Today’s highly technological era amazes us with possibilities for human growth and innovation, but in our amazement we often forget to tackle various pitfalls. Arguably, the biggest risk is the emerging military technology, about which there are many unanswered questions. We are faced with many uncertainties: security risks due to loss of competitiveness, potential control over advanced weapons by terrorists and, most importantly, reduced comprehension by the wider society—let alone any participation in the decision making process as the frenzied pace of technological development increases.
The 21st century is marked by the advancement and innovation of technology. The latter is increasingly shaping our lives: from the connectivity of the Internet, social media, to the cellphones containing more information than a US president had access to 20 years ago. Emerging technologies undoubtedly offer many possibilities for human growth and development, but they can also impose threats. A new arms race is emerging between the world’s leaders and technology appears to be in the middle of it.
Hypersonic speed is nowadays popular in the armed forces as a result of its growing scientific feasibility. In June, Russia reportedly tested the hypersonic missile Zircon travelling almost at a mind-blowing 6 times the speed of sound, which makes it highly unlikely to be targeted or intercepted. ‘It will greatly reduce the reaction time that they (Western military) have to deploy their own defenses and counter-measures,’ analyst Tim Ripley told international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Meanwhile, Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) successfully tested a hypersonic ramjet engine having the potential to be mated to a missile. In order to reach hypersonic speed, the engine needs to travel at more than 3853mph—five times faster than the speed of sound, making it unavoidable at close range fire.
The U.S. and Australia also completed major hypersonic missile tests in mid-July at the Woomera Test Range in Australia involving a HiFiRE scramjet vehicle. Significant advancements were made since the start of the program in 2009 with regards to design assembly and mechanism control.
Another pivotal area of research is Artificial Intelligence which impacts so called ‘autonomous warfare’. The Australian government recently announced the closure of a $101 million deal for micro drones to improve Defence Force surveillance capabilities. These devices can be controlled from up to 5 km away and can fly up to 50 minutes at an altitude of 152 metres.
Similarly, In January 2017 U.S. Department of Defense launched 103 miniature AI drones from a jet fighter in California. The drones share ‘one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature’, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office at the Department of Defense William Roper told Newsweek.
Meanwhile, China showcased leading Swarming Drone Technology at an air show in Guangzhou in the beginning of June and broke the previous world record of 67 drones by launching 119 fixed-wing drones. Project Scientist Zhao Yanjie said that since the invention of drones in 1917, intelligent swarms have grown to be a disruptive force, changing the game of air combat.
"A new arms race is emerging between the world’s leaders and technology appears to be in the middle of it."
Russia is currently making a huge impact in the global AI investment field. California-based and Russia-backed start-up Astro Digital is developing open Application Programming Interfaces for satellite imagery. Another company, Networkcentric Platforms, is working on software allowing simultaneous control over a group of six aerial vehicles. They will be able to attack enemy airplanes, helicopters, and even cruise missiles.
Apart from being an entertainment niche, virtual reality unleashes the creativity of military researchers. Kronstadt Group, provider of industrial and marine equipment to the Russian market, recently developed a virtual battlefield for testing robots and drones for the Russian Army. It improves the operation of joint forces and units such as armored vehicles, helicopters and robots.
US Department of Defense expressed concerns for the rapid Russian remilitarization. The Pentagon’s response to this ‘crisis of innovation’ came in 2014 with the Third Offset Strategy, initiated by Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It features a strong potential for collaboration between the Department of Defense and Silicon Valley.
The following year this partnership gave birth to the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. It aims to facilitate the collaboration between tech firms, which were previously hesitant about selling its innovative products to the government due to regulatory hurdles and the Pentagon being used to working with older defence companies.
An example of the collaboration is a Virtual Reality Parachute Simulator PARASIM, which works toward improving the training methods and reducing the accidents for paratroopers prior to military operations. The latest project was announced on 19th July. It is the development of several new computer programs for the U.S. military’s air operations against ISIS and provides assistance to all U.S. military facilities worldwide.
The end of the Cold War and initial US hegemony were followed by a transformation of the international system. Distinguished Harvard University Professor of Political Science Joseph Nye discussed the future of power in a famous TED talk highlighting the power transition—the shift of power among states.
Current dynamics suggests an intense competition between emerging and decreasing powers, especially in the military. There is a competition for highly advanced and expensive technology. The trick is to innovate your defences before the rivals update their offences and outrun them. It makes the future of global warfare highly unpredictable.
Todor Shindarov has a BA in International relations from Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”. His interests include marketing, technology and musical arts.
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07 August 2017
“We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
Carl Sagan: "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark".
Dr Marty Rice
07 August 2017
Thanks Todor and ES for raising this crucially important topic. Risking mockery: I'm an advocate of turning spears into pruning hooks and swords into plough shares. Never let it be thought that war and competition to have the most lethal weapons are the original and ineradicable Darwinian characteristics of humanity. We have always had the option to use our finances and our technological abilities to help one another and solve common problems - that is, to build a global society of peace.
When the resources and the educated people we produce are devoted to humanitarian work, year by year we'd stride towards a situation where no one lacked nutritious food, clean water, clothing, housing, education, and medical care. History shows this has been little assisted by politics. Yet, it is greatly facilitated whenever New Testament norms are sincerely taught and enculturated - under whatever local socio-political ethoses pertain. However, we continue to sit on a nuclear powder-keg whilst massively funding our techno/industrial/commercial military sector to invent deadly novelties, any of which may prove to be the fuse that detonates the whole nuclear arsenal. In Africa I once saw an enraged snake strike at another and fatally pierce its own body.
Roy Chen Yee
08 August 2017
It’s the human thing to do something to see if it can be done. A missile that can fly just under the speed of a rocket (twenty times the speed of sound in order to escape gravity) doesn’t have to carry an armed payload. Why shouldn’t we test swarm-brained drones? Drones don’t have to be armed either. Military (ie. taxpayer-funded) investment primes the pump of technological advance when commercial investors are still unsure whether monetisable uses can develop from goods and services existing in concept but not yet in practice. Free enterprise theory doesn’t usually support the idea of governments trying to pick winners but if it wasn’t for the massive indulgence of putting men into space during the 1960s when Asia and Africa were poorer than they are today, what offsets would we have missed out on? In any case, the difference between a missile that takes two hours to reach its target and one that takes twenty minutes is that humans have up to an extra hour to find a way to avoid firing that missile.
Dr Marty Rice
17 August 2017
Are there no other ES readers concerned with what Todor Shindarov has so plainly shown us? That is: a huge locomotive, loaded with dynamite and deadly toxins steaming towards us, our children, & grandchildren; and, towards everyone on Earth. Have we all become totally speechless, numb, and paralysed at the inevitability of it all??? Is it our legacy, from 6,000 years of civilization, to be able to cause cataclysms but not to be able to avert them???