Future of war is devastating and robotized, ex-general says

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment (Gimlet), 25th Infantry Division, 2nd IBCT were deployed to the Kahuku Training Area on Oahu, Hawaii, to conduct a company evaluation for contact, attack, and movement into defensive operations.
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  • A new novel, White Day War, depicts a “new era” of terrifying battles and wars in the Western Pacific over Taiwan.
  • Robotics and AI play an important role in fictional conflicts. The former general who wrote the book says real battles may look similar.
  • Author and strategist Mick Ryan says the military needs to “know” what’s to come.

A sudden rapid-fire tactical message shattered the early morning silence of Taiwan. One of his first messages read, “Several small amphibious vehicles are landing on the beach. They appear to be autonomous.” I received more messages. “Aerial swarms launching”, “coastal obstacles being destroyed”, “aircraft swarms attacking”, a long-prepared terrifying conflict to shocked island defenders When they realized that the was finally here, they read. The first wave of Chinese attacks landed and the enemy was a robot.

This scene appears in a new novel written by a former soldier, White Day War: Expedition to Taiwan. The film presents a dark and unusual picture of the fictional Great Power War over Taiwan, which erupts after decades of tension between the United States and China.

The author describes bloodshed mixed with fighting techniques, unprecedented in combat. The war is a “continuous maelstrom of death, suffering and bloodshed” and a “new era in human-robot warfare”.

The military strategist who wrote the book says it may not be long before a real war breaks out.

When it comes to war, some things never change, such as the uniquely human element. But some conditions are changing incredibly quickly, and future battlefields could be unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Mick Ryan, a retired Major General in the Australian Armed Forces and author of the new techno thriller White Sun War, told Insider that the novel “will let everyone know how terrifying a war like this can be. It should be drawn on the

In “White Sun War”, a small number of characters belonging to the armed forces of the United States, China and Taiwan engage in intense amphibious assaults, combat in the air and elsewhere, and most importantly, intense combat on the ground. Unfold. From the truly devastating battles of World War II to the bloody war in Ukraine, from past and ongoing violent conflicts, it explores not only the horrors of aggression but also the horrific chaos and threats of modern society. , truly captures the many challenges. war.

In the book, the battle is said to resemble the brutal Battle of Tarawa rather than Afghanistan, but Ryan said he feels his book “represents the best-case scenario”. , “Once this kind of conflict starts, you start fighting,” adding, “This is not a war game. It’s not a barren decision-making environment.”

“There’s a good chance that all sorts of unexpected things can happen,” he said. “That’s the nature of war.”

A CM-11 tank fires during a two-day live-fire exercise amid mounting military threats from China in Pingtung County, Taiwan, September 7, 2022.
Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A pressing need to try to “keep a low profile on the modern battlefield”

This new book explores the evolving realities of war and builds on the lessons of Ryan’s previous book, War Transformed. In a recent Foreign Affairs podcast interview, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, discusses a subject touched upon. A top U.S. general argued that “speed, size and near-invisibility will be the cornerstones of future battlefield survival.”

As the fictional war over Taiwan unfolds, in the “White Day War”, “a large number of military and civilian sensor networks” set off a rapid and “highly lethal kill chain”, causing troops to disperse and disperse incessantly. move and hide.

“There was no way to disappear on a modern battlefield,” explains one of the characters in the book, an infantry officer, at one point in the story. An adversary. “

For a long time, the doctrine of warfare was that if you were spotted, you could be killed, but the ubiquitous presence of advanced signal intelligence and aerial reconnaissance combined with long-range strike options meant that The threat extended far beyond the immediate front lines. Ryan said elements of this change are already visible in the Ukraine war.

The former brigade commander said the “integration of drones, sensors, artillery and missile systems” would reduce the “detection-to-destruction time” to “very short times” and create a “more transparent battlefield” for the unit. said he saw In addition to physically camouflaging oneself, it can also disperse and conceal electronic signatures (emissions from communication devices, vehicles, and battlefield sensors).

The high casualty conflict in Ukraine cannot be compared head-to-head with a potential war in the Western Pacific over Taiwan, but there are certain parallels, such as extensive surveillance that are much harder to hide. There is a point.

