“Multipolar world and the predominant role of non-state actors in war strategy have rendered obsolete many customary state doctrines. Realities traditionally acknowledged so far have assumed new names like asymmetric threat, psychological warfare, proxy war and multidimensional war. Irregular military practices employed by strictly unequal parties in the battleground and unbalanced international policies devised out of touch with the world are both the reason and the result of this outcome.”
Although major states have noticed this transformation of reality and acted accordingly, practical applications and conclusions are relative. Next generation warfare appeared in the conventional battleground and in the light of changing security perceptions. Dubbed as “Future War”, this exclusive view was distinct from all acknowledged combat capabilities. This perspective was intended for gathering the heavy bureaucracy under a single and modern organisation to pave the way for new weapons and new approaches to use them These novel approaches are particularly related with “Network-centric Systems.” The importance of using computers and communication network technology to raise common awareness with respect to the battleground is underscored.
Great investments are made on cyber- and electronical warfare not only to protect own network but to create havoc in another network. In addition, all these innovations are concentrated on the long- neglected subject of “electronical fighters.” Elements supported by network-based systems and engaged in uninterrupted communication in the field are foreseen. It is maintained these elements should be constantly on the move in order to continue fighting along with armoured land and air forces.
The best example for such a modernisation movement is the US Army’s service network program. Dubbed as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T Program), this initiative is the “electronic nervous system that binds the Army together from foxhole to headquarters.” Although many new technologies were tried on this system, it has proved to be slow, unreliable and vulnerable in the face of a high-tech enemy. 1 It is believed that optimization of systems to cope up with the ever-changing battle environment would be possible only through increased an reliable cooperation between humans and machines. Human-machine teaming was brought forth by cybernetics, while teaching machines to learn by adapting to their environment was called machine learning. Self-organisation is the process built upon the behavioural models of animal cultures such as ant colonies and the flocking of birds.
As a result of these developed models, self-organised structures autonomously reaching conclusions were devised. As a much frequently used concept, “self-organisation” stands for the emergence of higher level properties of the whole that are not possessed by any of the individual parts making up the whole. The parts act locally on local information and without any need for external control.
Swarm intelligence is at the focus of defence industry as the most significant characteristic of self-organisation. It is often used to describe the collective behaviour of self-organised systems paving the way to the emergence of “intelligent” global behaviour unknown to the individual systems. 2 Thanks to the accelerating speed of computer processing, together with rapid improvements in the development of autonomy-increasing algorithms, swarm intelligence became more frequently used in systems. For this reason, it is now possible to more quickly perform a wider range of functions without needing every individual task controlled by humans. With respect to swarm intelligence, the concern was that it could enable “swarm warfare” for asymmetric assaults against advanced weapon platforms like air systems.
This concern turned into reality with the home-made armed drone swarm directed against the Russian base in Syria. 3 The case was indicative of what the future battleground would look like. It is hard to define the future’s concept of warfare against the background of ontological ambiguities and the impossibility of testing the newly-emerged innovations on the pre-existing structure. Evaluations conducted on the basis of insufficient data have a misguiding effect on defence resource planning.
These circumstances delay important decisions, set the stage for problems in appropriately perceiving future warfare and eventually, provide limited or even wrong information to decision makers. In order to meet the requirements of next generation conflict, decision makers need network-based systems to adapt to the battle at all times.
In this context, they should take into consideration next generation C4ISR platforms and information-based weapon systems. Technological and doctrine-based fundamentals must be provided to manage potential threats and put into practice tailored applications. The reason why custom-based applications are underscored is that history has always proved wrong those assumptions about the characteristics of future wars. 4
In the World Economic Forum, the much-debated combat zone of the future is pictured as follows: Against the backdrop of a strategically destabilised future, it is thought that leaving the battleground partially or totally to robots (dehumanization) can be tolerated by the societies more easily. Nevertheless, the technological asymmetric effect caused by engaging in battle from a safe distance, sets the stage for civilians becoming targets. 5
Another reason for and result of technological asymmetry is the idea of leaving the initiative of flawless decision-making to machines. While this definitely accelerates decision making, it somehow raises difficult questions. The moral and ethical dimension of the idea of leaving the initiative to machines creates a dilemma yet unresolved. Here it is believed that technology will assume a more rapid and lethal form.
The change in security perceptions during the post-Cold War period had its roots in the increase of fear and risks associated with ambiguity. The newly-emerging battlefields we can call as “hybrid” like Multi-Domain Battle, Artificial Intelligence, Space, Off-Shore, Poles and Cyberspace have brought forth the issue of conflict one expansion. Increase in the number of layers in the battlefield has led to a concomitant increase in the multipliers of an already multipolar balance of power. In this vein, the UN Secretary General has drawn attention to the impact of electronic warfare on civilians, as massive cyber-attacks look likely to become the first salvoes in future wars. 6, 7
Threats in these broadened layers call for new strategic capabilities while the expectation that the asymmetry can change rapidly has encouraged states to take risks and display aggressive behaviour. Another related threat in the future involves not only the grey zone constructed by those no-state actors using this kind of strategies but also the moral transformation observed in the battlefield. Likewise, owing to the easy access to the technology of the multipolar world, controlling arms races as become even more troublesome. This had a direct impact on the number of states developing technologies for the defence industry. Furthermore, rapid developments in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) have led to radical changes in strategies of attack and defence. As UAVs’ ranges increase, even nuclear powers lose their deterrence and prevention advantages. Mini/Micro UAV swarms, embodying the capability of destroying high-tech elements cheaply and rapidly, not only prevent the first strike in the battlefield, but also render obsolete the secondary strike capability and strategy.
As a conclusion, the concept delineated as “Future War” is beyond ordinary; it is also the result of using a variety of elements simultaneously. Preparing defence plans for a particular kind of threat would not only lead to misuse of limited resources but also breach of security, thus negatively effecting state survival. Indeed, the fact that anything is possible if it is physically possible has culminated in the norm of “All is justified during war.” Simply being technologically advanced or economic and political stabilisation are not sufficient to deal with future threats. During this transitional period, in which regional powers are replacing global hegemons, management of defence resources should play a critical role while making strategic decisions for state survival and security.
This analysis was published on the 59th issue of C4Defence Magazine. (www.c4defence.com)