Posts with «armed forces» label

The Air Force wants $6 billion to build a fleet of AI-controlled drones

The F-22 and F-35 are two of the most cutting-edge and capable war machines in America's arsenal. They also cost $143 million and $75 million a pop, respectively. Facing increasing pressure from China, which has accelerated its conventional weapon procurement efforts in recent months, the Pentagon announced Monday a program designed to build out America's drone production base in response. As part of that effort, the United States Air Force has requested nearly $6 billion in federal funding over the next five years to construct a fleet of XQ-58A Valkyrie uncrewed aircraft, each of which will cost a (comparatively) paltry $3 million.

The Valkyrie comes from Kratos Defense & Security Solutions as part of the USAF's Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) program. The 30-foot uncrewed aircraft weighs 2,500 pounds unfueled and can carry up to 1,200 total pounds of ordinance. The XQ-58 is built as a stealthy escort aircraft to fly in support of F-22 and F-35 during combat missions, though the USAF sees the aircraft filling a variety of roles by tailoring its instruments and weapons to each mission. Those could includes surveillance and resupply actions, in addition to swarming enemy aircraft in active combat.

Earlier this month, Kratos successfully operated the XQ-58 during a three-hour demonstration at Elgin Air Force Base. “AACO [the Autonomous Air Combat Operations team] has taken a multi-pronged approach to uncrewed flight testing of machine learning Artificial Intelligence and has met operational experimentation objectives by using a combination of high-performance computing, modeling and simulation, and hardware in the loop testing to train an AI agent to safely fly the XQ-58 uncrewed aircraft,” Dr. Terry Wilson, AACO program manager, said in a press statement at the time.

“It’s a very strange feeling,” USAF test pilot Major Ross Elder told the New York Times. “I’m flying off the wing of something that’s making its own decisions. And it’s not a human brain.” The USAF has been quick to point out that the drones are to remain firmly under the command of human pilots and commanders. 

The Air Force took heat in June when Colonel Tucker "Cinco" Hamilton "misspoke" at a press conference and suggested that an AI could potentially be induced to turn on its operator, though the DoD dismissed that possibility as a "hypothetical thought exercise" rather than "simulation."

"Any Air Force drone [will be] designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force," a Pentagon spokeswoman told the NYT. Congress will need to pass the DoD's budget for the next fiscal year before construction efforts can begin. The XQ-58 program will require an initial outlay of $3.3 billion in 2024 if approved.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

China reportedly had ‘deep, persistent access’ to Japanese networks for months

Late last year, Nikkei Asia reported that Japan was planning to add thousands of personnel to its military cyber defense unit. Now, we might know why — according to a report from the Washington Post, hackers in China had "deep, persistent access" to Japanese defense networks. When the National Security Agency is said to have first discovered the breach in late 2020, NSA Chief and Commander of US Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone flew to Japan with White House deputy national security advisor Matthew Pottinger to report the breach to officials.

Despite briefings that reached as high as Japan's prime minister, the Washington Post reports that hacking from China remained an issue for several months, persisting through the end of the Trump administration and well into early 2021.

US Cyber Command initially offered Japan assistance in purging its systems of malware but were reportedly rebuffed because the country was not comfortable with another nation's military accessing their systems. Instead, Japan elected to use domestic commercial security firms to find vulnerabilities, relying on the US only for guidance on what those firms found. Japan would eventually adopt a more active national security strategy, which is said to include a new cyber command to monitor networks around the clock, and as many as 4,000 active cybersecurity personnel.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

SpaceX doesn't want Ukraine using Starlink to control military drones

Elon Musk's SpaceX may be willing to supply Ukraine with Starlink service as it repels the Russian invasion, but it's not thrilled with every use of the satellite internet technology. Operating chief Gwynne Shotwell tells guests at a Federal Aviation Administration conference that SpaceX objects to reported uses of Starlink to control military drones. While the company doesn't mind troops using satellite broadband for communication, it doesn't mean for the platform to be used for "offensive purposes," Shotwell says.

The executive adds that SpaceX can limit Ukraine's ability to use Starlink with combat drones, and has already done so. The company hasn't explained how it curbs use in the field.

Ukraine says it's not alarmed. National security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov tells The Washington Post the country doesn't rely solely on Starlink for military operations, and may only need to "change the means of attack" in some cases. Interior ministry advisor Anton Gerahchenko, meanwhile, argues that Ukraine "liberate[s]" rather than attacking, and that Starlink has saved "hundreds of thousands of lives."

