81. “Maddest” Guest Blogger!

[Editor’s Note: Since its inception last November, the Mad Scientist Laboratory has enabled us to expand our reach and engage global innovators from across industry, academia, and the Government regarding emergent disruptive technologies and their individual and convergent impacts on the future of warfare. For perspective, our blog has accrued almost 60K views by over 30K visitors from around the world!

Our Mad Scientist Community of Action continues to grow — in no small part due to the many guest bloggers who have shared their provocative, insightful, and occasionally disturbing visions of the future. Almost half (36 out of 81) of the blog posts published have been submitted by guest bloggers. We challenge you to contribute your ideas!

In particular, we would like to recognize Mad Scientist Mr. Sam Bendett by re-posting his submission entitled “Russian Ground Battlefield Robots: A Candid Evaluation and Ways Forward,” originally published on 25 June 2018. This post generated a record number of visits and views during the past six month period. Consequently, we hereby declare Sam to be the Mad Scientist Laboratory’s “Maddest” Guest Blogger! for the latter half of FY18. In recognition of his achievement, Sam will receive much coveted Mad Scientist swag.

While Sam’s post revealed the many challenges Russia has experienced in combat testing the Uran-9 Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) in Syria, it is important to note that Russia has designed, prototyped,  developed, and operationally tested this system in a combat environment, demonstrating a disciplined and proactive approach to innovation.  Russia is learning how to integrate robotic lethal ground combat systems….

Enjoy re-visiting Sam’s informative post below, noting that many of the embedded links are best accessed using non-DoD networks.]

Russia’s Forpost UAV (licensed copy of IAI Searcher II) in Khmeimim, Syria; Source: https://t.co/PcNgJ811O8

Russia, like many other nations, is investing in the development of various unmanned military systems. The Russian defense establishment sees such systems as mission multipliers, highlighting two major advantages: saving soldiers’ lives and making military missions more effective. In this context, Russian developments are similar to those taking place around the world. Various militaries are fielding unmanned systems for surveillance, intelligence, logistics, or attack missions to make their forces or campaigns more effective. In fact, the Russian military has been successfully using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in training and combat since 2013. It has used them with great effect in Syria, where these UAVs flew more mission hours than manned aircraft in various Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles.

Russia is also busy designing and testing many unmanned maritime and ground vehicles for various missions with diverse payloads. To underscore the significance of this emerging technology for the nation’s armed forces, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently stated that the serial production of ground combat robots for the military “may start already this year.”

Uran-9 combat UGV at Victory Day 2018 Parade in Red Square; Source: independent.co.uk

But before we see swarms of ground combat robots with red stars emblazoned on them, the Russian military will put these weapons through rigorous testing in order to determine if they can correspond to battlefield realities. Russian military manufacturers and contractors are not that different from their American counterparts in sometimes talking up the capabilities of their creations, seeking to create the demand for their newest achievement before there is proof that such technology can stand up to harsh battlefield conditions. It is for this reason that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) finally established several centers such as Main Research and Testing Center of Robotics, tasked with working alongside the defense-industrial sector to create unmanned military technology standards and better communicate warfighters’ needs.  The MOD is also running conferences such as the annual “Robotization of the Armed Forces” that bring together military and industry decision-makers for a better dialogue on the development, growth, and evolution of the nation’s unmanned military systems.

Uran-9 Combat UGV, Source: nationalinterest.org

This brings us to one of the more interesting developments in Russian UGVs. Then Russian Deputy Defense Minister Borisov recently confirmed that the Uran-9 combat UGV was tested in Syria, which would be the first time this much-discussed system was put into combat. This particular UGV is supposed to operate in teams of three or four and is armed with a 30mm cannon and 7.62 mm machine guns, along with a variety of other weapons.

Just as importantly, it was designed to operate at a distance of up to three kilometers (3000 meters or about two miles) from its operator — a range that could be extended up to six kilometers for a team of these UGVs. This range is absolutely crucial for these machines, which must be operated remotely. Russian designers are developing operational electronics capable of rendering the Uran-9 more autonomous, thereby moving the operators to a safer distance from actual combat engagement. The size of a small tank, the Uran-9 impressed the international military community when first unveiled and it was definitely designed to survive battlefield realities….

Uran-9; Source: Defence-Blog.com

However, just as “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” the Uran-9, though built to withstand punishment, came up short in its first trial run in Syria. In a candid admission, Andrei P. Anisimov, Senior Research Officer at the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense, reported on the Uran-9’s critical combat deficiencies during the 10th All-Russian Scientific Conference entitled “Actual Problems of Defense and Security,” held in April 2018. In particular, the following issues came to light during testing:

• Instead of its intended range of several kilometers, the Uran-9 could only be operated at distance of “300-500 meters among low-rise buildings,” wiping out up to nine-tenths of its total operational range.

• There were “17 cases of short-term (up to one minute) and two cases of long-term (up to 1.5 hours) loss of Uran-9 control” recorded, which rendered this UGV practically useless on the battlefield.

• The UGV’s running gear had problems – there were issues with supporting and guiding rollers, as well as suspension springs.

• The electro-optic stations allowed for reconnaissance and identification of potential targets at a range of no more than two kilometers.

• The OCH-4 optical system did not allow for adequate detection of adversary’s optical and targeting devices and created multiple interferences in the test range’s ground and airspace.

Uran-9 undergoing testing; Source: YouTube

• Unstable operation of the UGV’s 30mm automatic cannon was recorded, with firing delays and failures. Moreover, the UGV could fire only when stationary, which basically wiped out its very purpose of combat “vehicle.”

• The Uran-9’s combat, ISR, and targeting weapons and mechanisms were also not stabilized.

On one hand, these many failures are a sign that this much–discussed and much-advertised machine is in need of significant upgrades, testing, and perhaps even a redesign before it gets put into another combat situation. The Russian military did say that it tested nearly 200 types of weapons in Syria, so putting the Uran-9 through its combat paces was a logical step in the long development of this particular UGV. If the Syrian trial was the first of its kind for this UGV, such significant technical glitches would not be surprising.

However, the MOD has been testing this Uran-9 for a while now, showing videos of this machine at a testing range, presumably in Russia. The truly unexpected issue arising during operations in Syria had to do with the failure of the Uran-9 to effectively engage targets with its cannon while in motion (along with a number of other issues). Still, perhaps many observers bought into the idea that this vehicle would perform as built – tracks, weapons, and all. A closer examination of the publicly-released testing video probably foretold some of the Syrian glitches – in this particular one, Uran-9 is shown firing its machine guns while moving, but its cannon was fired only when the vehicle was stationary. Another interesting aspect that is significant in hindsight is that the testing range in the video was a relatively open space – a large field with a few obstacles around, not the kind of complex terrain, dense urban environment encountered in Syria. While today’s and future battlefields will range greatly from open spaces to megacities, a vehicle like the Uran-9 would probably be expected to perform in all conditions. Unless, of course, Syrian tests would effectively limit its use in future combat.

Russian Soratnik UGV

On another hand, so many failures at once point to much larger issues with the Russian development of combat UGVs, issues that Anisimov also discussed during his presentation. He highlighted the following technological aspects that are ubiquitous worldwide at this point in the global development of similar unmanned systems:

• Low level of current UGV autonomy;

• Low level of automation of command and control processes of UGV management, including repairs and maintenance;

• Low communication range, and;

• Problems associated with “friend or foe” target identification.

Judging from the Uran-9’s Syrian test, Anisimov made the following key conclusions which point to the potential trajectory of Russian combat UGV development – assuming that other unmanned systems may have similar issues when placed in a simulated (or real) combat environment:

• These types of UGVs are equipped with a variety of cameras and sensors — and since the operator is presumably located a safe distance from combat, he may have problems understanding, processing, and effectively responding to what is taking place with this UGV in real-time.

