With the shift from bi-polar to a complex multipolar world, the nature of warfare has also taken a leap forward in complexities. It has pushed the militaries to prepare more rigorously during peacetime. This has compelled the states to give fertile ground to technological development that can give them upper hand during military confrontation as well as keep deterrence intact during peacetime. Among these technological developments the military strategists are focused on introducing and embedding emerging military technologies in their warfare doctrines. This would be a timely development as militaries around the world are researching and embedding the emerging technologies in their warfare doctrines.
On the contrary, the militaries that would rather prefer old-school methods of warfighting might easily be startled. Even when the US was fighting the insurgents in Afghanistan, in order to keep pace with the US military technological developments, the insurgents would also upgrade their warfighting technology. Although the quality of the technology of the insurgents would as if it was assembled in their backyards however in order to gain an upper hand they would make the effort to upgrade and modify. This stresses the fact that all militaries would require a timely upgrade and update to gain an upper hand and the best direction to look at would be the emerging technologies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the emerging technologies that has generated the most waves in the military domain.
AI has been incorporated by number of militaries such as the US, China and Russia in their military operations. Its military application includes surveillance and reconnaissance missions, cyber operations, command and control, logistical and analytical support. The most prominent military application of AI can be witnessed in autonomous robots and drones that hold the capability of take-off and landing, gather data, and tracking and following people without human interference. It is also embedded in avionics that helps that piolet collect and analyses the exponential data within second whereas previously the piolets had to read the manual data appearing on the screen to make the analysis.
Moreover, militaries are also benefitting from the dual use AI applications such as same facial recognition technology that is used by police to catch the criminals can be used by the militaries to identify and track the enemies. Additionally, AI is also being used to produce realistic looking photos, audios and visuals commonly known as deep fakes. This application can be embedded in military domain to conduct information operations and spread propaganda and misinformation.
Another emerging technology that is raising ethical and legal concerns is Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). The reason that LAWS has generated this debate as due to the fact that these weapon systems hold the capability to taking the control of the weapon out of human hand and into the hands of the machine itself. LAWS has pushed the human out of the loop hence known as fully autonomous weapons. There are partial autonomous weapons knowns as semi-autonomous weapons where the human is on the loop and has partial control over the weapons. The matter of taking human out of the loop is concerning as it can give the weapon absolute decision-making power which can allow it to engage and fire a target. This could be useful in contested environments where putting human life could be risky.
Moreover, LAWS has made the war speedy and quick as it does not rely on human interpretation of the situation in order response rather LAWS generates their own interpretation and act as desired. LAWS can also operate in large swarms, generating greater impact at low cost. Moreover, these weapons could eliminate human error and avoid civilian causalities and collateral damage. However, about 30 countries and 165 non-governmental organizations have advocated for preemptive ban on LAWS as these weapons pose a greater accountability risk and fail to comply with the laws of armed conflict.
The major distinction between old wars and modern wars is that of time taken to accomplish a task and the emerging technologies is the reason of this shrinking time. In this aspect, number of militaries such as the US, China and Russia have developed hypersonic missiles that can travel at the speed of Mach 5. Two types of hypersonic missiles have been introduced so far, first is the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle which is launched into the sky with the assistance of a rocket and it glides to its target. The second type is named as Hypersonic Cruise Missile that are powered by highspeed engines during their flight. The hypersonic weapons and the ballistic missiles both can fly at the speed of Mach 5 and above however, the difference between the two is that the hypersonic weapons follow an unpredictable path as it dodges the air defense and detection systems. This capability makes it difficult to track and attack, generating greater implications for strategic stability. Moreover, the hypersonic weapons complicate the strategic stability as it gives shorter response time and due to its capability to maneuver it heightens the probability of unintended escalation.
As the modern wars have shifted away from kinetic means of attack, the emerging technologies have provided a non-kinetic solution. This domain is dominated by highly concentrated electromagnetic energy weapons known as laser weapons. These weapons unleash high-power laser that can incapacitate, disable, damage and destroy military equipment. Laser weapons have two major categories based on the level of power and energy emitted by the laser. First is the Low Energy Laser (LEL) which is less than 1 kilowatt whose military applications are jamming or disruption of sensors mounted on aerial, land and sea vehicles.
Moreover, LEL can target human body parts that are sensitive to laser such as eyes. Second category is Medium Energy Laser (MEL), this laser power ranges from 10-100 kilowatt and it can cause serious burns and injuries to human body. Moreover, it can also destroy opto-electronic devices and counter ground-based laser systems. Lastly, High Energy Laser (HEL) can unleash a range of over 100 kilowatts that holds the power and energy to corrode metal. Its military application is to neutralize missiles, airborne or ground vehicles and helicopters. Laser is considered an effective and precise antidot to any sort of aerial or ground threat as it can spot and engage a target and eliminate it without causing collateral damage due to high speed and accuracy.
As the modern warfare is becoming quick and precise, it demands communications and responses that can keep pace with the precision of modern warfare. Most of such speedy defense communications are dependent on space satellite. Space is being consider as new arena of warfare. The communication networks of emerging technologies are also depending on space satellite. For instance, early warning systems, network centric warfare, electronic warfare are dependent on space satellite for communication, navigation, imagery sensing and meteorology. Space based attacks such as space-based laser weapons have reduced the decision-making for the commanders and reduced the response time to ranging from few seconds to minutes. For such impactful military applications space has become an important factor in modern warfare that militaries around the world are attempting to acquire space capabilities and develop space forces. Russia and China developed their space force in 2015. The US developed its first National Space Strategy in 2018 as well as developed a separate space force.
Although the emerging technologies are developing at a faster pace as the private sector has progressed in test and design rapidly however the implications of these emerging technologies on warfare still remain uncertain. The uncertainty is due to number of factors such as the maturity of national military doctrines that can incorporate the application of these technologies in their warfighting strategies. Moreover, even if doctrines are developed, will the soldiers on ground be able to comprehend the application of these emerging technologies. Will the military doctrines developed be near to reality on ground and keep the challenges that the soldiers meet on ground in mind? Nonetheless, emerging technologies do hold the potential to impact the nature and character of future warfare and a shift from traditional means of warfighting to more advanced and modern means of warfighting is inevitable. However, there would be an urgent need to update laws of armed warfare with the rise of emerging technologies.