imageWar. War never changes. From ancient Rome to the Second World War, it seems like it’s the same story being repeated. The tools of war might change, but war itself is always the same; soldiers kill each other on the battlefield until one side claims victory.

Except, maybe war does change. Conflict waged using autonomous drones, proxy groups and hackers in cyberspace looks very different to soldiers in uniform fighting on a battlefield. This matters, because if war is changing then the entire legal, political, and institutional framework we use at both the national and international level to manage (and hopefully prevent) war may also need to evolve.

We had a question sent in Waldisley, who thinks that drone technology is already cheaper and more effective than conventional weapons systems such as fighter jets. He sees a future where hundreds of thousands of networked drones operate autonomously, piloted by A.I. with “swarm capabilities”.

To get a reaction, we spoke to Paul Scharre, Director of the Future of Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security. How did he think drone technology will change warfare? And what happens when non-state actors (such as terrorist groups) get access to similar technology?

scharreI think we’re already seeing non-state groups harness drone technologies for crude flying IEDs, essentially. They’ve been used in Iraq and they’ve been used by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Drones put new capabilities in the hands of non-state groups and even individuals, and give them the ability to have greater destructive potential than they would otherwise have. They can leap over defences to attack military units and hardened facilities, and that expands guerrilla warfare into the third dimension in a way that hasn’t really previously been possible for insurgents and non-state groups.

I think we’re also seeing some interesting changes to international conflict dynamics when states get hold of drones. We just completed a survey at the Center for New American Security, where we looked at how people were willing to take risks with drones and respond to provocative actions with drones. We found that, even across multiple different countries, people were more willing to send drones into hostile areas and more willing to shoot down other countries’ drones. So, that poses some interesting questions about escalation.

Next up, we had a comment from Simon, who expects ‘hybrid warfare’ of the type used by Russia during the annexation of Crimea to become much more popular. First, we asked Paul Scharre to define the term. What does ‘hybrid warfare’ actually mean?

scharreI think that in the commonsense way it’s used, it often refers to a couple of different kinds of things. One would be non-state groups that have access to more sophisticated weaponry, usually sponsored by states; Hezbollah would be an example of a ‘hybrid actor’. Another is conflicts that aren’t clearly a traditional nation-state war as we would think of them, but also not a traditional guerrilla or insurgent war; the conflict in Ukraine is a good example of that.

More broadly, one way to think of ‘hybrid warfare’ is warfare that blends both traditional destructive military force as a way to accomplish objectives alongside the sort of softer political and information tools of warfare; propaganda and the types of things insurgency and counter-insurgency are about, such as influencing populations. Hybrid wars are those that blend and use both. So, I think there are a couple of different lenses with which to view hybrid war, and I don’t think one is necessarily better than the others.

So, how will we know when we’re actually at war? Does the classical definition of war still hold true? Are the lines between ‘war’ and ‘peace’ being blurred by things like drones and hybrid warfare?

scharreWe tend to think about war in this very classical sense, like World War 2, where war is something that happens ‘over there’ on the battlefield, fought by soldiers who come home after the war ends. But in today’s information-rich environment, where smartphones are everywhere capturing information, and twitter bots are spreading misinformation, and emails are getting hacked, war is being fought within this broader information environment that’s all around us. So what happens on the battlefield is propaganda, and vise versa, propaganda is a weapon. I think that’s a condition that’s here to stay…

Going back to drones, for example, what can be interesting and alarming about drones is that because they can be used without putting people at risk and because they can persist for long periods of times, they can be used outside of traditional military force. That’s what is concerning to people about drones. They can be used in ways that are violent, but they don’t look like war as we think of war. And, in particular, when they’re used against terrorists they’re being used against actors who also don’t conduct war as we think of war. So, maybe our vision of war needs to change and evolve.

What will the future of warfare look like? Will drone technology change the nature of warfare? Is ‘hybrid warfare’ going to become more common? And will our definition of war have to evolve? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!




