130. Trouble in Paradise: The Technological Upheaval of Modern Political and Economic Systems

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the following post by returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Ms. Marie Murphy, addressing how advances in various technologies have the potential to upset the international order and empower individuals and non-state actors.  Read on to learn who will be the winners and losers in this technological upheaval!]

Access to new and advanced technologies has the potential to upset the current power dynamic of the world. From the proliferation of smartphones to commercially available software and hardware, individuals and states that were previously discounted as threats now have the potential to launch sophisticated attacks against powerful international players. Power will no longer remain in the upper echelons of society, where it is primarily held by national governments, multinational corporations, and national news services. These groups are losing their information dominance as individuals, local authorities, and other organizations now have the ability to access and distribute unfiltered information at their fingertips.1

A historical example of technology altering the balance of power are cassette tapes. Ayatollah Khomeini used cassette tape recordings to deliver sermons and direct the Iranian Revolution when exiled in Paris, while the United States observed the use of cassette tapes by the USSR in the spreading of communist propaganda.2 A new technology in the hands of empowered individuals and states allowed for events to transpire that otherwise would not have been possible with the same speed and effectiveness. Adaptation of technology created new agency for actors to direct movements from thousands of miles away, forever shaping the course of history. A more contemporary example is the role of smartphones and social media in the Arab Spring. These new disruptive technologies enabled the organizing of protests and the broadcasting of videos in real time, eclipsing traditional journalism’s ability to report.3

Near-term Analysis:

Technologically sophisticated international actors, such as the United States and the European Union, will maintain the capacity to manage the growth and use of technology within their own borders without adversely affecting governance. However, the increased availability of these technologies may strain civil/government relations in both developing countries and authoritarian systems.4 Technologies such as smartphones and the ability to instantly transmit data may force governments to be accountable for their actions, especially if their abuses of power are recorded and distributed globally by personal devices. At the same time however, “smart” devices may also be used by governments as instruments of social control, repression, and misinformation.

Technology also affords non-state actors new methods for recruiting and executing operations.  Technology-enabled platforms have allowed these groups to network near instantaneously across borders and around the world in a manner that would have been impossible prior to the advent of the digital age.5 A well-known example is the use of social media platforms by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS for propaganda and recruitment. These groups and others, such as Hezbollah and the political opposition in Venezuela, have deployed drones for both reconnaissance and as lethal weapons.6 The availability of these information age technologies has enabled these groups to garner more power and control than similar organizations could have done in the past, posing a real threat to major international actors.

Distant Future Analysis:

There is an extremely high chance of future political disruption stemming from technological advancement. There are some who predict a non-polar power balance emerging. In this scenario, the world is dominated by dozens of technologically capable actors with various capabilities. “Hyperconnected,” developed states such as Sweden, Finland, and Israel may become greater international players and brokers of technologically backed global power. “Partially-connected” nations, today’s developing world, will face multiple challenges and could possibly take advantage of new opportunities due to the proliferation of technology. Technologically empowered individuals, groups, or neighboring states may have the ability to question or threaten the legitimacy of an otherwise weak government. However, in these “partially-connected” states, technology will serve to break down social barriers to equalize social discourse among all strata of society. Other predictions suggest the dissolution of national boundaries and the creation of an “interconnected state” comprised of different national laws without borders in a virtual space.7

Democracy itself is evolving due to technological innovation. Increasing concerns about the roles of privacy, big data, internet security, and artificial intelligence in the digital age raise the following questions: how much does technology influence and control the lives of people in democratic countries, and what effect does this have on politics? Algorithms control the advertisements on the internet based on users’ search history, the collection and sale of personal data, and “fake news” which affects the opinions of millions.8  While these technologies provide convenience in the daily lives of internet-connected citizens, such as recommending items for purchase on Amazon and other platforms, they also lead to an erosion of public trust, a pillar upon which democracy is founded. Democracies must remain vigilant regarding how emerging technologies influence and affect their people and how governments use technology to interact with its citizens.

