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The Military Government United States

The Pentagon May Retire "Yoda," Its 92-Year-Old Futurist 254

Posted by timothy
from the as-he-himself-foresaw dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Of all the weapons the Pentagon relies on to defend the United States, one of the strangest and most secretive is Andrew Marshall, a 92-year-old man who's spent the last 40 years staring into the future trying to predict the next big threat to America. Known fondly as "Yoda" to his many fans in Washington, Marshall heads up the Office of Net Assessment—the Defense Department's think tank tasked with taking a long view, out-of-the-box approach to defense strategy. In his role as the Pentagon's visionary sage, Marshall is credited with predicting the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China's global prominence, the role of autonomous weapons and robots in warfare, and even helping end the Cold War. Now, facing budget cuts, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is considering reorganizing or possibly even shuttering the futurist think tank, Defense News recently reported."
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The Pentagon May Retire "Yoda," Its 92-Year-Old Futurist

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  • Interesting (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:39PM (#45271209)

    He never saw it coming

  • by Balthrop (2786045) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:40PM (#45271227)
    uh the title makes it sound like they are going to uh assassinate the nice old man
  • by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:41PM (#45271235)

    So, now we know who Yoda is, as well as the Jedi Knights [wikipedia.org].

    • by JWW (79176)

      It appears that he lied about his age by about a factor of 10â¦.

      • It depends, are they people years, dog years, dog star years, star wars years, or puppet years?

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      We used to have the Joint Deployable Intelligence Station (JDIS, pronounced jay-dis). The plural, of course, was Jedi.
  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:42PM (#45271253) Journal
    He's been trying to predict the future for the last 40 years. Unless everything he writes gets stamped 'above top secret: incinerator's eyes only' surely we have enough material to evaluate his efficacy by now?

    How did it go?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arker (91948)

      It's not that great. He's credited with foreseeing the demise of the soviet union in the blurb, I have no idea how accurate that is, but it's no great feat as the libertarian/austrian thinkers did as well, but that would still be somewhat to his credit if he escaped the beltway groupthink enough to anticipate that. Otherwise he seems mostly to be focused on selling a much larger and more expensive military as necessary to win the future war he fantasizes about with China. Considering the size of the relativ

      • Re:Well... (Score:4, Funny)

        by icebike (68054) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @01:24PM (#45271731)

        I suspect he predicted his own demise, and to uphold his record, he has to go.

      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TWiTfan (2887093) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @01:34PM (#45271843)

        I would be more curious as to WHEN he predicted this stuff. There is a BIG difference between sitting in 1970 and saying "The Soviet Union will collapse at some point in the future" and saying "The Soviet Union will collapse in the late 1980's or early 1990's." The former is pretty much useless information. The latter could be very useful.

        I would also want to know how much he got wrong. If the signal of what little he got right was drowned out by the noise of much more stuff that he got wrong, his information would also basically be useless.

        As I've never met a "futurist" yet whose predictions were worth much of a damn at the end of the day, I would be very skeptical of the usefulness of his office.

        • True for both inner and outer "whens" -- when he said those things would happen, and when he said those things.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @01:02PM (#45271503)

      He came up with the concept of Air-Sea Battle, which is a new method to coordinate the Air Force and the Navy in a future maritime war.

      Likely with China, as he predicted their rise to challenge US dominance back in the 80's when they were still weak.

      He predicted in the 70's that the Soviet Union's economy was in terrible shape despite them seeming robust and strong at the time.

      He predicted the need for precision weapons in the 60's, back when carpet bombing in Vietnam was still the norm.

      In 2003 during an interview he discussed the use of predator drones moving from surveillance to a strike platform, which really began in earnest in 2009-10.

      Not a bad track record.

