Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-05-10

The Years Preceding a Total Human-Tech Integration are Pivotal for Military R&D: Here’s Why.

EARTH, EDGE’s R&D specialist entity, is developing a holistic value chain to deliver a raft of 4.0 solutions to ensure an optimum balance of human-tech military capabilities
 
By: Dr. Jasem Al Zaabi, Chief Operating Officer, EARTH
 
If we have learned anything from recent events, it’s that the world as we know it is balanced on a tightrope. In the blink of an eye, it can transition from calm to chaos, from peacetime to wartime, in a matter of minutes. Maintaining that delicate balance is crucial, yet ever more complex, as threats only become more diverse and varied.
 
In the military and defence space, the sudden dominance of digital technologies across multiple sectors is propelling us towards a total and irreversible human-tech integration that will have far-reaching consequences. 
 
Before we reach an era dominated by a race of bionic or semi-computerised superhumans, we need to leverage the tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) we are currently living through to gather the required intelligence and strike an unshakeable balance between human and robot for militaries across the world.
In preparing ourselves for encounters in the combat zones of the future, the advanced research and development we are undertaking at EARTH – powered by our significant Emirati workforce that understands the local and regional defence landscape and customer requirements – will play an indispensable role in safeguarding the UAE and its allies from threats foreign and domestic with reliable high-performance turnkey and mission-ready solutions.
 
Currently, threats are coming in all shapes and sizes, making the landscape even more uncertain, given their sheer unpredictable variety. Nations, states and organisations across the world today have been able to develop small-scale and lethal weapons systems on shoestring budgets through leveraging widely available commercial technologies. 
But far from being able to dismiss such low-budget systems as unsophisticated or under-developed, multiple inexpensive drones can now pose a real risk to established military systems. And we cannot expect the costliest deterrents and missile systems to nullify these small-scale threats every time. It’s a costly, unsustainable and ineffective use of vital resources.
 
Defence systems, and the value chains supplying them, need to respond in kind. We must develop cost-effective solutions to combat cheap offensive swarms, just as we do large scale laser defence systems to deal with major threats from air, land and sea. 
 
As an emerging economy with high-potential to become a major contributor and hub for new defensive systems founded and designed on the latest 4.0 innovations, the UAE urgently needs to build a comprehensive value chain that can offer viable solutions to the threats the country and its allies face in the geopolitically volatile region around us.
From state-of-the-art autonomous ground vehicles and laser defence systems, to nano and composite materials for soldier armour and 3D printing of vital aerospace parts, EARTH is working with leading international defence systems providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to establish vital operating systems that can transform military readiness and capabilities in the UAE, the region and beyond.
 
Among the myriad of military solutions we are developing in our R&D labs that are overseen, powered and driven by our teams of former UAE Armed Forces personnel, autonomous systems are a core focus.
 
There’s little doubt that AI and autonomous systems have and will continue to profoundly alter the nature of armed conflict. Exactly how it will impact and transform militaries around the world is more difficult to predict. Foreseeing how technology will change any industry is a futile task, particularly so when it comes to military operations. 
The potential benefits, however, are irrefutably obvious. This is why billions have already been spent on developing bleeding-edge autonomous military capabilities around the world. According to the American multinational consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG), global spending on autonomous military systems grew from just US$2.4 billion in 2000 to US$7.5 billion in 2015 and is predicted to reach US$16.5 billion by 2025. 
 
The logic for this expenditure is clear. Robots could replace humans in situations that are either too unpredictable or too monotonous. They will cut down the cost of managing, operating and feeding large armies in foreign terrains, and improve the reliability of tasks being completed repeatedly to the same standards, without deviation.
 
For ground operations, autonomous vehicles that can be manned by one person, remotely, could include advanced target detection and identification systems. In the sea, unmanned naval vessels wouldn’t need to contain and sustain a navy crew. Excess space previously used for the ship’s kitchens, sleeping and common areas can be eliminated, allowing for smaller and more nimble vessels. Alternatively, they can be used to incorporate additional defensive features or on-board hardware systems. And in the air, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now considered among the most agile and accurate systems across militaries worldwide.
 
In the human realm of operations, we are pioneering imaging and optics that will enhance the safety of military personnel, as well as improve the performance of military vehicles and aircraft – to both protect against laser attacks and maximise the amount of information that can be taken in and consumed by foot soldiers, pilots or unmanned vehicles without obstructing their vantage points over the battlefield.
 
Enhanced imaging and optics are vital today, as more and more data is required to plan and execute increasingly sophisticated and innovative military strategies and tactics. The systems that allow military personnel to gather the data, need to be compact and lightweight – demands that are driving and informing our R&D in the field, especially in the areas of heads-up displays and laser protection filters.
 
Moreover, photonics and optics will play a defining role in sensing, detecting and communicating the locations of weapons systems and the infiltration and movements of enemy forces, with the aim of quickly determining intent at greater distances and with greater certainty. Multispectral imaging, captured by multispectral sensors, can be developed to reveal information other sensors can’t. This is a major reason the technology is being pursued as a means for information and activity-based intelligence gathering. In this sense, seeing really will be believing.
 
As adversaries continue to develop and deploy newer, faster, more efficient technologies in the theatre of war, we must work smarter to stay ahead. Research and development in crucial defence areas has never been more important. As we edge closer each day to battlefields dominated by autonomous systems and superhuman robots, it’s clear that only the best integrated forces will have the upper hand. It’s our mission to make that integration as seamless and powerful as possible.
 

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