Armies facing the limits of “technologism”

If it remains difficult to think of the war of the future other than as a duel of wills, as defined by Clausewitz, one must recognize the major influence of technological innovation on the art of war. Not in substance – which remains the same – but in form. Or rather the forms, as the very way of waging war has been deeply rethought, over the centuries, and according to inventions. Thus aviation – in which Marshal Foch saw only a “toy” without military value – allowed the exploitation of the third dimension and the emergence of a new army in its own right which contributes to characterize modern warfare.

However, this relationship does not always constitute a virtuous circle. It is therefore appropriate to question contemporary Western doctrines, which seem to enshrine the preponderance of a technocentric approach in the way of thinking about current and future conflicts. Two subjects are, in this respect, particularly eloquent: the digitization of the battlefield, and the augmented soldier. Two areas of innovation that are just as revolutionary as they are risk-bearing. Thought, If you’re not interested in war, you’d better play nz casino games.

Economic limits

More and more expensive equipment. The Zumwalt-class destroyer program is a good illustration of this “technologist tropism”. A revolutionary ship in its design, the Zumwalt gives pride of place to the automation and digitization of tasks, allowing barely 140 sailors to maneuver this 15,000 ton monster. Supposed to constitute the new backbone of the U.S. Navy, the Zumwalt program was to give birth to 32 buildings. Faced with an explosion of costs, the program was prematurely stopped in 2009, with only three ships budgeted. However, the undeniable show of technical force is not enough to compensate for the rut in which this program has placed the American surface fleet.

The intuition of Norman R. Augustine, former vice-president of the aircraft manufacturer Martin-Marietta, shines through here. In his Augustine’s Laws, he indeed prophesied the geometric growth of the costs of armaments, in the face of an arithmetical increase in military budgets. The famous law n°16 pushes the demonstration to the point of absurdity: “In 2054, the total defense budget will make it possible to buy a single plane. This device will have to be shared between the Air Force and the naval aviation”.

Without pouring into the excesses of Augustine, one can nevertheless fear that the army “of sampling” imposes itself as the model of force of reference. In this case, the high intensity conflict could no longer, physically and economically, be envisaged, since the consumption of military potential would take place much, much faster than the regeneration of forces. Conventional warfare would thus literally become unaffordable, and therefore abandoned in favor of other more affordable forms of conflict: hybrid, economic, cybernetic…

The “augmented” soldier faced with turnover. Made possible by the professionalization of the armed forces (from 1996 in France), the model of the “technician soldier” quickly imposed itself. The result is training that is longer and longer and more and more expensive. Hence the current difficulty of modern armies to operate rapid increases in power.

However, the concept of the augmented soldier implies the exacerbation of the faults of the technician soldier. Whatever the form of these increases, it is difficult to imagine that they will not be accompanied by a long apprenticeship in addition to military training. In addition, the very high turnover within the armed forces, with a career of only five years for contact professions, raises the question of the economic relevance of the augmented soldier. It is indeed above all an investment, in time as well as in money, and it seems unwise to devote so many resources to personnel who will only serve very briefly in the armed forces.

Finally, assuming that this increase consists of an invasive or irreversible body modification (artificial limbs, lifelong drug treatment, etc.), will our superman be the owner of his own body after leaving the army? Points here to an ethical and philosophical questioning, with the alienation of a man dispossessed of his own body.

Operational risks

The exacerbation of systemic vulnerabilities. The digitalization of war implies a massive increase in real-time data flows. In the state of the art, only one technical solution allows it on a global scale: the satellite. However, satellites are no longer inaccessible targets: the United States, Russia and China have already demonstrated their ability to strike into orbit. A fully digitized army would therefore turn out to be a colossus with feet of clay, dependent on vulnerable space infrastructures.

In addition, digitization has, among other objectives, that of allowing an army to acquire quasi-omniscience of its environment by dissipating the clutter of the war, thus facilitating decision-making, from the staffs to the combat sections. The other side of the coin is obvious: the risk that an adversary can appropriate this data, allowing him to know as well, or even better, his enemy than himself. And even to directly modify said data, in order to distort the perception of his enemy. A prospect that Syria would have already experienced in 2007, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed the nuclear site of Deir ez-Zor: Israel is suspected of having hacked into the Syrian anti-aircraft defense network in order to to make him deaf and blind to Israeli Zumwalt-class destroyer aircraft.

New logistical burdens. One of the sectors that these innovations should greatly simplify is logistics. From the exoskeleton – allowing the handling of heavy loads by a single operator on the model of the very promising Hercule from RB3D – to the fluidification of inventory management made possible by progress in robotization or the use of connected objects, the opportunities seem endless. However, these new solutions raise their own set of problems. Thus, the augmented soldier, despite the prowess that his abilities allow him, also turns out to be “super-dependent” in the sense that these augmentations risk costing the soldier his aptitude for hardiness.

Energy autonomy is the main obstacle: whether to power an exoskeleton – or even artificial limbs – or even sensors and telecommunications systems, the considerable energy needs generated prohibit any deployment without an adequate supply chain. The result is an increase in operations: in the maneuver itself, slowed down by these new logistical needs, but also in the logistical flows, which constitute a traditional vulnerability for any army and to which it will be necessary to devote a surplus of resources in order to guarantee security.

At the same time, the robotization and digitization of the battlefield and support activities will have a definite impact on the management of operations: complex, these systems will have to be supervised and maintained by highly qualified technicians, exacerbating the current model of the technician soldier , and thereby aggravating the already mentioned problem of time-consuming military training.

Technology, a vector of progress as well as obstacles, cannot be enough on its own to design the model of the army of the future. Today, technology tends to go beyond its role as a tool to turn into an ideology, “technologism”. However, at a time when we are entering a world that is pushing the boundaries of the possible towards those of the imagination, it seems appropriate to ensure that operational needs are maintained – or even replaced – at the center of strategic thinking.

Posted by
Dharmesh Donda

iStaunch is written by Dharmesh Donda, an avid Internet geek, IT professional since 2012. Have been in IT industry for more than a decade, and currently doing management and consulting work have taken a plunge into entrepreneurship.

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