      • I am surprised you don't mention predicting the Kennedy assassination. Ah wait that was 'psychic' Jeanne Dixon, who milked that cherry picked prediction for the next few decades. But seriously, there is little here to determine how specific these predictions were, or how many bad predictions there were. I could make millions of predictions, then wait five years and fish out the ones that happened to be correct and claim some great ability to foresee the future.
      • Re:Well... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by icebike (68054) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @01:45PM (#45271957)

        Not that impressive.

        Air-Sea had been a Navy concept since before world war 2. They believed it so much they built carriers, and coordinated land based planes with carrier based planes very effectively, even when the land based planes belonged to the army. Read about Midway.

        China was not weak back in the 80s. China was not weak in the 60s. They were an economic powerhouse even then.
          Douglas MacArther warned Never fight a land war in Asia".

        Everyone but weapons system planners knew that the Soviet Union was going down as early as the 70s, because economists had predicted it even earlier, just by looking at empty shelves in soviet super markets and the drastic cut back in Soviet aid to its over-extended empire. They hung Castro out to dry, in the late 60s.

        The need for precision weapons was noted in WW2. Some were even developed and uses back then. Dam buster bombs. The AGM-62 Walleye TV Guided bomb was in use in the 60s, conceived in 1958, and developed by the Navy, it was used in Viet Nam.. Carpet bombing works in Jungles, precision doesn't.

        In short, he seems to have convinced people to use what was already available rather than sticking with old school methods.

        • Douglas MacArther warned Never fight a land war in Asia

          Wait, I thought the Sicilian guy from Princess Bride said that.

        • In short, he seems to have convinced people to use what was already available rather than sticking with old school methods.

          That sounds like the most impressive accomplishment of all!

        • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @03:43PM (#45272989)

          Air-Sea had been a Navy concept since before world war 2. They believed it so much they built carriers, and coordinated land based planes with carrier based planes very effectively, even when the land based planes belonged to the army. Read about Midway.

          Coordination within a single branch of the military is trivial. Coordination between the different branches is a nightmare. Each branch likes to do their own thing, and doesn't want to bother with or be bothered by the needs and wants of the other branches. e.g. The Air Force has been trying to kill off the A-10 ground attack aircraft [wikipedia.org] for almost 20 years even though it's the best ground support asset in their arsenal. The Army would love to take over operating the A-10, but federal law limits them to rotary winged aircraft in combat roles. (Ironic considering the Air Force began as the Army Air Corps.)

          The divide and interservice rivalry is so deep and entrenched that when I was working on a project for the Army, the higher-ups had mandated that an Air Force officer ride along with them in the Humvee to force the two branches to coordinate.

          China was not weak back in the 80s. China was not weak in the 60s. They were an economic powerhouse even then. Douglas MacArther warned Never fight a land war in Asia".

          China was an economic footnote in the 1960s and 1970s [wikipedia.org]. They were in the midst of the Cultural Revolution [wikipedia.org] and were busy lynching anyone who could potentially have contributed to the country's economic development. Their economy took 30 years to double from 1950-1980. From 1980 to 2000 it doubled every 10 years. They didn't become notable on the world stage until (1) Deng Xiaoping began adopting capitalism [wikipedia.org] in the 1980s, and (2) the Soviet Union fell allowing China to emerge from its shadow.

          And MacArthur wanted to nuke several Chinese cities to discourage China from entering the Korean War.

          Everyone but weapons system planners knew that the Soviet Union was going down as early as the 70s, because economists had predicted it even earlier, just by looking at empty shelves in soviet super markets and the drastic cut back in Soviet aid to its over-extended empire. They hung Castro out to dry, in the late 60s.

          As someone who grew up during that time, nobody believed the Iron Curtain was going to come down during our lifetime. It was like the stars in the night sky - always there, always had been there, and always would be there. The Soviets were so secretive that even if they hung Castro out to dry, you couldn't be sure if it was because they were having economic problems, or if it was because Castro had insulted the Soviet Premier's wife about her cooking at a state dinner. The events of 1989 remain one of the most shocking and indelible in my memory - right up there with Challenger and 9/11. Like the millions of people who now claim to have attended Woodstock, plenty of people now claim to have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union in hindsight. But believe me, even in the early 1980s if you had predicted on TV that the Soviet Union would crumble within a decade, you would've been laughed out of the studio.

