Contemporary & Future Warfare: A brief comparative analysis

by Manos Panaoussis, member of the International Relations & Foreign Affairs Research Team

Technology in warfare has been an important factor in the strategic analysis of international (such as the UN and NATO) and national agents. We are interested in the evolving of technology in warfare, since the technological advantage of a country can lead to a partial or total superiority which can naturally make the subservient countries accept several fait accomplis in silent acquiescence, even against their vital strategic interests. Technology in warfare is therefore essential to the strategic planning of any country on a local, regional or international level. The purpose of the present paper is to investigate some of  the current trends in ongoing and upcoming warfare and likely to affect warfare technologies, amid the current nuclear landscape, and present them in an orderly manner. Due to the limited length of the current research we are going to merely touch the surface of some warfare technologies and not go into an in-depth of technology in war. The aim is however, for a reader to be able to make several inferences from reading it, regarding what technology in war is and what it can achieve. 

Understanding the Nuclear Weapons landscape

Contemporary views on Nuclear Threats and Strategic Analysis on the specific issue have been dramatically altered in the post-cold war era. The emergence of new technologies regarding nuclear but also conventional weaponry have changed the landscape in which state and non-state actors, with the latter becoming increasingly involved as variables in the formulation of strategies, make decisions. Although non-state actors (such as private military contractors or security consultancy companies) do not usually have the lead in the fundamentals of military strategy, they are however becoming increasingly involved as variables in the formulation of strategies by providing tactical, technical, strategic and other forms of advice. Cold war conventional wisdom has it that nuclear weapons are usually equated with stalemate and nuclear use with total disaster (Lieber, Press, 2013). It can be argued that this has not always been the case and is not the case today.

New technologies (such as satellites or advanced ballistic metrics) allow strategists to gain valuable information from analysts who can calculate the “Probability of Damage”, the “Radius of destruction” and various other metrics. High accuracy and effectiveness of counter force strikes lead to a great reduction of casualties. On a large scale, this has major implications for nuclear balances around the world (USA – China, USA- North Korea etc.) as they seem more spread and focused on a regional level and bear little resemblance to the classic Cold War Nuclear dilemma, hence providing a fundamentally different ground for strategic analysis (Lieber, Press, 2013) .Preparing for and against various threats and scenarios does not indicate that a state is pursuing (or propagating) war by any means. After all, many strategists around the world, including nuclear countries, monitor and often comment on changes in nuclear strategies of other Countries.  George Bush’s quote “when we talk about war, we are actually talking about peace” seems to be of good fit. 

Historically, the nuclear arena has been a closed one. Examples of this are the first efforts of the US to try and retain the nuclear advantage, shortly after the US-USSR nuclear balance, and finally at a later stage the multi-state nuclear balance that Is contained from further increase by international law. One of the most important tasks was keeping the “Nuclear Deterrence” as it was and not allowing any new actors coming in. This is proving increasingly difficult, with major economic powers like Japan and North Korea constantly facing the consequences of an unfavorable nuclear regional balance. The US has promoted a regional cooperative security through organizations such as ASEAN, ARG and SCO (Dannreuther, 2014). But, just as the strategy of containment of the USSR and Dulle’s massive retaliation doctrine lost credibility over time, the nuclear umbrella that America extends over its allies in the Asian region could present a deteriorating stability (Papasotiriou, 2018) (Koliopoulos, 2008). If the ultimate goal of the Non-Proliferation treaty, that is nuclear disarmament, is not accomplished, it would be considerably harder for these countries to be stopped from attaining them than countries with nuclear aspirations such as Syria and Lybia (The Economist, 2020).

Technological development drives major changes in our understanding of strategic landscapes. Of course, such changes in strategic analysis cannot undermine the greater strategy of the Nuclear Superpowers regarding Arms Control and Non-Proliferation objectives but should alter and ameliorate it. The term co-opetition, a process in which actors co-operate in a competitive environment in order to achieve specific results; in our case, keeping the system closed and nuclear weapons away from the wrong hands; can accurately describe the efforts states should put into achieving this objective. 

Applications of Technology in Modern Warfare and Warcraft

As technology continues to increase exponentially, more and more states realize the importance of staying ahead. This is felt and observed on an individual level too, where people tend to participate in a (not always so healthy) competition in what might initially seem like a page or number, but soon proves to be more than that.  A good example is China’s Social Credit System. China’s implementation of the Social Credit System gathered momentum in 2015 and continues to engulf the social life of citizens. It is essentially a system of data on various important indices that characterize every Chinese citizen as to his trustworthiness and can blacklist certain individuals, downgrading their credit scores (General Office of the State Administration of Taxation, 2014). The important element is its centralized nature, as a pool of big data, that enables deep analysis in each individual separately. This, as irrelevant as it might seem at first, transcends the very nature of warfare and introduces the concept of cyber-warfare, a concept well-known by now in the community, although not heavily researched. Cyber-warfare allows for a possible change in the interstate nature of warcraft, changing the levels in which it takes place and introducing several other actors that can oppose the state as well as many citizens. The cyber realm encompasses several other aspects of emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing (Joe Cheravitch, 2020).

