Tag Archives: warfare is changing

Experienced Young Military Professionals Discuss The Future of Warfare

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following two articles by a Middle East war veteran at West Point and a Navy military lawyer contemplating warfare technology and the law should be carefully read by the American Public. These young gentlemen are highly visible in their fields. They and their peers are the future leadership of our country.

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“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT” By Matt Cavanaugh

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.

We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”

A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.

The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.

Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).

Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?

All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.

The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.

This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.

True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”

https://rosecoveredglasses.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/military-victory-is-dead/

JIA SIPA

By JOSHUA FIVESON

A new chapter of the international order The automation of war is as inevitable as conflict itself.  Less certain, however, is the international community’s collective ability to predict the many ways that these changes will affect the traditional global order. 

The pace of technology is often far greater than our collective ability to contemplate its second and third order effects, and this reality counsels cautious reflection as we enter a new chapter in the age-old story of war and peace.

_________________________________________________________________________

“Robots have long presented a threat to some aspect of the human experience.  What began with concern over the labor market slowly evolved into a full-blown existential debate over the future of mankind.  But lost somewhere in between the assembly line and apocalypse stands a more immediate threat to the global order:  the disruptive relationship between technology and international law.

Jus ad Bellum

Jus ad bellum is the body of international law that governs the initial use force.  Under this heading, force is authorized in response to an “armed attack.”  However, little discussion has focused on how unmanned technologies will shift this line between war and peace.

Iran’s recent unprovoked attack on one of the United States’ unmanned surveillance aircraft provides an interesting case study.  Though many saw the move as the opening salvo of war, the United States declined to respond in kind.  The President explained that there would have been a “big, big difference” if there was “a man or woman in the [aircraft.]”  This comment seemed to address prudence, not authority.  Many assumed that the United States would have been well within its rights to levy a targeted response.  Yet this sentiment overlooked a key threshold:  could the United States actually claim self-defense under international law?  

Two cases from the International Court of Justice are instructive.  In Nicaragua v. United States, the Court confronted the U.S. government’s surreptitious support and funding of the Contras, a rebel group that sought to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.  Nicaragua viewed the United States’ conduct as an armed attack under international law.  The Court, however, disagreed.

Key to the Court’s holding was the concept of scale and effect.  Although the U.S. government had encouraged and directly supported paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, the Court concluded that the scale and effect of that conduct did not rise to the level of an armed attack.  Notably, this was the case regardless of any standing prohibition on the United States’ efforts.

So too in Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States, more commonly known as the “Oil Platforms” case.  The Court analyzed the U.S. government’s decision to bomb evacuated Iranian Oil Platforms in response to Iranian missile and mining operations throughout the Persian Gulf.  Among other things, the Iranian operations injured six crew members on a U.S. flagged oil tanker, ten sailors on a U.S. naval vessel, and damaged both ships.  The Court nonetheless rejected the United States’ claim of self-defense because the Iranian operations did not meet the Nicaragua gravity threshold and thus did not qualify as “armed attacks.”  

Viewed on this backdrop, however contested, it strains reason to suggest that an isolated use of force against an unmanned asset would ever constitute an armed attack.  Never before have hostile forces been able to similarly degrade combat capability with absolutely no risk of casualty.  Though the Geneva Conventions prohibit the “extensive destruction” of property, it is another matter completely to conclude that any unlawful use of force is tantamount to an armed attack.  Indeed, the Nicaragua and Oil Platforms cases clearly reject this reasoning.  This highlights how the new balance of scale and effect will alter the landscape that separates peace and war.

Even assuming an attack on unmanned technology might constitute an armed attack under international law, there arise other complications regarding the degree of force available in response.  The jus ad bellum principles of necessity and proportionality apply to actions taken in self-defense, and the legitimate use of “defensive” force must be tailored to achieve that legitimate end.  A failure to strike this balance runs contrary to long-held principles of international law. 

What, then, happens when a robotic platform is destroyed and the response delayed?  Does the surrogate country have a general right to use limited, belated force in reply?  Maybe.  But a generalized response would likely constitute armed reprisal, which has fallen into disfavor with customary international law. 