Starlink has proved important to life in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last year. The country uses the service to connect civilians, government agencies and military units that can't rely on terrestrial internet access. For drones, this could let Ukraine coordinate reconnaissance flights, long-distance targeting and bomb attacks.

SpaceX has a contentious relationship with Ukraine. The firm was quick to provide Starlink terminals soon after the war began, albeit with US government help. Musk complained that it was becoming too expensive to fund service indefinitely, but changed his mind soon after. And while Ukraine struck a deal in December to get thousands more terminals with EU assistance, that came just weeks after a steep price hike.

Pentagon unveils B-21 Raider aircraft with advanced stealth technology

The US military has unveiled the B-21 Raider, its first new stealth bomber in 30 years. Northrop Grumman, which developed the aircraft, first showed us a silhouette of the plane covered by a shroud way back in 2015. Now, the Pentagon has officially presented the B-21 at an event at Northrop Grumman's plant in Palmdale, California, but most of its details still remain a secret. Prior to the event, though, the company called it the "world’s first sixth-generation aircraft," which means it's a lot more technologically advanced than the military jets in service today.

According to ABC News, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during the event that "no other long range bomber can match [the B-21's] efficiency." Austin also said that "fifty years of advances in low observable technology" have gone into the aircraft and that even the most sophisticated air defense systems will have a hard time detecting a B-21 in the sky. 

The aircraft was designed using next-generation stealth technology so that it can remain undetectable even to advanced radars and air defense systems, Northrop Grumman said in a previous announcement. A Northrop Grumman official also said that the B-21 can fly in full stealth mode every day, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine, unlike the current model that needs hundreds of hours of maintenance between missions. The aircraft will use a cloud-based digital infrastructure that's cheaper and easier maintain, and the military can also roll out rapid upgrades for separate components so that it's always protected against evolving threats. 

Northrop Grumman is currently working on six B-21 units, which are in various stages of production, but the Air Force is expected to order at least 100 of them. The military will start testing the stealth bomber in California sometime next year before the first units go into service by mid-2020s.

Take a closer look at the B-21 Raider — the world’s first sixth generation aircraft. This changes everything.

— Northrop Grumman (@northropgrumman) December 3, 2022

GM will make an Ultium battery pack prototype for the US military

General Motors, through its GM Defense subsidiary, will build a battery pack prototype for the Department of Defense to test and analyze. The agency's Defense Innovation Unit is seeking a scalable design that can be used in electrified versions of tactical military vehicles.

The battery pack will be based on GM's Ultium platform, which it's using to power its own electric vehicles. Due to the type of battery cells it employs, Ultium is billed as a modular and scalable system that can be adapted to different needs, so it may just fit the bill for the military.

GM said the military wants a light- to heavy-duty EV for use in garrison and operational environments in order to reduce fossil fuel use. As a result, that should reduce the military's carbon emissions.

This isn't the first partnership that GM Defense has forged with the military. In July, the company secured a deal with the US Army to provide an electric Hummer for testing. Last year, GM Defense president Steve duMont said the company would build an electric military vehicle prototype based on the Hummer EV.

Hitting the Books: Newfangled oceanographers helped win WWII using marine science

Lethal Tides tells the story of pioneering oceanic researcher Mary Sears and her leading role in creating one of the most important intelligence gathering operations of World War II. Languishing in academic obscurity and roundly ignored by her male colleagues, Sears is selected for command by the godfather of climate change, Roger Revelle, and put in charge of the Oceanographic Unit of the Navy Hydrographic Office. She and her team of researchers are tasked with helping make the Navy's atoll-hopping campaign in the Pacific a reality through ocean current analysis, mapping for bioluminescence fields and deep-water crevasses that could reveal or conceal US subs from the enemy, and cartographing the shore and surf conditions of the Pacific Islands and Japan itself.  

Harper Collins

From Lethal Tides by Catherine Musemeche. Copyright © 2022 by Catherine Musemeche. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

— Washington, D.C., 1943 —

Four months into her job at the Oceanographic Unit, Sears had learned a lot about what the military needed from oceanographers. She had learned it from meeting with Roger Revelle and his cohorts on the Joint Chiefs Subcommittee on Oceanography where she listened to concerns about what the navy was lacking and took detailed notes. She had learned it from answering requests from every branch of the military for tidal data, wave forecasts, and currents to support tactical operations overseas. She had learned it from gathering all the known references on drift and drafting an urgently needed manual to help locate men lost at sea. The more she took in, the more she understood exactly how dire the lack of oceanographic intelligence was and how it could undermine military operations. And now she was going to have to do something about it.

