The world is in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution; however, is the military ready to incorporate these new technologies or will they be left in the dust trying to survive instead of pivoting forward and embracing and leading in the change. Each time an industrial revolution happens, the world changes. And with that, technologies that once were a part of our daily lives go by the wayside. And new technologies take their place. The last industrial revolution happened when digital machines like computers, cell phones, and TV emerged.
A Call for Change
Lieutenant Commander Krystyn Pecora, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard shared with the U.S. Naval Institute, “the service needs to accelerate its efforts to embrace emerging technologies to retain relevance against today’s peer-nation threats.”
And she is not the only one who is calling for change. In 2018, War on the Rocks also highlighted the fact that the U.S. faces a challenge of looking to the past for future warfighting while the nature of war in the future is likely to change as we know it today.
Pecora, Barno, and Bensahel both site Klaus Schwab’s book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. In his book, Schwab argues this revolution is different in scale, scope and complexity from the three industrial revolutions that have come before. This revolution is different because of the cross over between different and changing technologies. It will be characterized by a range of new technologies that are mixture of the division between physical, digital, and biological domains. Schwab even mentions this revolution has the potential to challenge ideas about what it means to be human.
The Future Battlefield
But just as the fourth generation will change the world we live in, it will also change the way we fight our wars and some believe, like Pecora, that the U.S. military is not doing enough to be ready for this technological revolution.
The battlefield and war as we know it is changing. And it will change how and where we fight wars. We can look at general areas to get an idea of where the future of war will lead but as things continue to change rapidly there are likely more areas of change that have yet to have been explored.
Key domains are space and cyber. And while the Space Force was established in 2019 and the Air Force has had their own Cyber warfighting capability. This area of technology have still not been fully tested related to war. The world we live in today relies on the satellites flying around the globe in a hidden way that most people do not even realize how lost they would be without this technology they have been using. And cybercriminals in 2021 have begun to show the impact of cyber attacks can have on the general public. When the Colonial Pipeline system was attacked in exchange for extortion, it caused general panic and gas shortages along the East Coast. And this is a civilian attack, imagine how this could escalate in a war among dueling nations.
There are also big changes happening in artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, autonomy, and robotics. I know this last sentence may sound too much like a Terminator movie, but the changes in technology in these areas are astounding and changing rapidly and could give adversaries a huge advantage when it comes to fighting the next war.
The real truth of the matter is that the next industrial revolution could impact the future and the state of war. And while the military is working to change and adapt, there are a number of legacy systems that the military is heavily invested in. And more quickly than anyone realizes, these systems could become obsolete. However, at the same, we still need to invest in the new systems needed to stay ahead of future enemies.