US can use tech as strategic tool to dissuade Chinese aggression, experts say

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New and emerging technologies could bolster U.S. information-sharing capabilities as part of a strategic effort to combat Beijing’s aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific.

The U.S. needs to explore more strategic-oriented avenues for deterring Beijing’s increasingly bellicose posture in the Indo-Pacific, including using technology to enhance information-sharing capabilities with global allies and regional populations, experts said during an event hosted by the Hudson Institute think tank on Monday.

Rather than solely focusing on strengthening the U.S. military’s fighting ability and planning for a direct confrontation with China, government officials can use new and emerging technologies as part of a broader effort to deter Chinese aggression, panelists at the event argued. 

Dan Patt — a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology — said “there’s a real potential for technology” when it comes to more quickly collecting information and then disseminating it across government and with allied nations in a way that can effectively inform decisionmaking. 

Monday’s discussion followed up on a Hudson Institute report from last month — co-authored by Patt — that said, in part, that the Pentagon “could employ technology to develop operational concepts or tactics, orchestrate them over time, better understand an opponent’s beliefs and subsequently shape them” to support U.S. interests. 

“As we start to understand this ability to create new indicators and warnings that are appropriate, and push them forward across the government and to military commanders, I think it's really exciting to both be able to measure the best baseline and help us understand — at a more granular and a more real-time level — how things that we're doing are affecting this baseline,” Patt said. 

Ezra Cohen — an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as acting under secretary of defense for intelligence and security in the Trump administration — said that faster and more open information sharing between the U.S., allied nations and other regional parties could be particularly helpful in deterring Chinese President Xi Jinping from pursuing his ambitions for territorial expansion. 

Beyond government-focused information sharing, Cohen said the ability to “rapidly get information out to the population” in the Indo-Pacific region would be beneficial to potentially help stymie Beijing’s desire to launch an invasion of Taiwan.

“That's really a place where I hope that technology can kind of help us get over this coordination inertia that we're really stuck in now,” Cohen said, adding that if Xi moves to invade Taiwan, “knowing that the population in the region is not going to be very kind to him, I think that's something important, and we need to create that condition.”

Retired Rear Adm. Michael Studeman — a former director of intelligence of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and a former commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence — said this must include working “to get more eyes and ears forward” on relevant information that can counter Beijing’s ambitions, rather than just relying on “too many big platforms that are slow lumbering” to detect and share relevant data in a more siloed space. 

Studeman said this includes using the information environment to publicly share videos or images of Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific — such as the Chinese coast guard’s recent use of a water cannon on a Philippine boat in the South China Sea — “so that Beijing has to own them.”

With China using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence “to be able to use machines to aid predictability,” Studeman added that “the whole notion of making sure that you give data to those [types of] machines now … that is a notion which is translated into a number of different operational planning activities” across the Pentagon and military components.

“We have a keen sense of how to play that,” he added.

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