As the Joint Chiefs of Staff gathered in Key West, Florida for a private meeting in March 1948, the first U.S. secretary of defense, James Forrestal, posed a simple question: “Who will do what with what?” The Air Force and Navy tussled over strategic nuclear bombers, while the Army and Marine Corps bickered over limitations to their respective end strengths.
The resulting Key West agreement defined the primary functions of the services for the Cold War, but it didn’t end the debate — far from it. Interservice rivalries flared over atomic weapons and the “missile gap.” Turf battles wasted critical time and money and introduced new dangers in command and control. Failure to appreciate the limitations of strategic competitors and misaligned incentives were commonplace during the Cold War, and they are no less common today.
To the extent that new technologies trigger old bureaucratic rivalries, defense planners will once again confront the simple question: Who will do what with what?
Artificial intelligence, or AI, presents a host of strategic considerations for the United States. One of the most pressing is summed up in a series of recommendations last year from the Defense Innovation Board. Here’s the line that should catch your eye: The Department of Defense “does not have an innovation problem; it has an innovation adoption problem.”
Read the full article in War on the Rocks.