By Zavier Radecker
If you’re not fighting the war of today, prepare for the war of tomorrow.
Since joining the profession of arms, this has been my guiding principle. If you’re not fighting today, then prepare to fight tomorrow. What we faced in our most recent conflicts will not exactly be what we face in our future conflicts.
In today’s global environment, wars are no longer declared and no longer follow the rules as they did in the past. Asymmetric and indirect operations take precedence and war is waged simultaneously in all physical environments and the information space. The enemy is no longer the most important target in the battlefield. Instead, his critically important facilities are. This has been accepted as the norm, notably in a 2016 report by the Russian Chief of the General Staff.
To learn about emerging technologies provides us with the means of understanding the technology of the future and the roles we and the future generation will be required to participate in and command. The position of Railgun Battery Commander currently does not exist, nor does the role of Autonomous Systems Operator. These are some of the technologies to be considered in the discussion of future war. Sure, they don’t exist in that capacity yet, but the technologies have been with us for long enough that our lack of understanding as a profession can be debilitating. As discussed in Paul Scharre’s book, Army of None, it is possible using today’s technology to build an autonomous system that fires at human targets using nothing more than commercial items, which can be purchased over the internet. How do we deal with this threat? How do we counter it effectively?
Despite this reality, the discussion about these technologies and their application in the ever-changing character of warfare simply does not exist on the level that it should. Sure, there is niche discussion and a wide range of information that is available through a plethora of books and of course shared on Twitter, but even Twitter is still an emerging platform in the profession of arms and it is the unfortunate reality that not everyone is reading as much as they should, if at all.
The discussion on the future of war needs to begin from the ground level in our education establishments. If we want our leaders of tomorrow thinking about the warfare they will engage in, they must begin to discuss it today. This isn’t to say that we need to implement doctrine for a drill on contact with swarm technology, but within our formal education organisations, we should be discussing the implications of developing and future technology.
So how can we enhance our thinking when it comes to the future? I have one suggestion that I think is widely overlooked and that is to read science fiction. Science fiction can explore what the future could look like, and they’re usually not that far off the mark because the technology they are envisaging is an extension of what we have now. In 1945, Murray Leinster in his science-fiction short, First Contact, wrote of a machine similar to a 3-D printer. I doubt that when he wrote about that machine, he thought that 73 years later 3-D printers would be used by U.S. marine logistics squadrons to sustain medical supplies in exercises. Modern science fictions hold a relevant discussion on many implications of the technological edge we seek; Martha Wells in her Murderbot Diaries series writes about an armed autonomous bot hacking its own ‘control module,’ essentially having the freewill to do whatever it wants. Now, what if an autonomous system of the future had this capability? These discussions can be as entertaining as they are informative, nevertheless they are imperative.
As leaders, it is essential that we work to understand these technologies and the subsequent reactions they will cause in the profession of arms, however it is just as important that we initiate and foster this same understanding in those around us. I’m not suggesting that we need to organise Future War expos and conferences, but as leaders we should at least facilitate discussion on this matter within our workplaces, whether it be formal or informal. This could be done not necessarily expecting to find the empirical analyses of what future war will look like but to at least encourage some thinking ahead within our organisations. It could be something as simple as striking up a conversation about the use of drones by IS or the Gatwick Airport incident with a colleague during lunch. As humans, it is in our nature to be inquisitive, so even a conversation on the topic of future war could be enough to spark one person’s curiosity in the subject. In doing this, we could all encourage one person to start thinking about the future. This in itself could get the ball rolling to create change in the way we think about coming future conflicts.
Officer Cadet Zavier Radecker is an Australian Army trainee officer. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts with majors in international political studies and history. He is an eager reader and a passionate advocate for professional military education.
If you find this post helpful, subscribe to receive weekly email notifications of new content!