Future Army and Evolving Warfare
Will human intelligence and creativity win the next war or the leader in AI will rule the world? Technological innovations in the future would surely change the nature of warfare. Future conflict will take place in a battlespace that is shaped by Artifici
THREE EVENTS WERE PROMINENTLY covered in media during 2020. First was the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on January 3 through precision targeting by a US drone near Baghdad International Airport while he was on his way to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad. Second was the AzerbaijanArmenia conflict in Nagorno Karabakh in which swarm drones used by Azerbaijan played a decisive role. Third was the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27 for which Iran accused Israel. Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoting a senior Iranian military official has stated that Mohsen’s assassination was carried out remotely with artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a “satellite-controlled smart system”.
Use of drones with artificial intelligence (AI) has been witnessed in recent years. The Islamic State used drones in Iraq-Syria and was even trying to develop rocket assisted drones. Russian bases in Syria too were subjected to swarm drone attacks. In September 2019, Yemen-based Houthi rebels executed a coordinated massive swarm drone strike on two ARAMCO oil production facilities of Saudi Arabia defeating the Saudi air defence systems. Addressing students in Moscow during September 2017, President Vladimir Putin had famously said that whichever country becomes the leader in AI research “will become the ruler of the
world”. Interestingly, China has set itself the goal of becoming leader of AI by 2030.
To the ongoing development and application of information communications and technology (ICT) resulting in precisionguided weapons and net-centric warfare (NCW), technologies like stealth and hypersonic systems have been added in a major way. In addition is cyber-warfare and ‘media mercenaries’. Readily available new technologies can be exploited and used by both state and non-state actors as large spectrum of new tools to inflict damage and disruption not only on traditionally superior military forces in the battlefield, but also on civilian populations and critical infrastructure.
Rapid technological advances will continue to revolutionise the five dimensional conflict (aerospace, land, sea, cyber and electromagnetic), information warfare, electronic warfare, asymmetric warfare, all other forms of operationalised cyberspace, radiation combat, robotic combat and nano-technology combat. Information superiority is as important as land, sea, aerospace superiority. Nonlethal weapons (NLWs) of various kinds, biological pathogens and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), lasers and particle beams, rail guns and long-range kinetic strike systems, enabling technologies such as nano-materials and additive printing or 3D manufacturing have arrived on the scene. High-powered microwaves too are in use to destroy enemy electronics although they have certain limitations.
Solid-state laser technology is affordable and will be deployed in the near future to damage or destroy enemy systems on the battlefield at sea, air and ground. Ground vehicles will use them against artillery, mortars, UAVs, and other proximate threats. China’s biological bombing of the world by releasing the virus from Wuhan has signaled the horrors of biological attacks. Such virus attacks can have many variations. Ebola itself can be used as a biological weapon. More dangerous research is on synthesising DNA into viruses and other potential pathogens. China has integrated Pakistan in such research by establishing a Wuhan-like research facility in Pakistan.
More advancement in military technologies is ongoing. In addition to loitering munitions already in use, sensor-packed bullets are being developed that can change course rapidly in midair hitting the target with ease. This would particularly make sniping much more lethal and effective. Drone submarine hunters have been developed as the answer to submarines having added stealth features. Laser cannons can fire repeatedly with just a truck-mounted diesel generator. To protect against plasma weapon attacks, plasma shields are being developed. Beyond the testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles, advanced technology is being developed to silently hunt and “melt” the enemy satellites. This reportedly involves reflecting a sunbeam on the enemy satellite that will over a long period heat the target satellite causing it to fall out of its orbit and burn up on re-entry into the upper stratosphere.
The newest skin coatings for painting the face in battle don’t just conceal the soldier but also reduce the fighter’s visibility to thermal vision sensors by blocking the nearinfrared wavelengths those systems look for. Current camouflage can hide soldiers and their vehicles from human sight but is close to useless against ever-more-common infrared vision systems. But research is on with structural protein called ‘Reflectin’ functioning in the same wavelengths as night vision systems to overcome this problem. China has also been reporting development of invisible clothing.
There is no doubt that future battle-space will be shaped and geminated by new technologies and AI. However, the view that AI will rule conflicts and this revolutionary change will witness humans being replaced by robots is misplaced. Humans who most quickly exploit the battlefield have invariably overcome technological disadvantages and delivered victory. Though AI and other technology will be important in future conflicts, the best bet for future victory is developing the tactical, operational, and strategic innovators who will leverage battle-space conditions to achieve victory, regardless of the technical balance. The US-Vietnam war is a perfect example of this. But human intelligence will win the next conflict, not technology. Perhaps, no one can understand this better than Chinese President Xi Jinping who understands the human deficit of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). That is why China is working on genetically developing super-soldiers.
In recent years, Chinese scientists, physicists and strategists have been emphasising that biotechnology could become a new strategic tool in conflict. US intelligence officials now say that China has already conducted human testing on PLA soldiers hoping to develop soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities. Chinese researchers have used the gene-editing tool ‘clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’ (CRISPR) used to treat genetic diseases and modify plants, but in conducting human testing “there are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.” Western scientists consider it unethical to seek to manipulate genes to boost the performance of healthy people.
New technologies can be exploited by both state and non-state actors to inflict damage and disruption on traditionally superior military forces in the battlefield