Thursday, April 29, 2021

Next Generation Air Dominance Program & COVID-19

The Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance Program (NGAD) is said to examine five major technologies that are likely to appear on next generation aircraft, with the goal of enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence. It has not been said what four of these technologies are, but one is propulsion. Over the past few years, the Air Force has heavily invested in variable cycle engines. It is hypothesized that other forms of technology include new forms of stealth; advanced weapons, including directed energy; and thermal management. It has also been said that NGAD is likely to carry an AI co-pilot. The NGAD program has been kept extremely secret, however, 15 September 2020, Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. This came as a shock to many because the NGAD program was still very young and funding only began two years ago at the time. At AFAs September virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference Roper said that the NGAD program, which is meant to complement or succeed the F-22 and F-35, “has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records in the doing.” He released no other details about NGAD due to security reasons.


However, the final draft of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill cuts $70 million from the NGAD program and some are worried NGAD will become an “unintended casualty” of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also calls for the Pentagon’s cost-assessment office to review NGAD and the Air Force’s Digital Century Series. Roper argued that the rapid development of NGAD, coupled with extended use of digital engineering, open architecture systems, and agile software development for weapons systems are needed to quickly bring to bear new capabilities needed for a new era. After much skepticism and doubt of the reliability behind NGAD, Roper said, “We’ve got to hope that things get back to normal so we can get back in SCIFs as quickly as we can and just do the best we can at an unclassified level to explain why this technology that revolutionized the automotive industry, why it is revolutionizing military programs and the handful of instances where it has found root.” Many feel that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the timeline of the NGAD program, but that it will in no way stop production and development.

Securing the US Defense Supply Chain

 The Issue

Many resources required by the United States’ defense industry are sourced from China, which some argue creates a level of dependency and vulnerability for the US military on a rival market. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has modeled the problems that occur when the global supply chain falters and domestic production is not enough to compensate. Since early 2020, the US technology industry has increasingly found itself without the necessary tools to continue producing mobile phones, computerized vehicles, and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) that rely on semiconductors due to emergency travel restrictions between the US and China. As this shortage threatens the procurement strategy of the US military, the attention of the US government has snapped to evaluating and strengthening the nation’s supply chains.

Current Approach

The US had begun attempting to strengthen its supply chain through China under the Trump administration, which sought to codify suspicion of Chinese industry and encourage investment within the United States through prohibitive orders on Chinese ICTs that might have negative implications for the US defense industry. The Biden administration has continued this interest in increasing supply chain resiliency and has sought to evaluate dependencies across the government to develop a comprehensive response that will allow the US to diversify trade away from China where possible, while recognizing that a full decoupling is untenable. The United States lacks the scale of rare earth element resources, mining, and processing that China possesses.

However, it is certainly not impossible for the US to increase its exploitation of resources located within its borders and produce more of the basic components it needs domestically. The Department of Defense (DOD) has funded multiple projects to build US-based processing facilities, for example in early 2021, where a $30.4 million contract was awarded to an Australian mining company to operate in Texas. Concerns about foreign ICTs also persist in the aftermath of the 2020 supply chain hack of US defense agencies through SolarWinds. The US Department of Commerce served several subpoenas on Chinese ICTs in March of 2021 in an effort to investigate the transaction activity of foreign businesses. Overall, the dependence of critical technology sectors in the US economy on Chinese industries is recognized as a high-priority national security issue for the United States.

Thinking Forward

Addressing the dependency of US defense industries on China is not an impossible task, but it is one that requires measured, long-term expectations. The degree to which the US economy can be feasibly extricated from China has limitations in a globalized economy when China possesses a disproportionate wealth of rare earth minerals and the expertise to process them. While the United States is not devoid of resources or skill, the timeline to build the infrastructure necessary to extract and process them also requires the expansion of a specialized workforce to organize and perform the work. In the short-term, granting contracts to industries in allied nations like Australia and increasing funding incentives to domestic industries will still struggle because of these limitations. Cooperation with China will remain crucial to certain areas of defense procurement even as the US attempts to diversify its sources over the next several years.

Debt isn't the problem

 We discovered through experience that the more complex a system, the more difficult it is to force that system to collapse. We found this when we attacked the economies of Germany and Japan in the second world war, and I rediscover it every time I try to get the weeds out of my yard-- there is just too much going on to have what I can call a decisive victory with the tools I have available.