          • by icebike (68054)

            As someone who grew up during that time, nobody believed the Iron Curtain was going to come down during our lifetime. It was like the stars in the night sky - always there, always had been there, and always would be there.

            As someone who grew up in that time, I am calling bullshit on you. I was there, It was expected. Most educated people marveled it lasted as long as it did.

            Oh, and that "economic footnote" almost pushed the UN entirely off the Korean Peninsula.

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              Yeah, and as many believed we'd have a nuclear war in our lifetimes. How'd that work as a prediction? We've been predicting apocolypse every generation since just about the beginning of recorded history. Many of Jesus' contemporaries believed the second coming would be within their lifetimes.
              • by icebike (68054)

                I've noticed that writers and films feast on the apocalypse concept, more so in times of economic turmoil (now that they are pretty much done feasting on vampire genera).

                I rather suspect that meeting intelligent alien life will be almost as anti-climatic as Gorbachev's dissolution of USSR.
                Instead of invading hordes looking for a planet to conqueror it will probably end up being more like "Hey, we just stopped by to say Hi".

                • by AK Marc (707885)
                  We've run through all sorts of phases. The monster movies of the 50s and 60s were semi-apocalypse.
              • by stoploss (2842505)

                Many of Jesus' contemporaries believed the second coming would be within their lifetimes.

                To be fair, that's the most direct interpretation of this passage [biblehub.com]. Fundies don't like that one very much, because you have to go through gyrations to explain it away.

                Legends like the Wandering Jew don't play well in modern churches, and only Elijah and Enoch (both OT) are cited as having been taken directly to heaven without dying (so that's out too).

            • by Hartree (191324)

              First, what country are you from?

              I'll give you that if you were in the USSR itself, you may well have seen enough of the problems that you thought that. (We had people here who were convinced the US and the industrialized West were collapsing during that same period. But, that's always the case. Some Romans were convinced Rome was on the brink of collapse during the time of Augustus. Maybe they were right, but it took another 500 years or more.)

              I was seeing it from the US, and I certainly recall that on bot

          • As someone who grew up during that time, nobody believed the Iron Curtain was going to come down during our lifetime.

            You're correct - nobody believed the Iron Curtain was going to come down, not cleanly at least. More nuanced thinkers however recognized the difference between the Iron Curtain and the USSR as then constituted. The former could easily stand even as the latter convulsed and changed - witness China during both the Cultural Revolution and the economic revolution of the 1980's.

            The event

        • Which were used by the US at least since 1959 [wikipedia.org] and various other examples in use or in development since then. [wikipedia.org]

          Oh, and as for the AirSea Battle Office, some apparently believe that it is redundant and superfluous [thediplomat.com] as other parts of the US military already got that covered.

          Since the ASB Office was first announced in August 2011, the Pentagon has faced charges that it is redundant with missions performed by other parts of the defense bureaucracy. It has often struggled to define how the ASB Office differs from other areas of the Pentagon, and to explain the value it adds to the services.

      • Not a bad track record.

        Oh brother. Tell us the thousand things he predicted that didn't come true. Anyone can guess right 1% of the time.

  • Sounds like one of the few places in the defense industry that's got things right lately.
    • The proposed move also has caught the attention of some in the think tank and consulting worlds. Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, is as unimpressed with the idea as Forbes.

      âoeThe decision to eliminate [Net Assessment] might make sense were it an expensive endeavor, employing a large staff that might be better deployed elsewhere,â he wrote.

      The Net Assessment office is less than a dozen people, tiny when compared with the rest of the Pentagon sweeping bureaucracy, Goure noted.