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What do YOU think?

  1. Theofanis Faid Koulouris

    Cyber security will be more important than warheads and tanks.

    26/10/2017 Piret Pernik, Research Fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security, has responded to this comment.

    26/10/2017 Peter Singer, strategist at the New America Foundation and author of the novel Ghost Fleet, has responded to this comment.

  2. Nando Aidos

    I don’t want to know what it will be like.
    I want to know what we want it to be.
    And I want it to be non-existent!
    Always on the “be careful what you wish for”.

    • Bruno J. De Cordier

      So do I and many others probably but the thing is, we have to be realistic. The now three generation-long and historically unique period of peace, prosperity and social and physical security can, and will, not last. Although a great achievement by itself, its price is that it made Europeans weak and sissyfied.

  3. Julia Hadjikyriacou

    The future of warfare should look like peace. Stop using peoples taxes for private war profits and corporate global resource and banking agendas.

  4. Bruno J. De Cordier

    That of Mary Kaldor’s ‘hybrid warfare’: an at first glance bizarre mixture/go-together of high-tech and of primitive-artisanal means like machetes, improvised explosive devices, etc… Also, brace for violence outbreaks inside the EU and more specifically its old EEC core countries (heavy social unrest when the next bubble goes down, race riots, the banlieues, the ‘implantation’ of conflicts from beyond the Mediterranean with the population movements, … ).

    • Jeanne Griffin

      And these problems are being deliberately imported into Europe so a few people can feel as if they have contributed to humanitarianism

  5. Case Roole

    With the entire West drooling for war on every state that insists on self-determinacy, we’ll soon find out.

    • Phill Snook

      What a wonderful though! Pity it will never happen.
      Human nature.

  6. Phill Snook

    Smaller, more brutality, more sectarian, more brutal “demonstrations” of intent to instill fear.

  7. Jakub Kaczyński

    I’d say, multimillion Euro cybermules vs good old traditional mules, both overburdened with bazookas. then the cybermules run out of juice. cue the return of good old sharpened (and unsharpened) sticks. curtain!

  8. Jurgen Dignef

    Het zou grappig zijn als je die metalen hond zijn rechterpoot omhoog zou zien doen om te plassen… :-)

  9. João Oliveira

    The future warfare… How about future peace… They make machines like this, they have to sell them, and to sell them they need wars right ?! We will never have peace in a mean time that we have a war machine.

  10. Dimitris Stamiris

    at 1980s we beleave that at 2000 cars we fligh ….now 2017 we have 80s car ….. thats the future they make for us !!!!!!

  11. Stefania Portici

    La guerra adesso è combattuta anche con la finanza. La Germania ad esempio , grazie all’euro, è riuscita a fare quello che non era riuscita nella guerra mondiale. L’euro non è una moneta ma un programma di sottomissione che ha cancellato 150 anni anni di storia, di conquiste dei diritti sociali. Riguardo a questo articolo una persona saggia ha scritto “Anche se la tecnologia esiste, l’uomo deve frenarla, e limitarla solo ai lavori che gli umani non possono fare o che sono pericolosi per la vita umana. Lasciare la briglia sciolta ai robots, alla Artificial intelligence, sarà una catastrofe umana mai vista prima ”.

    • Stefania Portici

      The war is now also fought with finance. For example, Germany, thanks to the euro, managed to do what was unsuccessful in the world war. The euro is not a coin but a submission program that has erased 150 years of history, of social rights conquests. With regard to this article, a wise person wrote: “Although technology exists, man must restrain it, and limit it only to jobs that humans can not do or that are dangerous to human life. Leaving the loose maze of robots, Artificial intelligence, will be a human catastrophe never seen before “

    • Jorge Nunez

      There we go again, using every opportunity, even if on robot wars. The entitlement society blaming Germany for having had to intervene against the wishes of German voters to avoid a collapse, or do you think the liras and drachmas devalued to near nothing calue woild have helped?