Artificial intelligence is essentially a set of autonomous functions that a program carries out in order to accomplish a given objective. AI can utilize a series of algorithms that allow it to learn on its own and potentially ameliorate its very foundations. It has a broad range of applications from the stage of production in factories, to data analysis, to autonomous guidance in self-driving cars or planes. The use of artificial intelligence has radicalized existing and emerging technologies and is projected to continue to do so, contributing to the smooth use of several types of software and hardware with applications in warfare, or specifically made for it. AI has proven very effective in exploiting big data pools (like images, numbers, text) and has attained human-like functioning in several areas. Although the use of AI in contested environments (such as a battleground) is so far error prone and easily misguided, especially by adversary AI or humans, it is nevertheless expected to find various military applications, from automated target recognition and impact prediction to advanced calculations in upcoming battle scenarios and suggestion of best available strategies (Maxwell, 2020). The use and development of AI is not expected to radically shift the equilibrium of military technology, but has the capacity to do so, especially on a regional level. The challenge is to be found in the effort of developing them in a sustainable way. This is something that military strategists should take into consideration, along with the element of surprise, especially in the early stages of development. It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but like the sudden dropping of a nuclear bomb at the time, the sudden surprise of deadly automated drones or androids, with the ability to perfectly execute commands on the battlefield, could be a not-so-distant reality. An interesting scenario is presented by Michael O’Hanlon, where a Russian aggression in one of the Baltic states poses a serious escalation risk between Russia and the NATO allies. In the face of continuous arms competition, the credibility of antiballistic missiles deteriorates along with their ability to protect areas from constantly upgraded adversary missiles (O’Hanlon, 2018). This logic is and has been the Thucydides trap of arms races, and it is expected to play a role in the integration of AI in military development.

However, analysts disagree as to the importance of AI usage in the outcome of battles, insisting that the determining factor would again be human (Hickman, 2020). That is partially true. The development of such technologies has a human touch and through intensive programming, automation and learning can begin to adopt human patterns. It is doubtful whether high ranking officers or armies would promptly use AI fighting their battles for them. Especially in high-sensitivity operations where a small error could jeopardize the whole operation, AI would probably follow the role of every other technologically enhanced equipment that is supportive. Operational trust would be proportional to the increase in precision, reliability and resilience.  

When analyzing the potential effects of quantum computing, one should bear in mind this info. A quantum computer can be 100 million times faster than the world’s fastest supercomputer. Both Google and a team in the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, China, claim to have created computers that achieved “quantum supremacy”. That is, they can perform tasks that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to perform in just 200 seconds (for Google’s computer) and 10 billion times faster than that for the Chinese team’s computer (Rafi Letzter, 2020). This takes processing speed into unimaginable heights with effects potentially similar to the introduction of microprocessor in the world, as IBM has claimed. The application that quantum computing could find in the military sector varies, from performing highly complex calculations in just milliseconds, to significantly upgrading encryption methods. Many countries, including Germany, Canada, France, UK, Netherlands have been investing in quantum computing. In 2018, the US Congress voted upon and passed a bill, named the Quantum Initiative Act, investing $1.2Bn in a 10-year plan for development of quantum applications in science and technology (US Congress, 2018).

What is of interest, aside from the preparation of the political landscape, is how the rapid increase in investments in upcoming technologies may affect the existing balance of power, or how they may boost certain upcoming powers in becoming considerable actors in the global arena. However, it is a matter of thorough and extensive analysis that far surpasses the introductory nature of this paper. A quick estimation is that technological development will follow the amount of the invested capital. That means, countries with more capital invested will see bigger changes and a more rapid technological advantage. This is reasonably inferred, since most developed countries not only have bigger economies that can support investments in new and promising projects, but also have the proper infrastructure that can support innovation and drive technological change. The possible adjustment of balance of power will be a mere reflection of their ability to do so. That said, it can be argued that technology will barely affect the traditional, long standing strategic interests of big powers. An interesting consideration, however, is how possible strategic alterations will affect countries that are on the rise, like China (Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2020).

References

Center for Strategic & International Studies. (2020). Great Power Competition. 

Dannreuther, R. (2014). International Security : The contemporary agenda. 

Hickman, P. L. (2020). The future of warfare will continue to be human. 

Joe Cheravitch, B. L. (2020). Russia’s Cyber Limitations in Personnel Recruitment and Innovation, Their Potential Impact on Future Operations and How NATO and Its Members Can Respond. RAND Corporation.

Keir A. Lieber, D. G. (2013). The New Era of Nuclear Weapons. Strategic Studies Quarterly.

Koliopoulos, K. (2008). Η στρατηγική σκέψη απο την αραχιότητα μέχρι σήμερα. 

Letzter, R. (n.d.). Chinese Researchers Achieve Stunning Quantum-Entanglement Record. Scientific American.

Maxwell, P. (2020). Artificial Intelligence is the Future of Warfare, just not In the way you think. Modern Warfare Institute.

McElhearn, K. (2020). How Quantum Computing Will Affect Computer Security and Passwords. Intego.

O’Hanlon, M. (2018). The role of AI in future warfare. Brookings Institute.

Papasotiriou, C. (2018). Η αμερικανική πολιτική απο τον Φρανκλιν Ρουσβελτ στον Ντολαντ Τραμπ. 

Rafi Letzter, S. W. (2020). China claims fastest quantum computer in the world. LiveScience.

(2014). SAT Boosted the Construction of Credit System and Practiced Reward and Punishment Based on “Two Measures”. General Office of the State Administration of Taxation.

The Economist. (2020). The world is facing an upsurge of nuclear proliferation.

US Congress. (2018). H.R.6227 – National Quantum Initiative Act.


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