Defence report warns of future threats from robot warriors and conflict in space


The world is becoming more volatile, with increasing threats from terrorism, climate change and the rapid advance of technology, a new Ministry of Defence report has warned.

Gavin Williamson said the report confirms the world is getting more dangerous (Steve Parsons/PA) Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

The document, developed with experts from allies around the world, examines potential developments including wars fought by robots or “enhanced” humans and the need for the Government and military to respond.

It warns of an increasing risk of the use of nuclear or chemical weapons and the potential for “new areas of conflict” including in space and cyberspace.

Conflicts fought increasingly by robots or autonomous systems could change the very nature of warfare, as there will be less emphasis on emotions, passion and chanceThe Future Starts Today report

The Future Starts Today report is an attempt to identify the kinds of challenges facing the UK in the decades ahead.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This report makes clear that we are living in a world becoming rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries.

“Identifying these threats means we can continue to build an armed forces that can stay ahead of them.”

The document, the sixth edition of the Global Strategic Trends report, has been developed by the MoD’s thinktank the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre, along with partners in Sweden, Australia, Finland, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

It said: “Whilst it is envisaged that humans will continue to be central to the decision-making process, conflicts fought increasingly by robots or autonomous systems could change the very nature of warfare, as there will be less emphasis on emotions, passion and chance.”

The report examined the possibility of “human enhancement”, including “gene editing, physical and cognitive prosthesis, and pharmaceutical enhancement”.

Their development over the next 30 years is likely to offer “profound expansion of the boundaries of human performance” and “the application of these technologies and the integration of human and machine on the battlefield present opportunities to enhance military capability”.

Remotely-piloted drones are already a feature of modern warfare Credit: Cpl Steve Bain/MoD/PA

The willingness to adopt these technologies could confer a competitive advantage over adversaries, but “moral, ethical and legal thresholds” would need to be defined.

The report also suggested a “hybrid” approach could go beyond military or economic attacks and open up “new arenas of conflict, including in space, cyberspace, sub-oceanic and, potentially, augmented and virtual reality”.

In a bleak assessment, the use of weapons of mass destruction is also more likely because of increased access to the technology.

“The number of nuclear-armed states could rise and increasing investment in tactical nuclear weapons and electromagnetic pulse weapons will increase the risk that nuclear weapons are used,” the report noted.