A hypersonic missile that can destroy an entire military base with one hit does strike not only the enemy, but also the imagination. A real war is always a complicated system of economic, managerial, technological, and informational factors.
Short-term forecasts of the development of the future seem to be quite logical as they stem from the present. However, genuine futurology can often be perplexing and sometimes irritating, since it talks about phenomena that are strange not only to our times, but also to the consciousness of the modern human being.
Nevertheless, the presence of a point of forecast laying beyond the bounds of the future allows to draw a beam into the present and place all probable and improbable events on it. Strategic development is impossible without such a scale.
Grounds for War
In the second half of the 20th century, the world changed yet again. Political advisor to the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense Edward Luttwak wrote that the West took the USSR’s refusal of total control over the territory of Afghanistan as a sign of poor training of recruits. However, later on, military experts learned about an order by the Soviet command instructing to prevent human losses at any cost. It was this decision that restricted the Soviet Army’s actions.
The value of human life has been an important factor in the recent decades. But, unfortunately, this is not a constant. And the development of technology does not make the world any more humane.
“In 50 years, war will be a war of machines. However, they will not battle with other machines, but with people armed with the Kalashnikov machine guns (I am sure they will still be popular even in 100 years). It will be an extremely asymmetric war. We will come to zero mortality for one of the parties: a drone can be killed but no one will mourn over a robot. This technology is humane on the one hand, and devilish, on the other. If you do not suffer any losses, you are tempted to continue war,” – warns Arseny Kumankov, Deputy Dean for Research at the faculty of Humanities of the National Research University Higher School of Economics.
War is not a manifestation of human cruelty. Neither personal upbringing, nor the enhancement of international institutions can prevent new conflicts. A conflict begins where an insuperable contradiction is present.
“Modern wars are fought over resources, in a broad range between the possibility of exploiting minerals to the ability to strengthen one’s position or impose one’s conditions on someone. All other things, such as historical rights and natural freedoms, look like decorations. But they look like that only in part, since processes may acquire their own weight and begin to dictate their own logic,” – believes the conflict expert Vladimir Nosov.
Africa and the Middle East are most often named as the places where the next large-scale war will unfold. It is not difficult to make such a prediction. In recent decades, it is in these regions that armed conflicts have claimed the most lives. “A spike [in armed conflicts] in the 2010s occurred after the calm 2000s. It can be assumed that these areas will continue to be hot spots in the nearest future,” – Arseny Kumankov says.
But there is also a less evident forecast, given by the Head of the “Designing the Future” research group, Nikolay Yutanov: “The Arctic will be the main area of conflict. We are nearing a local climatic optimum, the Arctic is already melting, the Arctic Ocean is turning into a new Mediterranean that once was a cradle of civilizations. Bordering the Arctic Ocean are Canada, Northern Europe, and the Russian Federation. Cargo transportation across the Northern Pole is the most convenient and economically feasible method. And a trade route is always an area that all global players strive to control.”
It is clear that most of the Arctic was a lifeless desert over the previous centuries. But the concept of the desert differs at various historical development phases. One period only needs spaces for arable land, another wants land for industrial production, a third one requires a territory that can take in the maximum number of information flows. In the latter case, temperature is not that important.
Russia is actively developing the Arctic at all levels. The United States’ movement to the north is much slower, even Norway or Sweden have a higher potential in the region. We are the only country that has an icebreaker fleet. Soon it will be equipped with the Ritm-200 small water reactor. Russia’s dominance here is undeniable.
However, any modern war, be it offensive or defensive, needs not only specific technical means but, rather, a powerful infrastructure. “It became clear in the 20th century that war is the construction of a fortified area and the routing of railroads (both radial and ‘rockade’, running along the frontline). This means that fast construction technology is the key. A war boils down to a matter of who will construct a fortified area faster, and it must be the area that has not only strategic, but also economic significance, namely, is capable to bring money,” – Nikolay Yutanov explains.