• For the next 10-15 years, unmanned military systems will be unable to effectively take part in combat, with Russians proposing to use them in storming stationary and well-defended targets (effectively giving such combat UGVs a kamikaze role).

• One-time and preferably stationary use of these UGVs would be more effective, with maintenance and repair crews close by.

• These UGVs should be used with other military formations in order to target and destroy fortified and firing enemy positions — but never on their own, since their breakdown would negatively impact the military mission.

The presentation proposed that some of the above-mentioned problems could be overcome by domestic developments in the following UGV technology and equipment areas:

• Creating secure communication channels;

• Building miniaturized hi-tech navigation systems with a high degree of autonomy, capable of operating with a loss of satellite navigation systems;

• Developing miniaturized and effective ISR components;

• Integrating automated command and control systems, and;

• Better optics, electronics and data processing systems.

According to Anisimov’s report, the overall Russian UGV and unmanned military systems development arch is similar to the one proposed by the United States Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC):  the gradual development of systems capable of more autonomy on the battlefield, leading to “smart” robots capable of forming “mobile networks” and operating in swarm configurations. Such systems should be “multifunctional” and capable of being integrated into existing armed forces formations for various combat missions, as well as operate autonomously when needed. Finally, each military robot should be able to function within existing and future military technology and systems.

Source: rusmilitary.wordpress.com

Such a candid review and critique of the Uran-9 in Syria, if true, may point to the Russian Ministry of Defense’s attitude towards its domestic manufacturers. The potential combat effectiveness of this UGV was advertised for the past two years, but its actual performance fell far short of expectations. It is a sign for developers of other Russian unmanned ground vehicles – like Soratnik, Vihr, and Nerehta — since it displays the full range of deficiencies that take place outside of well-managed testing ranges where such vehicles are currently undergoing evaluation. It also brought to light significant problems with ISR equipment — this type of technology is absolutely crucial to any unmanned system’s successful deployment, and its failures during Uran-9 tests exposed a serious combat weakness.

It is also a useful lesson for many other designers of domestic combat UGVs who are seeking to introduce similar systems into existing order of battle. It appears that the Uran-9’s full effectiveness can only be determined at a much later time if it can perform its mission autonomously in the rapidly-changing and complex battlefield environment. Fully autonomous operation so far eludes its Russian developers, who are nonetheless still working towards achieving such operational goals for their combat UGVs. Moreover, Russian deliberations on using their existing combat UGV platforms in one-time attack mode against fortified adversary positions or firing points, tracking closely with ways that Western military analysts are thinking that such weapons could be used in combat.

Source: Nikolai Novichkov / Orbis Defense

The Uran-9 is still a test bed and much has to take place before it could be successfully integrated into current Russian concept of operations. We could expect more eye-opening “lessons learned” from its and other UGVs potential deployment in combat. Given the rapid proliferation of unmanned and autonomous technology, we are already in the midst of a new arms race. Many states are now designing, building, exporting, or importing various technologies for their military and security forces.

To make matters more interesting, the Russians have been public with both their statements about new technology being tested and evaluated, and with the possible use of such weapons in current and future conflicts. There should be no strategic or tactical surprise when military robotics are finally encountered in future combat.

Source: Block13
by djahal; Diviantart.com

For another perspective on Russian military innovation, please read Mr. Ray Finch’s guest post The Tenth Man” — Russia’s Era Military Innovation Technopark.

Samuel Bendett is a Research Analyst at the CNA Corporation and a Russia Studies Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is an official Mad Scientist, having presented and been so proclaimed at a previous Mad Scientist Conference.  The views expressed here are his own.

77. “The Tenth Man” — Russia’s Era Military Innovation Technopark

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the second in our series of “The Tenth Man” posts (read the first one here). This Devil’s Advocate or contrarian approach serves as a form of alternative analysis and is a check against group think and mirror imaging. The Mad Scientist Laboratory offers it as a platform for the contrarians in our network to share their alternative perspectives and analyses regarding the Future Operational Environment.

Today’s post is by guest blogger Mr. Ray Finch addressing Russia’s on-going efforts to develop a military innovation center —  Era Military Innovation Technopark — near the city of Anapa (Krasnodar Region) on the northern coast of the Black Sea.  Per The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, “Russia can be considered our ‘pacing threat,’ and will be our most capable potential foe for at least the first half of the Era of Accelerated Human Progress [now through 2035]. It will remain a key adversary through the Era of Contested Equality [2035-2050].” So any Russian attempts at innovation to create “A Militarized Silicon Valley in Russia” should be sounding alarms throughout the NATO Alliance, right?  Well, maybe not….]

(Please note that several of Mr. Finch’s embedded links in the post below are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)

Only a Mad Russian Scientist could write the paragraph below:

Russia Resurgent, Source: Bill Butcher, The Economist

If all goes according to plan, in October 2035 the Kremlin will host a gala birthday party to commemorate President Putin’s 83d birthday. Ever since the Russian leader began receiving special biosynthetic plasma developed by military scientists at the country’s premier Era Technopolis Center in Anapa, the president’s health and overall fitness now resembles that of a 45-year old. This development was just one in a series of innovations which have helped to transform – not just the Kremlin leader – but the entire country.  By focusing its best and brightest on new technologies, Russia has become the global leader in information and telecommunication systems, artificial intelligence, robotic complexes, supercomputers, technical vision and pattern recognition, information security, nanotechnology and nanomaterials, energy tech and technology life support cycle, as well as bioengineering, biosynthetic, and biosensor technologies. In many respects, Russia is now the strongest country in the world.

While this certainly echoes the current Kremlin propaganda, a more sober analysis regarding the outcomes of the Era Military Innovation Technopark in Anapa (Krasnodar Region) ought to consider those systemic factors which will likely retard its future development. Below are five reasons why Putin and Russia will likely have less to celebrate in 2035.

President Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu being briefed on Technopark-Era, Kremlin, 23 Feb 2018. Source: http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56923, CC BY 4.0.

You can’t have milk without a cow

The primary reason that the Kremlin’s attempt to create breakthrough innovations at the Era Technopark will result in disappointment stems from the lack of a robust social structure to support such innovations. And it’s not simply the absence of good roads or adequate healthcare. As the renowned MIT scientist, Dr. Loren R. Graham recently pointed out, the Kremlin leadership wants to enjoy the “milk” of technology, without worrying about supporting the system needed to support a “cow.” Graham elaborates on his observation by pointing out that even though Russian scientists have often been at the forefront of technological innovations, the country’s poor legal system prevents these discoveries from ever bearing fruit. Stifling bureaucracy and a broken legal system prevent Russian scientists and innovators from profiting from their discoveries. This dilemma leads to the second factor.

Brain drain

Despite all of the Kremlin’s patriotic hype over the past several years, many young and talented Russians are voting with their feet and pursuing careers abroad. As the senior Russian analyst, Dr. Gordon M. Hahn noted, “instead of voting for pro-democratic forces and/or fomenting unrest, Russia’s discontented, highly educated, highly skilled university graduates tend to move abroad to find suitable work.” And even though the US is maligned on a daily basis in the Kremlin-supported Russian media, many of these smart, young Russians are moving to America. Indeed, according to a recent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report, “the number of asylum applications by Russian citizens in the United States hit a 24-year high in 2017, jumping nearly 40 percent from the previous year and continuing an upward march that began after Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012.” These smart, young Russians believe that their country is headed in the wrong direction and are looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Everything turns out to be a Kalashnikov

There’s no doubt that Russian scientists and technicians are capable of creating effective weapon systems. President Putin’s recent display of military muscle-power was not a mere campaign stratagem, but rather a reminder to his Western “partners” that since Russia remains armed to the teeth, his country deserves respect. And there’s little question that the new Era Technopark will help to create advanced weapon systems of “which there is no analogous version in the world.” But that’s just the point. While Russia is famous for its tanks, artillery, and rocket systems, it has struggled to create anything which might be qualified as a technological marvel in the civilian sector. As some Russian observers have put it, “no matter what the state tries to develop, it ends up being a Kalashnikov.”