To be lawful, the deferred use of defensive force must be tailored to prevent similar attacks in the future.  Anything short of this would convert a country’s inherent right to self-defense into subterfuge for illegal aggression.  Thankfully, this obligation is simply met where the initial aggressor is a developed country that maintains targeting or industrial facilities that can be tied to any previous, or potential future, means of attack.  But this problem takes on new difficulty in the context of asymmetric warfare.   

Non-state actors are more than capable of targeting robotic technology.  Yet these entities lack the traditional infrastructure that might typically (and lawfully) find itself in the crosshairs following an attack.  How, then, can a traditional power use force in response to a successful, non-state assault on unmanned equipment?  It is complicated.  A responsive strike that broadly targets members of the hostile force may present proportionality concerns that are unique from those associated with traditional attacks that risk the loss of life. 

How would a country justify a responsive strike that targets five members of a hostile force in response to a downed drone?  Does the answer change if fewer people are targeted?  And what if there is no question that those targeted were not involved in the initial act of aggression?  These questions aside, a responsive strike that exclusively targets humans in an attempt to stymie future attacks on unmanned equipment does not bear the same legal foundation as one that seeks to prevent future attacks that risk life.  The international community has yet to identify the exchange rate between robotic equipment and human lives, and therein lies the problem.

Jus in Bello

Robotic warfare will also disrupt jus in bello, the law that governs conduct during armed conflict.  Under the law of armed conflict, the right to use deadly force against a belligerent continues until they have been rendered ineffective, whether through injury, surrender, or detention.  But the right to use force first is not diminished by the well-recognized obligation to care for those same combatants if wounded or captured.  An armed force is not required to indiscriminately assume risk in order to capture as opposed to kill an adversary.  To impose such a requirement would shift risk from one group to another and impose gratuitous tactical impediments

This sentiment fades, however, once you place “killer robots” on the battlefield.  While there is little sense in telling a young soldier or marine that he cannot pull the trigger and must put himself at greater risk if an opportunity for capture presents itself, the same does not hold true when a robot is pulling the trigger.  The tactical feasibility of capture over kill becomes real once you swap “boots” for “bots” on the ground.  No longer is there the potential for fatality, and the risk calculus becomes largely financial.  This is not to say that robots would obligate a country to blindly pursue capture at the expense of strategy.  But a modernized military might effect uncontemplated restrictions on the traditional use of force under international law.  The justification for kill over capture is largely nonexistent in situations where capture is tactically feasible without any coordinate risk of casualty.

Design is another important part of this discussion.  Imagine a platoon of “killer robots” engages a small group of combatants, some of whom are incapacitated but not killed.  A robot that is exclusively designed to target and kill would be unable to comply with the internationally recognized duty to care for wounded combatants.  Unless medical care is a contemplated function of these robots’ design, the concept of a human-free battlefield will remain unrealized.  Indeed, the inherent tension between new tech and old law might indicate that at least some human footprint will always be required in theater—if only after the dust of combat settles.

Reports from China suggest that robots could replace humans on the battlefield within the next five years, and the U.S. Army is slated to begin testing a platoon of robotic combat vehicles this year.  Russia, too, is working to develop combat robots to supplement its infantry.  This, of course, raises an important question: what happens if the most powerful, technologically adept countries write off traditional obligations at the design table?  Might often makes right on the international stage, and given the lack of precedent in this area, the risk demands attention.

Law of the Sea

The peacetime naval domain provides another interesting forum for the disruptive effect of military robotics.  Customary international law, for example, has long recognized an obligation to render assistance to vessels in distress—at least to the extent feasible without danger to the assisting ship and crew.  This is echoed in a variety of international treaties ranging from the Geneva Convention on the High Seas to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  But what becomes of this obligation when ships of the future have no crew?

Navies across the world are actively developing ghost fleets.  The U.S. Navy has called upon industry to deliver ten Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle ships by 2024, and just recently, the “Sea Hunter” became the first ship to sail autonomously between two major ports.  This comes as no surprise given the Navy’s 2020 request for $628.8 million to conduct research and development involving unmanned surface and sub-surface assets.  The Chinese, too, have been exploring the future of autonomous sea power.  

This move highlights the real possibility that technology may relieve the most industrially developed Navies of traditional international obligations.  Whether fortuitously or not, the size of a ghost fleet would inversely reflect a nation’s ability—and perhaps its obligation—to assist vessels in distress. 