Our economy is much the same way.  The alarmist debt clock demonstrates this well. The numbers our country faces are enormous, and pose a huge investment in many parts of our daily lives.  Pundits often look to the debt as some kind of 'gotcha' with policy, telling us that as the number grows so too does our impending doom. But the clock also shows a hugely complex system, one that should have fallen apart by now if it were truly in danger of such an epic collapse.

Our economy, and by extension our debt, is one of the greatest assets we have for our national defense.  Our ability to raise capitol quickly and apply our expertise grants us advantages in traditional and non-traditional means of conflict that many of our adversaries cannot hope to match. 

I fall into the camp that believes too much debt is a bad thing. That being said, my personal budget us much more simple, and therefore much more easily disrupted and destroyed, than the national resources.  I think we could manage our funds better, but when it comes to national defense, I don't think our military spending is nearly the cause for concern that others would point it out to be.

Playing nice with others

Fun fact: artificial intelligence wargaming is a thing, but military personnel are actively wargaming to prepare for see how AI will be used, and the best for how it can be used, in the future.  One interesting that has been discovered is that the use of AI sometimes has the effect of reverting a mind trained in analysis to its baser prejudices, a recent example being that an Air Force analyst will trust a program less if he or she learns it was prepared by a Navy programmer.

Why is it that our armed forces have such a challenge in respecting other branches? Is it as simple as football rivalries that extend into the professional sphere? Do organizations ingrain within their ranks their superiority so much that working across branches causes a sour taste in the mouths of all involved?  Even members of the intelligence community point out that former military officers now involved in covert action have run into bureaucratic roadblocks to missions being completed by members of the military who would not allow access to crucial resources, such as air support, for no reason other than an 'us vs them' mentality amongst allies.

How do we move to get away from this trap?  How can we move actual prejudice to truly professional rivalry?

Future Warfare & Modernization: India

     When considering future warfare, first thoughts may rush to the strides made by the U.S. in Artificial Intelligence (AI), drone warfare and autonomous weapons. For the states that can afford such developments, investing in the future with next generation military technology enables them to keep up with the rest of the world. One such state that is pushing for innovation and future warfare, is India. 

    In an effort to modernize their arsenal, India’s defense public sector in coalition with the private sector are investing in a new project between Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Hyderabad’s Grene Robotics. The project between the electronics company and AI/robotics firm is an advanced, man-portable land to air missile, brought onto an Autonomous Man-portable Air Defense Data Link System (AMDL). Essentially, the technology is a way for a man-portable air defense system (MANPAD), sometimes thought of as shoulder launched weapons, to be launched with guided assistance from AI technology. The technology would be built using a state of the art data link system which would improve real-time targeting and reduce risk of friendly fire. The MANPADS incorporated into the new AI assisted system would address operational issues and limitations that have faced India’s armed forces. The augmented reality and virtual reality components of the weapons’ sensor-sight systems would enable the Command Centre to give real-time instructions to troops on the ground. 

    This new technological development affords India a helpful new tool for their arsenal, although it is unclear when it will be ready for use. Regardless, India is pushing to invest more in the technology and internal production in general. It was announced this year that India was seeking to invest much more in domestic products to enhance their military capabilities. The goal is to rely less upon imports and more on domestic research and development, and bridge the gap between any technological gaps which could be replaced with locally made products. To enable further investment in home-grown technology, India’s Ministry of Defense has afforded more opportunities for private enterprise in India by increasing the foreign direct investment percentage from 49% to 74%. The focus on domestic tech improvements is interesting, as India is known to be a major arms importer, with foreign arms purchases going up after a border incident with China. The shift in focusing on domestic investment likely signals a desire for self-reliance. With the assistance of BEL and Hyderabad’s Grene Robotics, their new tech investments may give India the assurance it needs in its quest for military modernization. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Who Should Control the F-35?

     On Friday April 23, 2021 two senior Democratic Senators Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the intelligence committee introduced legislation that would reassert Congress' oversight of international weapons deals. This is in response to the Biden administration's decision to go ahead with a $23 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates. This legislation is targeted directly and a few things.

    Firstly, lawmakers are worried about the expanding power of the executive to make these kind of arms trade deals without significant Congressional approval. The Trump administration informed Congress in November of 2020 it had approved the U.S. sale to the UAE as a side deal to the Abraham Accords. This $23.37 billion package contained products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp. Negotiated by the Trump administration, the UAE and these companies directly the package included fifty F-35, eighteen MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and both air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Senators and Congressmen believe that this type of deal being negotiated without Congressional oversight is dangerous.