      The crisis was not a German invention and came from the financial markets dominated by the USA, UK and crushed by gambling.

      Of course you are Italian, what do you want? Reform that sclerotic italy please, Germany would be happy if you were a bit better governed!!!!! Italy joined the Euro making artificial improvements by taxing rather than reforming, so did Greece. Kept the country running on virtual money.

      The financial crisis would have hit you the same, but you would not be able now to point the finger. Look at the mirror and stop finding scapegoats. Yes, Germany does not appreciate that countries as potentially rich as Italy keep asking to let them go on as isual. The north of Italy was way richer than Germany in the early 1990s.. start asking where did it go wrong at home.

    • Stefania Portici

      Jorge Nunez la Germania con i robot Wars non c’entra niente, si parlava di guerre ed io ho parlato ANCHE di guerra finanziaria. Si che la crisi è venuta da fuori ma la prima a cadere sotto la crisi sarebbe dovuta essere l’Inghilterra perchè era una crisi bancaria. L’Inghilterra l’ha superata perchè non aveva l’euro. E’ il sistema euro che è sbagliato ….e chi l’ha voluto e inventato !? Francia e Germania . Quando dico che l’euro è un programma di sottomissione ( alla Germania ) stò dicendo una cosa vera . I Robot Wars è un’altra faccenda . Nel mio commento sopra le ho separate e distinte

    • Stefania Portici

      la Grecia è stata mandata in crisi dalla Francia e Germania . Quando è arrivata la crisi da fuori, la Germania e la Francia hanno fatto rientrare i capitali alle loro banche . Potevamo chiedere alla BCE di coprire il debito greco ….e invece si è preferito salvare le banche PRIVATE francesi e tedesche con soldi pubblici anche italiani, noi vi abbiamo pagato cristo santo !!! Ci avete tolto Berlusconi e messo la Trilaterale al governo per piegarci e ci avete fatto salire lo spread . Allora !?

    • Stefania Portici

      Quelle riforme di cui tu parli forse non hai capito che NOI NON LI VOGLIAMO sono anti costituzionali . Ci avete imbrogliati . Quando scrivete qualcosa che riguarda la nostra vita , fatelo nella nostra lingua che possiamo capire e non ci sono equivoci.. Ci togliete governi ma rimane il popolo italiano a difendere quello che voi volete distruggere ( per quello che possiamo fare perchè anche qui ci sarebbe da dire….. Berlusconi vi aveva detto di non attaccare Gheddafi perchè si sarebbe creato instabilità dell’africa che ci avrebbe colpiti….immigrazione a non finire ….sembra che l’avete fatto apposta per togliere di mezzo anche la volontà del popolo italiano ) . I principi e i valori di quelle riforme non ci appartengono

    • Stefania Portici

      le riforme strutturali che da anni ci state sottoponendo e imponendo in tutte le maniere con le buone o con le cattive , sono quelle che ci fanno stare male , no le tasse o il mio governo. Avete la presunzione di credere che il vostro modello di società sia migliore degli altri e la imponete a tutti . Noi stavamo bene quando la Germania stava a casa sua . La Germania deve ritornare a casa sua perchè a casa degli altri il suo modo di dominare non è gradito ,è odioso ,è impoverimento della società . Noi stiamo a casa nostra senza imporre niente a nessuno , portiamo rispetto agli altri e pretendiamo altrettando . Tornatevene a casa vostra !

  12. Marek Bułaciński

    How about no warfare? Oh wait, the people who actually own and run the countries won’t permit that as they stand to gain too much

  13. José Bessa da Silva

    Lately the EU is really interested about armies and warfare. Is it to repress it’s member states so they don’t follow the ever more brighter brits?

    • Michael Šimková

      It’s the Beta Reticulans. Weren’t you leaving, Ivan? What are you still doing here? You seem simultaneously repulsed and obsessed with us. It can’t be healthy.

