Center for Strategic Decision Research


Future Approaches, Including the Development Of New Technologies

Mr. Steve Coggins
Senior Vice President and General Manager, EMEA,
Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Global security is threatened in more than one way, and terrorism is not the only form in which threats materialize. There is in fact a full spectrum of conflict. At one end are violent civil unrest, subversion, and asymmetric warfare. More conventional forms of warfare are clearly not out of the question either and, at the other end of the spectrum, many would agree that the open use of weapons of mass destruction is also a real threat. 

As for tackling a threat once it has erupted, I would argue that some of the recent technology developments could be applied across the spectrum in detection, prevention and resolution. But first, I would like to reflect on some of the root causes of terrorism and other security threats, and suggest that technology can play a part in alleviating those threats at their source. 

I believe that even if the root causes of terrorism can be successfully addressed, there will not be a set of solutions that go wide enough, deep enough, and fast enough to relieve the world of threats in the foreseeable future. We will still need to counter threats as they materialize. But can technology help to prevent the causes? 


If we look around us, we can see some of the fundamental sources of the aggravation that festers between communities and boils over into confrontation. Here are a few of them. 

  • There is severe poverty, and not only regarding cash or property, but also regarding general welfare, including health, education, and opportunity. Deprivation can generate a climate of aimlessness and despair that can easily turn into a resentful backlash. Technology can be brought to bear on these issues. For example, collaborative virtual environments are increasingly being used for medical practice, industrial production, and technical research. Such environments provide access to a wealth of professional expertise and detailed information that can be used in underdeveloped regions.
  • This type of technology can also be harnessed to prospect for natural resources, such as oil and gas, in remote or otherwise difficult-to-access environments. Such virtual prospecting can provide accurate forecasts on the likely return on investment at far lower cost and risk than traditional methods, and could be just the thing to jump-start poor nations' economies. 
  • International crime is another cause of terrorism, both as a source of funding for so-called ideological terrorists and in the pursuit of criminal ends. Crime and terrorism often become inextricably linked, each feeding off the other. Moreover, if criminal communities are powerful enough, they can actually threaten on a much wider scale. In Colombia, for example, where relationships between criminals and foreign terrorist organizations are being investigated right now, terrorism has grown into outright warfare. To counter crime, in particular drug production and trafficking, technology in the form of surveillance and decision-support systems for crisis management can help detect crop-growing areas and assist in production replacement programs. Criminal Intelligence is another factor that I will talk about in a moment. 
  • Issues about territory, or "turf," are another fundamental source of terrorism. These issues involve the rights and status of people who occupy a particular space, as well as the security of boundaries or borders. Although the underlying problems in the Balkans and Middle East will require far more than a technological solution, technology can help. Indeed the ability to assure border security may be a condition for agreeing on boundaries in the first place. To help with this concern, surveillance and decision-support technology can act as a force for stability. 


The use of the word "stability" makes me think of arms control verification. In the days of the Cold War, this was a major policy plank everyone seemed to accept and understand. It may have lost some of its visibility and bite since then, but the current situation with Iraq is a reminder that if an inspection regime could be found that would be acceptable to all sides, then a dangerous and threatening stand-off might be resolved. Using a virtual methodology might be a way ahead. Certainly monitoring technology can build confidence in a climate of distrust. 

My point is that we need to be imaginative when considering the possible uses of technology for global security. Technology has a part to play in the prevention of conflict as well as in its resolution. But as I said earlier, it cannot successfully address all threats to global security in the foreseeable future. So what can technology do to help resolve a conflict when it breaks out? 

Well, even before we see an outbreak of violence, we probably must assume that there is already some individual, formation, structure, or organization intent on causing harm. The closer we look to the terrorism end of the spectrum, the looser those structures will be and therefore the more difficult to understand. Also, terrorists are likely to be linked to criminals and to have international relationships. Worse still, that end of the spectrum is likely to have relationships further up towards the open warfare end. The Al-Qaeda network seems to fit this model very closely. 