The changing geopolitical dynamics of the world is inextricably linked with economic power, and increasing economic power is positively correlated with technological advancement. Power is becoming more diffused as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (i.e., the BRICS states), the Philippines, Mexico, Turkey, and others develop stronger economies. States with rising economic power may begin to shun traditional global political and economic institutions in favor of regional institutions and bilateral agreements.9 There will be many more emerging markets competing for market share,10 driving up competition and forcing greater innovation and integration to remain relevant.

One of the major factors of the changing economic landscape is the growth of robotics use. Today these technologies are exclusive to world economic leaders but are likely to proliferate as more technological advancements make them cost-effective for a wider range of industries and companies. The adaptation of artificial intelligence will also dictate the future success of businesses in developed and emerging economies. It is important for governments to consider “retraining programs” for those workers laid off by roboticization and AI domination of their career fields.11 Economically dominant countries of the future will be driven by technology and hold the majority of political power in the political arena. These states will harness these technologies and use them to increase their productivity while training their workforce to participate in a technologically aided market.

The Winners and Losers of the Future:

Winners:

  • Countries with stable governments and emerging economies which are able to adapt to the rapid pace of technological innovation without severe political disruption.
  • Current international powers which invest in the development and application of advanced technologies.

Losers:

  • Countries with fragile governments which can be overpowered by citizens, neighbors, or non-state actors armed with technology and authoritarian regimes who use technology as a tool of repression.
  • Traditional international powers which put themselves at risk of losing political and financial leverage if they only work to maintain the status quo. Those systems that do not adapt will struggle to remain relevant in a world dominated by a greater number of powers who fall into the “winners” category.

Conclusion

Modern power players in the world will have to adapt to the changing role of technology, particularly the influence of technology-empowered individuals. Technology will change how democracies and other political systems operate both domestically and on the world stage. The major international players of today will also have to accept that rising economic powers will gain more influence in the global market as they are more technologically enabled. As power becomes more diluted when states gain equalizing technology, the hegemony of the current powers that lead international institutions will begin to lose relevancy if they do not adapt.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

… and Ms. Murphy‘s previous posts:

… and crank up Bob Marley and the Wailers Get Up, Stand Up!

Marie Murphy is a junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is a regular contributor to the Mad Scientist Laboratory; interned at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative during the Summer of 2018; and is currently a Research Fellow for William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security.


1 Laudicina, Paul A, and Erik R Peterson. “Divergence, Disruption, and Innovation: Global Trends 2015–2025.” Strategy, A T Kearney, www.middle-east.atkearney.com/strategy/featured-article/-/asset_publisher/KwarGm4gaWhz/content/global-trends-2015-2025-divergence-disruption-and-innovation/10192?inheritRedirect=false&redirect=http://www.middle-east.atkearney.com/strategy/featured-article?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_KwarGm4gaWhz&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-2&p_p_col_count=1.

2 Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. “The Digital Disruption.” Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs Magazine, 27 Oct. 2010, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2010-10-16/digital-disruption.

3 Duffy, Matt J. “Smartphones in the Arab Spring.” Academia.edu – Share Research, 2011, www.academia.edu/1911044/Smartphones_in_the_Arab_Spring

4 China is a unique case here because it’s a major developer of technology and counter-technology systems which block the use of certain devices, applications, or programs within their borders. But Chinese people do find loopholes and other points of access in the system, defying the government.

5 Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. “The Digital Disruption.” www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2010-10-16/digital-disruption.

6 “Drone Terrorism Is Now a Reality, and We Need a Plan to Counter the Threat.” International Security: Fragility, Violence and Conflict, World Economic Forum, 20 Aug. 2018, www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/08/drone-terrorism-is-now-a-reality-and-we-need-a-plan-to-counter-the-threat.

7 Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. “The Digital Disruption.”  www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2010-10-16/digital-disruption.