This would shift the humanitarian onus onto less-developed countries or commercial mariners, ceding at least one traditional pillar of international law’s peacetime function.  This also opens the door to troubling precedent if global superpowers begin to consciously design themselves out of long-held international obligations.

The move to robotic sea vessels also risks an increase in challenges to the previously inviolable (and more-easily defendable) sovereignty of sea-going platforms.  In 2016, for example, a Chinese warship unlawfully detained one of the United States’ underwater drones, which, at the time, was being recovered in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.  The move was widely seen as violating international maritime law.  But the Chinese faced no resistance in their initial detention of the vessel and the United States’ response consisted of nothing more than demands for return.  Unlike their staffed counterparts, unmanned vessels are more prone to illegal seizure or boarding—in part because of the relatively low risk associated with the venture. 

This dynamic may increase a nation’s willingness to unlawfully exert control over another’s sovereign vessel while simultaneously decreasing the aggrieved nation’s inclination (or ability) to use force in response.  This same phenomenon bears out in the context of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, for which the frequency and consequence of hostile engagement are counter-intuitively related.  But unmanned sea vessels are far more prone to low-cost incursion than their winged counterparts.  This highlights but one aspect of the normative consequence effected by unmanned naval technology, which, if unaddressed, stands to alter the cost-benefit analysis that often underlies the equilibrium of peace.”

https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/online-articles/disruptive-technology-and-future-international-law

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshua Fiveson
Joshua Fiveson 

Joshua Fiveson is an officer in the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Harvard Law School.  Fiveson previously served as the youngest-ever military fellow with the Institute of World Politics, a national security fellow with the University of Virginia’s National Security Law Institute, a national security fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a leadership fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.  Fiveson also served as a John Marshall fellow with the Claremont Institute and a James Wilson fellow with the James Wilson Institute. 

Disruptive Technology And The International Law Future

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Image: “Devdiscourse”
JIA SIPA

By JOSHUA FIVESON

A new chapter of the international order The automation of war is as inevitable as conflict itself.  Less certain, however, is the international community’s collective ability to predict the many ways that these changes will affect the traditional global order. 

The pace of technology is often far greater than our collective ability to contemplate its second and third order effects, and this reality counsels cautious reflection as we enter a new chapter in the age-old story of war and peace.

_________________________________________________________________________

“Robots have long presented a threat to some aspect of the human experience.  What began with concern over the labor market slowly evolved into a full-blown existential debate over the future of mankind.  But lost somewhere in between the assembly line and apocalypse stands a more immediate threat to the global order:  the disruptive relationship between technology and international law.

Jus ad Bellum

Jus ad bellum is the body of international law that governs the initial use force.  Under this heading, force is authorized in response to an “armed attack.”  However, little discussion has focused on how unmanned technologies will shift this line between war and peace.

Iran’s recent unprovoked attack on one of the United States’ unmanned surveillance aircraft provides an interesting case study.  Though many saw the move as the opening salvo of war, the United States declined to respond in kind.  The President explained that there would have been a “big, big difference” if there was “a man or woman in the [aircraft.]”  This comment seemed to address prudence, not authority.  Many assumed that the United States would have been well within its rights to levy a targeted response.  Yet this sentiment overlooked a key threshold:  could the United States actually claim self-defense under international law?  

Two cases from the International Court of Justice are instructive.  In Nicaragua v. United States, the Court confronted the U.S. government’s surreptitious support and funding of the Contras, a rebel group that sought to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.  Nicaragua viewed the United States’ conduct as an armed attack under international law.  The Court, however, disagreed.

Key to the Court’s holding was the concept of scale and effect.  Although the U.S. government had encouraged and directly supported paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, the Court concluded that the scale and effect of that conduct did not rise to the level of an armed attack.  Notably, this was the case regardless of any standing prohibition on the United States’ efforts.

So too in Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States, more commonly known as the “Oil Platforms” case.  The Court analyzed the U.S. government’s decision to bomb evacuated Iranian Oil Platforms in response to Iranian missile and mining operations throughout the Persian Gulf.  Among other things, the Iranian operations injured six crew members on a U.S. flagged oil tanker, ten sailors on a U.S. naval vessel, and damaged both ships.  The Court nonetheless rejected the United States’ claim of self-defense because the Iranian operations did not meet the Nicaragua gravity threshold and thus did not qualify as “armed attacks.”  

