efforts, according to a Government Accountability Office tally.

China and Russia are making similar technological investments; the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has said both powers are “aggressively pursuing AI-enabled capabilities,” which will need confronting.

“If China thinks that we have the ability to protect our systems and to be survivable and to make their systems vulnerable,” Smith said, “that’s the best deterrence we can have.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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