8 Unver, Hamid Akin. “Artificial Intelligence, Authoritarianism and the Future of Political Systems.” SSRN, EDAM Research Reports, 2018, 26 Feb. 2019, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3331635.

9 Laudicina, Paul A, and Erik R Peterson. “Divergence, Disruption, and Innovation: Global Trends 2015–2025.”

10 Stowell, Joshua. The Emerging Seven Countries Will Hold Increasing Levels of Global Economic Power by 2050. Global Security Review, 26 Apr. 2018, www.globalsecurityreview.com/will-global-economic-order-2050-look-like/.

11 Laudicina, Paul A, and Erik R Peterson. “Divergence, Disruption, and Innovation: Global Trends 2015–2025.”

97. The Cryptoruble as a Stepping Stone to Digital Sovereignty

“By 2038, there won’t just be one internet — there will be many, split along national lines” — An Xiao Mina, 2038 podcast, Episode 2, New York Magazine Intelligencer, 25 October 2018.

[Editor’s Note:  While the prediction above is drawn from a podcast that posits an emerging tech cold war between China and the U.S., the quest for digital sovereignty and national cryptocurrencies is an emerging global trend that portends the fracturing of the contemporary internet into national intranets.  This trend erodes the prevailing Post-Cold War direction towards globalization.  In today’s post, Mad Scientist Laboratory welcomes back guest blogger Dr. Mica Hall, who addresses Russia’s move to adopt a national cryptocurrency, the cryptoruble, as a means of asserting its digital sovereignty and ensuring national security.  The advent of the cryptoruble will have geopolitical ramifications far beyond Mother Russia’s borders, potentially ushering in an era of economic hegemony over those states that embrace this supranational cryptocurrency. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

At the nexus of monetary policy, geopolitics, and information control is Russia’s quest to expand its digital sovereignty. At the October 2017 meeting of the Security Council, “the FSB [Federal Security Service] asked the government to develop an independent ‘Internet’ infrastructure for BRICS nations [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], which would continue to work in the event the global Internet malfunctions.” 1 Security Council members argued the Internet’s threat to national security is due to:

“… the increased capabilities of Western nations to conduct offensive operations in the informational space as well as the increased readiness to exercise these capabilities.”2

This echoes the sentiment of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary, who stated in 2014,

We all know who the chief administrator of the global Internet is. And due to its volatility, we have to think about how to ensure our national security.”3

At that time, the Ministry of Communications (MinCom) had just tested a Russian back-up to the Internet to support a national “Intranet,” lest Russia be left vulnerable if the global Domain Name Servers (DNS) are attacked. MinCom conducted “a major exercise in which it simulated ‘switching off’ global Internet services,” and in 2017, the Security Council decided to create just such a backup system “which would not be subject to control by international organizations” for use by the BRICS countries.4

While an Internet alternative (or Alternet) may be sold to the Russian public as a way to combat the West’s purported advantage in the information war, curb excessive dependency on global DNS, and protect the country from the foreign puppet masters of the Internet that “pose a serious threat to Russia’s security,”5 numerous experts doubt Russia’s actual ability to realize the plan, given its track record.

Take the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), for example, an international organization comprised of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Belarus. Russia should be able to influence the EAEU even more than the BRICS countries, given its leading role in establishing the group. The EAEU was stood up in January 2016, and by December, “MinCom and other government agencies were given the order to develop and confirm a program for the ‘Digital Economy,’ including plans to develop [it in] the EAEU.”6 As Slavin observes, commercial ventures have already naturally evolved to embrace the actual digital economy: “The digital revolution has already occurred, business long ago switched to electronic interactions,”7 while the state has yet to realize its Digital Economy platform.

Changing the way the government does business has proven more difficult than changing the actual economy. According to Slavin, “The fact that Russia still has not developed a system of digital signatures, that there’s no electronic interaction between government and business or between countries of the EAEU, and that agencies’ information systems are not integrated – all of that is a problem for the withered electronic government that just cannot seem to ripen.”8 The bridge between the state and the actual digital economy is still waiting for “legislation to support it and to recognize the full equality of electronic and paper forms.”9 Consequently, while the idea to create a supranational currency to be used in the EAEU has been floated many times, the countries within the organization have not been able to agree on what that currency would be.