Soviet AK-47. Type 2 made from 1951 to 1954/55. Source: http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil Public Domain

The Boss knows what’s best

The current Kremlin leadership now parades itself as being at the forefront of a global conservative and traditional movement. In their favorite narrative, the conniving US is forever trying to weaken Russia (and other autocratic countries) by infecting them with a liberal bacillus, often referred to as a “color revolution.” In their rendition, Russia was contaminated by this democratic disease during the 1990s, only to find itself weakened and taken advantage of by America.

Since then, the Kremlin leadership has retained the form of democracy, but has removed its essence. Elections are held, ballots are cast, but the winner is pre-determined from above. So far, the Russian population has played along with this charade, but at some point, perhaps in an economic crisis, the increasingly plugged-in Russian population might demand a more representative form of government. Regardless, while this top-down, conservative model is ideal for maintaining control and staging major events, it lacks the essential freedom inherent within innovation. Moreover, such a quasi-autocratic system tends to promote Russia’s most serious challenge.

The cancer of corruption

Despite the façade of a uniformed, law-governed state, Russia continues to rank near the bottom on the global corruption index. According to a recent Russian report, “90 percent of entrepreneurs have encountered corruption at least once.” Private Russian companies will likely think twice before deciding to invest in the Era Technopark, unless of course, the Kremlin makes them an offer they cannot refuse. Moreover, as suggested earlier, the young Era scientists may not be fully committed, understanding that the “milk” of their technological discoveries will likely by expropriated by their uniformed bosses.

Technopark Era is not scheduled to be fully operational until 2020, and the elevated rhetoric over its innovative mandate will likely prompt concern among some US defense officials. While the center could advance Russian military technology over the next 15-25 years, it is doubtful that Era will usher in a new era for Russia.

If you enjoyed this edition of the “Tenth Man”:

– Learn more about Russia’s Era Military Innovation Technopark in the April 2018 edition of the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) OE Watch, Volume 8, Issue 4, pages 10-11.

– Read Mad Scientist Sam Bendett‘s guest blog post on Russian Ground Battlefield Robots: A Candid Evaluation and Ways Forward.

Ray Finch works as a Eurasian Analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office. He’s a former Army officer (Artillery and Russian FAO).

 

71. Shaping Perceptions with Information Operations: Lessons for the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by Ms. Taylor Galanides, TRADOC G-2 Summer Intern, exploring how the increasing momentum of human interaction, events, and actions, driven by the convergence of innovative technologies, is enabling adversaries to exploit susceptibilities and vulnerabilities to manipulate populations and undermine national interests.  Ms. Galanides examines contemporary Information Operations as a harbinger of virtual warfare in the future Operational Environment.]

More information is available than ever before. Recent and extensive developments in technology, media, communication, and culture – such as the advent of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and smart devices – allow people to closely monitor domestic and foreign affairs. In the coming decades, the increased speed of engagements, as well as the precise and pervasive targeting of both civilian and military populations, means that these populations and their respective nations will be even more vulnerable to influence and manipulation attempts, misinformation, and cyber-attacks from foreign adversaries.

The value of influencing and shaping the perceptions of foreign and domestic populations in order to pursue national and military interests has long been recognized. This can be achieved through the employment of information operations, which seek to affect the decision-making process of adversaries. The U.S. Army views information operations as an instrumental part of the broader effort to maintain an operational advantage over adversaries. Information operations is specifically defined by the U.S. Army as “The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare further emphasizes this increased attention to the information and cognitive domains in the future – in the Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050). As a result, it has been predicted that no single nation will hold hegemony over its adversaries, and major powers and non-state actors alike “… will engage in a fight for information on a global scale.” Winning preemptively in the competitive dimension before escalation into armed conflict through the use of information and psychological warfare will become key.

Source: Becoming Human – Artificial Intelligence Magazine

Part of the driving force that is changing the character of warfare includes the rise of innovative technologies such as computer bots, artificial intelligence, and smart devices. Such emerging and advancing technologies have facilitated the convergence of new susceptibilities to individual and international security; as such, it will become increasingly more important to employ defensive and counter information operations to avoid forming misperceptions or being deceived.

Harbinger of the Future:  Information Operations in Crimea

Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014 effectively serve as cautionary examples of Russia’s evolving information operations and their perception-shaping capabilities. In Crimea, Russia sought to create a “hallucinating fog of war” in an attempt to alter the analytical judgments and perceptions of its adversaries. With the additional help of computer hackers, bots, trolls, and television broadcasts, the Russian government was able to create a manipulated version of reality that claimed Russian intervention in Crimea was not only necessary, but humanitarian, in order to protect Russian speakers. Additionally, Russian cyberespionage efforts included the jamming or shutting down of telecommunication infrastructures, important Ukrainian websites, and cell phones of key officials prior to the invasion. Through the use of large demonstrations called “snap exercises,” the Russians were able to mask military buildups along the border, as well as its political and military intentions. Russia further disguised their intentions and objectives by claiming adherence to international law, while also claiming victimization from the West’s attempts to destabilize, subvert, and undermine their nation.

By denying any involvement in Crimea until after the annexation was complete, distorting the facts surrounding the situation, and refraining from any declaration of war, Russia effectively infiltrated the international information domain and shaped the decision-making process of NATO countries to keep them out of the conflict.  NATO nations ultimately chose minimal intervention despite specific evidence of Russia’s deliberate intervention in order to keep the conflict de-escalated. Despite the West’s refusal to acknowledge the annexation of Crimea, it could be argued that Russia achieved their objective of expanding its sphere of influence.

Vulnerabilities and Considerations

Russia is the U.S.’ current pacing threat, and China is projected to overtake Russia as the Nation’s primary threat as early as 2035. It is important to continue to evaluate the way that the U.S. and its Army respond to adversaries’ increasingly technological attempts to influence, in order to maintain the information and geopolitical superiority of the Nation. For example, the U.S. possesses different moral and ethical standards that restrict the use of information operations. However, because adversarial nations like Russia and China pervasively employ influence and deceptive measures in peacetime, the U.S. and its Army could benefit from developing alternative methods for maintaining an operational advantage against its adversaries.


Adversarial nations can also take advantage of “the [Western] media’s willingness to seek hard evidence and listen to both sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion” by “inserting fabricated or prejudicial information into Western analysis and blocking access to evidence.” The West’s free press will continue to be the primary counter to constructed narratives. Additionally, extensive training of U.S. military and Government personnel, in conjunction with educating its civilian population about Russia and China’s deceitful narratives may decrease the likelihood of perceptions being manipulated:  “If the nation can teach the media to scrutinize the obvious, understand the military, and appreciate the nuances of deception, it may become less vulnerable to deception.” Other ways to exploit Russian and Chinese vulnerabilities could include taking advantage of poor operations security, as well as the use and analysis of geotags to refute and discredit Russian and Chinese propaganda narratives.

A final consideration involves the formation of an interagency committee, similar to the Active Measures Working Group from the 1980s, for the identification and countering of adversarial disinformation and propaganda. The coordination of the disinformation efforts by manipulative countries like Russia is pervasive and exhaustive. Thus, coordination of information operations and counter-propaganda efforts is likewise important between the U.S. Government, the Army, and the rest of the branches of the military. The passing of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, was an important first step in the continuing fight to counter foreign information and influence operations that seek to manipulate the U.S. and its decision-makers and undermine its national interests.

