One activity that is uniquely human is warfare. To be sure, the animal kingdom has its share of fights, but these lack what humanity brings to the table: organization, strategy and tactics, logistics, and always the search for the "technological edge". But Mr. H.B. and Ms. K.M found this article, and its sheer audacity make me question whether the US military leadership has taken leave of its senses. We'll get back to that in a moment in today's high octane speculation. First, the article:
The essence of the military's plan is to "connect everything to everything":
Leaders of the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines are converging on a vision of the future military: connecting every asset on the global battlefield.
That means everything from F-35 jets overhead to the destroyers on the sea to the armor of the tanks crawling over the land to the multiplying devices in every troops’ pockets. Every weapon, vehicle, and device connected, sharing data, constantly aware of the presence and state of every other node in a truly global network. The effect: an unimaginably large cephapoloidal nervous system armed with the world’s most sophisticated weaponry.
US Air Force Chief of staff General David Goldfein is referenced in the article, by a recent speech he gave in which he uses Elon Musk's Tesla cars as an example of such large scale interconnectivity. But this view is orders of magnitude beyond what has been seen thus far:
The idea borrows from the “network centric warfare” concept that seized the military imagination more than a decade ago. But what leaders are today describing is larger by orders of magnitude. It’s less a strategy for integrating multiple networks into operations more efficiently than a plan to stitch everything, networks within networks, into a single web. The purpose: better coordinated, faster, and more lethal operations in air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.
The Navy too is on board with this:
Navy leaders, too, are eager to connect every object on the sea, land, air, space and cyberspace. This is no exaggeration. As Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, put it during the Navy’s Future Force Expo in Washington, D.C., in July, “I want to network everything to everything.”
This is necessary to preserve the U.S. Navy’s advantage, even if Richardson gets the larger 355-ship fleet he seeks — hardly a given in today’s industrial and budgetary landscape. Adversaries are building more and better ships and weapons, and even the U.S. superiority in orbital and terrestrial sensing is diminishing. The cost of launching a constellation of spy sats is dropping as the satellites become smaller and launches become cheaper.
This is curious, since the Navy has recently re-emphasized the need for crews to be less reliant on GPD systems and able to navigate the "old fashioned way", by celestial navigation, compasses, charts, sextants, and so on. We'll get back to this point in a moment.
What is intriguing about all this is apparently someone else is doing a bit of high octane speculations about all these developments as well, posing a kind of "Terminator" scenario, where the military - and humanity as a whole - becomes the victim of its own technological fascination:
Certainly, “network everything to everything” sounds a bit like the setup for the Terminator franchise, wherein a fictional defense contractor, Cyberdyne Systems, convinces the Defense Department to link the U.S. arsenal to a single artificially intelligent entity. Skynet, of course, determines that humans are a threat to its existence and uses its ubiquitous command and control powers to launch a war on humankind.
Military leaders hate comparisons between their own tech projects and anything from the Terminator franchise. The reference usually comes up in discussions about individual drones with missiles or “killer robots.” Defense Department watchers are always keen to remind people that official policy is to keep humans at the top of the command-and-control loop, overseeing —or at least retaining veto power — over the decision to take life.
But there's another danger here, and it's much more down-to-earth, and I suspect the reader has already seen it: cyber systems are not secure, only look at the history of recent hacking episodes. Everyone has been hacked in recent years it seems, from Sony to the Securities and Exchange Commission to Equifax and Social Security and on and on the list goes. Viruses and malware prowl the internet constantly. I would even go so far as to say that even quantum communications systems will eventually fall to the human passion to find ways around or through invincible systems. And then there's the Fitzgerald and McCain incidents, and the two incidents with the USS Donald Cook: while the high octane speculative consensus on these incidents appears to be that some kind of jamming occurred, hacking cannot be entirely ruled out.
So now imagine a military universe where everything is connected to everything else: it takes little imagination to see that this could serve to make everything vulnerable.
But the "Terminator" scenario cannot be ruled out either. Consider again the last statement in the above quotation: the military would ensure that humans remain in control "at the top." I cannot help but think of old field marshal Von Moltke at the very beginning of World War One: then, too, new technological wonders gave commanding generals unique access to the picture of the whole battlefield: the problem was, the reports coming in by telephone, telegraph, and radio were too slow: events moved faster then the ability to report them and for Von Moltke to keep up with them. It might be argued that connecting everything to everything will allow commanders to see the "whole picture" in real time... maybe so, but will they be able to react "fast enough"? Probably not, for the ineluctable logic of reliance on this type of technologies ultimately means that humans are replaced by high frequency reacting algorithms. We've already seen it take place in the securities and commodities markets, with the result that the markets look less and less reflective of real human realities. A similar logic might compel the good intentions of leaving humans in control to abandon those good intentions, in the name of military superiority and national security, of course.
And if the whole system is somehow "taken down" by hacking or other electronic warfare?
Then it's back to one-time key pads and carrier pigeons...
See you on the flip side...