The cryptoruble could be used to affect geopolitical relationships. In addition to wielding untraceable resources, Russia could also leverage this technology to join forces with some countries against others. According to the plan President Putin laid out upon announcing the launch of a cryptoruble, Russia would form a “single payment space” for the member states of the EAEU, based on “the use of new financial technologies, including the technology of distributed registries.”10 Notably, three months after the plan to establish a cryptoruble was announced, Russia’s Central Bank stated the value of working on establishing a supranational currency to be used either across the BRICS countries or across the EAEU, or both, instead of establishing a cryptoruble per se.11

This could significantly affect the balance of power not only in the region, but also in the world. Any country participating in such an economic agreement, however, would subject themselves to being overrun by a new hegemony, that of the supranational currency.

 

As long as the state continues to cloak its digital sovereignty efforts in the mantle of national security – via the cryptoruble or the Yarovaya laws, which increase Internet surveillance – it can continue to constrict the flow of information without compunction. As Peskov stated, “It’s not about disconnecting Russia from the World Wide Web,” but about “protecting it from external influence.”12 After Presidents Putin and Trump met at the G20 Summit in July 2017, MinCom Nikiforov said the two countries would establish a working group “for the control and security of cyberspace,” which the U.S. Secretary of State said would “develop a framework for cybersecurity and a non-interference agreement.”13 Prime Minister Medvedev, however, said digitizing the economy is both “a matter of Russia’s global competitiveness and national security,”14 thus indicating Russia is focused not solely inward, but on a strategic competitive stance. MinCom Nikiforov makes the shortcut even clearer, stating, “In developing the economy, we need digital sovereignty,”15 indicating a need to fully control how the country interacts with the rest of the world in the digital age.

The Kremlin’s main proponent for digital sovereignty, Igor Ashmanov, claims, “Digital sovereignty is the right of the government to independently determine what is happening in their digital sphere. And make its own decisions.” He adds, “Only the Americans have complete digital sovereignty. China is growing its sovereignty. We are too.”16 According to Lebedev, “Various incarnations of digital sovereignty are integral to the public discourse in most countries,” and in recent years, “The idea of reining in global information flows and at least partially subjugating them to the control of certain traditional or not-so-traditional jurisdictions (the European Union, the nation-state, municipal administrations) has become more attractive.”17   In the Russian narrative, which portrays every nation as striving to gain the upper hand on the information battlefield, Ashmanov’s fear that, “The introduction of every new technology is another phase in the digital colonization of our country,”18 does not sound too far-fetched.

The conspiracy theorists to the right of the administration suggest the “global world order” represented by the International Monetary Fund intends to leave Russia out of its new replacement reference currency, saying “Big Brother is coming to blockchain.”19 Meanwhile, wikireality.ru reports the Russian government could limit web access in the name of national security, because the Internet “is a CIA project and the U.S. is using information wars to destroy governments,” using its “cybertroops.”20 As the site notes, the fight against terrorism has been invoked as a basis for establishing a black list of websites available within Russia. Just as U.S. citizens have expressed concerns over the level of surveillance made legal by the Patriot Act, so Russian netizens have expressed concerns over the Yarovaya laws and moves the state has made to facilitate information sovereignty.