For more information on how adversaries will seek to shape perception in the Future Operational Environment, read the following related blog posts:

Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda

Virtual War – A Revolution in Human Affairs (Part I)

Personalized Warfare

Taylor Galanides is a Junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying Psychology. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the G-2 Futures team.

70. Star Wars 2050

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by returning blogger Ms. Marie Murphy, addressing the implication of space drones and swarms on space-based services critical to the U.S. Army.  Ms. Murphy’s previous post addressed Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend.]

Drone technology continues to proliferate in militaries and industries around the world.  In the deep future, drones and drone swarms may extend physical conflict into the space domain.  As space becomes ever more critical to military operations, states will seek technologies to counter their adversaries’ capabilities.   Drones and swarms can blend in with space debris in order to provide a tactical advantage against vulnerable and expensive assets at a lower cost.

Source: AutoEvolution

Space was recently identified as a battlespace domain in recognition of threats increasing at an unexpected rate and, in 2013, the Army Space Training Strategy was released. The functions of the Army almost entirely depend on space systems for daily and specialized operations, particularly C4ISR and GPS capabilities. “Well over 2,500 pieces of equipment… rely on a space-based capability” in any given combat brigade, so an Army contingency plan for the loss of satellite communication is critical.[I]  It is essential for the Army, in conjunction with other branches of the military and government agencies, to best shield military assets in space and continue to develop technologies, such as outer space drones and swarms, to remain competitive and secure throughout this domain in the future.

Source: CCTV China

Drone swarms in particular are an attractive military option due to their relative inexpensiveness, autonomy, and durability as a whole. The U.S., China, and Russia are the trifecta of advanced drone and drone swarm technology and also pose the greatest threats in space. In May 2018, Chinese Company CETC launched 200 autonomous drones,[II] beating China’s own record of 119 from 2017.[III] The U.S. has also branched out into swarm technology with the testing of Perdix drones, although the U.S. is most known for its use of the high-tech Predator drone.[IV]

Source: thedrive.com

Non-state actors also possess rudimentary drone capabilities. In January 2018, Syrian rebels attacked a Russian installation with 13 drones in an attempt to overwhelm Russian defenses. The Russian military was able to neutralize the attack by shooting down seven and bringing the remaining six down with electronic countermeasures.[V] While this attack was quelled, it proves that drones are being used by less powerful or economically resourceful actors, making them capable of rendering many traditional defense systems ineffective. It is not a far leap to incorporate autonomous communication between vehicles, capitalizing on the advantages of a fully interactive and cooperative drone swarm.

NASA Homemade Drone; Source: NASA Swamp Works

The same logic applies when considering drones and drone swarms in space. However, these vehicles will need to be technologically adapted for space conditions. Potentially most similar to future space drones, the company Swarm Technology launched four nanosats called “SpaceBees” with the intention of using them to create a constellation supporting Internet of Things (IoT) networks; however, they did so from India without FCC authorization.[VI] Using nanosats as examples of small, survivable space vehicles, the issues of power and propulsion are the most dominant technological roadblocks. Batteries must be small and are subject to failure in extreme environmental conditions and temperatures.[VII] Standard drone propulsion mechanisms are not viable in space, where drones will have to rely on cold-gas jets to maneuver.[VIII] Drones and drone swarms can idle in orbit (potentially for weeks or months) until activated, but they may still need hours of power to reach their target. The power systems must also have the ability to direct flight in a specific direction, requiring more energy than simply maintaining orbit.

Source: University of Southampton

There is a distinct advantage for drones operating in space: the ability to hide in plain sight among the scattered debris in orbit. Drones can be sent into space on a private or government launch hidden within a larger, benign payload.[IX] Once in space, these drones could be released into orbit, where they would blend in with the hundreds of thousands of other small pieces of material. When activated, they would lock onto a target or targets, and swarms would converge autonomously and communicate to avoid obstacles. Threat detection and avoidance systems may not recognize an approaching threat or swarm pattern until it is too late to move an asset out of their path (it takes a few hours for a shuttle and up to 30 hours for the ISS to conduct object avoidance maneuvers). In the deep future, it is likely that there will be a higher number of larger space assets as well as a greater number of nanosats and CubeSats, creating more objects for the Space Surveillance Network to track, and more places for drones and swarms to hide.[X]

For outer space drones and drone swarms, the issue of space junk is a double-edged sword. While it camouflages the vehicles, drone and swarm attacks also produce more space junk due to their kinetic nature. One directed “kamikaze” or armed drone can severely damage or destroy a satellite, while swarm technology can be harnessed for use against larger, defended assets or in a coordinated attack. However, projecting shrapnel can hit other military or commercial assets, creating a Kessler Syndrome effect of cascading damage.[XI] Once a specific space junk removal program is established by the international community, the resultant debris effects from drone and swarm attacks can be mitigated to preclude collateral damage.  However, this reduction of space junk will also result in less concealment, limiting drones’ and swarms’ ability to loiter in orbit covertly.

Utilizing drone swarms in space may also present legal challenges.  The original governing document regarding space activities is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty specifically prohibits WMDs in space and the militarization of the moon and other celestial bodies, but is not explicit regarding other forms of militarization, except to emphasize that space activities are to be carried out for the benefit of all countries. So far, military space activities have been limited to deploying military satellites and combatting cyber-attacks. Launching a kinetic attack in space would carry serious global implications and repercussions.

Such drastic and potentially destructive action would most likely stem from intense conflict on Earth. Norms about the usage of space would have to change. The Army must consider how widely experimented with and implemented drone and swarm technologies can be applied to targeting critical and expensive assets in orbit. Our adversaries do not have the same moral and ethical compunctions regarding space applications that the U.S. has as the world’s leading democracy. Therefore, the U.S. Army must prepare for such an eventuality.  Additionally, the Army must research and develop a more robust alternative to our current space-based GPS capability.  For now, the only war in space is the one conducted electronically, but kinetic operations in outer space are a realistic possibility in the deep future.

Marie Murphy is a rising junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative.

______________________________________________________

[I] Houck, Caroline, “The Army’s Space Force Has Doubled in Six Years, and Demand Is Still Going Up,” Defense One, 23 August 2017.

[II]China’s Drone Swarms,” OE Watch, Vol. 8.7, July 2018.

[III]China Launches Drone Swarm of 119 Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Business Standard, 11 June 2017.

[IV] Atherton, Kelsey D., “The Pentagon’s New Drone Swarm Heralds a Future of Autonomous War Machines,” Popular Science, 17 January 2017.

[V] Hruska, Joel, “Think One Military Drone is Bad? Drone Swarms Are Terrifyingly Difficult to Stop,” Extreme Tech, 8 March 2018.

[VI] Harris, Mark, “Why Did Swarm Launch Its Rogue Satellites?IEEE Spectrum, 20 March 2018.

[VII] Chow, Eugene K., “America Is No Match for China’s New Space Drones,” The National Interest, 4 November 2017.

[VIII] Murphy, Mike, “NASA Is Working on Drones That Can Fly In Space,” Quartz, 31 July 2015.

[IX] Harris, Mark, “Why Did Swarm Launch Its Rogue Satellites?IEEE Spectrum, 20 March 2018.

[X]Space Debris and Human Spacecraft,” NASA, 26 September 2013.

[XI] Scoles, Sarah, “The Space Junk Problem Is About to Get a Whole Lot Gnarlier,” WIRED, July 31, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

69. Demons in the Tall Grass

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist is pleased to present Mr. Mike Matson‘s guest blog post set in 2037 — pitting the defending Angolan 6th Mechanized Brigade with Russian advisors and mercenaries against a Namibian Special Forces incursion supported by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Special Operators.  Both sides employ autonomous combat systems, albeit very differently — Enjoy!]