Sears was no longer at Woods Hole, where she had been sidelined by her male colleagues who sailed on Atlantis and collected her specimens while she stayed onshore. For the first time in her life, she was in charge. It was now her responsibility to set up and direct the operations of an oceanographic intelligence unit researching vital questions that impacted the war. She had never been asked to set agendas, call meetings, or give people orders, much less make sure they carried them out, but she was going to have to do those things to get the military the information they needed to win the war. She was going to have to take the lead.

To assume the role of leader, Sears would need to push through her innate reserved tendencies and any thoughts racing around in her head that screamed you don’t belong here. Taking charge of a team of oceanographers did not come naturally to a bench scientist who worked alone all day staring into a microscope, especially if that scientist was a woman, but Sears had learned from watching Revelle. He had started as an academic in a tweed jacket with elbow patches, but when the navy made him a lieutenant he took on the persona of “the man in charge.”

When Revelle walked into the conference room of the Munitions Building—tall, broad shouldered, and uniformed—he was in complete control. He spoke in a booming, decisive voice. He had an answer for every question. He solved problems. Now, thanks to the overly confident Revelle, Sears was wearing the uniform too. She had stepped into his shoes at the Hydrographic Office. She was not going to let anyone think she couldn’t fill them.

During the first year of the war there had been a mad scramble in Washington to gather information about the countries where troops might be fighting, especially distant locales like New Guinea, Indochina, Formosa, and all the tiny islands dotting the sixty-four million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. World War II spilled across the globe into places most Americans had never heard of and where the military had never been. It was unlike any other war Americans had fought.

Getting to these places would be the easy part. The navy could navigate its way to just about any far-off target anywhere in the world, thanks to the nautical charts maintained by the Hydrographic Office, but what would it find when it got there? Were the beaches flat and wide or would they be narrow, steep, and difficult to land on? Was the terrain mountainous, volcanic, or swampy? Would high winds and waves impede a smooth landing? Would they land during the rainy season? Who were the native people and what language did they speak? Were there drivable roads once troops got across the beaches?

All these details mattered because going to war was more than hauling men, tanks, rifles, and ammunition to a designated site and attacking the enemy. The troops needed to come prepared for whatever they might find, which meant knowing everything they could about an area in advance.

The military searched their files for background materials. They found spotty reports scattered among files of government agencies but no comprehensive references that spanned the globe and nothing that left them with a sense of what to expect when they went to war. The years between World War I and World War II stretched across the lean budgets of the Depression years. The military had languished along with the rest of the country—training soldiers with Springfield rifles manufactured in 1903 and using borrowed cruise liners to transport troops. With Congress keeping the purse strings tight, there had been no money to spend gathering intel for wars that might pop up one day in some remote corner of the world. The file cabinets were all but empty. As one intelligence official summed it up, “We were caught so utterly unprepared.”

What would the armed forces do now to catch up in the midst of an ongoing war?

It was a problem that had vexed Roosevelt even before the war. To help remedy the intelligence gap, he had appointed General William Donovan in mid-1941 as coordinator of information, a role that morphed into the director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. But Donovan too was getting a late start, and his mission was focused on espionage and sabotage, not foreign terrain.

The logical source of information for the military was its own intelligence agencies. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Army Corps of Engineers, and G-2, the army’s intelligence unit, had all started spinning out their own internal intelligence reports, duplicating effort and expense. But like jealous siblings guarding their toys, the agencies kept their reports to themselves, which only hampered preparations in the long run. Furthermore, these groups had not anticipated the massive landscape this war would cover and there were still many gaps to fill.

“Who would have thought, when Germany marched on Poland, that we would suddenly have to range our inquiries from the cryolite mines of Ivigtut, Greenland, to the guayule plants of Yucatan, Mexico; or from the twilight settlements of Kiska to the coral beaches of Guadalcanal. Who even thought we should be required to know (or indeed suspected that we did not know) everything about the beaches of France and the tides and currents of the English Channel,” a CIA official later mused.

That was exactly the problem: there was no predicting just what information might be needed in a war of global proportions. Whether it was knowing where to collect an essential mineral or finding the latest tidal data, the need for information, beyond just estimating enemy troop strength or weaponry, was enormous. The military leaders trying to plan the war—where to send troops first and what operations to execute when they got there—were particularly hindered. Their information needs were unfolding in real time, and without a centralized forum for gathering, collating, analyzing, and disseminating information, the United States found itself at a disadvantage in war planning.