According to the Financial Times, “This interest in cryptocurrencies shows Russia’s desire to take over an idea originally created without any government influence. It was like that with the Internet, which the Kremlin has recently learned to tame.”21 Meanwhile, a healthy contingent of Russian language netizens continue to express their lack of faith in the national security argument, preferring to embrace a more classical skepticism, as reflected in comments in response to a 2017 post by msmash called, “From the Never-Say-Never-But-Never Department,” — “In Putin’s Russia, currency encrypts you!”22 To these netizens, the state looks set to continue to ratchet down on Internet traffic: “It’s really descriptive of just how totalitarian the country has become that they’re hard at work out-Chinaing China itself when it comes to control of the Internet,” but “China is actually enforcing those kind of laws against its people. In Russia, on the other hand, the severity of the laws is greatly mitigated by the fact that nobody gives a **** about the law.”23 In addition to suggesting personal security is a fair price to be paid for national security via surveillance and Internet laws, the state appears poised to argue all information about persons in the country, including about their finances, should also be “transparent” to fight terrorism and crime in general.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please also see:

Dr. Mica Hall is a Russian linguist and holds an MA and PhD in Slavic Linguistics and an MPA.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DoD, or the U.S. Government.


1 Russia to Launch ‘Independent Internet’ for BRICS Nations – Report, 2017, RT.com, https://www.rt.com/politics/411156-russia-to-launch-independent-internet/, 28 November 2017.

2 Russia to Launch.

3 Russia to Launch.

4 Russia to Launch.

5 Russia to Launch.

6 Boris Slavin, 2017, People or Digits: Which One Do We Need More? vedomosti.ru, https://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/01/17/673248-lyudi-tsifri-nuzhnee, 17 January 2017.

7 Slavin, People or Digits.

8 Slavin, People or Digits.

9 Slavin, People or Digits.

10 Kyree Leary, 2017, Vladimir Putin Just Revealed Russia’s Plans for Cryptocurrencies, futurism.com, https://futurism.com/vladimir-putin-just-revealed-russias-plans-for-cryptocurrencies/, 26 October 26017.

11 CB is Discussing Creating a Supranational Cryptocurrency Together With EAEU and BRICS, 2017, vedomosti.ru, https://www.vedomosti.ru/finance/news/2017/12/28/746856-sozdanie-kriptovalyuti-v-ramkah-eaes-i-briks-bank-rossii-v-2018-g, 28 December 2017.

12 Russia to Launch.

13 Russia and the US to Create a Working Group for the Regulation of Cyberspace, 2017, RIA Novosti, https://ria.ru/world/20170708/1498126496.html?=inj=1, 8 July 2017.

14 MinComSvyazi: We Need Digital Sovereignty to Develop the Economy, 2017, RIA Novosti, https://ria.ru/soceity/20170905/1501809181.html, 5 September 2017.

15 MinComSvyazi: We Need Digital Sovereignty.

16 Irina Besedovala, 2016, The Yarovaya Laws Will Save Us from the CIA, fontanka.ru, http://www.fontanka.ru/2016/10/22/061/, 22 October 2016.

17 Dmitry Lebedev, 2017, Digital Sovereignty à la Russe, opendemocracy.net, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/digital-sovereignty-a-la-russe, 3 November 2017.

18 Igor Ashmanov, 2017, The Recipe for Digital Sovereignty, Rossijskoe Agentstvo Novostej, http://www.ru-an.info/, 22 August 2017.

19 Global Elites’ Secret Plan for Cryptocurrencies, 2017, pravosudija.net, http://www. pravdosudija.net/article/sekretynyy-plan-globalnyh-elit-otnositelno-kriptovalyut, 5 September 2017.

20 Information Sovereignty, 2017, wikireality.ru, http://www.wikireality.ru/wiki/Информационный_сувернитет, 28 March 2017.

21 FT: Russia Is Looking For A Way to “Cut Off” Cryptocurrencies, 2018, Russian RT, https://russian.rt.com/inotv/2018-01-02/FT-Rossiya-ishhet-sposob-ukrotit, 2 January 2018.

22 msmash, 2017, We’ll Never Legalize Bitcoin, Says Russian Minister, yro.slashdot.org, https://yro.slashdot.org/story/17/11/22/2111216/well-never-legalize-bitcoin-says-russian-minister, 22 November 2017.

23 We’ll Never Legalize Bitcoin.

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.