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Technology and the defence environment in 2030

Technology and the defence environment in 2030

Machiavelli said in The Prince: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." I am going to focus on technology but it is also important to sketch in the environment in which it may need to be deployed. I suggest that there are four characteristics will most likely guide our future:

Economics will play an increasing role in national security. Economic factors will determine alliances, generate conflicts, and inhibit or support the proper modernization and readiness of forces.

International politics will differ radically from the form to which most of us have become accustomed. Even today we can begin to see power shifts from nation states to international organizations. Much more frequently we see responsibility shifts from states to international organizations without commensurate shifts in authority. International politics will be less linear and more disorderly reflecting the cross currents of a world no longer locked in a polarizing global conflict of the Cold War.

Ideology will be a major factor. You need only look at the events in Israel to see that kind of ideology inspires passion that can change major regions of the world.

Finally, there truly is a technological revolution underway which will shape the strategy and fundamental issues that separate or join nations.

I can't tell you what the implications of those problems are for everyone, but I can tell you a little bit about the implications for military forces.

We already see a shift in our military forces in the United States and around the globe from forces that are designed to do battle on a global scale to those that are designed to contain and deal with regional conflicts.

I am going to discuss the shape of these changes under five headings. First, I want to tell you what we are going to try to move away from:

Second, all elements of our society will place a very high premium on information. For the military, information for strategic intelligence, tactical intelligence, precision targeting and after-action assessments. There will be a high demand to protect our own information and exploit open source and our opponent's intelligence. Opponents can be military or commercial.

Increasingly sophisticated encryption systems will deny us readily available open source intelligence but will be protected in the future because of its economic value. Information transmission media will themselves complicate intelligence collection because of their speed, sophistication, and relative invulnerability to access and sheer volume of information.

Just a few years ago, if we were going to extract from some nameless nation intelligence that was the equivalent of a 5 minute conversation, we had to go through the equivalent of a stack of paper correspondence 5 miles high. Today that same stack of correspondence would be 112 miles high. That's the increase in the volume of material we have to go through just to glean some tactical intelligence.

On the other hand, very small bits of information injected into someone else's system has huge consequences in confusing an opponent and destroying his confidence in his own system, be it financial systems, stock market, health systems or air defence systems. In either commercial or military applications speed in information processing, higher level languages and artificial intelligence will be essential to win because to win you must operate inside your opponent's decision cycle. In short, commercial and military information warfare will be a major, perhaps dominant characteristic of the future. Extraordinarily sophisticated systems to control communications, power, stock exchanges, and monetary assets can break down and will be attacked.

Third, robotics and remote controlled sensors will be essential to gather information in the future. They will be very small and deployed in very large numbers, and specialized in their tasks in order to reduce their size and minimize data processing. Any movement will be detected in specific areas of interest and progressively more complex sensors will be focused upon the movement to determine final disposition.

For urban combat and surveillance in peacekeeping missions, many of the sensors will be incorporated into the human. Today we strap on night vision devices but by 2025 we almost certainly will implant enhancements in the human body to deal with biological warfare, to enhance visibility, to increase strength of the soldier, and do a variety of other things. Portable sources of energy will become a major issue if this is to be realised.

Fourth, combatants and weapons will be dominated by robotics. This combines systems designed to conduct routine operations with consistent quality and to enhance human characteristics with tomorrow's systems, used to extend the potency of human forces and avoid casualties amongst them. Systems can achieve and maintain operational quality that would require a huge continuous investment in skill and training.

Fifth, the traditional element of military dominance, mass, will take on a very different form. To quote from US Navy 2025 report: "Twenty years from now, ... small, lethal, sensing, emitting, flying, crawling, exploding and thinking objects may make the battlefield highly lethal to humans. The battlefield of the future will be dominated by precision-guided munitions; enormous quantities and varieties of sensors will collect and disseminate a vast amount of tactical intelligence; and advanced automation will reduce the number of people in harm's way. But while there will be an enormous increase in the mass of sensors and other minute devices on the battlefield, there will be fewer weapons."

Those weapons will be smart weapons that will allow us to reduce wholesale destruction and the tremendous expenditure of ordnance. The goal is finer and finer precision, more and more selectivity and less need for mass. Indeed, there is less need for weapons of mass destruction because they are increasingly less useful to us for military characteristics. Weapons of mass destruction are political tools used by one nation to influence the population of another, not tools we in the military need to carry out military operations.

Thomas Paine came from England to America less than a year before the outbreak of the American Revolution. In the pamphlet Common Sense, published in 1776, he wrote: "We have it in our power to begin the world all over again." Surely our society has the skill to bring this technology to fruition before the competition take us back again to the Dark Ages. And surely we have international and national governing bodies that will create the environment necessary for this technology to flourish without undo interference while inhibiting the opportunities for mischief. Or do we? May a combination of pressure groups and well meaning regulation slow our progress to a halt?

Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have this picture of five smart guys from Arabia who see the opportunity to change the world. To turn the world upside down. Military applications of molecular manufacturing have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power. In anticipation of that possibility the uninformed policymaker is likely to impose restrictions on development of technology in such a way as to inhibit commercial development while permitting those operating outside the restrictive bounds to gain an irrevocable advantage.

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