The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has one shtick and it’s touting the future of warfare. And while considering the influence of tech on the battlefield is important, the two key military events of the last few years have a common lesson.
The lesson is that a determined insurgency can overcome less motivated forces despite wide discrepancies in technology and numbers.
Putin’s regime has been obsessed with touting high-tech future weapons. Some of those have been deployed in Ukraine with few results. The U.S. meanwhile gave the Afghan government the technological edge with little to show for it.
Technology counts. The Ukrainians were apparently able to effectively make use of Javelins and similar weapons (though considering the propaganda coming out of the region, it’s hard to know what’s true). But both wars have been fought in fairly familiar ways. A general from WW2 or the 70s would be able to take a look at both Ukraine and Afghanistan and have a fairly good idea of what happened and what’s going on.
With that in mind here’s Gen. Mark Milley with more of the same old military retrofuturism.
Weapons technology will also change dramatically in future decades, Milley said, and the shift will be as radical as the change from musket to the rifle, the rifle to the machine gun or from sailing to steam ships. And the technological edge is no longer automatically in America’s favor.
You’ll be fighting with robotic tanks and ships and airplanes, Milley said. We’ve witnessed a revolution in lethality and precision munitions. What was once the exclusive province of the United States military is now available to most nation states with the money will to acquire them.
Artificial intelligence is resulting in that profound change, the most profound change ever in human history, Milley said. Whatever overmatch we the United States enjoyed militarily for the last 70 years is closing quickly. And the United States will be, in fact, we already are challenged in every domain of warfare in space and cyber, maritime air and, of course, land.
This is the same sort of thing that Milley has been saying forever, but he doesn’t seem to have thought the metaphors through.
What would the shift from muskets to rifles or sails to steam really be like in the modern context? And what does that have to do with obsessing over AI, a concept that I suspect Milley doesn’t grasp, let alone robot tanks, which we could build and deploy no, if there were some actual use for them in anything except a major land war in which we wanted to reduce casualties while spending a lot of money for worse battlefield performance.
The future of war may yet arrive, but for now it looks a whole lot like somewhat better tools and a few remote options.