By Ryan Haecker
From javelins to rifles, instruments have been wielded by men to make war. It is only in the 20th century that these instruments have wielded themselves. As early as 1916, Great Britain had begun experimenting with A. M. Low's “Aerial Target” drone. During the Second World War, the German Luftwaffe employed V1 and V2 rockets, the first guided missiles, to terrorize London from across the English Channel. Today, the United States Air Force employs a large number of unmanned aerial vehicles like the missile armed MQ-1 Predator. While many of these weapons systems require a operator on the ground, the Global Hawk and others like it can operate completely autonomously. As computer technology advances exponentially, we should expect the 21st century to bring wars unlike any yet seen in our history: Automated wars fought and won by automated weapons. Soon human lives will be exchanged in an enormously complex satellite guided mechanical process. Where warfare had once required individual courage and martial valor, it will soon require only information networks and computer technicians. Just as the 20th century was appalled by the horrors industrial warfare, the 21st century will soon grow disgusted with the guided missiles and autonomous weapons of the digital age. If we must engage in the pursuit of war, then compassion demands that we should be just and respectful in the process of warfare. This requires that we treat our enemies as human ends, and not merely as the means that fuel the cogs of war. So that human warriors might be saved from the most ignoble and dishonorable of deaths, chivalry must return to warfare in the age of autonomous weapons.
Warfare has never remained a static practice. Todays exponentially increasing technological advancement has accelerated this change. The concept of Network Centric Warfare(NCW) first appeared in 1998 with the publication of John Gartska's book of the same name. Gartska examined the business community's use of information sharing to show the potential for a new military doctrine in which information superiority, rather than quantitative or industrial superiority, could allow for a tactical superiority on the battlefield. Information superiority allows commanders both greater situational awareness and the ability to deny this information to their opponents. Shared situational awareness among soldiers and commanders allows an army to synchronize and coordinate its maneuvers, dramatically increasing the performance speed of an attacking force. When soldiers can maneuver more precisely, and at the same time deny their enemy information of their movements, they have the ability of operate with impunity within enemy territory. This allows for tactical advantages to be exploited to their fullest use. From the implementation of this doctrine in the the recent wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, we have learned that information superiority can allow a numerically inferior force to easily defeat a vastly numerically superior opponent. Just as armament factories allowed industrialized nations to dominate the battlefields of the industrial age, so too will information superiority allow those nations with satellite networks to dominate the battlefields of the digital age.
The most decisive advantage which information superiority brings is the ability of air power to deliver pinpoint attacks to the ground. When commanders have immediate real time information of the battlefield, they also gain the ability to, within minutes, deliver precision weaponry from fighter-bomber aircraft onto ground targets. Currently, the process of identifying targets to delivering precision bombs takes anywhere from 30minutes to 2 hours. With the increasing use of unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, information processing, and ever-present UAV's, we should expect this time delay to dramatically decrease. In the future, militaries may be able to sight, identify, and eliminate targets through the use of high speed computer processing entirely without the intervention of a human controller. In the digital age, peer to peer networks and global communications will be more decisive than the highest caliber artillery. In 2003, Alberts and Hayes published the book “Power of the Edge” which examines the potential of using peer to peer networks to autonomously synchronize war fighters to allow them to operate independent of a traditional hierarchical command structure. This would allow individual unit commanders to make strategic decisions involving troop movements and airborne munitions in the way that Generals do today. In the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson chose the target of nearly every American air strike. In the future, the application of Facebook and Napster to the digital battlefield, will give individual soldiers the ability to decide where airborne munitions fall as well as the strategic course of battle.
Until the information age, the tools that man has used to kill other men have always required a human actor. In the age of superfast digital processors, humans for the first time have the ability to empower tools to autonomously command themselves. This military advancement has recently enjoyed widespread use among western militaries. As of 2005, the US Army has used robotic explosive disposal units in over 20,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These robotic S.W.O.R.D.S.(Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System) have also been fitted with machine guns and deployed in Iraq since 2004. More ominously, western militaries are increasingly investing in unmanned fighter bombers. The French military has recently flown the Dassault nEUROn; a European unmanned stealth fighter-bomber scheduled for service by 2020. The United States Navy has a similar project called the X-47 Pegasus; envisioned as a carrier based fighter-bomber that will eventually replaced manned carrier strike craft. The most terrifying new concept is what the USAF calls “Just In Time Strike Augmentation”(JITSA). The concept calls for a swarm of 50+, 100lb., meter long, “Dominator” UAV's to circle a battlefield for up to 40 hours at a time. These UAV's could at a moments notice be called upon to deliver 2-8 guided missiles from its belly onto a ground target. This is only the first generation of such omnipresent ground-attack aircraft. The Airforce has plans to create even smaller versions of these UAV's that can operate ever increasing amounts of time. There has been recent research into the development of hummingbird sized UAV's called Micro Air Vehicles(MAV's). In the future, battlefields may be saturated with a near infinite number of minuscule UAV's, each able to unload deadly force on target at a moments notice. The prevalence of UAV's on the battlefield of today offers commanders near complete omni pretense of the events occurring. In a future wartime scenario in which deadly force could be delivered effectively and immediately to any target, commanders would increasingly approach the threshold of omni potency as well.