It is somewhat similar to the description of a popular real-time strategy computer game. Mines produce resources, a stronghold allows construction, turrets kill anyone who comes closer than the range of a shot. This is how the game industry depicts the upcoming reality in its own language.
And, much like in a game, the commander of the fortified area gains absolute power over his part of the front – land, water, air, and space. Railroads can be strung (this possibility was discussed at the last Arctic Forum), optical communication will be replaced with a quantum one, but specific technical innovations will not affect the structure of the citadel and the principles of front management.
“The war of the future involves the formation of a new type of military experts: those capable of simultaneously keeping in mind multiple environments in which the war is being waged; economic, informational, and technological. Imagine the manager of a territory who has several dozens thousands of drones and three or four global artificial intelligences under command,” – Nikolay Yutanov suggests.
A network of satellites provides comprehensive information about the region, supercomputers process huge data volumes and offer the commander event development scenarios. Such an unapproachable line of defense only has two vulnerable areas. The first is often considered as an advantage, and that is the full robotization of processes. The second vulnerable area of the citadel is a man himself.
Let us start with robots – this subject has been the most popular one for the last century. “The mass use of unmanned aerial, sea, and ground vehicles can change the centuries-old perception of a state as a community of people, the more of which – the better, since they are both working hands and potential soldiers. Robots break the traditional scheme because they replace people at workplaces and in the army. A model of a state that is strong with its robots rather than people is something for which we are not yet ready,” – says futurologist Yevgeni Kuznetsov, head of the representative office of Singularity University in Moscow.
Robots scare people for many reasons. But it is not as difficult to cope with them as it seems, the military already ascertains this today. “A UAV cannot perform tasks without the support from an entire infrastructure, including takeoff and landing support systems, ground and aerial command posts, data acquisition systems, land and space radio communication equipment, and navigation systems. And this is all our profile, as we say. We are aware of current trends in the development of foreign robotic weapons, we are enhancing our own methods of countering them,” – warns Yuri Lastochkin, head of Russian Electronic Warfare troops.
Among other things, the Lieutenant General talks about neural networks controlling drone groups. But, the war machine of the future cannot be completely entrusted to artificial intelligence. The goal is always set by a human, only a human being has the necessary experience and conceptual apparatus.
“In order to be able to consider various scenarios and their results and assess how realistic they are, a robot must understand millions of common sense rules – simple laws of physics, biology, and human behavior, which we take for granted. Moreover, it must understand causality and anticipate the consequences of certain actions. A person masters these laws over decades of personal experience… Robots do not take part in the vast majority of communication and interaction situations in which personal experience is born,” – Michio Kaku, a famous physicist and popularizer of science, explains.
By the way, it is for the same reason that we can be free from the fear of a machine uprising, although it is often predicted by science fiction writers and scientists. Even in Stanislaw Lem’s book some out-of-control artificial intelligence destroys everything unnecessary on the planet. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking unanimously warn us about the same thing.
But Michio Kaku does not agree: “To enter into the machine all the equations necessary for destroying the human kind is an incredibly difficult task. To avoid the killer robot problem, we actually need to prevent everyone from programming the robots for goals that may harm people.”
Again, it all comes down to the human, in this case the programmer. Their task at the future war is to make it so that a swarm of drones operates on our side, not the opposite one. The interception of the control of robots in many ways depends on the human factor: a duel of engineers begins. And these are not some hackers indirectly linked to governments, of whom they scare us in cyberwar articles. They are actual soldiers of a new type. The most important prerequisite for their victory will be good mathematical education.
While the officer of the first type, the stronghold commander, controls the information and financial flows of a defense system, the officer of the second type tries to take control of it; perhaps, from another continent, using the latest scientific developments.
The need to work with Big Data, incredible amounts of information, has generated a great demand for mathematicians around the world. Private Russian companies dealing with global positioning and drone production have entire scientific departments.
