To be sure, technology is advancing fast in many realms. But it is not enough to wave one’s arms exuberantly about futuristic military possibilities. The stakes are too high. Defense resource decisions need to be based on concrete analysis that breaks down the categories of major military technological invention and innovation one by one and examines each.
The Future of the Military
Technology is amongst many nations, China, Iraq, Iran, previous Soviet states and Pakistan are advancing at such a rapid rate that it is becoming increasingly difficult for policymakers and strategists to keep up with the emergence of new military capabilities and technology. Unfortunately, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to predict which technologies are likely to prevail. This is not an academic concern. One need only take a look at the weapons systems that various countries have chosen to pursue in recent years to recognize that the winners are not always the most visionary. Gadgets can be adopted with little forethought. In this vein, consider the so-called smart gun that was designed as a solution to the problem of crime and firearm suicide by limiting access to the trigger mechanism.
Current predictions about the speed of developments in cyber warfare are grossly inaccurate. For example, the Cyber Security White Paper produced by McAfee — one of the leading software security firms — projected that by 2015 cyber attack could compromise “all industrial control systems, critical infrastructure, and financial systems in the United States.” Yet cybersecurity experts do not generally believe that the Internet will be subject to the same devastating cyber attacks that once struck the “virtual” Internet of the World Wide Web. The Web was attacked from the outside in the form of viruses and malware. But the Internet of today is being attacked from the inside, in that its technologies are embedded in complex industrial control systems.
Artificial Intelligence in Military
AI (artificial intelligence) is one of the key pieces in the world of military technology, with its influence spreading into all its facets and sub-types. A number of major developments have taken place in the area in recent years, including advances in motion capture (Moco) technology and autonomous robotics (of all kinds). Together these will impact the nature of warfare and the strategies that can be employed by military organizations in the coming decades. Current development is focused on making AI capable of many human functions, such as recognizing objects and text, driving a car, understanding natural language and more. Some of the most recent developments in this area are described below. Another major area of development involves image recognition.
Directed Energy Weapons
Conventional military systems have been improving at a rate of knots for several decades. So, it is understandable that military leaders are beginning to believe that military options are now more limited than before. How far this feeling is justified is a matter of much debate. Directed energy weapons (DEWs) have attracted particular attention in recent years because of the attention given to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) by the international community, and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) by rogue states.
The Military and Nuclear Power
There are two areas where technological innovation is particularly urgent today. The first concerns the military and nuclear power. As I have explained in detail, America’s nuclear arsenal is unsafe and desperately in need of immediate modernization. In the past, U.S. military leaders have been slow to recognize this. Perhaps they thought that without the unquestioned respect and deference of the Russian “Other,” the U.S. military would have nothing to fear. But Russia’s only possession of nuclear weapons and thus its access to these weapons — not to mention the threat to the existence of Russia itself — does much to emphasize the necessity for modernization.
The gradual removal of restrictions on capital flows over the last three decades in the United States and many other industrial countries has greatly facilitated technology transfers, with predictably adverse social and environmental consequences. Investment, however, is not necessarily compatible with equity and environmental considerations. Many policy debates in the United States and around the world are paralyzed by the assumption that profit maximization can be achieved only by minimizing social costs. This assumption generates the illusion that technology transfer and corporate takeovers and mergers, in which the financialization of investment is manifest, are somehow reconcilable with social responsibility and environmental sustainability.