Viewed on this backdrop, however contested, it strains reason to suggest that an isolated use of force against an unmanned asset would ever constitute an armed attack.  Never before have hostile forces been able to similarly degrade combat capability with absolutely no risk of casualty.  Though the Geneva Conventions prohibit the “extensive destruction” of property, it is another matter completely to conclude that any unlawful use of force is tantamount to an armed attack.  Indeed, the Nicaragua and Oil Platforms cases clearly reject this reasoning.  This highlights how the new balance of scale and effect will alter the landscape that separates peace and war.

Even assuming an attack on unmanned technology might constitute an armed attack under international law, there arise other complications regarding the degree of force available in response.  The jus ad bellum principles of necessity and proportionality apply to actions taken in self-defense, and the legitimate use of “defensive” force must be tailored to achieve that legitimate end.  A failure to strike this balance runs contrary to long-held principles of international law. 

What, then, happens when a robotic platform is destroyed and the response delayed?  Does the surrogate country have a general right to use limited, belated force in reply?  Maybe.  But a generalized response would likely constitute armed reprisal, which has fallen into disfavor with customary international law. 

To be lawful, the deferred use of defensive force must be tailored to prevent similar attacks in the future.  Anything short of this would convert a country’s inherent right to self-defense into subterfuge for illegal aggression.  Thankfully, this obligation is simply met where the initial aggressor is a developed country that maintains targeting or industrial facilities that can be tied to any previous, or potential future, means of attack.  But this problem takes on new difficulty in the context of asymmetric warfare.   

Non-state actors are more than capable of targeting robotic technology.  Yet these entities lack the traditional infrastructure that might typically (and lawfully) find itself in the crosshairs following an attack.  How, then, can a traditional power use force in response to a successful, non-state assault on unmanned equipment?  It is complicated.  A responsive strike that broadly targets members of the hostile force may present proportionality concerns that are unique from those associated with traditional attacks that risk the loss of life. 

How would a country justify a responsive strike that targets five members of a hostile force in response to a downed drone?  Does the answer change if fewer people are targeted?  And what if there is no question that those targeted were not involved in the initial act of aggression?  These questions aside, a responsive strike that exclusively targets humans in an attempt to stymie future attacks on unmanned equipment does not bear the same legal foundation as one that seeks to prevent future attacks that risk life.  The international community has yet to identify the exchange rate between robotic equipment and human lives, and therein lies the problem.

Jus in Bello

Robotic warfare will also disrupt jus in bello, the law that governs conduct during armed conflict.  Under the law of armed conflict, the right to use deadly force against a belligerent continues until they have been rendered ineffective, whether through injury, surrender, or detention.  But the right to use force first is not diminished by the well-recognized obligation to care for those same combatants if wounded or captured.  An armed force is not required to indiscriminately assume risk in order to capture as opposed to kill an adversary.  To impose such a requirement would shift risk from one group to another and impose gratuitous tactical impediments

This sentiment fades, however, once you place “killer robots” on the battlefield.  While there is little sense in telling a young soldier or marine that he cannot pull the trigger and must put himself at greater risk if an opportunity for capture presents itself, the same does not hold true when a robot is pulling the trigger.  The tactical feasibility of capture over kill becomes real once you swap “boots” for “bots” on the ground.  No longer is there the potential for fatality, and the risk calculus becomes largely financial.  This is not to say that robots would obligate a country to blindly pursue capture at the expense of strategy.  But a modernized military might effect uncontemplated restrictions on the traditional use of force under international law.  The justification for kill over capture is largely nonexistent in situations where capture is tactically feasible without any coordinate risk of casualty.

Design is another important part of this discussion.  Imagine a platoon of “killer robots” engages a small group of combatants, some of whom are incapacitated but not killed.  A robot that is exclusively designed to target and kill would be unable to comply with the internationally recognized duty to care for wounded combatants.  Unless medical care is a contemplated function of these robots’ design, the concept of a human-free battlefield will remain unrealized.  Indeed, the inherent tension between new tech and old law might indicate that at least some human footprint will always be required in theater—if only after the dust of combat settles.