Training of mathematicians is one of Russia’s strategic advantages, albeit one that has almost been lost. Today, Russian language can be heard in the lobbies of leading universities and research centers in the U.S.
Viktor Pelevin’s short story “Air Codes of Al-Efesbi” describes NATO drones controlling Afghanistan. Their main vulnerability is not the combat unit (it is perfectly protected), but the unit responsible for the PR part of the Afghan war. Perfect aircraft are downed by information rather than anti-aircraft weapons.
Pelevin could hardly be called a futurologist, he usually makes forecasts for half a year or, less often, several years after the book is published. However, the story about anti-aircraft code was written in 2010 (10 years before the last war in Karabakh), when UAVs had not yet gained much attention in the media. The writer perfectly noted the main law of the war of the future: control over information is more important than the firepower of drones.
Today, it is easier and safer to persuade someone rather than kill or wound them. For this reason, means of persuasion become an actual war machine.
“As a matter of fact, a war of icons or undermining the collective self-control of rivals has been underway for a long time… This is a genuine electric battle of information that surpasses in depth and obsession the old hot wars of industrial iron. The ‘hot’ wars of the past used weapons that incapacitated the enemy in turn, one after another. Even the ideological confrontation of the 18th and 19th centuries was based on compelling individuals to accept new points of view – one viewpoint at a time. By contrast, electric persuasion utilizing photography, cinema, and TV works by immersing the entire population in a new world of imagination. Full awareness of this technological change descended on Madison Avenue [the center of the US advertising industry] when it changed its tactics and switched from promoting an individual product to collective involvement in a ‘corporate image’, which has now been replaced by a ‘corporate position’,” – wrote the first theorist of electronic means of mass communication Marshall McLuhan.
Futurologists call the scope of such an influence ‘liquidation of the vision of the future’ for entire nations. This means that it needs regulation. It is possible that, in the foreseeable future, the international community will discuss all information war possibilities at the same level of detail that it uses now to sign and keep agreements on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the prohibition of chemical weapons. Then, each statement in foreign mass media (as well as the spread of social media to foreign canonic territory) will be regulated by multilateral agreements and, probably, taken as an act of defense or aggression comparable with a missile launch, a hacker attack, or creating an electromagnetic interference on the territory of a partner country.
But this does not eliminate the need of personal protective equipment. While at service, a person can control hundreds of robots and dozens of computing machines. And during their free time, these persons will watch the same films, play the same computer games, read the same books as everyone else. Any piece of information inevitably affects the individual; in order to not lose war, a future officer must develop professional resistance to information influence, develop critical thinking, and also recognize and deactivate desires as necessary. This is approximately what orthodox asceticism teaches us. Perhaps, its use at officer courses will be one way to explain the rapprochement between the army and the church.
The COVD-19 pandemic demonstrated another vulnerability of our world: even the most powerful states are not protected against biological threats. This means that biotechnology will surely be used in future wars. Europe’s fear of the chemical attacks after the World War I is still expressed in the main political plots. Declaring that the enemy used poison is the worst accusation at the modern media scene. And the Europeans’ concerns are largely justified. “…a new biological weapon, for instance, airborne immunodeficiency viruses or Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, is a real possibility. This alone could wipe out over 98% of people off the face of the Earth”, – Michio Kaku states.
Yet, the opposing sides are interested not so much in a massive defeat as in a targeted strike at the specialists who make strategic decisions. Imagine that the hormonal balance of a person is affected by that. A sharp rise in adrenaline levels would increase the probability of making a spontaneous decision. A serotonin drop would result in decreased willingness to live. Or simply, their head starts aching, reducing attention. In a world war, the consequences of such experiences will be global. But biological weapons still leave a person the chance to fight against interference with their body.
Rain of Oblivion
Some religions believe that God recreates the world every instant. Thus, our memories are not the reflection of actual events, but a set of images that have just appeared in our head. And this happens every second.
