War has been a part of human history and technology has brought us to the future of warfare. The question is what will the future weapon look like? It seems like the future is already here.
Just like in any other field, automation is now becoming the trend. Decades of development in military technology has resulted in self-driving tanks, drones and automatic sentry guns to name a few.
Paul Scharre has written a new book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War. As a former Army Ranger in the U.S. Military, Paul has also helped in drafting government policies on autonomous weapons. He shares in an interview with The Verge about the U.S. Army’s plans regarding autonomous weapons, and the possible harmful effects of new military technology.
The military is updated when it comes to these new technologies and discussions have been going on for the past nine years at the UN, the Pentagon, and NATO about autonomous weapons technology. What used to be theories in the past is now developing quickly and starting to become part of mainstream society.
When people see self-driven cars, they often think about connecting the technology to weapons. They start to ask questions like, “What would happen if a military drone has as much autonomy as a self-driving car?”
The United States has encountered this military robotic revolution by chance during campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of air and ground robots were purchased and put into action. Drones would provide air surveillance while bomb disposal robots were good at disarming IEDs on the ground.
It was during these encounters that the U.S. realized the value of these technologies and started to think strategically about how to pursue this in the future. The limitations that were experienced before was the communication links that the robotic systems had with their human controllers. The devices were used to “jam” the signals which make your robots useless.
The U.S. Navy has an Aegis Combat System, which is used to defend attacks from precision-guided missiles, which are also a type of semi-autonomous system. Where we are when it comes to weapon systems is that autonomous weapon systems are being developed in order to combat the enemies autonomous weapons system.
This is the path that is being taken due to the advancement in technology. Paul believes that it is not a great idea to have less human control when it comes to violence, but as tech grows weapons systems advance as well.
The latest weapons technology is great if your side has them. The problem is when both sides have the same tech, warfare is raised to a higher level, which means more loss of property and human lives.
Paul relates the story about the Gatling gun. This weapon had automation technology that reduced the number of people needed to deliver a certain amount of firepower. Four soldiers with a Gatling gun can do as much damage as 100 regular soldiers with their automatic rifles. The initial purpose of this automation was to reduce the number of people involved in doing a specific task, but the military’s response was to expand their firepower which resulted in more violence than ever.
The U.S. Defense Department has stated that they plan to keep a human involved in future weapons systems especially when authorizing lethal force decisions. This is not how countries like Russia plan to build for the future. Their goal is to build fully automated combat unit robots capable of doing operations.
The recent attack on a Russian airbase in Syria saw mass drones being used to carry out the operations. Armed drones can be assembled today using commercially available equipment and this is what some Islamic States are doing.
There have been recent meetings in the United Nations due to the proposal from Austria and China to sort of ban autonomous weapons. This is unlikely to bear any fruit because all countries in the UN have to agree in order for the ban to take effect.