While the ability of the individual to significantly influence battles seems to have only existed in Homer, pre-modern battles, to a much greater degree, remained physical and tangible contests between large bodies of soldiers. Although Homeric warfare of Hector and Achilles didn't survive the Hoplite Revolution, Greek warfare would remain at least remain a tangible contest between opposing bodies of hoplite citizens throughout the 5th century. Only when Athens constructed her Long Walls and built her immense professional navy did wars truly leave the realm of immediate human influence and understanding. Unlike previous Greek wars, the Peloponnesian War was, to a far greater degree, decided by extra-human factors such as economics, food supplies, tributaries, and the plagues. Men still faced each other immediately on the battlefield, but these contests would no longer be the deciding factor in wars. In a very real sense, economics contests of attrition like the Peloponnesian war, are intangibly removed from direct human experience.
While Athenians might bemoan the abstractness of attritional warfare, warfare in antiquity still remained sensibly perceivable. Alcibiades's could still count his triremes on the eve of the disastrous Battle of Aegispotomi. This would begin to change in the later half of the 19th century with the introduction of long range artillery and modern riflery. Where the Great Emperor Napoleon had skillfully commanded his regiments in France during the magnificent Six Day campaign, Napoleon III, half a century later, would be bewildered by the terrible complexity of industrial warfare. The introduction of air power and enormous artillery barrages in the First World War would only further abstract the already surreal nature of industrial warfare. The outcome of warfare would no longer be decided on the field of battle. Increasingly, wars would be decided by “the economy” and “industrial production”. In this way, the technological-industrial revolution has changed the very ontology, or existential nature, of modern warfare. Where Leonidas could perceive and confront an actual enemy, in the industrialized 20th century, wars are much more contests between merely conceptual industrial economies.
As warfare continually grows in complexity we should expect this trend in abstraction to continue. The 21st century is a post industrial information age, in which warfare's ontology will become increasingly digital. Where steel workers once contributed to 20th century industrial wars, in the 21st century, computer technicians and satellite communication networks will be the deciding factor. Today, American military supremacy remains uncontested so long as her orbital communication satellites continue to relay information to and from America's global military assets. With the increased use of UAV's and satellite guided weapons, we can expect this dependence on global communications to increase exponentially. Cyberspace, is truly the medium by which future wars will be decided, because it will be communication superiority instead of industrial superiority that allows 21st century victory. In this way, the decisive factor in warfare- the martial contest between organized factions- will soon have merely a digital existence.
When the exponentially increasing power of future computer processors is applied to autonomous weapons, the already bewildering speed of modern warfare will quickly become incomprehensible. Today, guided missiles and mechanized infantry continue to test the limits of a commanders ability to comprehend and command. As information technology becomes increasingly synchronized, we should expect the speed of warfare to increase dramatically. This information development will coincide with the development of superfast computer processing power, to such an extent that military commanders of the future, just like computer game commanders of today, will increasingly turn to artificial intelligence to command and control autonomous weapons. In future digital wars in which battles last minutes instead of days, battlefield superiority will go to those armies with the most efficient command and control systems. Expedience and necessity will compel men to abandon the compassionate control of human beings for the cold certainty of superfast command and control systems. Just as UAV's have taken warfare out of human hands, so too will satellite networks and superfast computer processors soon remove warfare from the realm of human understanding. These wars of the future will be enormous dances of automated weapons, decided at the push of a button. Human actors will be replaced as both the planners and executers of war, yet humans will still participate in the dying.
11. Immanuel Kant, the Metaphysics of Morals p.36 http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5i.htm
12. Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is Near p.64 http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/cpu/moore.ars/
13. Randy J. Blakenship, Could he be President? 2004 p.596