Preface:  This story was inspired by two events. First, Boston Dynamics over the last year had released a series of short videos of their humanoid and animal-inspired robots which had generated a strong visceral Internet reaction. Elon Musk had commented about one video that they would “in a few years… move so fast you’ll need a strobe light to see it.” That visual stuck with me and I was looking for an opportunity to expand on that image.

The second event was a recent trip to the Grand Tetons. I had a black bear rise up out of an otherwise empty meadow less than 50 meters away. A 200-kilo predator which can run at 60kph and yet remain invisible in high grass left a strong impression. And while I didn’t see any gray wolves, a guide discussed how some of the packs, composed of groups of 45-kilogram sized animals, had learned how to take down 700-kilogram bison. I visualized packs of speeding robotic wolves with bear-sized robots following behind.

I used these events as the genesis to explore a completely different approach to designing and employing unmanned ground combat vehicles (GCVs). Instead of the Russian crewless, traditional-styled armored vehicles, I approached GCVs from the standpoint of South Africa, which may not have the same resources as Russia, but has an innovative defense industry. If starting from scratch, how might their designs diverge? What could they do with less resources? And how would these designs match up to “traditional” GCVs?

To find out what would happen, I pitted an Angolan mechanize brigade outfitted with Russian GCVs against South African special forces armed with a top secret indigenous GCV program. The setting is southern Angola in 2037, and there are Demons in the Tall Grass. As Mr. Musk said in his Tweet, sweet dreams!  Mike Matson

 

Source: Google Maps

(2230Z 25 May 2037) Savate, Angola

Paulo crouched in his slit trench with his squad mates.  He knew this was something other than an exercise.  The entire Angolan 6th Mechanized Brigade had road marched south to Savate, about 60 kilometers from the Namibian border. There, they were ordered to dig fighting positions and issued live ammunition.

Everyone was nervous. Thirty minutes before, one of their patrols a kilometer south of them had made contact.  A company had gone out in support and a massive firefight had ensued. A panicked officer could be heard on the net calling in artillery on their own position because they were being attacked by demons in the tall grass. Nobody had yet returned.

A pair of Uran-9s, line abreast; Source: RussianDefence.com / Lex Kitaev

Behind Paulo, the battalion commander came forward. With him were three Russian mercenaries.  Paulo knew the Russians had brought along two companies of robot tanks. The robot tanks sported an impressively large number of guns, missiles and lasers. Two of them had deployed with the quick reaction force.  Explosions suggested that they had been destroyed.

Paulo watched the Angolan officer carefully. Suddenly there was a screamed warning from down the trenches.  He whipped around and saw forms in the tall grass moving towards the trenches at a high rate of speed, spread out across his entire front. A dozen or more speeding lines headed directly towards the trenches like fish swimming just under the water.

“Fire!” Paulo ordered and started shooting, properly squeezing off three round bursts. The lines kept coming. Paulo had strobe light-like glimpses of bounding animals. Just before they burst from cover, piercingly loud hyena cries filled the night.  Paulo slammed his hand on the nearby clacker to detonate the directional mines to his front. The world exploded in noise and dust.

(Earlier That Morning) 25 Kilometers south of Savate

Captain Verlin Ellis, Bravo Group, SANDF, crouched with his NCO, his soldiers, and his Namibian SF counterpart at dawn under a tree surrounded by thick green bush.

“Listen up everyone, the operation is a go. Intelligence shows the brigade in a holding position south of Savate. We are to conduct a recon north until we can fix their position. Alpha and Charlie groups will be working their way up the left side. Charlie will hit their right flank with their predator package at the same time we attack from the south and Alpha will be the stopper group with the third group north of town. Once we have them located, we are to hold until nightfall, then attack.”

The tarps came off Bravo Group’s trucks and the men got to work unloading.

Source: BigDog / DeviantArt

First off were Bravo Group’s attack force of forty hyenas. Standing just under two feet high on their articulated legs, and weighing roughly 40 kilos, the small robots were off-loaded and their integrated solar panels were unfolded to top off their battery charges.

The hyenas operated in pack formations via an encrypted mesh network. While they could be directed by human operators if needed and could send and receive data via satellite or drone relay, they were designed to operate in total autonomy at ranges up to 40 kilometers from their handlers.

Each hyena had a swiveling front section like a head with four sensors and a small speaker. The sensors were a camera and separate thermal camera, a range finder, and a laser designator/pointer. Built into the hump of the hyena’s back was a fixed rifle barrel in a bullpup configuration, chambered in 5.56mm, which fired in three round bursts.

On each side there was a pre-loaded 40mm double tube grenade launcher. The guided, low velocity grenades could be launched forward between 25-150 meters. The hyenas were loaded with a mix of HE, CS gas, HEAT, and thermite grenades. They could select targets themselves or have another hyena or human operator designate a target, in which case they were also capable of non-line-of-sight attacks. The attack dogs contained a five-kilo shaped charge limpet mine for attaching to vehicles. There were 24 attack hyenas.

Source: Fausto De Martini / Kill Command

Second off came the buffalos, the heavy weapons support element. There were six of the 350 kilo beasts. They were roughly the same size as a water buffalo, hence their name. They retained the same basic head sensor suite as the hyenas, and a larger, sturdier version of the hyena’s legs.

Three of them mounted an 81mm auto-loading mortar and on their backs were 10 concave docking stations each holding a three ounce helicopter drone called a sparrow. The drone had a ten-minute flight radius with its tiny motor. One ounce of the drone was plastic explosive. They had a simple optical sensor and were designed to land and detonate on anything matching their picture recognition algorithms, such as ammo crates, fuel cans, or engine hoods.

The fourth buffalo sported a small, sleek turret on a flat back, with a 12.7mm machine gun, and the buffalo held 500 rounds of armor-piercing tracer.

The fifth buffalo held an automatic grenade launcher with 200 smart rounds in a similar turret to the 12.7mm gun. The grenades were programmed as they fired and could detonate over trenches or beyond obstacles to hit men behind cover.

The sixth carried three anti-tank missiles in a telescoping turret. Like the mortars, their fire could be directed by hyenas, human operators, or self-directed.

Source: KhezuG / Deviantart.com

Once the hyenas and buffalos were charging, the last truck was carefully unloaded.  Off came the boars — suicide bombs on legs. Each of the 15 machines was short, with stubbier legs for stability. Their outer shells were composed of pre-scarred metal and were overlaid with a layer of small steel balls for enhanced shrapnel. Inside they packed 75 kilos of high explosive. For tonight’s mission each boar was downloaded with different sounds to blare from their speakers, with choices ranging from Zulu war cries, to lion roars, to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Chaos was their primary mission.

Between the three Recce groups, nine machines failed warmup. That left 180 fully autonomous and cooperative war machines to hunt the 1,200 strong Angolan 6th Mechanized Brigade.

(One Hour after Attack Began) Savate

Paulo and his team advanced, following spoor through the bush.  The anti-tank team begged to go back but Paulo refused.

Suddenly there was a slight gap in the tall grass just as something in front of them on the far side of a clearing fired. It looked like a giant metal rhino, and it had an automatic grenade launcher on top of it. It fired a burst, then sat down on its haunches to hide.

So that’s why I can’t see them after they fire. Very clever, thought Paulo. He tried calling in fire support but all channels were jammed.

Paulo signaled with his hands for both gunners to shoot. The range was almost too close. Both gunners fired at the same time, striking the beast. It exploded with a surprising fury, blowing them all off their feet and lighting up the sky. They laid there stunned as debris pitter-pattered in the dirt around them.

That was enough for Paulo and the men. They headed back to the safety of the trenches.

As they returned, eight armored vehicles appeared. On the left was an Angolan T-72 tank and three Russian robot tanks. On the right there was a BMP-4 and three more Russian robot tanks.

