Tomorrow's Wars -- No Longer Science Fiction
This is the first installment of a new international column by veteran journalist Joe Charlaff, reporting from Jerusalem.
By: Joe Charlaff, International Correspondent
JERUSALEM (HSToday) -- What will tomorrow’s wars look like? What was once considered science fiction is fast becoming a reality. The characteristics of the battlefield of the future will demand an even faster and more sophisticated response: asymmetric wars, cyber warfare, hostile exploitation of physical and cyber of space, drones, robotics, unconventional weaponry falling into the hands of terrorist organizations, and more.
The perception of future wars has already become a reality with pilotless sophisticated drones carrying out reconnaissance missions and striking at their targets, while the “pilot” at the controls is sitting in a cubicle at a base far away. In the movie “Oblivion,” weaponized drones attack and destroy aliens. This concept is becoming part of today’s and tomorrow’s wars. In a similar fashion, an unmanned ground vehicle patrolling a border sends intelligence information to the control room where the person who pulls the trigger is safely out of harms’ way.
Brig General (res.) Yair Cohen, Head of Intelligence and Cyber solutions Division at Elbit Systems, and former Commander of Unit 8200 (Israel’s equivalent of the American NSA), addressing a select audience at the Israeli Presidential Conference held here last month, offered a glimpse of future wars from his perspective.
“As part of the IDF's preparation for future warfare, cyberspace warfare, Unit 8200 is slated to provide defensive and collection capabilities and in computer, network, and communications wars, as well as carry out other active operations," Cohen said.
Until a few decades ago, enemies were conquered using conventional heavy weapons and armor. The scene has changed to the deployment of weapons with unconventional capabilities. But current and future battlefields generate new opportunities but also present new risks.
Until recently, cyber capabilities seemed to belong to science fiction. In the opening event of the Six Day War, Israeli Air Force jets destroyed all enemy aircraft which determined the course of the war right from the outset. This war was considered Israel’s most successful from a military point of view.
“However in the future should we be on the brink of war, cyber weapons, with a single press of a button, will disable enemy aircraft without sending our own aircraft to engage them without large scale preparations that could be exposed to the enemy, and without risk to human life," said Cohen .
“Israel is moving towards increasing automation in its weaponry, not only on the ground but in the air and sea” noted Brig. Gen. (Res.) Daniel Gold, Head of the Israel National Committee for Commercial/Civilian Cyber R&D and formerly Head of the Research and Development Department at the Israel Ministry of Defense and the IDF.
He reviewed one of the latest robotic devices developed by the IDF for ground troop support called the “Snake,” a device that resembles a real snake and mimics its movements. It measures two meters long, is covered in military camouflage, and is capable of recording video and sounds on the battlefield. While slithering around through caves, tunnels, bunkers, cracks and buildings, it sends images and sounds back to a soldier who controls the device from a laptop.
Gold emphasized that robotics are not limited to use on the ground but also in the air and at sea. Israel has become a leader in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, which are used for surveillance as well as support for troops on the ground.
Future Warfare Trends
What are the future global trends in warfare? According to Dr. Ariel Levite, Deputy National Security Adviser for Defense Policy and Head of the Bureau of International Security and Arms Control in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the trends that affect violent conflict include factors already seen over the past decade such as globalization, disenfranchisement, competition, economic dislocation, technological advancements in information technology in particular, weakening governance of the international system with the USA retreating and no other country taking a leadership position.
All these factors will influence the nature of future conflicts.
“Classic wars will remain few and far apart – they will be the exception rather than the rule," said Levite. "Instead, we are likely to see global and multi-dimensional friction combining physical and cyber elements.”
What is less likely to be seen are wars in which weapons of mass destruction are deployed, and even less likely, wars in which nuclear weapons are deployed. Of course, that does not mean that nuclear weapons won’t play an important part in politics as deterrents or coercion.
“We will face adversaries," said Levite. "But unlike those in the past, they will be comprised of mainly terrorists, pirates, human traffickers, and drug dealers, and in some cases desperate and vengeful groups with permutations of a hybrid nature and these groups have increasing access to sophisticated weaponry supplied by rogue states” he said.
“Those adversaries are difficult to deter and they also enjoy several safe havens," said Levite. "As a result we will face a fusion of homeland security and external security which blurs the line between state and non- state actors, between adversaries and non-combatants," he said. "State-of-the-art capabilities are making their way to non-state actors, and ultimately no single battle or operation will be decisive anymore."