Drone fleets, robotic vehicles, and multi-domain manned-unmanned connectivity are changing the future of warfare.
Ever faster-increasing application of artificial intelligence (AI) and drones are altering maneuver formations, concepts of operations and war plans at such a pace that some are struggling to keep up. In fact, strategists and futurists are working hard to make sure that technological advances do not outpace any comparable human capacity to keep up.
On land, many see a fast-emerging modern Combined Arms Maneuver concept based upon greater networking, drone operations and autonomous systems such as tanks and helicopters. In the air, the concept of “loyal wingman” wherein a manned fighter jet controls small groups of drones from a cockpit to minimize latency and maximize operational reach, is basically here. At sea, the Navy’s Operational Overlord, or Ghost Fleet, continues to break new ground with advanced algorithms enabling groups of surface, air and undersea drones to coordinate missions, share information and conduct operations with one another autonomously while supervised by humans operating in a command and control capacity.
The advent of new forms of autonomy and large numbers of increasingly capable unmanned systems, and the growing extent to which they can integrate with human decision-makers in war are playing a large role in the services’ respective modernization strategies. The Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy, for instance, envisions a more dispersed yet greatly networked fleet of manned and unmanned air-sea-surface platforms operating in a coordinated fashion. A similar concept is being applied by future Army and Air Force war planners now contributing to the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control program to advance multi-domain networking concepts.
Much of the conceptual work centers upon the limits of autonomy and the unique merits of human cognition, and how to extract and combine the benefits of each into a single operational context. For instance, there are aspects of the human brain and decision-making that do not seem to be able to be replicated by machines or mathematically derived algorithmic formulas. At the same time, AI-enabled computing can naturally perform many kinds of analysis and procedural functions far better than humans, yet there are several much more subjective phenomena specific to human thinking which are quite distinct.
It is for this reason that most futurists envision a future warfare environment characterized by massive amounts of both drones and human decision-makers to combine the best processing speed and data analysis with those attributes and functions unique to humans.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.