    • Ivan Burrows

      Michael Šimková We are leaving the EU comrade, not ‘Europe’. Please read the tile of the page before spamming my posts.

  14. Thibaud Ochem

    thinking about the future is wise. You can also think about the present and the russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ts a 3 year old invasion war that made 11100 deaths. In fact, thinking about the present is even wiser.

    • Petko Ivanov Prodanov

      And who decides to change law power whit maidan?It will be wise to know that God doesn’t allow such thinks! Ukrainian you themselves are guilty of being separated and under the influence of foreign powers who lead you instead

  15. Piedade Luisa Pinho

    With the actual politicians?
    CIVIL WAR.
    NATIONS AGAINST NATIONS.
    PEOPLE AGAINST PEOPLE.
    BROTHERS AGAINST BROTHERS.
    They brought us here. Here we stand. There will be no future, if we don’t move forward, against this STATUS QUO.

  16. Paweł Kunio

    Robot killing machines are the main and clear line towards which the warfare of future will go.

    • Georg Blaha

      Where’s the difference?

  17. Georg Blaha

    War is not always the same. Tactics and also strategies have changed a lot since WW II. And this is only the European traditions adapted by most nation states. Guerilla warfare or the resistance fighters also show many different faces today.

  18. John Vincent

    hasnt tech always changed warfare? true the nauture of the arms race has changed. Some tech will have to be banned in so far as its possible to do so.

  19. Bódis Kata

    The planet is spending more on weaponry than anytime since WW2.
    Just imagine if half of that amount would be spent on education and environmental protection instead, what a difference it would make in the quality of life.
    However, that would reduce the profits of the weapons manufacturers and would be a disaster for their investors.

    • Paweł Kunio

      How beautifully naive. I know You have been spoon fed this western european rubbish. This strategy works only as long as there is no external threat. If You dont invest in arms now, You wont be prepraed when it comes.

    • Bódis Kata

      When the cold war ended, the profits declined. Invest a few billion into new conflicts and the profits will soar again. >> You are the naive one here.

  20. Daniel Martinez

    It would be nice to see only robots fighting between them, instead of robots vs humans or humans vs humans:P

    • Raphaël Oth

      It would be nicer to see no fights at all 😉

  21. Ggheatza Gheţău

    is this a real question?? now you can read our minds and emotions through software. while sitting in our intimacy reading an article you think you can interpret who we are. already knowing our location and with armed drones flying above, imagine 2017. this wont be a problem to my logic if you would go according to nature, but doing it for the corporation and consumerism for plastic and contaminated carbon? wiping out species? you would be better off any power. ppl who always sat before a keyboard in their comfort and never did anything to feel alive lack perspective, to never have worked hard for anything and play God. pay for you enslaved chinese salt sandwiches and plastic bottled water and don’t assume anything just change everything fast

  22. Val Anderson

    “future”? ….. that technology is ready now …. it’ll probably be put to the test in the war of 2018

  23. Maricela Potoc

    I don’t want to spend 1 moment thinking about warfare. We are all connected now. We should consider a more collaborative world and how robots could help us all improve our standard of living.

  24. Vitor F Veiga

    Warfare should be a thing of the past anyway…when will humanity evolve from such primitive being?

  25. João Cruz

    Yes, no doubt it will change the nature of war, in fact, as the article shows, it’s allready here. Armies clashing and battles with massive movements of troops are a thing of the past. Higly specialized small units, autonomous weapons, cirurgical strikes, drones, robots and digital warfare are here to stay. So is terrorism, the dirty war of insurgent movements. But on the whole this new military trends should lead to lower civilian death rates at war zones. Hopefully… Anyhow, cybersecurity is the place to be for all the youngsters looking to choose a career. Another new trend is nuclear proliferation, but that is another level of conversation, one to end all converastions.

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