   Additionally, this legislation specifically targets sales to our allies in the Middle East. The legislation would "limit the sale of the sophisticated U.S. military technology to countries that are not NATO members or Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea or New Zealand". This is specifically in response to two things, the Yemeni civil war and the UAE's relationship with China. The United States has become increasingly concerned with the continued involvement of the Arab Gulf States in the Yemeni conflict. The creation of a humanitarian crisis due to war and war crimes accusations have prompted the U.S. to think about the sale of weapons to states directly engaged in conflict. On the other hand, "we must enact protections to ensure the incredibly sensitive technology of these aircraft is not compromised by powers hostile to the United States, including making sure the UAE pulls back from its burgeoning relationship with China and other U.S. competitors," Senator Menendez implores. 

   Overall, its clear that sophisticated U.S. military technology and especially F-35's have taken a front seat in U.S. diplomacy. F-35's are the new powerful bargaining chip in the 2020's, but who has control over them? This legislation brings up important questions that we must address about the power of the executive, ethics of arms sales and China's ever-present threat against the United States and the innovation of military technologies that accompany the situation.  

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Comparison of American and Russian Nuclear Spending

It is estimated that there are currently around 13,500 nuclear warheads around the globe, and despite being distributed among nine nuclear powers, more than 90% of them are part of either the Russian or American arsenals. The United States has around 5,800 nuclear warheads while the Russian arsenal stands around 6,375. However, total spending in these nuclear programs is not distributed quite in the same way.

In 2019, the total global spending stood at $72.9 billion, of which the United States spent $35.4 billion. This is almost half of the total, while the Russian counterparts spent only $8.5 billion. Why is this gap in the budget so wide if both arsenals have roughly the same amount of warheads? 

The answer lays in modernization. Most of the Russian budget is destined towards the maintenance of these warheads. Also, while the Russians also destine some of it towards operations to keep these warheads deployed, Russia does not currently spend a significant amount of resources towards modernization. This is understandable since these $8.5 billion already represent 13% of the defense spending.

On the other hand, the United States spends a considerable amount of money on the modernization of the nuclear triad. Added additionally to the cost of maintaining these warheads, the United States started a journey towards modernization. It is estimated that this project is to be finished around 2046 and that the total expenses destined towards this endeavor represent a total of $1.2 trillion dollars starting in 2017. The most relevant expenses included in this projection are the Columbia class submarines, the new B-21 bombers, a new ICBM and ALCM fleet, as well as funds destined to the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Lastly, despite these plans, the United States has managed to limit spending towards nuclear weapons to 5% of the defense budget, a number way under the 13% presented by Russia. Continuous spending of $35.4 billion until 2046, the date used in the projection, yields total spending over $1 trillion, demonstrating that in order to achieve this new nuclear arsenal, the United States is likely to stay under 13% of its defense budget. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Space Force Rekindles Rivalries of Old

     The decade after World War II saw a debate centered on the shape and scope of the roles and missions of the military services. These debates dealt with budgeting issues, overlap of responsibility and redundancy. Some argued for the dissolution of the branches of armed services to place them under one umbrella. This, some thought, would help to snuff out the interservice rivalries which were beginning to boil at the time due to nuclear weapons debates. Additionally, advocates for the abandonment of branches of service thought one unified defense structure would streamline efficiency and save with costs. Ultimately however the abolition of the free-standing military departments was rejected by leading experts  and Congress as a viable strategy to eliminate interservice rivalry and streamline efficiency.  Although significant differences remained, compromises regarding the services contended that if another service was ever created, combined experience and unity should emerge as its guiding ethos. Congress rejected the possibility that the American military would be held hostage to a system where one military department could alone control thought and theory, particularly where new frontiers of military activity occurred such as space. 

    Space Force changes all of this. Strategic space strategy and space warfare will continue to grow in importance due to all-service usage of space’s resources. The creation of the Space Force is concerning, particularly that lessons identified in the compromises of the 1940's and 1950's regarding service rivalries and redundancy have been forgotten. While Space Force has the potential to be a great addition to the U.S. arsenal of uniformed services, its creation brings with it an announcement by the United States that space is a domain. While this makes sense on the surface, land, air, sea, space, it has dangerous potential. Firstly, the United States has made the commitment not to weaponize space, which we have already violated but have now essentially publicly announced. Secondly, the control of space assets by one branch inherently breeds conflict with the aforementioned all-service usage of space based assets. Space, in my opinion is a tool more-so than a domain. Like cyberspace, all uniformed services need their own individualized access to space in order to complete their specific missions. Making the existing services have to walk through joint operations bureaucratic red tape in order to access mission critical assets seems like a recipe for disaster. While the unification arguments of old are not forgotten, the benefits of independent branches far outweigh their consolidation. However, too many branches will create conflict between them and lead to unnecessary and possibly damaging outcomes.  