Reports from China suggest that robots could replace humans on the battlefield within the next five years, and the U.S. Army is slated to begin testing a platoon of robotic combat vehicles this year.  Russia, too, is working to develop combat robots to supplement its infantry.  This, of course, raises an important question: what happens if the most powerful, technologically adept countries write off traditional obligations at the design table?  Might often makes right on the international stage, and given the lack of precedent in this area, the risk demands attention.

Law of the Sea

The peacetime naval domain provides another interesting forum for the disruptive effect of military robotics.  Customary international law, for example, has long recognized an obligation to render assistance to vessels in distress—at least to the extent feasible without danger to the assisting ship and crew.  This is echoed in a variety of international treaties ranging from the Geneva Convention on the High Seas to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  But what becomes of this obligation when ships of the future have no crew?

Navies across the world are actively developing ghost fleets.  The U.S. Navy has called upon industry to deliver ten Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle ships by 2024, and just recently, the “Sea Hunter” became the first ship to sail autonomously between two major ports.  This comes as no surprise given the Navy’s 2020 request for $628.8 million to conduct research and development involving unmanned surface and sub-surface assets.  The Chinese, too, have been exploring the future of autonomous sea power.  

This move highlights the real possibility that technology may relieve the most industrially developed Navies of traditional international obligations.  Whether fortuitously or not, the size of a ghost fleet would inversely reflect a nation’s ability—and perhaps its obligation—to assist vessels in distress. 

This would shift the humanitarian onus onto less-developed countries or commercial mariners, ceding at least one traditional pillar of international law’s peacetime function.  This also opens the door to troubling precedent if global superpowers begin to consciously design themselves out of long-held international obligations.

The move to robotic sea vessels also risks an increase in challenges to the previously inviolable (and more-easily defendable) sovereignty of sea-going platforms.  In 2016, for example, a Chinese warship unlawfully detained one of the United States’ underwater drones, which, at the time, was being recovered in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.  The move was widely seen as violating international maritime law.  But the Chinese faced no resistance in their initial detention of the vessel and the United States’ response consisted of nothing more than demands for return.  Unlike their staffed counterparts, unmanned vessels are more prone to illegal seizure or boarding—in part because of the relatively low risk associated with the venture. 

This dynamic may increase a nation’s willingness to unlawfully exert control over another’s sovereign vessel while simultaneously decreasing the aggrieved nation’s inclination (or ability) to use force in response.  This same phenomenon bears out in the context of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, for which the frequency and consequence of hostile engagement are counter-intuitively related.  But unmanned sea vessels are far more prone to low-cost incursion than their winged counterparts.  This highlights but one aspect of the normative consequence effected by unmanned naval technology, which, if unaddressed, stands to alter the cost-benefit analysis that often underlies the equilibrium of peace.”

https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/online-articles/disruptive-technology-and-future-international-law

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshua Fiveson
Joshua Fiveson 

Joshua Fiveson is an officer in the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Harvard Law School.  Fiveson previously served as the youngest-ever military fellow with the Institute of World Politics, a national security fellow with the University of Virginia’s National Security Law Institute, a national security fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a leadership fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.  Fiveson also served as a John Marshall fellow with the Claremont Institute and a James Wilson fellow with the James Wilson Institute. 

How Marines And Robots Will fight Side By Side

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Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

“MARINE CORPS TIMES”

This imagined scenario involves a host of platforms, teamed with in-the-flesh Marines, moving rapidly across wide swaths of the Pacific.

Those small teams of maybe a platoon or even a squad could work alongside robots in the air, on land, sea and undersea, to gain a short-term foothold that then could control a vital sea lane Chinese ships would have to bypass or risk sinking simply to transit.

____________________________________________________________________________

“Somewhere off the coast of a tiny island in the South China Sea small robotic submarines snoop around, looking for underwater obstacles as remotely-controlled ships prowl the surf. Overhead multiple long-range drones scan the beachhead and Chinese military ­fortifications deeper into the hills.

A small team of Marines, specially trained and equipped, linger ­farther out after having launched from their amphibious warship, as did their robot battle buddies to scout this spit of sand.

Their Marine grandfathers and great-grandfathers might have rolled toward this island slowly, dodging sea mines and artillery fire only to belly crawl in the surf as they were raked with ­machine gun fire, dying by the thousands.

