Monday, January 23, 2017

The Swarm

            In Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, Stephen Biddle argues that force employment is central to modern war. Biddle focuses on land warfare tactics and how such tactics determine the outcome of war; in doing so, Biddle largely discounts and ignores the importance of naval and air forces. Yet the biggest critique of the book comes from Biddle’s opinion of technology. The author does not believe that we are undergoing a revolution in military affairs. Biddle states, “the modern system works by exploiting properties of military technology that have changed little since 1918 and are changing only slowly today.” This statement may have been true at the time of press, but today, technology is changing rapidly and so are the military implications. Force deployment or tactics were important before the current system and will be so after. But in arguing his case, Biddle suffers from a lack of imagination and downplays how the current system of force employment itself resulted from technological development. The battlefields of 2018 and beyond may show little resemblance to the battlefields of 1918.

            There are many examples of the ways emerging technology could change the methods militaries wage modern wars and the defense tactics nations employ. With questions surrounding the presidential election, cyber warfare has become a very real concern. The United States economy and military rely heavily on cyber and satellites for communication. Many U.S. officials and scholars believe that the U.S. is falling behind and could not withstand a significant cyber attack. Our satellites remain vulnerable as well, while China is weaponizing outer space. The irony is that a cyber and space war could potentially eliminate a military’s current command and control structures, resetting military operations to something like the modern system employed during the first and second world wars. Therefore, outer space and cyber space will play dominant roles in future wars. 

            An area that could be more revolutionary is the use of unmanned weapons platforms. The U.S. military is introducing more drones to the battlefield every year. If Boston Dynamics’ work is any indication, drone soldiers, sci-fi terminator terrors, may be coming to a conflict near you. Soon, enemy combatants may never enter the same physical space. The combination of AI and improvements in robotics will be revolutionary. Drone swarms are the future of warfare. A mass of low-cost expendable systems could change the way militaries fight. The key to a swarm is that the entire group acts as a single unit, but they're not centrally controlled. Instead, each member of the swarm uses software for coordination that mimics the way flocks of birds and schools of fish behave. Currently, a remote pilot individually flies a military drone like the Reaper, but a single operator could command any number of drones in a swarm. And if drone swarms are the future, China may be winning
The Birds

           Over the past two decades, China’s People’s Liberation Army has transformed itself from a large but antiquated force into a capable, modern military. According to a recent RAND report, China’s technology and operational proficiency still lag behind those of the United States, but it has rapidly narrowed the gap. Moreover, China enjoys the advantage of proximity in most plausible conflict scenarios. China’s geographical advantage in Southeast Asia would likely neutralize many U.S. military strengths. A war over Taiwan or contested islands will not play like the Ludendorff offensive. To maintain the edge, the U.S. military must prepare for the conflicts of the future, rather than those of the past. 

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