U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the Pacific

Now that the focus of the U.S. military has shifted away from Afghanistan and Iraq toward the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps are working toward fielding long-range strike and anti-ship missiles to hold Chinese targets. Both the Marine Corps and the Army have similar plans in regard to the future of this region. The Marine Corps is seeking to change from a land-heavy force to a mainly maritime force that is light and able to threaten Chinese forces inside the South China Sea. The Marines are also adding the Navy’s new anti-ship Naval Strike Missile and its Tomahawk missile to its ground-based fire quiver. The Army, on the other hand, is working toward a 2023 fielding of its Precision Strike Missile, a new seeker to be able to target ships, as well as toward fielding its Long-Range Hyper-sonic weapon.


Many conflicting views exist regarding the missions of the Marine Corps and Army in the Pacific. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula said, “The fact of the matter is the services need to adhere to their core competencies. And the United States Army reaching out to develop weapon systems that operate at thousand-mile range truly is encroachment.” However, this creates the question of if the services should continue in the roles they traditionally play, or if it is natural to expand missions and abilities with the shift of national interests and issues of national security.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville says he does not see the Army as in a competition with the Marine Corps and instead that the two services bring complimentary capabilities to fight in that part of the world. Similarly, Eric Sayers, a former aide to former Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris said, “That’s the kind of thing we should be encouraging: Not having the same capabilities but complementary capabilities with varying ranges and missions.” This being said, it will be interesting to see how events play out in the Indo-Pacific region with the defense budget recently facing cuts. Many believe the U.S. military does not have the budget or resources to meet the challenge of great power competition, and that this is most evident in the Western Pacific with the increase in China’s naval power.

Friday, April 16, 2021

AI Use in Military Technology and the Attribution of Fault


Technological innovation has the ability to revolutionize military affairs. While such technological innovations are few and far between, the adoption of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems could very well be one such innovation. Currently, limited AI technology is used across all sectors of military affairs, finding particular success in its ability to assist in mass surveillance and analysis of counter insurgency intelligence. However, as AI technologies find their way into a greater number of weapons systems, concern around their efficacy grows. This concern prompts us to ask; when AI inevitably fails on the battlefield resulting in an unintended death or injury, who do we hold responsible and how?

            The answer to this question ultimately depends on the type of system employed by the technology in question. Human-In-The-Loop (HITL) machines are ones that operate semi-autonomously, requiring human interaction to do so. Human-Out-of-The-Loop (HOTL) machines are systems that make decisions without any human interaction, or regardless of human interaction. An example of such is a self-driving vehicle that shuts down if a “low-oil” sensor is triggered. This shut down occurs because the sensor was triggered and does not allow any human input to suggest otherwise. The benefits of HOTL systems are speed and removal of human error. 

            If AI systems were limited to these two types of systems, the responsibility of injury caused by AI would be easy to attribute. Injury or death caused by HITL systems would likely put the specific human in the loop at risk of punishment under jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which covers situations ranging from premeditated murder (Article 118) to negligent discharge of a firearm (Article 134). Conversely, In the event that injury or death results from the malfunction of machine employing a HOTL system, traditional product liability law is appropriate. 

            However, advocates for AI use in military technology are arguing for the widespread use of a third system referred to as Human-On-The-Loop. This type of system blends the benefits of both HITL and HOTL AI technology. Ideally, Human-On-The-Loop systems capture the speed of HOTL technology, but also prevent the errors seen by their use. In a Human-On-The-Loop model, the machine operates continuously, making decisions without human input while under the observation of a human. Imagine a missile defense system that identifies and eliminates incoming enemy missiles but allows for human intervention in the event that there is an incoming friendly aircraft that the machine registers as a missile. Harken back to the self-driving vehicle that shuts down if the “low-oil” sensor is triggered. In a Human-On-The-Loop system the vehicle operator would be able to prevent the vehicle from shutting off if the human deemed the oil level sufficient to continue operation.

