The Marshall Plan

R. A. Hettinga
Wed, 29 Jan 2003 16:16:27 -0500


Issue 11.02 - February 2003 

The Marshall Plan 

For 40 years, the man
Pentagon insiders call Yoda has foreseen the future of war - from
battlefield bots rolling off radar-proof ships to GIs popping performance
pills. And that was before the war on terror. 

By Douglas McGray 

Marshall, the Pentagon's 81-year-old futurist-in-chief, fiddles with his
security badge, squints, looks away, smiles, and finally speaks in a voice
that sounds like Gene Hackman trying not to wake anybody. Known as Yoda in
defense circles, Marshall doesn't need to shout to be heard. Named director
of the Office of Net Assessment by Richard Nixon and reappointed by every
president since, the DOD's most elusive official has become one of its most
influential. Today, Marshall - along with his star protégés Vice President
Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz - is drafting President Bush's plan to upgrade the military.
Supporters believe the force he envisions will be faster and more lethal;
critics say it relies on unproven technology. As US troops gathered
overseas, Marshall sat for a rare interview. 

WIRED: Until recently,
defense planners talked about a "revolution in military affairs." Now the
buzzword is "transformation." Why the change? 

MARSHALL: Transformation is more of an imperative: We've got to transform
the force . I personally don't like the term. It tends to push people in
the direction of changing the whole force. You need to be thinking about
changing some small part of the force more radically, as a way of exploring
what new technologies can really do for you. 

What is the next radical
change the US will reveal on the battlefield? 

One that's still under way is the emergence of a variety of precision
weapons, and also coupling them with sensors. Another is the ability to
coordinate the activities of separate elements of the forces to a level
that has never been possible before. That's promising, but less far along
than precision weapons. A third is robotic devices: unmanned vehicles, of
which the UAVs are the furthest along, but also similar kinds of devices
undersea, and smaller devices that might change urban warfare by being able
to crawl through buildings. 

Are there revolutionary developments that
don't involve combat? 
There are ways of psychologically influencing the
leadership of another state. I don't mean information warfare, but some
demonstration of awesome effects, like being able to set off impressive
explosions in the sky. Like, let us show you what we could do to you . Just
visually impressing the person. 

Did 9/11 change your mind about anything?

Not much. It was obvious that we were wide open to attack. 

Has anything
happened that surprised you? 
The rapidity of the collapse of the Soviet
Union surprised me. I thought they were in trouble, but the rapidity and
completeness of the withdrawal were really striking. 

Is there a precedent
for one country staying on top through a series of military revolutions? Or
does one country always leapfrog another? 
Through most of the 19th
century, the British Navy exhibited that kind of thing. But it was quite
interesting the way they did it. They tended to let other countries, mainly
France, do the early experiments and come out with new kinds of ships. If
something looked like a good idea, they could come in and quickly overtake
the innovator. They seemed to do that as a way of capitalizing on their
advantage and saving resources. 

Isn't the United States in a similar
position now? 
That's probably the case. But some of the countries that
would be candidates to make innovations aren't doing it. The Japanese and
West Europeans aren't really making big changes. The Swedes are an
interesting case. For 200 years their basic problem was the possibility of
a large-scale land invasion by the Russians. They've decided that that has
gone away. If anything could happen, it would happen across the Baltic. So
they're rethinking, given modern technology, how to create a defense
largely on sea frontiers. It's possible that they will make some
innovations that we'll pick up and capitalize on. 

For instance? 
designed three new naval vessels. One is an air-independent submarine
[running on fuel cells rather than nuclear power, which allows it to travel
almost silently and remain submerged for extended periods]. They have a
surface ship that's a bit more conventional. And then a radically new naval
vessel called the Visby, which has practically no metal in it other than
the engine. It's constructed to be very stealthy. 

You're known for
following technology outside the traditional realm of national security.
Pharmaceuticals, for instance. 
People who are connected with neural
pharmacology tell me that new classes of drugs will be available relatively
shortly, certainly within the decade. These drugs are just like natural
chemicals inside people, only with behavior-modifying and
performance-enhancing characteristics. One of the people I talk to jokes
that a future intelligence problem is going to be knowing what drugs the
other guys are on. 

In an era of terrorism and peacekeeping, are Cold War
ideas based on striking a big enemy from afar and defending against missile
attack still relevant? 
Yes, if we want to stay in the business of
long-range power projection. And if we play the role of intervening in
messy disputes, some of this weaponry is still useful, as it was in
Afghanistan. However, we need ground forces to go in and keep the peace.

Does new technology ultimately make us more or less vulnerable? 
A friend
of mine, Yale economist Martin Shubik, says an important way to think about
the world is to draw a curve of the number of people 10 determined men can
kill before they are put down themselves, and how that has varied over
time. His claim is that it wasn't very many for a long time, and now it's
going up. In that sense, it's not just the US. All the world is getting
less safe. 

R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'