OpinionsiLearnReimagining ROTC for the new era of war

Reimagining ROTC for the new era of war


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A student recently reached out to me to inquire for a class assignment about my thoughts on the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in our colleges and universities.

My response to her query took an unexpected turn. I began by posing a scenario: Picture a family that resorts to hitting their distraught child as a response to him ignoring a bully, rather than assisting him in confronting the bully.

The student was taken aback by my analogy.

I proceeded to explain that our nation finds itself at the epicenter of escalating tensions in the South China Sea. This involves China on one side versus its Southeast Asian neighbors, namely the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Taiwan, as well as the United States and its allies, on the other.

And yet, our current predicament is marred by an unfortunate reality. While we face external threats from an oversized and aggressive bully, our nation remains internally consumed by a self-inflicted and pestering wound that has hindered our developmental growth for more than half a century: Filipinos killing fellow Filipinos.

To me, it matters little whether the alibi is “dead by ideology” or “dead by stupidity” the result is synonymous in my eyes.

Regrettably, certain colleges and universities have not been proactive in addressing this critical issue. In fact, they have unwittingly become departure lounges for impressionable young minds, pushed surreptitiously by entrepreneurial ideologues to take a one-way trip to oblivion.

And all for what? For a trail of tears — of broken families, grieving parents, siblings, grandparents, close friends, and kins?

The student interjected, “But what about sacrificing and dying for the people?” I responded with a question of my own: “For the people? Really?”

She began to grasp that this is not a matter of choice; it’s something we must do to defend the country we love. However, the more crucial question is how we should go about it.

At this point, the student wasn’t just surprised; she was curious as I explained that what our ROTC program needs is a transformation geared toward developing soldiers/hackers for the era of modern warfare.

Consider this: As early as 2013, in his address to the national People’s Congress, President Xi Jinping ordered the People’s Liberation Army to undergo rapid modernization. He emphasized the need to strengthen the military to confront growing external threats as China continues to rise.

This involves not only producing advanced firepower but also cultivating intelligent manpower through Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Cloud Computing, and Internet of Things.

Adam Ni, an expert on China’s military at the Australian National University, noted that China is on track to match, or even surpass, U.S. military hi-tech superiority before 2050.

“Beijing has made significant advances in drones, stealth warplanes, missiles, and more. It’s also making remarkable strides in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, potentially giving Beijing’s armed forces an edge over the technology available to U.S. troops,” Ni said.

Currently, China actively recruits their nation’s best and brightest students to meet the unique personnel requirement of its military.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our colleges and universities could reimagine our ROTC program into a revitalized initiative designed to equip minds and talents with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to our national security efforts?

Additionally, it would be equally valuable to offer our graduates expanded opportunities to pursue careers in non-military high-tech industries, both on a national and global scale.

With reasonable and achievable emphasis on physical training while maintaining a strong focus on intellectual and skills development, many of the objections surrounding ROTC’s implementation would become irrelevant or unnecessary.

However, certain prerequisites must be met.

First, our country must allocate a significant portion of its military budget to build a new high-tech corporate infrastructure, not only to modernize but also to offer competitive salaries and job security to new graduates.

Second, selected colleges and universities should outsource scholarship funding from the military for students majoring in science, technology, math, and engineering. These students would eventually become the personnel responsible for operating new high-tech military systems.

Lastly, instilling the value of love for our country and a commitment to global peace and stability should remain a foundational principle. While strategically placed last, it underpins the entire initiative.

I really wish for the transformation of our military institution into a modern force driven by the balance between soft-brain power and hard-brawn power. In the long run, the former approach is more cost-effective, flexible, and manageable than the latter.

Imagine what a handful of soldiers/hackers, armed not with guns but with knowledge can accomplish operating secretly in corners of military corporate offices to safeguard and preserve our nation’s interests.  It may sound whimsical, but it’s a lethal serious proposition.

As our interaction came to a close, I had a feeling that I might have possibly prompted her to reevaluate her perspective on the matter, even if I hadn’t fully convinced her to adopt my point of view. Regardless, I’m perfectly content with how things turned out.


Author’s email: efren.padilla@csueastbay.edu



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