All around the world, old Industrial-Age models of military power linger because, by and large, they have not been challenged.
Why do we have the military-industrial complex we have nowadays? Fundamentally, it was built to protect global trade and access to resources. It takes and holds territory, whether that territory is a sea route or a section of land. Everything else is a detail. The submarine was built to challenge the battleship's rule of the waves, because the waves contained the sea trade routes. The aircraft carrier was simply another form of battleship-- a warship that could project violence farther away than one that relied on guns. Territory was held by infantry, which were supported by artillery (function: blast the other guy's infantry) and tanks, which were developed during the First World War to break the "lines" created by infantry units. In the years since, the world has stopped having lines as often, as the victims of 9-11 and Boston can attest to. With the burgeoning energy resources we will be able to unlock in the United States, and the reduction of the need to move products across oceans (or elsewhere) due to 3D printing, what will that mean for sea control? My point is that a lot of what we perceive as protection, and of effective military force, is based on convention and past models of how the world worked. The world of yesteryear had no computers, and especially, no small computers; while soon the technology in a cell phone will fit in a blood cell. (I must admit... I wrote Lone Star Daybreak the way I did because, more than anything, I wanted to show in familiar terms that the technological lead between the US and other nations is shrinking and US technological superiority can't be taken for granted. And Texas just HAD to have tanks.)
This isn't to say that there will not be any more "big wars". The problem is, humans aren't rational; and groups of them do worse. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, or the Communists of the Soviet Union or China, are useful modern examples. All you need is a demagogue and enough demented people with enough resources following them. However, technological progress is going to undo the industrial age military model, at least partly.
Consider the following: Imagine you have a swarm of flying robots-- small ones, insect-sized. Each of them carries a harpoon or probe loaded with nerve poison, such as curare. Each robot has the ability to search for and attack specific people. This isn't science fiction. The basic technology is already here, and the Israelis, for one, have already deployed a reconnaissance drone disguised as a Japanese giant hornet. You could dial them up in size to carry missiles, bombs, or such. We already have drones firing Hellfire missiles and there are plans to have unmanned bombers (our next fighters and the B-2's replacement will almost certainly be automated).
This one weapon system, deployed in enough numbers, could undo any Industrial Age army. The only defense would be to keep the tanks or warships buttoned up and never go outside. Anti-aircraft guns, body armor, SAMs, and fortifications would be useless. In fact, they would be counterproductive, because they would help the robots find the human targets better. And you would not need massive numbers of people, or enormous factories, or massive shipyards to deploy and use a weapon system like this. It could be deployed by small nation-states and non-state actors, and this, mark my words, is scaring the bejeebers out of governments around the world.
Let's consider the NSA spying scandal in the news right now. Faults aside, the reason why governments are seeking to spy on everything that moves is simple: They are desperately trying to make sense of an ever-complex world that they increasingly lack the ability to understand, to predict, and to control. The actionable intelligence product that organizations like the NSA are designed to get is becoming ever-more elusive.
So, hypothetically... let us say that we are figuring out how to protect the US, or any other nation, in tomorrow's world. What are the considerations?
1. Strategic forces will still be needed. The Cold War model of using weapons of mass destruction as the ultimate guarantee worked for half a century, and is still viable. A toxic gas or agent is still one of the ultimate weapons for the micro-scale. Defense against this is equally important. It will become ever-harder, and ultimately impossible, to prevent terrorists and small actors from gaining and using WMDs. New WMDs, such as the aforementioned swarm robotics, will force nations and jurisdictions to be ever-more "proactive" to identify and mitigate threats.
2. The "GI Model" of using legions of conscript or unskilled troops with limited training is dead; robotic systems will provide muscle and mass. The removal of humans from the weapons and vehicles will alter not only their shape and size, but their tactics. It will limit the "tail" a military force has needed, in terms of mass training facilities, logistical support, housing, uniforms, and other; however, more technicians to keep the force running will be needed, unless the systems can be configured to be self-repairing. The remaining humans will require high levels of skill and will be anything but expendable, expensive to train, and hard to hang on to. Those not fixing the weapons will be needed to figure out what to make them do. This will force a major military cultural change, which has been highly authoritarian since Roman times. The stock of special forces units, however, will go up. Expect to see special forces becoming much more special, with the new technology and weapons empowering individual combatants as never before. Nations and causes with the necessary money and technology will be able to compete militarily with larger nations and blocs of nations that they could have never challenged in the Industrial Age. This will lead city-states and small jurisdictions who are otherwise able to be encouraged to form their own nations, and not fear that they will be unable to defend themselves if attacked.
3. Air and naval forces will be altered in the same fashion. Automation will be in, and masses of people will be out. Naval forces will remain relevant to the degree that naval operations are needed to support land operations, whether those are economic or military. Air power, and space power, isn't going anywhere. Expect to see space power getting much bigger.
4. "Jointness" will be in. We are already seeing the beginning of this, with military forces working and training with law enforcement, and law enforcement taking on more military characteristics. The reality is, the next attacks on our nation, like those since 9-11, will take place in such a fashion that the police officer and firefighter will be "on the front lines". With terrorists or enemy nations deploying small, highly effective teams, or their own robots, in a swift attack, what takes place on a foreign battlefield and here at home will blur together and will demand unprecedented response flexibility.
5. Between smarter weapons with longer legs and the connectivity of the world, the mass of large nations and distances between nations will mean less, and will cease to provide protection from foes.
6. Intelligence will be everything. This will possibly be the hardest aspect of the problem to reconcile with civil liberties. Knowing who is planning to do harm to who will be much more critical in a world where individuals may be able to wield massive destructive power, either by computer attacks or the manipulation of automatically controlled weapons, or both. Any attempts to control access to weapons or systems in a world of 3D printing will fail spectacularly. It will also force the redefining of what a weapon, or what military power, really is.
7. Based on all of this, the US in particular will have to take a serious look at the evolving relationship between the individual and the state. What does privacy mean in a world where cells of terrorists may be about to seed a major city with a biological weapon, or a hundred people who have infiltrated our country may be planning to attack it-- with the power of an Industrial-Age infantry division? What will citizenship mean in a world where people across the globe are joined by common interests and needs, devoid of geography? The technology exists now to identify and follow people in the public eye billions of times more effectively than Industrial-Age spy and police agencies could. Cameras and computers can identify people by facial recognition and even their walking gait. In addition, people leave an enormous electronic paper trail through their lives; much of it voluntarily generated and used not by governments, but by business. How much attention can be paid to it before that attention is "too much"? Especially when it will be too late to pay attention after the attack commences? Part of the answer may be to also devolve the responsibility for self-protection and the protection of one's property to the individual. Anti-virus programs for computers are one example. Similar measures to defeat bioweapons or nanoweapons may exist in the future, as well as monitoring one's property and business, and also generating intelligence on potential threats you face.
The world of the future will have enormous freedom and possibility. However, that will also equal enormous freedom and possibility for people to hurt other people and do evil as well as good. This is not a theory, but a fact. The debate on how we should cope should be taking place, and we should understand that it matters.
Welcome to the CIC!
Welcome to my home on the web! My name is Erik Larson and I am the author of the action/adventure novel Lone Star Daybreak; a novel set in a speculative future in which Texas leaves the United States to form a separate country. Some short stories that take place in the world of my novel are at the right. I encourage you to read them and get a taste of what's ahead in my story! Aside from that, I have some of my favorite links here and I also comment on events in the world and on subjects that interest me. Thanks for stopping by and have fun!