But in the near-term battle, suicidal charges to gain ground in a fast-moving battlefield is a robot’s job.

It’s a bold, technology-heavy concept that’s part of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to keep the Corps relevant and lethal against a perceived growing threat in the rise of China in the Pacific and its increasingly sophisticated and capable Navy.

In his planning guidance, Berger called for the Marines and Navy to “create many new risk-worthy unmanned and minimally manned platforms.” Those systems will be used in place of and alongside the “stand-in forces,” which are in range of enemy weapons systems to create “tactical dilemmas” for adversaries.

“Autonomous systems and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the character of war,” Berger said. “Our potential peer adversaries are investing heavily to gain dominance in these fields.”

And a lot of what the top Marine wants makes sense for the type of war fighting, and budget constraints, that the Marine Corps will face.

“A purely unmanned system can be very small, can focus on power, range and duration and there are a lot of packages you can put on it — sensors, video camera, weapons systems,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine ­lieutenant colonel and now senior research fellow at The Heritage ­Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The theater of focus, the Indo-Pacific Command, almost requires adding a lot of affordable systems in place of more Marine bodies.

That’s because the Marines are stretched across the world’s largest ocean and now face anti-access, area-denial, systems run by the Chinese military that the force hasn’t had to consider since the Cold War.

“In INDOPACOM, in the littorals, the Marine Corps is looking to kind of outsource tasks that machines are looking to do,” Wood said. “You’re preserving people for tasks you really want a person to handle.”

The Corps’ shift back to the sea and closer work with the Navy has been brewing in the background in recent years as the United States slowly has attempted to disentangle itself from land-based conflicts in the Middle East. Signaling those changes, recent leaders have published warfighting concepts such as expeditionary advanced based operations, or EABO, and littoral operations in contested environment.

EABO aims to work with the Navy’s distributed maritime operations concept. Both allow for the U.S. military to pierce the anti-access, area denial bubble. The littoral operations in contested environment concept makes way for the close-up fight in the critical space where the sea meets the land.

That’s meant a move to prioritize the Okinawa, Japan-based III Marine Expeditionary Force as the leading edge for prioritizing Marine forces and experimentation, as the commandant calls for the “brightest” Marines to head there.

Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

Getting what they want

But the Corps, which traditionally has taken a backseat in major acquisitions, faces hurdles in adding new systems to its portfolio.

It was only in 2019 that the Marines gained more funding to add more MQ-9 Reaper drones. The Corps got the money to purchase its three Reapers in this year’s budget. But that’s a ­platform that’s been in wide use by the Air Force for more than a decade.

But that’s a short-term fix, the Corps’ goal remains the Marine Air-Ground Task Force unmanned aircraft system, expeditionary, or MUX.

The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships that can also run persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and coordinate and initiate strikes from other weapons platforms in its network.

Though early ideas in 2016 called for something like the MUX to be in the arsenal, at this point officials are pegging an operational version of the aircraft for 2026.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, said at the annual Sea-Air-Space Symposium in 2019 that the MUX remains among the top priorities for the MAGTF.

Sustain and distract

In other areas, Marines are focusing on existing platforms but making them run without human operators.

One such project is the expeditionary warfare unmanned surface vessel. Marines are using the 11-meter ­rigid-hull inflatable boats already in service to move people or cargo, drop it off and return for other missions.

Logistics are a key area where autonomous systems can play a role. Carrying necessary munitions, medical supplies, fuel, batteries and other items on relatively cheap platforms keeps Marines out of the in-person transport game and instead part of the fight.

In early 2018 the Corps conducted the “Hive Final Mile” autonomous drone resupply demonstration in ­Quantico, Virginia. The short-range experiment used small quadcopters to bring items like a rifle magazine, MRE or canteen to designated areas to resupply a squad on foot patrol.

The system used a group of drones in a portable “hive” that could be ­programmed to deliver items to a predetermined site at a specific time and continuously send and return small drones with various items.

Extended to longer ranges on larger platforms and that becomes a lower-risk way to get a helicopter’s worth of supplies to far-flung Marines on small atolls that dot vast ocean expanses.

Shortly after that demonstration, the Marines put out requests for concepts for a similar drone resupply system that would carry up to 500 pounds at least 10 km. It still was not enough distance for larger-scale warfighting, but is the beginnings of the type of resupply a squad or platoon might need in a contested area.