            The attribution of fault is not as clear cut when dealing with Human-On-The-Loop systems. In the event that an autonomous system such as the missile-defense system described above fails and unintendedly injures or kills an ally, who is at fault? Do we hold the manufacturer responsible if someone is supposedly observing the system in an attempt to prevent error? Do we hold that individual responsible for failing to prevent machine error? It is these questions that we must concern ourselves with as the application of AI in military technology moves towards Human-On-The-Loop systems. To prevent military personnel from being held liable for AI failures there must be training programs that sufficiently shift the burden of responsibility back to the manufacturer. It would be unadvisable to purchase and employ technology using Human-On-The-Loop AI systems without ensuring that adequate training is sufficient to protect the military from undue liability. This can be achieved by requiring manufactures of AI technology to embrace the role of Human-On-The-Loop training and qualification.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

One National Cyber Director To Rule Them All

Information and communication technology (ICT) has made communication and coordination easier than ever before. However, the integration of ICT within virtually every aspect of modern military strategy has also enhanced the visibility of existing interservice rivalries between government agencies. On the issue of cybersecurity strategy, this has led to an incohesive plurality of branch-specific policies as agencies compete to demonstrate a vision on cyberwarfare in the absence of national strategic guidance.

Enter Chris Inglis, former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and, as of April 2021, the Biden administration's nominee to become the first National Cyber Director in US history. What makes Inglis the right guy for the job? It's not too difficult to understand why considering the current institutional structure that governs cybersecurity and the opportunities for friction along institutional seams.

The Office of the National Cyber Director was established at the end of the Trump administration through Section 1752 of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. In general, the National Cyber Director's duties are to advise the President and government agencies on cybersecurity policy, lead the joint coordination of national cyber strategy across agencies, and engage with private sector actors on cybersecurity threats. In case that did not sound complicated enough, the position also has no direct authority over any other agency and may only share resources such as personnel or facilities with their consent. 

Consider then also the often ill-defined division of responsibilities and existing opportunities for friction within departments of the NSA like US Cyber Command and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The relationships that Inglis will bring with him to the position of National Cyber Director are essential to the position, which will require a diplomatic touch to be effective -- and that's without even considering the private sector.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Should the War in Afghanistan be Completely Privatized?

On 13 April 2021 President Biden announced the plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 and is expected to formally announce the decision on 14 April. This decision was long awaited after the previous deadline President Trump set of having all troops withdrawn by 1 May 2021. However, officials remain worried even with this delayed deadline whether the U.S.-backed government in Kabul can prevent the Taliban from undoing advances in its governance. This decision comes after recent reports of the Taliban launching rockets late last month at Forward Operating Base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan, and a second attack in which a water tower was hit, and a few rounds landed on the base. Finally, the Taliban have threatened to attack U.S. troops if they stay past the 1 May deadline.


In recent years, Erik Prince, former Special Forces and founder of the private military firm Blackwater, has argued for the complete privatization of the war in Afghanistan. He believes a small footprint of private military contractors and an even smaller footprint of U.S. special operators may be able to accomplish what hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and NATO forces over the last twenty years could not. Furthermore, while this would likely not save money, it could have more lethal benefits. A Brookings Institution report found that contractor deaths are not listed on public rolls, and they’re rarely mentioned by the media. Additionally, these firms aren’t subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, so hiding information from journalists is also much easier.


The number of contractors vs. troops in Afghanistan has always been close to equal. In the past decade, the United States has signed more than 3,000 contracts with private military firms, employing tens of thousands of people. Now the question remains whether private military companies will remain past the 11 September deadline, or if they should and what the results will be.

Monday, April 12, 2021

PMC's: America's Greatest Export

    Traditional military intervention comes with a price. Typically undertaken by a state on its own behalf or on the behalf of an ally various actions must be taken to approve use of military force. When used, military force is often seen as an extension of a state's will, national goals and determination to pursue an ideology. But what if a state cannot afford to keep a significant standing military? What if they can't risk their values to publicly protect their interests? What if the military of a state is too weak to deal with an overwhelming threat? 