Roosevelt began to realize the extent of the problem when he started meeting with Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff in a series of war planning conferences. At the Arcadia Conference held two weeks after World War II began the British had the edge in strategic planning. They had operated under a system for almost two decades where the British Chiefs of Staff served as a supreme, unified command, reaping the benefits of cooperation between the Admiralty and the British Army. The United States had no such corresponding body.

Weeks after the first conference Roosevelt formed his own Joint Chiefs of Staff, a unified, high command in the United States composed of Admiral William D. Leahy, the president’s special military adviser; General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the army; Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of Naval Operations and commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet; and General Henry H. Arnold, deputy army chief of staff for air and chief of the Army Air Corps. This impressive array of leaders could draw up battle plans, but it would take time to turn themselves into a truly cooperative body.

At the next war planning conference, at Casablanca in January 1943, Roosevelt noticed yet another fault in the American war planning apparatus—the information gap between the British and the Americans. No matter what subject came up in any corner of the world, the British had prepared a detailed analysis on the area at issue and pulled those reports out of their briefcases. The Americans weren’t able to produce a single study that could match the quality of the British reports, a failing that frustrated and embarrassed the president.

“We came, we listened and we were conquered,” Brigadier General Albert C. Wedemeyer, the army’s chief planner, shared with a colleague following the Casablanca Conference. “They had us on the defensive practically all the time.”

The British had a two-year start on the Americans in this war and they had learned the hard way about the need to collect reliable topographic intelligence. During the German invasion of Norway in 1940 the Royal Air Force Bomber Command had been forced to rely on a 1912 edition of a Baedeker’s travel guide for tourists as the sole reference in planning a counterattack. In the same offensive, the Royal Navy had only scanty Admiralty charts to guide an attack on a major port, an intelligence deficiency that could have easily doomed the mission. The British had gotten away with one in their Norway mission, but they knew they had to do better.

So they had formed the Interservices Topographical Department to implement the pooling of topographical intelligence generated by the army, navy, and the Allies, and tasked it with preparing reports in advance of overseas military operations. This was where Churchill’s reports came from and why his aides could pull them out of their briefcases when the most sensitive joint operations were being planned. To be on an equal footing with the British, the Americans needed to be able to do the same, which meant they were going to have to find a way to rectify the lack of information and fast.operations were being planned. To be on an equal footing with the British, the Americans needed to be able to do the same, which meant they were going to have to find a way to rectify the lack of information and fast.

Russia claims it's using new laser weapons against Ukraine

Russia is supposedly using its invasion of Ukraine to try new technology on the battlefield. As Reutersreports, the Russian government says it's using a new wave of laser weapons to counter the Western technology aiding Ukraine's self-defense. Deputy prime minister Yury Borisov claimed Russia was using prototypes for a drone-destroying laser weapon, Zadira, that can burn up drones. One test incinerated a drone 3.1 miles away within five seconds, according to the official.

A more established system, Peresvet, reportedly blinds satellites up to 932 miles above Earth. This was already "widely deployed," Borisov claimed. The deputy leader maintained that new lasers using wide electromagnetic bands could eventually replace traditional weapons.

This isn't the first reported use of cutting-edge tech in the war against Ukraine. CNNnoted that Russia has fired multiple Kinzhal hypersonic missiles at Ukrainian targets. This variant of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile can be launched from a fighter jet (the MiG-31K). Russia has maintained that Kinzhal is virtually impossible to stop due to its very high speed, but US and UK officials have dismissed its effectiveness and argued that it's really just an air-launched variant of a conventional weapon.

As with those hypersonic weapons, it's difficult to know how well the lasers work in practice. Russia has routinely made false claims about its overall capabilities and the war in Ukraine, where it has struggled to gain ground despite a large military. However, these uses may be less about turning the war around and more about symbolism — Russia wants to boast about its technological prowess and discourage further material support for Ukraine.

Hitting the Books: How American militarism and new technology may make war more likely

There's nobody better at persecuting a war than the United States — we've got the the best-equipped and biggest-budgeted fighting force on the face of the Earth. But does carrying the biggest stick still constitute a strategic advantage if the mere act of possessing it seems to make us more inclined to use it?

