Saturday, August 7, 2010

Future war dynamics - I

Without a doubt - war will change (and is already changing). For one, it is beginning to involve less and less people. The war in Iraq already used robots and significantly reduced human casualties. Sample this -,0,7450196.story .

Robot drones are in many cases cheaper than human soldiers. They don't have to be physically trained, they don't need special combat protection and they don't need to be paid. They might need an operator, and even the need for an active human operator is being phased out. Yet, I will limit my discussion to robots that are remotely controlled from another location and where the entire "robot-interface-controller" package is cheaper than deploying a real soldier on the field.

Take for instance the Prototype "Predator B" drone capable of carrying 215 kilograms of payload. The predator has evolved from a surveillance device to a truly dangerous attack device.

The following videos illustrate the utility of these drones

As interested as I am in how these machines are great technology, I will not continue in that direction. Instead, I will focus on how these machines will change warfare.
What will it be like? Will we have fewer human casualties than ever before, or will newer weapons make war casualties mount?

At this point it would be safe to say that in terms of destructive power, nuclear weapons aren't about to be exceeded anytime soon (at least with technology I am aware of). Atomic weapons have redefined the dynamics of war, and Mutually Assured Destruction is a powerful deterrent for war today. Of course, one could dispute the previous statement - but that's not the focus of this piece. I am going to claim that robots; aircraft, tanks, fast moving artillery vehicles, remote controlled submarines are all going to change how we look at war dramatically.

I'd like to start by constructing a scenario where there are two democratic countries (Absurdistan and Baloneya, A and B for short) sending out soldiers to fight at the frontlines.

Both sides suffer heavy casualties, and some sort of peace treaty is signed. Of course, peace treaties haven't stopped wars before, and the treaty failed. War was declared again, only this time - A started replacing soldiers with bots and won the war. Like with any war, both sides experienced a loss of human lives BUT the side with bots experienced a much less loss. Another peace treaty was signed and in effect. But B wanted the secrets behind A's success and sends Russian spies to steal the warbot plans. Astonishingly; they're successful in doing so.

A few years pass and news breaks out of B arming itself with advanced warbots. Of course; A hasn't been resting on it's victory and has now replaced every human soldier on the frontline with a remotely controlled drone. B is still hurting from the earlier war and deploys diplomatic measure to avert a new one, but is in the process of phasing out its own soldiers.

A few more years pass and both A and B have advanced war drones. Fast forward ten years or so. The peace treaty breaks down again because WikiLeaks leaks documents detailing the exploits of the Russian spy. This time both armies are full of robots remote controlled from secret locations. A and B start warring with their guns blazing and find themselves evenly matched technologically. The shift probably wont be as abrupt, but I'm skipping the "shift phase" to a robot army for the sake of convenience.

This is where I stop with the hypothetical scenario; as I am simply unable to come up with a single scenario to describe what would happen next. I do have plenty of questions though.

With either side having eliminated the prospect of soldiers dying on the frontlines, there would only be robot casualties. What motivation would either side have to end this war? Would it be purely economic? Countries draw up a peace treaty for various reasons, one among which is a mounting death toll. With that disincentive to continue war eliminated, will we only be more eager to continue a war?

War is expensive, but remotely controlled machines will make it cheaper in many ways. Will this prolong a war?

Will one country be forced to target civilians or hold them hostage in order to up the stakes for the other country? If it is illegal for any country to do this (not that international rules of engagement ever deterred countries strongly enough) then will they coerce other countries to use human soldiers when robot replacements would suffice perfectly fine. It would be advantageous for a country to use robots to replace its own soldiers, but have other countries use humans.

Once the feasibility of robot soldiers has been proven, will countries have a responsibility to start replacing their human soldiers? Will there be a demand to do so; just as newer techniques for saving soldiers lives have a pressure to be adopted.

How will terrorism change?

Will frontlines be littered with nuts and bolts instead of blood and bodies? What would be the significance of war then? Would we still see as much of a need to avoid it?

Would war just be a game where soldiers play Modern Warfare 9000+, only with real world consequences?

And will we finally have to come face to face with the fact that war means murder, or will it distance us from that reality?

I really want to know your thoughts about this, I welcome all thoughts - but please lay off possibilities of a robot Armageddon Terminator. Why this isn't a plausible scenario is a topic for another entry in the blog.