In 2016, the Office of Naval Research used four rigid-hull inflatable boat with unmanned controls to “swarm” a target vessel, showing that they can also be used to attack or distract vessels.

And the distracting part can be one of the best ways to use unmanned assets, Wood said.

Wood noted that while autonomous systems can ­assist in classic “shoot, move, communicate” tactics, they sometimes be even more effective in sustaining forces and distracting adversaries.

“You can put machines out there that can cause the enemy to look in that direction, decoys tying up attention, munitions or other platforms,” Wood said.

And that distraction goes further than actual boats in the water or drones in the air.

As with the MUX, the Corps is looking at ways to include electronic warfare capabilities in its plans. That allows for robotic systems to spoof enemy sensors, making them think that a small pod of four rigid-hull inflatable boats appear to be a larger flotilla of amphib ships.

Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

Overreliance

Marines fighting alongside and along with ­semi-autonomous systems isn’t entirely new.

In communities such as aviation, explosive ordnance disposal and air defense, forms of automation, from automatic flight paths to approaching toward bomb sites and recognizing incoming threats, have been at least partly outsourced to software and systems.

But for more complex tasks, not so much.

How robots have worked and will continue to work in formations is an evolutionary process, according to former Army Ranger Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security and author of, “Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War.”

If you look at military technology in history, the most important use for such tech was in focusing on how to solve a particular mission rather than having the most advanced technology to solve all problems, Scharre said.

And autonomy runs on a kind of sliding scale, he said.

As systems get more complex, autonomy will give fewer tasks to the human and more to the robot, helping people better focus on decision-making about how to conduct the fight. And it will allow for one human to run multiple systems.

When you put robotic systems into a squad, you’re giving up a person to run them and leaders have to decide if that’s worth the trade off, Scharre said.

The more remote the system, the more vulnerable it might be to interference or hacking, he said. Built into any plan for adding autonomous systems there must be reliable, durable communication networks.

Otherwise, when those networks are attacked the systems go down.

That means that a Marine’s training won’t get less complicated, only more multifaceted.

Just as Marines continue to train with a map and compass for land navigation even though they have GPS at their fingertips, Marines operating with autonomous systems will need continued training in fundamental tactics and ways to fight if those systems fail.

“Our preferred method of fighting today in an ­infantry is to shoot someone at a distance before they get close enough to kill with a bayonet,” Scharre said. “But it’s still a backup that’s there. There are still bayonet lugs on rifles, we issue bayonets, we teach people how to wield them.”

Where do they live?

A larger question is where do these systems live? At what level do commanders insert robot wingmen or battle buddies?

Purely for reasons of control and effectiveness, Dakota Wood said they’ll need to be close to the action and Marine Corps personnel.

But does that mean every squad is assigned a robot, or is there a larger formation that doles out the automated systems as needed to the units?

For example, an infantry battalion has some vehicles but for larger movements, leaders look to a truck company, Wood said. The maintenance, care, feeding, control and programming of all these systems will require levels of specialization, expertise and resources.

The Corps is experimenting with a new squad formation, putting 15 instead of 13 Marines in the building block of the infantry. Those additions were an assistant team leader and a squad systems operator. Those are exactly the types of human positions needed to implement small drones, tactical level electronic warfare and other systems.

The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships. (Bell Helicopter)
The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships. (Bell Helicopter)

The Marine Corps leaned on radio battalions in the 1980s to exploit tactical signals intelligence. Much of that capability resided in the larger battalion that farmed out smaller teams to Marine Expeditionary Units or other formations within the larger division or Marine Expeditionary Force.

A company or battalion or other such formation could be where the control and distribution of ­autonomous systems remains.

But, current force structure moves look could integrate those at multiple levels. Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said recently that the Corps is considering a Marine littoral regiment as a formation that would help the Corps better conduct EABO operations.

Combat Development Command did not provide details on the potentially new regimental formation, confirmed that a Marine littoral regiment concept is one that will be developed through current force design conversations.

A component of that could include a recently-proposed formation known as a battalion maritime team.

Maj. Jake Yeager, an intelligence officer in I MEF, charted out an offensive EABO method in a December 2019 article on the website War On The Rocks titled, “­Expeditionary Advanced Maritime Operations: How the Marine Corps can avoid becoming a second land Army in the Pacific.”