An animal-machine was trotting close to the vegetation outside the trenches and one of the Russian tank’s lasers swiveled and fired, emitting a loud hum, hitting it. The animal-machine was cut in two. The tanks stopped near the trench to shoot at unseen targets in the dark as Paulo entered the trenches.

The hyena yipping increased in volume as predators began to swarm around the armored force. Five or six were circling their perimeter yipping and shooting grenades. Two others crept under some bushes 70 meters to Paulo’s right and laid down like dogs. A long, thin antenna rose out of the back of one dog with some small device on top. The tanks furiously fired at the fleeting targets which circled them.

Mortar rounds burst around the armor, striking a Russian tank on the thin turret top, destroying it.

From a new direction, the ghost machine gun struck a Russian robot tank with a dozen exploding armor-piercing rounds. The turret was pounded and the externally mounted rockets were hit, bouncing the tank in place from the explosions. A robot tank popped smoke, instantly covering the entire armored force in a blinding white cloud which only added to the chaos. Suddenly the Russian turrets all stopped firing just as a third robot tank was hit by armor-piercing rounds in the treads and disabled.

Silent Ruin;  Source: Army Cyber Institute at West Point / Don Hudson & Kinsun Lo

If you enjoyed this blog post, read “Demons in the Grass” in its entirety here, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

Mike Matson is a writer in Louisville, Kentucky, with a deep interest in national security and cyber matters. His writing focuses on military and intelligence-oriented science fiction. He has two previous articles published by Mad Scientist: the non-fiction “Complex Cyber Terrain in Hyper-Connected Urban Areas,” and the fictional story, “Gods of Olympus.”  In addition to Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, DC, he has lived, studied, and worked in Brussels, Belgium, and Tallinn, Estonia. He holds a B.A. in International Studies from The American University and an M.S. in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University, both in Washington, DC. He can be found on Twitter at @Mike40245.

63. Russian Ground Battlefield Robots: A Candid Evaluation and Ways Forward

[Editor’s Note:  We are pleased to present Mad Scientist Sam Bendett‘s informative guest blog post on the ramifications of current Russian Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) trials in Syria for future autonomous combat systems on the battlefield.  Please note that many of Mr. Bendett’s embedded links in the post below are best accessed using non-DoD networks.]

Russia’s Forpost UAV (licensed copy of IAI Searcher II) in Khmeimim, Syria; Source: https://t.co/PcNgJ811O8

Russia, like many other nations, is investing in the development of various unmanned military systems. The Russian defense establishment sees such systems as mission multipliers, highlighting two major advantages: saving soldiers’ lives and making military missions more effective. In this context, Russian developments are similar to those taking place around the world. Various militaries are fielding unmanned systems for surveillance, intelligence, logistics, or attack missions to make their forces or campaigns more effective. In fact, the Russian military has been successfully using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in training and combat since 2013. It has used them with great effect in Syria, where these UAVs flew more mission hours than manned aircraft in various Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles.

Russia is also busy designing and testing many unmanned maritime and ground vehicles for various missions with diverse payloads. To underscore the significance of this emerging technology for the nation’s armed forces, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently stated that the serial production of ground combat robots for the military “may start already this year.”

Uran-9 combat UGV at Victory Day 2018 Parade in Red Square; Source: independent.co.uk

But before we see swarms of ground combat robots with red stars emblazoned on them, the Russian military will put these weapons through rigorous testing in order to determine if they can correspond to battlefield realities. Russian military manufacturers and contractors are not that different from their American counterparts in sometimes talking up the capabilities of their creations, seeking to create the demand for their newest achievement before there is proof that such technology can stand up to harsh battlefield conditions. It is for this reason that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) finally established several centers such as Main Research and Testing Center of Robotics, tasked with working alongside the defense-industrial sector to create unmanned military technology standards and better communicate warfighters’ needs.  The MOD is also running conferences such as the annual “Robotization of the Armed Forces” that bring together military and industry decision-makers for a better dialogue on the development, growth, and evolution of the nation’s unmanned military systems.

Uran-9 combat UGV; Source:  nationalinterest.org

This brings us to one of the more interesting developments in Russian UGVs. Then Russian Deputy Defense Minister Borisov recently confirmed that the Uran-9 combat UGV was tested in Syria, which would be the first time this much-discussed system was put into combat. This particular UGV is supposed to operate in teams of three or four and is armed with a 30mm cannon and 7.62 mm machine guns, along with a variety of other weapons.

Just as importantly, it was designed to operate at a distance of up to three kilometers (3000 meters or about two miles) from its operator — a range that could be extended up to six kilometers for a team of these UGVs. This range is absolutely crucial for these machines, which must be operated remotely. Russian designers are developing operational electronics capable of rendering the Uran-9 more autonomous, thereby moving the operators to a safer distance from actual combat engagement. The size of a small tank, the Uran-9 impressed the international military community when first unveiled and it was definitely designed to survive battlefield realities….

Uran-9; Source: Defence-Blog.com

However, just as “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” the Uran-9, though built to withstand punishment, came up short in its first trial run in Syria. In a candid admission, Andrei P. Anisimov, Senior Research Officer at the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense, reported on the Uran-9’s critical combat deficiencies during the 10th All-Russian Scientific Conference entitled “Actual Problems of Defense and Security,” held in April 2018. In particular, the following issues came to light during testing:

• Instead of its intended range of several kilometers, the Uran-9 could only be operated at distance of “300-500 meters among low-rise buildings,” wiping out up to nine-tenths of its total operational range.

• There were “17 cases of short-term (up to one minute) and two cases of long-term (up to 1.5 hours) loss of Uran-9 control” recorded, which rendered this UGV practically useless on the battlefield.

• The UGV’s running gear had problems – there were issues with supporting and guiding rollers, as well as suspension springs.

• The electro-optic stations allowed for reconnaissance and identification of potential targets at a range of no more than two kilometers.

• The OCH-4 optical system did not allow for adequate detection of adversary’s optical and targeting devices and created multiple interferences in the test range’s ground and airspace.

Uran-9 undergoing testing; Source: YouTube

• Unstable operation of the UGV’s 30mm automatic cannon was recorded, with firing delays and failures. Moreover, the UGV could fire only when stationary, which basically wiped out its very purpose of combat “vehicle.”

• The Uran-9’s combat, ISR, and targeting weapons and mechanisms were also not stabilized.

On one hand, these many failures are a sign that this much–discussed and much-advertised machine is in need of significant upgrades, testing, and perhaps even a redesign before it gets put into another combat situation. The Russian military did say that it tested nearly 200 types of weapons in Syria, so putting the Uran-9 through its combat paces was a logical step in the long development of this particular UGV. If the Syrian trial was the first of its kind for this UGV, such significant technical glitches would not be surprising.

However, the MOD has been testing this Uran-9 for a while now, showing videos of this machine at a testing range, presumably in Russia. The truly unexpected issue arising during operations in Syria had to do with the failure of the Uran-9 to effectively engage targets with its cannon while in motion (along with a number of other issues). Still, perhaps many observers bought into the idea that this vehicle would perform as built – tracks, weapons, and all. A closer examination of the publicly-released testing video probably foretold some of the Syrian glitches – in this particular one, Uran-9 is shown firing its machine guns while moving, but its cannon was fired only when the vehicle was stationary. Another interesting aspect that is significant in hindsight is that the testing range in the video was a relatively open space – a large field with a few obstacles around, not the kind of complex terrain, dense urban environment encountered in Syria. While today’s and future battlefields will range greatly from open spaces to megacities, a vehicle like the Uran-9 would probably be expected to perform in all conditions. Unless, of course, Syrian tests would effectively limit its use in future combat.