    PMC's or Private Military Companies, also called Private Military Contractors provide an excellent solution to these problems. PMC's fill a niche which has been present since ancient times. In the modern day they help combat piracy, terrorism, protect controversial assets and handle a lot of troop training efforts. Without PMC's small scale support would become bogged down in political red tape. PMC's allow for small, strategic force application and training without the commitment or bad press of direct state engagement. Most recently PMC's were hired to help combat ISIS in Mozambique. Due to their involvement they were able to mount a significant counteroffensive mostly comprising of specialized urban, room clearing combat. Their involvement helped the government of Mozambique push back against ISIS in a conflict that has already killed over 2,500 and displaced over 600,000. This situation showcases just how specialized, fast acting and impactful PMC's can be in the modern world. 

    On the flip side however, PMC's have been heavily criticized for their lack of oversight and the moral grey area they inhabit. PMC's have be riddled with war crime accusations throughout the 2000's and 2010's and for good reason. With state military involvement comes bureaucratic red tape, but it also comes with the mechanisms that allow that state to function in an increasingly connected world. Oversight, moral obligation and legal ramifications are just a few of the things we take for granted when our military force is applied elsewhere. If the U.S. military is involved any deviation from the international rules of engagement and moral standards is met with consequences. With PMC's however, the accountability is questionable. Allowing a private company such freedom in a military capacity is a point of contention for some. Additionally, there is the issue of money. Bringing back the Mozambique example, PMC's there have come under fire for withdrawing without providing adequate training for helicopter pilots in Mozambique's Army. But when the cash stops flowing the bags get packed.

    Overall, I believe that the case for PMC's is stronger for the one against. The fill a unique and important niche that has been around for a long time and in the modern day has even been expanded. Their flexibility and response time are unmatched which produces some stunning results. They operate without the restriction of bureaucratic approval, they carry much of the burden of training and overall provide support to nations that the U.S. simply refuses or cannot become involved in. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Good Dog Bad Dog

 The group MSCHF recently purchased a robotic dog from the company Boston Dynamics.  Boston Dynamics describes its creation such: “Spot is an agile mobile robot that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility, allowing you to automate routine inspection tasks and data capture safely, accurately, and frequently.” The purpose, ostensibly, was to create a robot that could help with menial tasks and free people time and effort.  MSCHF has taken the robo-pooch to the next level.  With a remote control paintball gun, the group demonstrated how easily the robot could be weaponized adapted for war.

Weapons mounted on robots or drones is by no means a new idea.  Aside from the widespread use of aerial drone which already dominate combat, we have yet to really see a version of the terminator on the battlefield.  But they're coming.

China recently unveiled robots with mounted weapons, and have also recently shown their own doggos that compete with Boston Dynamics.  For a country that already has an enormous standing military, a supplemental force of robots armed and ready to be deployed could be a startling concept.

Should we do the same? 

Security Contractors

 I recently had a discussion with my significant other.  It started with a question that I think surprised them. "So, out of curiosity, what is your opinion of private military companies?" I wasn't prepared for the response.

For the next half-hour we had a very one-sided conversation about the evils of mercenaries, of war profiteering, of people choosing as a job to go to a foreign land and impose the will of corporations with little or no transparency.  I'm grateful I got an answer to my question: she's decidedly against PMCs.  But I'm not so certain if I am or not.

What is the difference between a security contractor and a member of the military?  Does rank and official command structure make such a difference that soldiers are good and 'mercenaries' are bad? Don't members of the military choose a career where the purpose is to kill people and break things? Are citizens really kept apprised of all the doings of the military, or do we have enough 'transparency' to be confident that wrongdoing will not go unpunished?  

The American government clearly has no problem in hiring private security companies. Contractors have been, and are, heavily involved in every major war effort since 1965 when former SAS created an elite group to supplement fighting forces. The US employs advisors, trainers, bodyguards and personnel from private security companies with regularity. But should it? Do these companies adhere to the same standards of conduct as military members are expected to? Is it right that a multi-billion dollar industry exists where private citizens can be hired to go to war and profit from it? Do these professionals violate the Geneva Convention by adding unlawful combatants to warzones?

In the case for private security, I see ample reason to keep them-- the human capital is already high. The US does not need to train these individuals, it can use them to supplement whatever mission it has and can distance itself from the conduct of individuals if they become problematic.  The case against them is mostly moralistic (as I discovered when I broached the subject); mercenaries are inferior to actual soldiers, they violate international law and promote the global industry of war, encouraging conflict.

My opinion remains open. While I think of the military as a noble profession, am I biased against private companies who are made of former military? Do I somehow think they don't value the country quite as much because now they work for a higher paycheck?  Would I work for a PMC if given the chance? 

Yes, assuming they'd hire me.