In his latest book, Future Peace (sequel to 2017's Future War) Dr. Robert H. Latiff, Maj Gen USAF (Ret), explores how the American military's increasing reliance on weaponized drones, AI and Machine Learning systems, automation and similar cutting-edge technologies, when paired with an increasingly rancorous and often outright hostile global political environment, could create the perfect conditions for getting a lot of people killed. In the excerpt below, Dr. Latiff looks at the impact that America's lionization of its armed forces in the post-Vietnam era and new access to unproven tech have on our ability to mitigate conflict and prevent armed violence.

Notre Dame University Press

Excerpted from Future Peace: Technology, Aggression, and the Rush to War by Robert H. Latiff. Published by University of Notre Dame Press. Copyright © 2022 by Robert H. Latiff. All rights reserved.

Dangers of Rampant Militarism

I served in the military in the decades spanning the end of the Vietnam War to the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. In that time, I watched and participated as the military went from being widely mistrusted to being the subject of veneration by the public. Neither extreme is good or healthy. After Vietnam, military leaders worked to reestablish trust and competency and over the next decade largely succeeded. The Reagan buildup of the late 1980s further cemented the redemption. The fall of the USSR and the victory of the US in the First Gulf War demonstrated just how far we had come. America’s dominant technological prowess was on full display, and over the next decade the US military was everywhere. The attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the long war on terror, ensured that the military would continue to demand the public’s respect and attention. What I have seen is an attitude toward the military that has evolved from public derision to grudging respect, to an unhealthy, unquestioning veneration. Polls repeatedly list the military as one of the most respected institutions in the country, and deservedly so. The object of that adulation, the military, is one thing, but militarism is something else entirely and is something about which the public should be concerned. As a nation, we have become alarmingly militaristic. Every international problem is looked at first through a military lens; then maybe diplomacy will be considered as an afterthought. Non-military issues as diverse as budget deficits and demographic trends are now called national security issues. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are all now referred to as “warfighters,” even those who sit behind a desk or operate satellites thousands of miles in space. We are endlessly talking about threats and dismiss those who disagree or dissent as weak, or worse, unpatriotic.

The young men and women who serve deserve our greatest regard and the best equipment the US has to offer. Part of the respect we could show them, however, is to attempt to understand more about them and to question the mindset that is so eager to employ them in conflicts. In the words of a soldier frequently deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, “[An] important question is how nearly two decades of sustained combat operations have changed how the Army sees itself... I feel at times that the Army culturally defines itself less by the service it provides and more by the wars it fights. This observation may seem silly at first glance. After all, the Army exists to fight wars. Yet a soldier’s sense of identity seems increasingly tied to war, not the service war is supposed to provide to our nation.” A 1955 American Friends Service Committee pamphlet titled Speak Truth to Power described eloquently the effects of American fascination with militarism:

The open-ended nature of the commitment to militarization prevents the pursuit of alternative diplomatic, economic, and social policies that are needed to prevent war. The constant preparation for war and large-scale investment in military readiness impose huge burdens on society, diverting economic, political and psychological resources to destructive purposes. Militarization has a corrosive effect on social values… distorting political culture and creating demands for loyalty and conformity… Under these conditions, mass opinion is easily manipulated to fan the flames of nationalism and military jingoism.

Barbara Tuchman described the national situation with regard to the Vietnam War in a way eerily similar to the present. First was an overreaction and overuse of the term national security and the conjuring up of specters and visions of ruin if we failed to meet the imagined threat. Second was the “illusion” of omnipotence and the failure to understand that conflicts were not always soluble by the application of American force. Third was an attitude of “Don’t confuse me with the facts”: a refusal to credit evidence in decision-making. Finally — and perhaps most importantly in today’s situation — was “a total absence of reflective thought” about what we were doing. Political leaders embraced military action on the basis of a perceived, but largely uninformed, view of our technological and military superiority. The public, unwilling to make the effort to challenge such thinking, just went along. “There is something in modern political and bureaucratic life,” Tuchman concluded, “that subdues the functioning of the intellect.”

High Tech Could Make Mistakes More Likely

Almost the entire world is connected and uses computer networks, but we’re never really sure whether they are secure or whether the information they carry is truthful. Other countries are launching satellites, outer space is getting very crowded, and there is increased talk of competition and conflict in space. Countries engage in attacks on adversary computers and networks, and militaries are rediscovering the utility of electronic warfare, employing radio-frequency (RF) signals to damage, disrupt, or spoof other systems. While in cyber war and electronic warfare the focus is on speed, they and space conflict are characterized by significant ambiguity. Cyber incidents and space incidents as described earlier, characterized as they are by such great uncertainty, give the hotheads ample reason to call for response, and the cooler heads reasons to question the wisdom of such a move.

