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Changing Characteristics of Conflict

In a world of cyber-attacks, biowarfare, and misinformation, traditional military forces are increasingly complemented by less visible assets and capability.

From a defence perspective, disruptive capabilities are advancing exponentially. In a world of cyber-attacks, biowarfare, and misinformation, traditional military assets are increasingly complemented by less visible technological capability. Globalisation and ever more digital connectivity have made all nations more vulnerable to attack, and a proliferation of new technologies, including cyber, electronic, and drone warfare are now available to more rogue states and actors. Some nations, Russia, the US and China, for example, are developing offensive weapons in space. This is a major cause for concern for international communications, critical intelligence, surveillance, and navigation, not to mention national infrastructures, from mobile phones and cashpoint machines, to manipulating stock markets. “Going forward, we will be trying to create peace in the digital world, rather than the physical world. This is definitely a military challenge. The majority of capability is now online, and you need to protect the nation.” Understanding the likely direction of this new theatre of warfare has raised fundamental questions, not only around the type of equipment necessary for the armed forces, but also around the kind of people and the skills required to serve.

Despite faster technological innovation, new frontiers and forms of combat, old problems remain. Many we interviewed spoke of the need to maintain a traditional force, and to ensure that there is a deployable capability to support allies across the world. “If your human tactics, structures, and support don’t exploit the technology, then actually you are just wasting your money – or only exploiting 10-20% of the effect that you could have with support structures around it.”

Key in all of this is the fact that distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a security buffer. As a result, some argue that the UK should shift focus from conventional equipment such as aircraft carriers or tanks, and invest instead in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and robotics. Future defence spending plans may support this. It would allow future conflicts to be fought by robots or autonomous systems. Others disagree, “I think the tension is that you will always need hard power. In Afghanistan, we had extremely high tech, but we still needed boots on the ground. The question is around the size and the structure”. Most agree that, in the main, warfare will become increasingly precise and although this might mean fewer physical casualties, the consequences of these new forms of engagement may well lead to more mental and psychological stress for Armed Forces personnel. “The next major damage that we see will be extraordinary mental trauma coming from operating drones. It’s not PTSD – this is doing something that we’ve never done before, which is to track and kill”.

An Implication: There is a growing requirement to explain the work of some of the UK Armed Forces, and a shift in the need for support for some of those who have served.

 

Discussion

2 Comments

Lifting our Sights Core team

This MIT article is worth a read https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/10/10/132262/why-remote-war-is-bad-war/ as it looks at how new technology can ( or cannot) prevent conflict "Technology makes fighting war easier and more palatable—but it dangerously changes the nature of the fight"

Anonymous

Today we characterise conflict as how the US fights wars. If you look at war over the ages, war has always been more complex. The way we conceive and think about military action can be driven by Hollywood – rather than the reality.