Machines: The Hidden Soldiers of Today

The art of war cannot exist without the art of making weapons. But what if weapons surpass humans’ control? What if weapons become the art that war is made for? 

 

War is traditionally defined as “a state or period of fighting between countries or groups, a situation in which people or groups compete with or fight against each other”. However, another type of war, one that isn’t necessarily compatible with the classic definition of warfare has been recently taking place. A war with no front lines, being waged away from the public eye in the darkness of research labs and in the corridors of defense ministries around the world. A war that could reshape civilization as we know it. A war against conventional weaponry.

From the humble sword and bow to the dreadful nuclear warhead and drone, weapons have come a long way. States have been in a constant quest to develop the most advanced and effective arsenal of weapons in order to protect their interests and expand their reign, or to intimidate hostile powers with an impressive arsenal capable of inflicting severe damage. Thus the importance of psychological warfare in “freezing military action” and preserving relative peace as it was displayed during the Cold War years by actually keeping them cold.

Weapon development has been more and more oriented towards keeping soldiers off the battlefield

However, the quest for military supremacy has taken a dangerous turn during recent years. Weapon development has been more and more oriented towards keeping soldiers off the battlefield, minimizing human loss and effort in two main ways: First, by making remote-controlled weapons that can fight whilst their operator is sitting safely miles away from the battlefield. Second, by seeking to eliminate human role in warfare and developing completely autonomous fighting machines that can be pre-programmed to locate, identify and eliminate enemy forces.

In order to fully understand the consequences and implications of such developments on mankind, one should briefly explain how the automation of warfare evolved throughout the years in air, on land and at sea.

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In the air, the most advanced field is unequivocally that of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). The idea of developing UAVs was initially born after heavy losses of surveillance aircraft and flight crew by both sides of the Cold War. However, with the 9-11 attacks and the war against terrorism, UAVs started to be more than just surveillance weapons: From a technological viewpoint, simple surveillance drones have been surpassed and are gradually being replaced by more aggressive types which armed to the teeth with canons and guided missiles, such as the notorious yet controversial predator UAV used by the United States in the war against terror. Other more advanced flying machines like the fire scout helicopter and the global hawk drone can be preprogrammed to identify and kill enemy forces without having a human behind the trigger. Such drones are the delicacy of choice of our “dear” southern neighbors, who have scaled the charts to reach the top of the UAV industry.

On land, developments have been made in terms of the use of remotely operated IFVs (infantry fighting vehicles). At sea, the use of ROVs (remotely operated vehicles, which act as reconnaissance robots or search and rescue submarines) has increased greatly. However, the use of such weapons remains relatively limited in contrast with aerial applications.

ROV

Weapons are becoming more and more independent from human control

This drastic evolution in weaponry remains controversial yet dangerous albeit saving human lives in combat. On the one hand, these weapons are becoming more and more independent from human control, which might make them get out of hand. Henceforth, science fiction movie scenarios could become science fact. On the other hand, such independent weapons undermine soldiers and their values: The somewhat cowardly use of these weapons makes us forget how important the human warrior is.

Such independent weapons undermine soldiers and their values

Can a robot ever replace the bravery, tenacity, and willpower of soldiers ready to put their lives on the line for their country, willing to die so that others may live?

I shall leave you with a thought from General George S. Patton, a WWII veteran: “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory”.

Samer Saad

First year Law student

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