What could drag us into conflict? Beyond the geographical hot spots, a mistake or miscalculation in the ongoing probes of each other’s computer networks could trigger an unwanted response. US weapon systems are extremely vulnerable to such probes. A 2018 study by the Government Accountability Office found mission-critical vulnerabilities in systems, and testers were able to take control of systems largely undetected. Worse yet, government managers chose not to accept the seriousness of the situation. A cyber probe of our infrastructure could be mistaken for an attack and result in retaliation, setting off response and counter response, escalating in severity, and perhaps lethality. Much of the DOD’s high-priority traffic uses space systems that are vulnerable to intrusion and interference from an increasing number of countries. Electronic warfare against military radios and radars is a growing concern as these capabilities improve.

China and Russia both have substantial space programs, and they intend to challenge the US in space, where we are vulnerable. With both low-earth and geosynchronous orbits becoming increasingly crowded, and with adversary countries engaging in close approaches to our satellites, the situation is ripe for misperception. What is mere intelligence gathering could be misconstrued as an attack and could generate a response, either in space or on the ground. There could be attacks, both direct and surreptitious, on our space systems. Or there could be misunderstandings, with too-close approaches of other satellites viewed as threatening. Threats could be space-based or, more likely, ground-based interference, jamming, or dazzling by lasers. Commercial satellite imagery recently revealed the presence of an alleged ground-based laser site in China, presumed by intelligence analysts to be for attacks against US satellites. Russia has engaged in close, on-orbit station-keeping with high-value US systems. New technology weapons give their owners a new sense of invincibility, and an action that might have in the past been considered too dangerous or provocative might now be deemed worth the risk.

Enormous vulnerability comes along with the high US dependence on networks. As the scenarios at the beginning of this chapter suggest, in a highly charged atmosphere, the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding incidents involving some of the new war-fighting technologies can easily lead to misperceptions and, ultimately, violence. The battlefield is chaotic, uncertain, and unpredictable anyway. Such technological additions — and the vulnerabilities they entail — only make it more so. A former UK spy chief has said, “Because technology has allowed humans to connect, interact, and share information almost instantaneously anywhere in the world, this has opened channels where misinformation, blurred lines, and ambiguity reign supreme.”

It is easy to see how such an ambiguous environment could make a soldier or military unit anxious to the point of aggression. To carry the “giant armed nervous system” metaphor a bit further, consider a human being who is excessively “nervous.” Psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that excessive aggression and violence likely develop as a consequence of generally disturbed emotional regulation, such as abnormally high levels of anxiety. Under pressure, an individual is unlikely to exhibit what we could consider rational behavior. Just as a human can become nervous, super sensitive, overly reactive, jumpy, perhaps “trigger-happy,” so too can the military. A military situation in which threats and uncertainty abound will probably make the forces anxious or “nervous.” Dealing with ambiguity is stressful. Some humans are able to deal successfully with such ambiguity. The ability of machines to do so is an open question.

Technologies are not perfect, especially those that depend on thousands or millions of lines of software code. A computer or human error by one country could trigger a reaction by another. A computer exploit intended to gather intelligence or steal data might unexpectedly disrupt a critical part of an electric grid, a flight control system, or a financial system and end up provoking a non proportional and perhaps catastrophic response. The hyper-connectedness of people and systems, and the almost-total dependence on information and data, are making the world—and military operations—vastly more complicated. Some military scholars are concerned about emerging technologies and the possibility of unintended, and uncontrollable, conflict brought on by decisions made by autonomous systems and the unexpected interactions of complex networks of systems that we do not fully understand. Do the intimate connections and rapid communication of information make a “knee-jerk” reaction more, or less, likely? Does the design for speed and automation allow for rational assessment, or will it ensure that a threat impulse is matched by an immediate, unfiltered response? Command and control can, and sometimes does, break down when the speed of operations is so great that a commander feels compelled to act immediately, even if he or she does not really understand what is happening. If we do not completely understand the systems—how they are built, how they operate, how they fail—they and we could make bad and dangerous decisions.

