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

2020-06-07

The Impact of Disruptive Technologies on Defence and Security

Exponential technological progress is affecting every part of life, especially in the digital domain. But where the commercial sphere has become a leader in the democratisation of those technologies in their potential to be weaponised, these developments are now generating new dilemmas about the military use of technology. 
 
The following report is based on the study entitled “Game of Drones” by Dr Antonio Missiroli, NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Emerging Security Challenges. However, our story begins in September 2017 when, in a speech to students in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin famously argued that whichever country becomes the leader in artificial intelligence (AI) research “will become the ruler of the world” – a goal that China has explicitly set itself for 2030.
 
In the latest global crisis over COVID-19, there is growing evidence of the disruptive, even subversive effects of psychological and (dis)information operations conducted through social media. Widespread espionage activities are now based on spear-phishing or even direct cyberattacks against medical care facilities. 
It is clear that new and potentially disruptive technologies are dramatically challenging the way that deterrence, defence and security policies are realised at both national and multilateral levels.
 
Technology and Warfare
In September 2019, Houthi rebels from Yemen claimed the first known coordinated massive swarm drone strike. Having defeated the Saudi air defence systems, they hit two oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia.
 
When harnessed by skilled commanders, technology has always acted as a force multiplier in war, allowing them to inflict more harm or to limit harm on their side. Although technological superiority generally favours victory, it never wholly guarantees it and comparable adversaries have often managed to match and counter tactical advantages, even within the same conflict. Moreover, manifestly inferior adversaries frequently adopt ‘asymmetric’ tactics in response, leading to the conclusion that the value of technology in warfare is always relative to the adversary’s capabilities.
 
Nonetheless, the exponential progress taking place since the 1990s in the development and application of Information Communications and Technology (ICT) has had a striking impact on the realm of deterrence and defence, resulting in precision-guided weapons and so-called ‘net-centric’ warfare. Having been initially conceptualised as another ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA), it is now evident that ‘net-centric’ warfare is developing quickly in an evolutionary and incremental process of transformation rather than a revolution in its own right. 
 
New technologies that are readily available and cleverly employed can now be combined together to offer both state and non-state actors a large spectrum of new tools to inflict damage and disruption above and beyond what was imaginable a few decades ago. This technology can operate not only on traditionally superior military forces on the battlefield, but also on civilian populations and critical infrastructure.
 
Excepting stealth and hypersonic systems, most of these technologies emanate from a very different ecosystem from the traditional defence industrial model. In the past, military R&D for radars, jet engines or nuclear power was later adapted and commercialised for civilian use.  
 
In contrast, these new technologies are being developed from the bottom up in an extremely short time from development to market. It is only after hitting millions of consumers worldwide and creating network effects that they are able to become dual use and thus ‘weaponisable’.
 
The vector of dual-use innovation has shifted significantly, with spill-over and spin-off effects stemming primarily from the civil realm. Investment in science and technology (S&T) is now mainly driven by commercial markets, while the new superpowers (and ‘super-influencers’) are the private big tech consumer giants from the West Coast of the United States and mainland China.
 
Remote or Lack of Control?
The latest technological breakthroughs have focused on the development and democratisation of so-called ‘standoff’ weapons; that is, armed devices capable of being launched at a distance. They may not represent the first application of a machine as a proxy in warfare (cruise missiles served a similar purpose), but with low visibility in international and domestic spaces, these new weapons provide an incomparable degree of discretion and deniability.
 
Being relatively simple to operate, such weapons are now easily accessible on commercial markets, further breaking the traditional monopoly of states over weaponry and the legitimate use of force. With new ‘spaces’ being opened up for new types of warfare, weapons that have already been employed in overseas counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations could easily be deployed in urban environments and potentially loaded with chemical, biological or radiological agents. 
 
Finally, outer space itself has remained relatively immune from these trends, thanks both to the provisions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and to the risks intrinsically associated with the possible use of force and other hazards like debris. Technological developments have focused on facilitating activity around satellite communications for broadcasting and navigation, but the most capable states have already managed partially to militarise space, with ever more states now entering the game. 
 
