From spears to stealth bombers, the nature of warfare is always limited by the available technology. Now, with a wide range of technologies experiencing exponential growth, the world's militaries are taking advantage of the many new tools at their disposal, updating everything from their weaponry and intel systems to the soldiers themselves — and there are even bigger plans for future militaries.
Military transportation tech is being improved from the ground up. The U.S. now has, in its fleet, an inexpensive autonomous warship capable of patrolling the ocean for two to three months sans crew. This warship also has tanks equipped with specialized cameras that are linked to soldiers' combat helmets to give them 360-degree visibility to both optical and thermal systems without exposing them to risks. Fighter jets equipped with laser pods are in development, as are kits that would give current aircraft autonomous capabilities, while the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) is even working on fighter jets that can be paired with older, pilotless fighter jets or equipped to release swarms of micro-drones.
Drones aren't just for combat missions — they are also being used to monitor enemy activity, acting as both the eyes and ears of the military. Indeed, the military's communication systems are better than ever thanks to technologies like DARPA's SHARE program, which allows for the processing and sharing of information at multiple levels of security classification on a single handheld device. Meanwhile, military-backed advances in microchip technology are packing the data processing power of multi-computer neural networks into handheld devices to help make missions on the battlefield run as smoothly as possible.
From how they're trained to how they perform in combat, soldiers today are working with a variety of new technologies.
In conjunction with the U.S. Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments (AEWE) program, tech company AimLock Inc. is transforming every soldier into a sharpshooter. Their AimLock System-equipped rifles use a combination of software and hardware to increase accuracy when firing at moving targets and eliminate shooter error. Soldiers can now remain underwater for up to two hours using a new
Soldiers can now also remain underwater for up to two hours using a new military rebreathing device that converts the air they breathe out into pure oxygen, doubling the time allotted by the average scuba tank. Next year, the U.S. plans to launch a first-generation version of its Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), a "supersoldier" suit that will not only protect soldiers from bullets and other projectiles and increase their mobility and strength.
The U.S. is even using the latest advances in off-world technology to prepare for threats to space-based infrastructures with a plan titled “Space Mission Force: Developing Space Warfighters for Tomorrow.” These soldiers are being trained to combat attacks on the nation's satellites, and as we continue our efforts at off-world colonization, what is now just a small piece of the military could become an integral part of what keeps citizens safe from enemy threats.
This trend toward increasingly high-tech warfare should, in theory, save lives. Better armor for soldiers should mean fewer casualties, and the use of autonomous weaponry should reduce the number of soldiers that ever even reach the battlefield. However, the situation is far from cut and dry.
Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and thousands of other artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers released an open letter in 2015 urging the world's governments to ban artificially intelligent soldiers and other autonomous weapons. They argue that the creation of such devices will inevitably lead to a global arms race. Once the technology becomes available to all significant military powers, it's only a matter of time before it hits the black market and reaches the hands of any terrorists or individual with the money to buy it. If that were to happen, it would be much more difficult to stop attacks such as assassinations, ethnic cleanings, or government takeovers.
The more high-tech our military becomes, the more we risk becoming detached from the brutalities of war. The detachment that comes with the decision to use weapons like combat drones or autonomous fighter jets could make going to war seem like a better option to our government leaders than, say, extensive peace negotiations or non-violent compromises. The militaries with the most autonomous weapons could become the most trigger-happy, leading to increases in unnecessary casualties for both enemy civilians and military personnel.
The men and women making the decisions to go to war may think that there is less risk for military personnel with drone warfare, and while it's true that fewer soldiers in combat situations would lead to fewer in-battle fatalities and injuries, it does little if anything to prevent soldiers from having post-war psychological problems like PTSD, and does not account for enemy casualties or civilian casualties of war.
Additionally, advancements in military technology could lead to downsides faced by other industries, like job loss. Between its active and reserve personnel, the U.S. military employs just under 3 million people. If more military systems become automated, that could lead to fewer low-level military jobs. One Army general even proposed that the number of soldiers in a brigade could be cut by 25 percent. Not only would this add to the rising unemployment rates for those who see the military as a career, it would also remove a valuable stepping stone as many receive training and educational opportunities via the military to jumpstart their post-service lives.
The use of high-tech weaponry in war is a nuanced subject, and each new innovation will need to be weighed carefully before implementation. However, one wholly positive impact of technology on warfare is the ways in which it is enabling us to help soldiers after their time in battle is over. We're developing neural-interface technologies to replace lost limbs, using virtual reality to treat PTSD, and creating virtual "twin" skeletons for soldiers that can be used to 3D-print new bones in case of combat injury.
There is and will be controversy and great challenges with this new technology, and while the reality that this progress could eliminate suffering for millions of soldiers and veterans is promising, there could be incredible downsides. Either way, these technological developments are not slowing down anytime soon, so hopefully, we can look forward to a future with a safe, high-tech military.