Russian Soratnik UGV

On another hand, so many failures at once point to much larger issues with the Russian development of combat UGVs, issues that Anisimov also discussed during his presentation. He highlighted the following technological aspects that are ubiquitous worldwide at this point in the global development of similar unmanned systems:

• Low level of current UGV autonomy;

• Low level of automation of command and control processes of UGV management, including repairs and maintenance;

• Low communication range, and;

• Problems associated with “friend or foe” target identification.

Judging from the Uran-9’s Syrian test, Anisimov made the following key conclusions which point to the potential trajectory of Russian combat UGV development – assuming that other unmanned systems may have similar issues when placed in a simulated (or real) combat environment:

• These types of UGVs are equipped with a variety of cameras and sensors — and since the operator is presumably located a safe distance from combat, he may have problems understanding, processing, and effectively responding to what is taking place with this UGV in real-time.

• For the next 10-15 years, unmanned military systems will be unable to effectively take part in combat, with Russians proposing to use them in storming stationary and well-defended targets (effectively giving such combat UGVs a kamikaze role).

• One-time and preferably stationary use of these UGVs would be more effective, with maintenance and repair crews close by.

• These UGVs should be used with other military formations in order to target and destroy fortified and firing enemy positions — but never on their own, since their breakdown would negatively impact the military mission.

The presentation proposed that some of the above-mentioned problems could be overcome by domestic developments in the following UGV technology and equipment areas:

• Creating secure communication channels;

• Building miniaturized hi-tech navigation systems with a high degree of autonomy, capable of operating with a loss of satellite navigation systems;

• Developing miniaturized and effective ISR components;

• Integrating automated command and control systems, and;

• Better optics, electronics and data processing systems.

According to Anisimov’s report, the overall Russian UGV and unmanned military systems development arch is similar to the one proposed by the United States Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC):  the gradual development of systems capable of more autonomy on the battlefield, leading to “smart” robots capable of forming “mobile networks” and operating in swarm configurations. Such systems should be “multifunctional” and capable of being integrated into existing armed forces formations for various combat missions, as well as operate autonomously when needed. Finally, each military robot should be able to function within existing and future military technology and systems.

Source: rusmilitary.wordpress.com

Such a candid review and critique of the Uran-9 in Syria, if true, may point to the Russian Ministry of Defense’s attitude towards its domestic manufacturers. The potential combat effectiveness of this UGV was advertised for the past two years, but its actual performance fell far short of expectations. It is a sign for developers of other Russian unmanned ground vehicles – like Soratnik, Vihr, and Nerehta — since it displays full range of deficiencies that take place outside of well-managed testing ranges where such vehicles are currently undergoing evaluation. It also brought to light significant problems with ISR equipment — this type of technology is absolutely crucial to any unmanned system’s successful deployment, and its failures during Uran-9 tests exposed a serious combat weakness.

It is also a useful lesson for many other designers of domestic combat UGVs who are seeking to introduce similar systems into existing order of battle. It appears that the Uran-9’s full effectiveness can only be determined at a much later time if it can perform its mission autonomously in the rapidly-changing and complex battlefield environment. Fully autonomous operation so far eludes its Russian developers, who are nonetheless still working towards achieving such operational goals for their combat UGVs. Moreover, Russian deliberations on using their existing combat UGV platforms in one-time attack mode against fortified adversary positions or firing points, tracking closely with ways that Western military analysts are thinking that such weapons could be used in combat.

Source: Nikolai Novichkov / Orbis Defense

The Uran-9 is still a test bed and much has to take place before it could be successfully integrated into current Russian concept of operations. We could expect more eye-opening “lessons learned” from its’ and other UGVs potential deployment in combat. Given the rapid proliferation of unmanned and autonomous technology, we are already in the midst of a new arms race. Many states are now designing, building, exporting, or importing various technologies for their military and security forces.

To make matters more interesting, the Russians have been public with both their statements about new technology being tested and evaluated, and with possible use of such weapons in current and future conflicts. There should be no strategic or tactical surprise when military robotics are finally encountered in future combat.

Source: Block13
by djahal; Deviantart.com

Samuel Bendett is a Research Analyst at the CNA Corporation and a Russia Studies Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is an official Mad Scientist, having presented and been so proclaimed at a previous Mad Scientist Conference.  The views expressed here are his own.

54. A View of the Future: 2035-2050

[Editor’s Note: The following post addresses the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050) and is extracted from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, published last summer. This seminal document provides the U.S. Army with a holistic and heuristic approach to projecting and anticipating both transformational and enduring trends that will lend themselves to the depiction of the future.]

Changes encountered during the Future Operational Environment’s Era of Accelerated Human Progress (the present through 2035) begin a process that will re-shape the global security situation and fundamentally alter the character of warfare. While its nature remains constant, the speed, automation, ranges, both broad and narrow effects, its increasingly integrated multi-domain conduct, and the complexity of the terrain and social structures in which it occurs will make mid-century warfare both familiar and utterly alien.

During the Era of Contested Equality (2035-2050), great powers and rising challengers have converted hybrid combinations of economic power, technological prowess, and virulent, cyber-enabled ideologies into effective strategic strength. They apply this strength to disrupt or defend the economic, social, and cultural foundations of the old Post-World War II liberal order and assert or dispute regional alternatives to established global norms. State and non-state actors compete for power and control, often below the threshold of traditional armed conflict – or shield and protect their activities under the aegis of escalatory WMD, cyber, or long-range conventional options and doctrines.

It is not clear whether the threats faced in the preceding Era of Accelerated Human Progress persist, although it is likely that China and Russia will remain key competitors, and that some form of non-state ideologically motivated extremist groups will exist. Other threats may have fundamentally changed their worldviews, or may not even exist by mid-Century, while other states, and combinations of states will rise and fall as challengers during the 2035-2050 timeframe. The security environment in this period will be characterized by conditions that will facilitate competition and conflict among rivals, and lead to endemic strife and warfare, and will have several defining features.

The nation-state perseveres. The nation-state will remain the primary actor in the international system, but it will be weaker both domestically and globally than it was at the start of the century. Trends of fragmentation, competition, and identity politics will challenge global governance and broader globalization, with both collective security and globalism in decline. States share their strategic environments with networked societies which increasingly circumvent governments unresponsive to their citizens’ needs. Many states will face challenges from insurgents and global identity networks – ethnic, religious, regional, social, or economic – which either resist state authority or ignore it altogether.

Super-Power Diminishes. Early-century great powers will lose their dominance in command and control, surveillance, and precision-strike technologies as even non-state actors will acquire and refine their own application of these technologies in conflict and war. Rising competitors will be able to acquire capabilities through a broad knowledge diffusion, cyber intellectual property theft, and their own targeted investments without having to invest into massive “sunken” research costs. This diffusion of knowledge and capability and the aforementioned erosion of long-term collective security will lead to the formation of ad hoc communities of interest. The costs of maintaining global hegemony at the mid-point of the century will be too great for any single power, meaning that the world will be multi-polar and dominated by complex combinations of short-term alliances, relations, and interests.

This era will be marked by contested norms and persistent disorder, where multiple state and non-state actors assert alternative rules and norms, which when contested, will use military force, often in a dimension short of traditional armed conflict.

For additional information on the Future Operational Environment and the Era of Contested Equality:

•  Listen to Modern War Institute‘s podcast where Retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend and Mr. Ian Sullivan address Technology and the Future of Warfare

•  Watch the TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise’s The Changing Character of Future Warfare video.

25. Lessons Learned in Assessing the Operational Environment

(Editor’s Note: The Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post from Mr. Ian Sullivan.)

During the past year, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 has learned a great deal more about the Future Operational Environment (OE). While the underlying assessment of the OE’s trajectory has not changed, as reported in last year’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, we have learned a number of critical lessons and insights that affect Army doctrine, training, and modernization efforts. These findings have been captured in Assessing the Operational Environment: What We Learned Over the Past Year, published in Small Wars Journal last week. This post extracts and highlights key themes from this article.