Disruptive Defence Innovations
The following is a list of 11 disruptive defence innovations that will change the manner in which battles are fought: 
 
1. Creating Intelligent Robot Teammates for the Army
What is termed ‘ubiquitous robotics’ is the design and deployment of robots in smart network environments in which everything is interconnected. In the name of achieving a tactical advantage, the United States, Europe and China have adopted an accelerated plan to integrate robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), data and soldiers. The next generation of Soldier Combat System (SCS) will then explore the integration of machines, sensors and data to enhance close combatant survivability, lethality and understanding of local environment. 
 
The new technology considered to support land warfare includes weaponised drones, unmanned ground vehicles and digital guns with automated firing technology. The international powers involved are also looking to enhance the power of soldiers through uniforms that adjust to environmental conditions and body armour with power storage.
 
Another emerging sector is the modernisation of interactions between human and robotic agents Human Machine Teaming (HUM-T). In 2019, France received five micro-robots able to evolve independently to listen, see and record on the battlefield. 
 
The U.S. Army has long sought intelligent robot teammates that can follow orders without constant supervision. Now the U.S. Army Research Lab (ARL) has developed software that lets robots understand verbal instructions, accomplish a task then report back. 
 
2. SWARM-BOTs to Assist Soldiers 
Using an algorithmic approach, robotic systems are now being developed to make artificial swarms of robots act in self-organising collaborative swarms equivalent to how today’s soldiers act in teams. SWARM-BOT is based on a swarm of small and simple autonomous mobile robots called S-BOTs, which have the ability to connect physically to other S-BOTs and form a bigger robot entity, the SWARM-BOT. 
 
A SWARM-BOT is typically composed of 10 physically interconnected 30 S-BOTs which can autonomously assemble but also disassemble again. The belief of researchers is now that the main tactical unit of the future will be a mixed human-robot team.
 
3. The Disruptive Tech Soldier
We will see fewer humans on the battlefield of 2050s but more technologically enhanced ones, known as ‘augmented humans’. 
Augmentation could see soldiers with exoskeletons, multiple implants and even genetic engineering create seamless access to sensing and cognitive enhancements during combat. According to ARL, “The presence of super humans on the battlefield in the 2050 timeframe is highly likely because the various components needed to enable this development already exist and are undergoing rapid evolution.” 
 
4. Automated Decision-making
Military decision-making takes place in a variety of complex domains (defence, security, cyber, etc.), for AI not only allows for data reduction and synthesis but enables predictions about future events to be made in order to plan interventions for considered outcomes. Although AI cannot yet do this autonomously, deriving decisions from predictions and analysed data will be organised as an interactive human-technology activity in which both parties become aware of one another’s strengths, limitations and objectives.
 
At the tactical level in the 2050 battlespace, autonomous processes will be integral to all command-and-control (C2), Intelligence Preparation of the battle space (IPB), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) processes. They will also serve to filter information, conduct fact-checking and disseminating, and deploy sensors and dynamically evolving communication paths.
 
5. Guarding Defence Systems Against Cyber Attacks
When cyberspace-based weapons are used for sabotage (cyberattacks) and subversion (disinformation and destabilisation campaigns), they go even further than espionage in coercing and disrupting while preserving discretion and deniability. Now the media is a transnational, global and public sphere, it has become an additional battlefield by shaping and consolidating perceptions of right and wrong, victory and defeat at lightning speed. 
 
Social media may not have been militarised, but it has certainly been weaponised, as servicemen know when they are vulnerable to hostile campaigns. ‘Open source warfare’ is the name of a new game  where individual citizens and consumers often act as more-or-less unwitting auxiliaries. Although cyber-enabled sabotage requires high levels of know-how it needs relatively little manpower, while cyber-enabled subversion is much simpler to design even if it requires a critical mass of users to spread narratives. 
 
Any military system controlled by software is vulnerable to cyber-attacks taking the following modes: 
• Cyber infiltration: Penetration of the defences of a software-controlled system, such that the system can be manipulated, assaulted or raided.
• Cyber manipulation: The control of a system by its software leaves the system intact after infiltration, which uses the capabilities of the system itself to do damage. For example, the software of an electric utility can be used to create a black-out.
• Cyber assault: An infiltration that destroys software and data in the system, or launches an attack on a system to damage the system capabilities. These include viruses and the overload of systems through e-mail (e-mail overflow).
• Cyber raid: Following infiltration, the manipulation or acquisition of data within the system leaves the system intact, but results in the transfer, destruction, or alteration of data. Examples are e-mail theft or taking password lists from a mail server.
 