And unmanned assets play a big role in this. In the Ukrainian War, exploding drones terrorized cities and civilians as surveillance equipment scanned the battlefield and directed artillery.

A 3D version of an explosive device is installed by Ukrainian military personnel during training to drop explosives from a drone at a secret location in Lviv Oblast, Ukraine, May 12, 2023.
Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Robotic systems will be “permanent and ubiquitous”

Ryan predicted that warfare is moving rapidly in this new direction, and that remote-controlled and artificial intelligence-driven autonomous systems will have a greater presence in the military and its battlefield operations.

“At the end of the day, humans will still make important decisions about participating in wars and operating aircraft, but we have to find a different balance in relation to these ubiquitous autonomous systems,” Ryan said. said Mr.

“They will be in every realm,” he says. “They will be relentless and omnipresent, and we still need to take it seriously.”

“White Sun War” depicts a not-too-distant future where AI will affect everything from wargaming to the operation of unmanned systems. Unmanned systems play a huge role in battles with reduced human input and in “robots slowly taking over” combat scenarios. beyond the battle. “

The U.S. military is already experimenting with ground combat systems such as AI-powered autonomous aircraft that can serve as wingmen in attrition warfare, unmanned surface ships and undersea assets that can augment naval power, drone carriers and armed vehicles that can serve as fire support. ing.

Some systems also serve other roles, such as logistics, data management, and casualty evacuation.

But despite progress, this is still a new area of ​​technological progress, especially artificial intelligence.

“Military agencies are still in the very early stages of figuring out what this really means,” Ryan said. Because we need to shift the mindset,” they said, “but we are not quite there yet. . “

Incorporating this type of new technology into the military, especially manned and unmanned spaces where humans operate alongside autonomous robotic systems, will require significant changes in training, leadership models, and doctrine. And since we don’t want to wait “until we have a machine that can kill people,” Ryan said it would be better to do so sooner or later.

“Especially if the ratio of humans to autonomous systems in the military is reversed,” Ryan told Insider. “Right now, each autonomous system in a large organization probably has 100 people. We all need to consider how it affects us.”

If there were to be a major war in the Western Pacific in the future, “robots would be part of it. There is no escape from it,” he said.

Mr. Ryan’s observations are consistent with those of Mr. Millie in a Eurasia Group Foundation podcast interview, in which he said that within the next 15 years, perhaps sooner, “a significant amount of the Army, Navy, and Air Force part of it will be robotized,” he said. Ryan said the general “has money to spare.”

U.S. Army infantry from the 11th Airborne Division, 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion joins the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Alaska on February 3, 2002 at a training ground in the Yukon. to release the Black Hornet 3 drone in a ranged combat position. April 3, 2023.
US Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Patrick Sullivan

“Autonomous systems will have many of the same flaws as humans.”

As the way warfare evolves, there are certain concerns, such as overreliance on unmanned systems that could prolong bloody conflicts and deficiencies within autonomous systems.

At one point during the Battle of Taiwan in the “White Day War”, the unmanned combat system was programmed to target only standing, shooting or running soldiers, thus allowing the enemy to enter the ground. Lying down and stopped fighting.

The scene reflects a real-world situation in which a Marine outmaneuvered an AI sensor in development by simply flipping or hiding in a cardboard box, a situation similar to Paul Schaar’s The Four Battlefields: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”.

In another example from Ryan’s book, one infantry unit argues that unmanned systems “still fall short of humans in armored vehicles with superior communications, weaponry, and electronic attack capabilities,” but they points out that it poses a more serious challenge. Drones swarm.

“Robotic systems are not yet at a stage where they can match humans in decision-making,” Ryan said. Even so, “Humans are not perfect. They are flawed. And these autonomous systems will have many of the same flaws.”

No matter what happens in the world of technology, there is a human element to war that will probably never go away, and the determinant of war is humans.

“Good leadership is an essential part of war. “War still prevails,” Ryan said. This kind of thing really never changes.

“No matter how sophisticated the technology is, it all boils down to humans, how humans make decisions, how they inspire others, how they behave in the most dire circumstances. It depends,” he explained.

And wars between great powers will almost certainly be terrifying. The book is intended to help people “anticipate difficulties in future conflicts,” Ryan told an insider, but the most important lesson is that “we can avoid them.” We should do everything we can to

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