Part of that includes the maritime battalion, creating a kind of Marine air-sea task force. Each battalion team would include three assault boat companies, one raid boat company, one anti-ship missile boat battery and one reconnaissance boat company.

The total formation would use 40 boats, at least nine which would be dedicated unmanned surface vehicles, while the rest would be developed with unmanned or manned options, much like the ­rigid-hulled inflatable boats which the Corps is currently experimenting with.”

https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2020/02/03/war-with-robots-an-inside-look-at-how-marines-and-robots-will-fight-side-by-side/

Tats and Techies: Building the Next U.S. Military

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Photo credit Juhan Sonin

Photo Credit: Juhan Sonin

“WAR ON THE ROCKS.COM”

“The U.S. military is unlikely to embrace sweeping change for the best of reasons: The chaotic nature of wars requires substantial individual and organizational discipline to fight and win them. For sizable parts of the force, that may be appropriate – for now.

But warfare itself is changing. The next major war involving U.S. military forces may well demand more skills related to executing cyber attacks on an adversary’s networks than to launching large-scale infantry assaults.

Last Monday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a series of personnel initiatives focused on “recruiting and retaining the best and brightest” for the U.S. military. On Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno announced that the Army would repeal a deeply unpopular recent policy that barred recruits with many types and sizes of tattoos, a change from the previous decade-long practice where troops with lots of “ink” not only joined up but soon went to war.

What do these two seemingly unrelated news events have in common? They are both glimmers of hope that the U.S. military is, at long last, starting to adopt the more flexible personnel policies that it needs to succeed in the 21st century.

Carter and Odierno are on the cusp of a big idea. The next U.S. military – and particularly its senior leadership – must open its eyes to the fundamental change represented by young people of the Millennial generation and the characteristics that define them. Frequent job changes. Career flexibility. Intolerance for bureaucracy. Values beyond work. Adjustable work hours. Aversion to hierarchy. Tattoos. And yes, even body piercings.

Taken together, the Carter and Odierno announcements suggest that U.S. military leaders are reassessing existing policies. They both point toward a new talent management approach – acknowledging the changing goals, interests, and preferences of today’s individual service members from a new generation while simultaneously ensuring that the needs of military services are fully met. If carried out, this new direction will inevitably cause major changes to long-held cultures and traditions.

Odierno’s announcement reversed a much more restrictive tattoo policy that was finalized only a year ago and that was strongly opposed by soldiers. His reasons for the about-face are telling: “Society is changing its views of tattoos and we have to change along with it. It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos were much more acceptable and we have to change with that.” The Army recognizes it must now reverse course to catch up to a social phenomenon that its current soldiers – and future recruits – already embrace.

Carter’s message addresses the same challenge from a different angle. One of the key themes of his speech at Philadelphia’s Abington High School was the overarching importance of people over hardware in building the military of the future. He told the students in the audience that people “are the foundation of our future force. There are lots of other pieces, too, like having the best technology, the best planes, ships, and tanks. But it all starts and ends with our people. If we can’t continue to attract, inspire, and excite talented young Americans like you, then nothing else will matter.”

He reiterated this theme the next day, in a speech at Syracuse University:

‘…we need to change to remain attractive to people to our children and our children’s children, recognizing that all generations are different. They’re not like us. They have a different way of thinking about their careers, about choice, about what excites them about what they want to do in the way of friends and families and everything else. And we need to understand that and connect to that to continue to have the best people come in.’

The seeds of winning the next war may be found in the speeches that Carter and Odierno gave last week. They are quietly sounding the call for change. There is an entire generation of young American men and women ready to answer that call, and tens of thousands already in uniform who will be heartened by Carter and Odierno’s distinct (and perhaps grudging) recognition that their generation is truly different. To win the fights of the 21st century, the nation’s military must inspire and motivate this generation both to serve, and to stay. To do so, it must be ready to experiment with new ideas, challenge long-held norms, and be prepared to divest those things not absolutely essential. Maintaining a military filled with people capable of out-thinking and out-fighting U.S. adversaries in the next decade may depend on many of these fresh ideas catching fire and spreading throughout the force.”

http://warontherocks.com/2015/04/tats-and-techies-building-the-next-u-s-military/