There are more and more cyber-controlled weapons and assets of armed forces, while the F–22 is a cyber-controlled aircraft. Direct infiltration and degradation of the aircraft’s systems, or via its C4I connections, can be as devastating as shooting it out of the sky. When cyber infiltration of the C4I system supplies data to modern aircraft, this allows an avenue for cyber raid, manipulation and assault. 
 
6. Next-gen Unmanned Ground Vehicles
The US military is now seeking innovative and disruptive solutions to ensure the operational viability of the next generation of armoured fighting vehicles. The U.S. is pushing ahead with its Next-Generation Combat Vehicle programme, placing unmanned assets at the core of its future manoeuvre force. Nano-drones have emerged as a new tactical enabler, providing ground forces at the lowest levels with surveillance and reconnaissance capability. 
 
7. Training with Digital Enemy Forces
The military continues to research new tools for ease of use during operations and during training. VR and AR headgear can improve the training of troops for high-end fights by providing digitally created enemy forces or other environmental factors encountered in a real battle. 
VR, AR and MR (mixed reality) technologies will enable armies to build more complex battlefield scenarios. They can also prepare soldiers for the physical and cognitive demands of multi-domain operations.
 
8. Blockchain to Organise and Store Information
Multiple aerospace companies are planning to digitise much of the paper that they traditionally process when they manufacture or interact with parts. These companies now intend to integrate them into end-items or perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities. 
 
The blockchain organises and stores information in accordance with a predefined logic. Instead of data being stored on the database of a central server, it is encrypted with a copy stored on every node connected to the network.
 
Blockchain increase the quality of operational execution. Most optimally, the part would be shipped with an electronic advanced shipping notice (ASN) and all the required documents would be posted against the part record.
 
9. Counter-UAS to Detect Unmanned Aircraft
Counter-drone technology is also known as counter-UAS, C-UAS or counter-UAV technology in reference to the systems used to detect and/or intercept unmanned aircraft. A wide range of unmanned aircraft systems have come of age, from cheap but capable quadcopters to sophisticated combat drones, leaving civilian air traffic controllers, public safety officials and front-line military commanders looking for new and specialised technologies to detect, track and respond to the threat.
 
10. Directed Energy Weapons that Engage Multiple Targets
In the past 10 years, the rate of technological maturation of LASERs has accelerated dramatically where we can envision complete laser weapon systems engaging  multiple  targets with the speed of light. What is more, they have a  very  deep  penetration  that  is  small and powerful enough to be carried on tactical platforms.
 
Air-based laser weapon systems offer flexibility and precision for self-defence against aircraft and missiles, and against weapons on the ground. Only last year, the U.S. Army issued a contract to accelerate the rapid prototyping and fielding of its first combat-capable laser weapon system. This prototype will deliver 50 kilowatt-class lasers on a platoon of four Stryker vehicles in Fiscal Year 2022, supporting Manoeuvre-Short Range Air Defence (M-SHORAD) missions. 
 
11. Hypersonic Weapons Travelling at 3800 mph
‘Hypersonic’ describes any speed faster than five times the speed of sound, or roughly 760 miles per hour at sea level. Multiply that velocity by five and you have a weapon that travels at least 3,800 miles per hour or more. 
 
Both Russia and China have announced successful tests of their respective hypersonic missiles, claiming that they will achieve initial operating capability by 2020. The UK and France are working on a joint project that might be ready by 2030. The U.S. Army awarded two contracts in 2019 as it advances towards the fielding of a prototype hypersonic weapon by Fiscal Year 2023.
 
Disruption, the New Defence Norm 
Key NATO nations are prioritising disruptive innovation and increasing budgets for data management and digital technologies to transform the following capabilities: ISR; C2; the manned/unmanned/autonomous mix on land, at sea, in the air and in space; and transforming Synthetic Environments to train for multi-domain operations. This new Artificial Intelligence paradigm is emerging in defence and security and starting to dominate applications in the private sector. So long as technological superiority works as a force multiplier in war, AI will continue to prove a great influencer if not decider of outcomes. 
 
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