      âoeIts budget is a few million dollars annually, much of that devoted to outside studies and analyses, he wrote. âoeYou wouldnâ(TM)t save enough from this action buy even one tactical fighter. Furthermore, the loss of the intellectual energy NA provides at a critical time for the Pentagonâ(TM)s future could have negative effects far outweighing the utility of the few dollars that would be saved.â

      Sounds ass backwards to me. I think the military need to do more thinking, and less invading.

    • by cdrudge (68377)

      You just heard of his successful predictions. How many of his predictions didn't come true?

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:47PM (#45271333) Homepage Journal

    I'm truly interested. He either called it and they ignored him, in which case he's not useful, or he didn't call it, in which case he's not useful.

    I'm sure he costs less than a redundant engine for the F-35, but everybody who says that each of the thousands of useless programs don't need to be cut because they don't cost too much is ignoring the rest of those other thousands.

    If he's as smart as the ethos contends, many think tanks would be glad to hire him on. I only hope I'm fortunate enough to be in such a position when I'm 92. Also cool that he was already 60 before he picked up his nickname - most career military are outta-there at that point.

  • Stupid Move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @12:49PM (#45271345)

    Ugh, this is so stupid. This is the only long view think tank in the Pentagon, the only one who looks at the entirety of a nation and tries to predict what will happen and more or less gets it correct. One of the big complaints about the military is they're "always fighting the last war"; this group was specifically designed to try to predict what a conflict 20 years from now will be and start preparing for it. Marshall needs to retire; he's damned old, but the group's purpose is still relevant.

    • Indeed. Spending some money to have people sit down and think for a change seems like money well spent.

    • Being old isn't a reason to retire. Not wanting to work anymore is a reason to retire. Not being good at your job is a reason to retire.

      If this guy's still good at his job, still wants to do it, and we still need the work done, making him quit is nothing more than rote obedience to an antiquated rule.

    • Marshall needs to retire; he's damned old, but the group's purpose is still relevant.

      Like more things in Washington, this is probably just more BS. We'll find out that the only reason he was on the payroll was because he's a 33rd degree freemason and no one had to heart to fire him. Seriously, do you the Pentagon would ever admit to their projects or people involved in them? It sounds like he was more a mascot than anything else.

  • 40 years ago was 1973, which was 4 years before Star Wars, and 7 years before Empire Strikes Back, which is where Yoda is first mentioned and appears.
  • If they get rid of what works the next thing you know the Pentagon will prioritize the capture of the rebel leader Louis Riel before the Saskatchewan Rebellion spreads to the central US.
  • "I also predicted this due to ever-growing social spending leading to increasing cost-cutting pressures on everything else. I'd like to claim authorship of this repeatedly successful prediction method, but I cannot [wikipedia.org]."

  • and apparently he's been senile for the last 15 years...

  • The think tank should remain. Defense Department has to be ready for the next thing. Nations lose wars because they fight the next war the same way they fought the last one. A think tank like that might keep you ready.

  • by MonkeyPaw (8286) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @02:36PM (#45272503) Homepage

    Of all the weapons the Pentagon relies on to defend the United States, one of the strangest and most secretive is Andrew Marshall, a 92-year-old man who's spent the last 40 years staring into the future trying to predict the next big threat to America. In his role as the Pentagon's visionary sage, Marshall is credited with predicting the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China's global prominence, the role of autonomous weapons and robots in warfare, and even helping end the Cold War.

    His most recent predictions included "damn kids on the lawn", the loss of a his pants, and "there are 4 monkeys in the attic - I'm sure of it"!

    Mr Marshall will be missed.

  • The primary role of the Pentagon is to envision what warfare of the future looks like. They take a 20 year view and ask the following questions (and run the following scenarios):
    1) Who is/could be the enemy?
    2) What does the battlefield look like (jungle, desert, urban, etc).
    3) What kind of weapons/tactics will be used against us.
    4) Most importantly, what type of military hardware would we need to have in order to counter that threat 20 years out.

    They then take this 'long view' and use that as a road-map to

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