By Senator Joni Ernst
March 31, 2017
Iowans from Sioux City to Davenport know why I serve on these committees: Armed Services; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Environment and Public Works; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Iowans have seen that these committees can have a tremendous impact on our farmers, military and small businesses.
As the newly appointed chair of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, I want to explain why this panel matters to Iowa, too.
As chairman of this subcommittee, I am focused on things like counter-terrorism and oversight of special operations forces. In addition, I largely focus on advanced science and technology for our Department of Defense.
The concepts I focus on daily are designed to deter our adversaries like Russia and China, in addition to protecting our homeland from radical Islamic terrorists.
At first mention, things like next-generation lasers, smart drones, biological countermeasures and additive manufacturing may not seem to have a direct connection to Iowa. The truth is, however, the Pentagon’s pursuit and utilization of cutting-edge equipment influences Iowa’s farms, schools and jobs.
The following are just a few examples of so-called “dual-use technologies” being developed by the armed services whose applications impact Iowa’s industries:
• America’s Navy is testing lasers intended to defend aircraft carriers from super-sonic anti-ship cruise missiles. Similar lasers can also help Iowa’s farmers by providing precision guidance to machinery and geographical analysis.
• While the Air Force is developing swarming drones to overwhelm enemy air defenses, similar drones can perform mechanical functions like planting, spraying and monitoring crops. Moreover, drones can also identify fields needing irrigation or detect early stages of bacterial or fungal infections.
• The Army is looking at biological engineering methods as a means to counter attacks employed by terrorists. Some of these techniques can also be used to boost soybean resistance to pests or reduce the toll of disease on pigs.
• For our special forces, nanotechnologies can provide servicemembers with conforming lightweight, bulletproof battle suits. The same technologies can be used to deliver pesticides, fertilizers and vaccines to crops and livestock more efficiently.
Some of these emerging capabilities have already been in Iowa for quite some time, thanks to Iowa’s innovative universities and robust manufacturing sector.
For example, Iowa universities are paving the way in virtual reality concepts used to train servicemembers who paint stealth coatings on ships and airplanes. They are also leading in developing new defense equipment by utilizing state-of -the art computer technology.
In addition to the work of the universities, Iowa’s advanced manufacturing industry, which employs 210,000 workers at 4,000 companies, is also a national leader in 3D printing. This is the same technology the Marines are exploring as a means to reduce costs and expedite logistics timelines.
As our armed services become increasingly dependent on Iowa’s core competencies, our schools, workers and businesses reap the benefits.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that technologies offering a stronger national defense and a more robust economy can also be destructive when pursued by actors who wish to do us harm.
Russia is using drones, cyberattacks and GPS jamming to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to threaten others. They even pose a threat to Iowa’s sister state, Kosovo. This is why I recently held my first open hearing to identify how we can better defend ourselves, and our partners, from attacks by Russia.
I will continue using my subcommittee to help other lawmakers understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of emerging capabilities – those intended for use domestically and others tailored for use abroad.
Throughout that process, Iowa will have a seat at the table. The interests of Iowans will be what drives the Emerging Threats and Capabilities conversation in the Senate, in America and around the world.