Technological systems, if they are not well understood by their operators, can cascade out of control. The horrific events at Chernobyl are sufficient evidence of that. Flawed reactor design and inadequately trained personnel, with little understanding of the concept of operation, led to a fatal series of missteps. Regarding war, Richard Danzig points to the start of World War I. The antagonists in that war had a host of new technologies never before used together on such a scale: railroads, telegraphs, the bureaucracy of mass mobilization, quick-firing artillery, and machine guns. The potential to deploy huge armies in a hurry put pressure on decision makers to strike first before the adversary was ready, employing technologies they really didn’t understand. Modern technology can create the same pressure for a first strike that the technology of 1914 did. Americans are especially impatient. Today, computer networks, satellites in orbit, and other modern infrastructures are relatively fragile, giving a strong advantage to whichever side strikes first. Oxford professor Lucas Kello notes that “in our era of rapid technological change, threats and opportunities arising from a new class of weapons produce pressure to act before the laborious process of strategic adoption concludes.” In other words, we rush them to the field before we have done the fundamental work of figuring out their proper use.

Decorated Vietnam veteran Hal Moore described the intense combat on the front lines with his soldiers in the Ia Drang campaign in 1965. He told, in sometimes gruesome detail, of the push and shove of the battle and how he would, from time to time, step back slightly to gather his thoughts and reflect on what was happening and, just as importantly, what was not happening. Political leaders, overwhelmed by pressures of too much information and too little time, are deprived of the ability to think or reflect on the context of a situation. They are hostage to time and do not have the luxury of what philosopher Simone Weil calls “between the impulse and the act, the tiny interval that is reflection.”

Today’s battles, which will probably happen at lightning speed, may not allow such a luxury as reflection. Hypersonic missiles, for instance, give their targets precious little time for decision-making and might force ill-informed and ill-advised counter decisions. Autonomous systems, operating individually or in swarms, connected via the internet in a network of systems, create an efficient weapon system. A mistake by one, however, could speed through the system with possibly catastrophic consequences. The digital world’s emphasis on speed further inhibits reflection.

With systems so far-flung, so automated, and so predisposed to action, it will be essential to find ways to program our weapon systems to prevent unrestrained independent, autonomous aggression. However, an equally, if not more, important goal will be to identify ways to inhibit not only the technology but also the decision makers’ proclivity to resort to violence.

Iraqi prime minister say he was the target of a drone assassination attempt

Drones are apparently turning into assassination tools. According to CBS News and Reuters, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi says he survived a drone-based assassination attempt today (November 7th) at his home in Baghdad's highly secure Green Zone. The country's Interior Ministry said the attack involved three drones, including at least one bomb-laden vehicle. Six bodyguards were injured during the incident, and an official speaking talking to Reuters claimed security forces obtained the remnants of a small drone at the scene.

While the Iraqi government publicly said it was "premature" to identify culprits, CBS sources suspected the perpetrators belonged to pro-Iranian militias that have used similar tactics against Erbil International Airport and the US Embassy. The militias directly blamed al-Kadhimi for casualties in a fight between Iraqi security forces and pro-militia protesters who objected to their side's losses in an October 10th parliamentary vote.

Iraq, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran have publicly condemned the attack. Militia leaders, however, suggested the drone attack might have been faked to distract from protesters' reported deaths.

Drone-based terrorism isn't a completely novel concept. ISIS, for instance, modified off-the-shelf drones to drop explosives. Attacks against political leaders are still very rare, though. If accurate, the reported Iraqi plot suggests drone terrorism is entering a new phase — extremists are using robotic fliers to hit major targets too dangerous to strike using conventional methods.

DARPA's PROTEUS program gamifies the art of war

The nature of war continues to evolve through the 21st century with conflict zones shifting from jungles and deserts to coastal cities. Not to mention the rapidly increasing commercial availability of cutting-edge technologies including UAVs and wireless communications. To help the Marine Corps best prepare for these increased complexities and challenges, the Department of Defense tasked DARPA with developing a digital training and operations planning tool. The result is the Prototype Resilient Operations Testbed for Expeditionary Urban Scenarios (PROTEUS) system, a real-time strategy simulator for urban-littoral warfare.

When the PROTEUS program first began in 2017, “there was a big push across DARPA under what we call a sustainment focus area, and that included urban warfare,” Dr. Tim Grayson, director of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, told Engadget, looking at how to best support and “sustain” US fighting forces in various combat situations until they can finish their mission.


The PROTEUS program manager (who has since departed DARPA), Dr. John S Paschkewitz, “came to the realization that the urban environment is really complex, both from a maneuver perspective,” Grayson said, “but also going into the future where there's all this commercial technology that will involve communications and spectrum stuff, maybe even robotics and things of that nature.”

