Military-Civil Fusion: China, the US, and Beyond 

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Military-Civil Fusion: China, the US, and Beyond 

Insights from Yoram Evron. 

Military-Civil Fusion: China, the US, and Beyond 

Members and leadership from the 49th Wing and 49th Security Forces Squadron watch a demonstration of a Vision 60 Q-UGV ground robot in action at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, April 17, 2023.

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaiah Pedrazzini

The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Yoram Evron – associate professor of Political Science and Chinese Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel and co-author together with Richard A. Bitzinger of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Military-Civil Fusion” (2023) – is the 379th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

What is the correlation between the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and military-civil fusion (MCF)?

Since the end of the Cold War, many technologies conceived and developed in commercial high-tech sectors became clearly superior to and cheaper than those found in the military-industrial complex. This commercial technological superiority has become even more evident in recent years given the emerging “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR), which revolves around emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous systems, “big data,” and quantum computing. These technologies and their related products are making the distinctions between military and civilian technologies ever harder to discern. 

If militaries want to harness the technological potential of the 4IR, then they must craft a new form of civil-military cooperation in science and technology, which since the late 2010s has come to be known as military-civil fusion (MCF). 

Increasingly recognized as a major mechanism for the military assimilation of 4IR technologies, MCF focuses on cutting-edge commercial technologies that can be then adapted and integrated into military systems, and which subsequently can provide a significant advance in military capabilities. As such, MCF is more than just finding and assimilating civilian technologies in military equipment. It is also about crafting strategies and initiatives to locate adequate civilian technologies and producers and then harness them for military R&D projects, involving the military in R&D collaboration with civilian entities, and adapting advanced civilian technologies and products to military purposes.

Identify the key common denominators in the use of MCF to support national military-technological innovation in the U.S., China, India, and Israel.

Apparently, all four states share favorable conditions for MCF implementation. All of them possess both a large-scale defense industry and a vibrant high-tech civil industry that focuses, inter alia, on 4IR technologies. 

In addition, the strategic circumstances of all these states push them into an enduring and intensive military modernization process, which is arguably almost crucial for a successful MCF implementation. Being a young, almost experimental, military buildup approach facing high barriers, MCF is more likely to be successfully implemented in states that are committed to and engaged intensively in military modernization. 

Finally, the four states undertake an active (though not necessarily declared) MCF policy. As part of their respective MCF policies, these states allocate budgets, establish bodies and mechanisms, and set laws and regulations that aim to promote a close and extended collaboration between the defense and civilian industries, while reducing the high barriers associated with it. The particular tools and means that each state adopts, and the way they are being implemented, have a big impact on MCF implementation’s success in each one.

Analyze the impact of China-U.S. great power rivalry and tech race on MCF developments in the military industrial complex of India and Israel.

The United States and China are locked in a strategic competition for political-military dominance, and each side searches for military-technological advances that might provide it with an edge over the other. This competition, together with the rapid development of emerging technologies, push forward military-related technological developments worldwide. 

As part of that, they also reshape the strategic environments of India and Israel, which recognize an acute need to adapt rapidly to a fast-changing military-technology environment – conventional and unconventional, symmetric and asymmetric. Moreover, the armed forces of both states regard the fast-changing technological environment as an important strategic challenge. 

Attempting to address this challenge, MCF has a strong appeal for both India and Israel. It promises to be a faster, more reliable, and cheaper shortcut to military innovation, and both of them consider it an inseparable component of their military buildup effort. 

What are the key components of MCF as a competitive strategy?

Unlike other forms of civil-military integration and dual-use processes, MCF is not simply a mechanism by which to develop and produce better weapons at a cheaper price. Rather, it is rapidly becoming a critical approach to next generation military-technological innovation and development. That is, if 4IR technologies are the basis for future military capabilities and advantage and MCF is the crucial course of action for militaries seeking to exploit these technologies, then MCF is a means by which a country attempts to gain a military-technological advantage over its competitors and adversaries, and to remain militarily competitive with them. 

For instance, using MCF as part of a broad-based strategic effort to sap the U.S. margin of superiority, Chinese military modernization has become entwined with civilian technological innovation in a number of critical dual-use technology sectors including aerospace, advanced equipment manufacturing, AI, and alternative sources of energy. The U.S. military, on its part, is increasingly cognizant of the potential of such 4IR technologies as means for maintaining its military edge. This will, in all likelihood, draw the U.S. military-industrial complex closer to 4IR innovators in the commercial high-tech sector and drive MCF strategies in the U.S. defense-industrial and technology base. 

Assess the impact of 4IR and MCF developments in the U.S., China, India, and Israel on global supply chains.

States use MCF, among other things, to import sensitive technologies through civilian channels and ultimately incorporate them into military systems. This is, for example, the case with China, where one of the greatest contributions of MCF seemingly lies in its ability to improve military R&D through introduction of foreign cutting-edge know-how. As exporting states are becoming increasingly aware of this, they are imposing higher barriers on emerging technologies’ export while advancing decoupling of technological supply chains with rival states. 

On the other hand, MCF can increase cross-border economic-technological cooperation. Thus, a 2022 U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security report emphasized a “friend-shoring” approach to supply chains and recommended financial support for “friend- and near-shoring manufacturing” of critical ICT components unlikely to be produced domestically in the near future. India and Israel exhibit yet another example of MCF-driven cross-border economic cooperation, as both states provide supportive conditions for the participation of foreign firms in MCF-oriented defense projects.