A person hit by a nanoweapon can have a similar experience. At one moment he is a CIS electronic warfare troops general, then suddenly synapses leap, and now he thinks that he is a NATO colonel. He even remembers in detail how he gave a speech before the allies in Brussels and received a Medal of Honor of the Congress for his achievements. Neither willpower, nor mental training would counteract such an influence.
“Floyd fingered the little glass vial in his pocket. It contained a harmless-looking silvery-grey fluid, tasteless and odourless. But slipped into the right person’s diet, it would infect their body with a billion tireless machines, which would identify and cure almost any illness known to Slasher science. It was bottled immortality,” Alastair Reynolds writes in his novel “Century Rain”. Scientists do not share fiction’s optimism: nanobots will not cure people. At the Global Catastrophic Risks Conference at Oxford University, experts predicted that the probability that nanotechnology will become the cause of the humanity demise is 5%. Artificial intelligence accounts for the same probability, and conventional wars – for a probability by 1% higher. A swarm of nanobots capable of self-reproduction was named the “gray goo” in the culture.
A World Without Boundaries
Sociology has another image of a future conflict, no less astonishing than a human-caused catastrophe. When we describe a war, we speak, as a rule, of confrontation between countries, and their alliances. But the concept of the modern state is only several centuries old. And, similar to any social construction, it has a limited timespan. It is possible that in a few hundred years, there will emerge networking systems of citizens and institutions, consolidated not by a territory, but by common economic interests or views of the world. Means of communication, virtualization of finances, and simplification of production are bringing this time closer.
Ensuring the security of social structures will be a more difficult task than keeping common boundaries because a member of the other system, a bearer of opposite values, can live next door to you. There is a possibility of war between the old type state and a new networking system. And even the most insightful futurologists cannot yet predict how exactly we will negotiate with our neighbor.
Images of the future come from science fiction, and people who determine the strategy for the development of humankind also read it. Perhaps, it is for this reason that the forecasts made in science fiction come true.
In The Secret of Two Oceans, Grigory Adamov describes in detail how to overcome the resistance of the environment – water or air. The creator of the “Pioneer” submarine enclosed its hull in a layer of hot steam, allowing it to reach incredible speed.
Hypersonic missile designers came to the same decision, although they needed a cocoon consisting of plasma, not steam.
In the series Battlestar Galactica, rebellious androids get hold of all networks controlling human technology. Only one star-cruiser, the commander of which has refused to modernize the ship in due time, stands against the machines.
The actions of small mobile groups not connected to a common center are becoming an important tool of war. They are autonomous, so they cannot be detected, redirected or deactivated.
In his novel Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein predicts that infantry will be the main striking force of space wars. Yes, it will be the one equipped with exoskeletons and jetpacks.
In the conditions of political uncertainty, actions of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, the situationcannot be handled without the landing forces. Sometimes a cudgel turns out to be a more effective weapon than the Tsirkon missile. Nothing disappears in the humanity history, and archaic methods of warfare will always exist along with high-tech ones.
In the Strugatsky brothers’ Inhabited Island, the main weapons are towers, the beams of which evoke certain emotions in people. Although, the radiation does not reach enemies. The technology has to be used in internal politics.
At the time when the story was published, it seemed that it was about the television, about familiar propaganda methods. Today, we realize that such towers can directly change the psychophysiological condition of a human being. For example, they can affect the pupil’s dopamine receptors, activate sounds inaudible to the ear, or to launch nanobots.
The main character of Alaster Reynolds' novel Century Rain released the silver dust from the jar; thus nanobots entered human body. The writer believed that nanomachines would cure us.
Scientists regard this technology as a lethal weapon, rather than a way to cure the human kind.
Stanislaw Lem, in his Summa Technologiae, wrote that means of futurology are not enough to predict a war. The analyst’s view goes over facts from the world of technology, economics, and culture. Meanwhile, fundamental scientific works always become the future’s starting point.
Author: Alexander Yatsurenko
©New Defence Order. Strategy №4 (69) 2021