Whatever the type of conflict, the maxim "Know your enemy" applies, and the sooner you know about him, the better you will be able to counter him. This means we need detailed, accurate information, not only as a major component of prevention but as a vital tool for responding to a threat when it becomes a reality. 

Intelligence gathering for either purpose can be extremely complicated. We need to fuse the relevant material and then exploit it collaboratively. Scale, diversity, and security are all important. High-powered computing devices can help in this work, devices that are capable of processing data from any collection source-imagery, text, signals, or communications. These devices can process vast quantities of data and at great speed-very close to real time, with a degree of security acceptable to all parties. These devices exist, and are used by many national agencies. However, the technology developers will need to deliver more power and better security from these systems as threats escalate and as global security agencies become more numerous and more integrated. 

General Jumper, chief of staff of the United States Air Force, sums up the process of resolving conflict by force in this way: "Find, fix, track, target, engage, assess." It is a staged approach that can be applied to just about any part of the conflict spectrum. Counter-terrorism may call for a different balance of effort than for conventional war, but the steps will be much the same. Of the six steps, five are very much about intelligence, but engagement is about action-action based on rational decision making. Here technology has another big part to play. 


Decisions will be made by people, not machines, but some technologies can greatly assist the decision makers, and are essential for using available intelligence to the best effect. The problem is that the vast array of fused data that can be offered up through high-powered computing must be analyzed, assessed, and presented to the decision makers in a form they can readily assimilate and with which they can make value judgments. 

The answer is computer-generated visualization. That does not mean just approximate representation, but accurate replication of the real world in a virtual environment. The environment should offer as many views of the real world as the decision maker needs, for him to select as and when he needs. At the highest level it would give him situation awareness, in other words, the force strengths, dispositions, terrain, weather, and other elements he needs to know about in his area of interest. For example, it could allow him to task reconnaissance assets accurately by showing him the exact cover that they could achieve. Conversely, it could show him how and where to avoid detection from surveillance by his opposition. This view could show him how to match targets to his own weapons and platform profiles, and so task an attack. It could show him the threat envelopes of opposition weapon systems, and how to route around them defensively. It would allow him to fly through or walk through a target complex in order to decide on the best approach. 

Visualization technology can make the virtual view as close to the real view as the data will allow, and today that can be very realistic. High-powered computing can make the view as close to real time as the data updates allow, and today that can be very current. The presentation can be combined with other on-screen information feeds and the whole thing can be viewed in three-dimensional form, creating a strong sense of reality. These features can offer the decision maker or commander a "command and control" or "decision support" center that can help win the war for information dominance over an elusive enemy. Such a center can become an indispensable asset for proactive decision making by putting the commander inside his opponent's decision-making process. 

Such visualization capabilities can also be used for training and mission rehearsal. Provided the feeds are detailed and accurate, it is possible to replicate exactly the conditions that would be encountered in live conflict, and to prepare forces for them accordingly. This applies to the world of Special Forces targeted against terrorists, or Conventional Forces targeted against conventional targets. Looking more strategically, similar capabilities can help to define the requirements for weapons and systems acquisition. By modeling against scenarios that are accurate in every detail and presented in close to real form, the performance characteristics can be assessed, measured and adjusted until the desired effects can actually be seen. 


Computer-driven visualization that is highly realistic and very close to real time may sound like something we will see far off in the future. I can assure you, though, that it is available and being exploited today. This technology is already at work helping to solve many of the problems to which I have referred. 

Visualization can be a valuable tool in the prevention of terrorism through its ability to educate people in a global collaborative environment. It can also be used to develop scenarios to prepare for a "first response." The city of Quebec used the technology to protect delegates to a recent Summit. Once you have seen what visualization can do, it should fuel your imagination for developing additional ways to consider the threats around us.


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research