Even without the threat of armed UAVs and autonomous killbots, modern urban conflict zones pose a number of challenges including limited lines of sight and dense, pervasive civilian populations. “​​There's such a wide range of missions that happen in urban environments,” Grayson said. “A lot of it is almost like peacekeeping, stabilization operations. How do we… help the local populace and protect them.” He also notes that the military is often called in to assist with both national emergencies and natural disasters, which pose the same issues albeit without nearly as much shooting.

“So, if someone like the Marines or some other kind of sustainment military unit had to go conduct operations in a complex urban environment,” he continued, “it'd be a limited footprint. So, [Paschkewitz] started looking at what we refer to as the ‘what do I put in the rucksack problem.’”

“The urban fight is about delivering precise effects and adapting faster than the adversary in an uncertain, increasingly complex environment,” Paschkewitz said in a DARPA release from June. “For US forces to maintain a distinct advantage in urban coastal combat scenarios, we need agile, flexible task organizations able to create surprise and exploit advantages by combining effects across operational domains.”

PROTEUS itself is a software program designed to run on a tablet or hardened PDA and allow anyone from a squad leader up to a company commander to monitor and adjust the “composition of battlefield elements — including dismounted forces, vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), manned aircraft and other available assets,” according to the release. “Through PROTEUS, we aim to amplify the initiative and decision-making capabilities of NCOs and junior officers at the platoon and squad level, as well as field-grade officers, commanding expeditionary landing teams, for example, by giving them new tools to compose tailored force packages not just before the mission, but during the mission as it unfolds.”

But PROTEUS isn’t just for monitoring and redeploying forces, it also serves as a real-time strategy training system to help NCOs and officers test and analyze different capabilities and tactics virtually. “One of the beauties of [PROTEUS] is it's flexible enough to program with whatever you want,” Grayson said. It allows warfighters to “go explore their own ideas, their own structure concepts, their own tactics. They're totally free to use it just as an open-ended experimentation, mission rehearsal or even training type of tool.”

But for its design flexibility, the system’s physics engine closely conforms to the real-world behaviors and tolerances of existing military equipment as well as commercial drones, cellular, satellite and Wi-Fi communications, sensors and even weapons systems. “The simulation environment is sophisticated but doesn't let them do things that are not physically realizable,” Grayson explained.

The system also includes a dynamic composition engine called COMPOSER which not only automate the team’s equipment loadout but can also look at a commander’s plan and provide feedback on multiple aspects including “electromagnetic signature risk, assignment of communications assets to specific units and automatic configuration of tactical networks,” according to a DARPA press release.


“Without the EMSO and logistics wizards, it’s hard to effectively coordinate and execute multi-domain operations,” Paschkewitz said. “Marines can easily coordinate direct and indirect fires, but coordinating those with spectrum operations while ensuring logistical support without staff is challenging. These tools allow Marines to focus on the art of war, and the automation handles the science of war.”

Currently, the system is set up for standard Red vs Blue fights between opposing human forces though Grayzon does not expect PROTEUS to be upgraded to the point that humans will be able to compete against the CPU and even less likely that we’ll see CPU vs CPU — given our current computational and processing capabilities. He does note that the Constructive Machine-learning Battles with Adversary Tactics (COMBAT) program, which is still underway at DARPA, is working to develop “models of Red Force brigade behaviors that challenge and adapt to Blue Forces in simulation experiments.”

“Building a commander’s insight and judgment is driven by the fact that there’s a live opponent,” Paschkewitz said in June. “We built ULTRA [the sandbox module that serves as the basis for the larger system] around that concept from day one. This is not AI versus AI, or human versus AI, rather there is always a Marine against an ADFOR (adversary force), that’s another Marine, typically, forcing the commander to adapt tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and innovate at mission speed.”

“PROTEUS enables commanders to immerse themselves in a future conflict where they can deploy capabilities against a realistic adversary,” Ryan Reeder, model and simulation director, MCWL Experiment Division, said in a statement. “Commanders can hone their battlefield skills, while also training subordinates on employment techniques, delivering a cohesive unit able to execute in a more effective manner.

Technically, DARPA’s involvement with the PROTEUS program has come to an end following its transfer to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab where it is now being used for ADFOR training and developing new TTPs and CONOPS. “My guess is they will mostly use it for their own purposes, as opposed to continuing to develop it,” Grayson said. “The Warfighting Lab is less focused on technology and more focused on our future force, concepts and what are our new tactics.”