Cover: Alternative Futures for Digital Infrastructure

Alternative Futures for Digital Infrastructure

Insights and Considerations for the Department of Defense

Published Oct 30, 2023

by Julia Brackup, Sarah Harting, Daniel Gonzales, Brandon Corbin


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Research Questions

  1. What could global DI look like in 2050?
  2. What does advantage and disadvantage look like across different possible futures?
  3. What are the implications of these futures for military competition and conflict?

A competition for digital infrastructure (DI) is underway between the United States and China, which has implications for military forces and operations that rely on this infrastructure in competition and conflict. However, DI as a competition remains largely understudied in a comprehensive way. This report is a product of a multiyear research effort to define DI, characterize the competition underway, identify key factors shaping outcomes, and assess the potential implications for the Department of Defense. This report contributes to the broader understanding of DI by presenting an alternative futures analysis of how the global DI could evolve out to 2050 and the military implications of those futures for the United States and China.

Key Findings

  • Several factors will shape the global DI landscape, such as human capital, economic performance and policy, industrial capacity, government approach to DI, and relationships with allies and partners.
  • DI, and the degree to which a country has ownership, access, and control (OAC) over DI, could serve as an enabler or a capability for military operations.
  • For the United States, DI appears most significant for competition activities and setting the conditions for potential conflict.
  • Ceding DI OAC to an adversary could provide an asymmetric means to erode U.S. military advantage over the long term.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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