General Lessons Learned:

We have confirmed our previous analysis of trends and factors that are intensifying and accelerating the transformation of the OE. The rapid innovation, development, and fielding of new technologies promises to radically enhance our abilities to live, create, think, and prosper. The accelerated pace of human interaction and widespread connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT), and the concept of convergence are also factors affecting these trends. Convergence of societal trends and technologies will create new capabilities or societal implications that are greater than the sum of their individual parts, and at times are unexpected.

This convergence will embolden global actors to challenge US interests. The perceived waning of US military power in conjunction with the increase in capabilities resulting from our adversaries’ rapid proliferation of technology and increased investment in research and development has set the stage for challengers to pursue interests contrary to America’s.

We will face peer, near-peer, and regional hegemons as adversaries, as well as non-state actors motivated by identity, ideology, or interest, and individuals super-empowered by technologies and capabilities once found only among nations. They will directly attack our national will with cyber and sophisticated information operations.

Technologies in the future OE will be disruptive, smart, connected, and self-organizing. Key technologies, once thought to be science fiction, present new opportunities for military operations ranging from human operated / machine-assisted, to human-machine hybrid operations, to human-directed / machine-conducted operations; all facilitated by autonomy, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, enhanced human performance, and advanced computing.

Tactical Lessons Learned:

The tactical lessons we have learned reveal tangible realities found on battlefields around the globe today and our assessments about the future rooted in our understanding of the current OE. Our adversaries already are using weapons and systems that in some cases are superior to our own, providing selective overmatch of some US capabilities, such as long-range fires, air-defense, and electronic warfare. Commercial-off-the shelf (COTS) technologies are being used to rapidly create new and novel methods of warfare (the most ubiquitous are drones and robotics that have been particularly successful in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine). Our adversaries will often combine technologies or operating principles to create innovative methods of attack, deploying complex combinations of capabilities that create unique challenges to the Army and Joint Forces.

Adversaries, regardless of their resources, are finding ways to present us with multiple tactical dilemmas. They are combining capabilities with new concepts and doctrine, as evidenced by Russia’s New Generation Warfare; China’s active defensive and local wars under “informationized” conditions; Iran’s focus on information operations, asymmetric warfare and anti-access/area denial; North Korea’s combination of conventional, information operations, asymmetric, and strategic capabilities; ISIS’s often improvised yet complex capabilities employed during the Battle of Mosul, in Syria, and elsewhere; and the proliferation of anti-armor capabilities seen in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, as well as the use of ballistic missiles by state and non-state actors.

Our adversaries have excelled at Prototype Warfare, using new improvised capabilities that converge technologies and COTS systems—in some cases for specific attacks—to great effect. ISIS, for example, has used commercial drones fitted with 40mm grenades to attack US and allied forces near Mosul, Iraq and Raqaa, Syria. While these attacks caused little damage, a Russian drone dropping a thermite grenade caused the destruction of a Ukrainian arms depot at Balakleya, which resulted in massive explosions and fires, the evacuation of 23,000 citizens, and $1 billion worth of damage and lost ordnance.

Additionally, our adversaries continue to make strides in developing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) capabilities. We must, at a tactical level, be prepared to operate in a CBRN environment.

Operational Lessons Learned:

Operational lessons learned are teaching us that our traditional—and heretofore very successful—ways of waging warfare will not be enough to ensure victory on future battlefields. Commanders must now sequence battles and engagements beyond the traditional land, sea, and air domains, and seamlessly, and often simultaneously, orchestrate combat effects across multi-domains, to include space and cyberspace. The multiple tactical dilemmas that our adversaries present us with create operational level challenges. Adversaries are building increasingly sophisticated anti-access/area denial “bubbles” we have to break; extending the scope of operations through the use of cyber, space, and asymmetric activities; and are utilizing sophisticated, and often deniable, methods of using information operations, often enabled by cyber capabilities, to directly target the Homeland and impact our individual and national will to fight. This simultaneous targeting of individuals and segments of populations has been addressed in our Personalized Warfare post.

We will have to operationalize Multi-Domain Battle to achieve victory over peer or near-peer competitors. Additionally, we must plan and be prepared to integrate other government entities and allies into our operations. The dynamism of the future OE is driven by the ever increasing volumes of information; when coupled with sophisticated whole-of-government approaches, information operations — backed by new capabilities with increasing ranges — challenge our national approach to warfare. The importance of information operations will continue, and may become the primary focus of warfare/competition in the future.

When adversaries have a centralized leadership that can send a unified message and more readily adopt a whole-of-government approach, the US needs mechanisms to more effectively coordinate and collaborate among whole-of-government partners. Operations short of war may require the Department of Defense to subordinate itself to other Agencies, depending on the objective. Our adversaries’ asymmetric strategies blur the lines between war and competition, and operate in a gray zone between war and peace below the perceived threshold of US military reaction.

Strategic Lessons Learned:

Strategic lessons learned demonstrate the OE will be more challenging and dynamic then in the past. A robust Homeland defense strategy will be imperative for competition from now to 2050. North Korea’s strategic nuclear capability, if able to range beyond the Pacific theater to CONUS, places a renewed focus on weapons of mass destruction and missile defense. A broader array of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction-armed adversaries will compel us to re-imagine operations in a CBRN environment, and to devise and consider new approaches to deterrence and collective security. Our understanding of deterrence and coercion theory will be different from the lessons of the Cold War.

The Homeland will be an active theater in any future conflict and adversaries will have a host of kinetic and non-kinetic attack options from our home stations all the way to the combat zone. The battlefield of the future will become far more lethal and destructive, and be contested from home station to the Joint Operational Area, requiring ways to sustain operations, and also to rapidly reconstitute combat losses of personnel and equipment. The Army requires resilient smart installations capable of not only training, equipping, preparing, and caring for Soldiers, civilians, and families, but also efficiently and capably serving as the first point of power projection and to provide reach back capabilities.

Trends in demographics and climate change mean we will have to operate in areas we might have avoided in the past. These areas include cities and megacities, or whole new theaters, such as the Arctic.

Personalized warfare will increase over time, specifically targeting the brain, genomes, cultural and societal groups, individuals’ personal interests/lives, and familial ties.




Future conflicts will be characterized by AI vs AI (i.e., algorithm vs algorithm). How AI is structured and integrated will be the strategic advantage, with the decisive edge accruing to the side with more autonomous decision-action concurrency on the “Hyperactive Battlefield.” Due to the increasingly interconnected Internet of Everything and the proliferation of weapons with highly destructive capabilities to lower echelons, tactical actions will have strategic implications, putting even more strain and time-truncation on decision-making at all levels. Cognitive biases can shape our actions despite unprecedented access to information.

The future OE presents us with a combination of new technologies and societal changes that will intensify long-standing international rivalries, create new security dynamics, and foster instability as well as opportunities. The Army recognizes the importance of this moment and is engaged in a modernization effort that rivals the intellectual momentum following the 1973 Starry Report and the resultant changes the “big five” (i.e., M1 Abrams Tank, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter, UH-60 Black Hawk Utility Helicopter, and Patriot Air Defense System) wrought across leadership development and education, concept, and doctrine development that provided the U.S. Army overmatch into the new millennium.

Based on the future OE, the Army’s leadership is asking the following important questions:

• What type of force do we need?

• What capabilities will it require?

• How will we prepare our Soldiers, civilians, and leaders to operate within this future?

Clearly the OE is the starting point for this entire process.

For additional information regarding the Future OE, please see the following:

Technology and the Future of War podcast, hosted by the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment, posted on Small Wars Journal.

OEWatch, an monthly on-line, open source journal, published by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO).

Ian Sullivan is the Assistant G-2, ISR and Futures, at Headquarters, TRADOC.