Mayans believed that robot-like warriors, linked to their alphabet soup of sombre and deadly gods with names like Yum Cimil and Ah Puke (sic), were prowling on dark nights and inauspicious days: about 9 out of 10 days and nights, that is. In the USA of today, bionic warfare is rapidly emerging from the shadows of the imagination and with it, the fear of robot soldiers. Under a gripping photo of a US Army soldier testing the Lockheed Martin HULCE or HUman Load Carrier Exoskeleton, 'Wired Magazine', on January 1st, told its readers they have a mutant future coming - defined as a robot military future.
This military future however totally ignores the fact that large scale international war, today, like global warming, happens almost exclusively in the imagination: wars now operate at a small, local scale. The future of war is mostly civil - and that is not an oxymoron. International and continental sized wars with setpiece 'theatre' infantry battles, outside town or in town are still found in Think Tank musing, but they do not work anymore, for basic technological reasons. Weapons of mass destruction have been intensely democratized as the number of vulnerable economic targets has exploded - but Bionic Warrior business hopefuls do not seem to know this.
The 'Wired Mag' article said the US military, like others is targeting the faster deployment and faster upstream development of technical fixes designed to give ground troops "mutant powers", including "superior cognition and fearlessness". Drawing not indirectly but directly from video games and Hollywood new tech war movies like Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty', the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) says that its Avatar programme: "seeks to develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier's surrogate”.
The DARPA program warns of the risks of its own techno fantasy, including ethical and policy issues, and plain simple military ineffectiveness arising from “military human enhancements” — including drug dependence, special nutrition needs, electroshock and gene therapy effects, robotic implants and prostheses which cannot be removed, and soldiers increasingly fearing the basic act of fighting, man to man, and being "unprepared" for this type of antique combat. Current human US soldiers certainly have 'cognition' of the risks of fighting determined enemies, whenever it is man to man, helping account for the high rate of suicides in the US Army, now running at about 20-per-day:
The risk of high priced Robo Grunts being wiped out en masse by cheaply produced and deployed weapons of mass destruction of course does not figure in the business plans of "bionic warfare" promoters and equipment providers, who argue "we have to keep on playing", but if they do we could find ourselves in big trouble down the road. Among the nightmare scenarios the business plans feel able to include, we find botched enhancements which harm the very soldiers they were meant to help and spawn pricey lawsuits. Tweaked Troopers could also run afoul of international law, potentially sparking diplomatic crises every time the Robo Grunts are deployed overseas and take out "friendly locals". To be sure, exactly like the dirty drone war, bionic troopers could trigger Me Too reaction from enemies, driving a potentially devastating arms race.
Drugged on tech, and anxious to sell tech goodies to fight baddies, promoters of Bionic Warfare borrow from the already successful, officially-clean drone war program of the USA and argue that the genie is already out of the bottle: "the benefits are too irresistible, and the military-industrial complex still has too much industrial momentum,” is one typical comment.
Typical "friendly fire" accidents are also already frequent, and an opportunity area for lawyers in certain cases, sunch as the recurring incidents of US Air Force pilots "responding to inferred ground fire threats', for example flashes on the ground 4 miles below them, and dropping laser-guided bombs 'to clean things up on the ground'. When this concerns US or allied troops in Afghanistan, presently the largest theater for the grim comedy of "enhanced warfare", and when this results in friendly troops suffering unfriendly death and maiming, they can sue the US government. This can be expensive.
Court cases are held outside the public domain and reporting is forbidden but the most usual defense line is that the "human operative" who decided to drop a bomb on his own troops or on allied troops was using drugs, especially the old time discotheque favorite stimulant Dexedrine, that the US Air Force routinely prescribes for pilots flying long missions. Mixed with newer and "more enhancing" drugs this produces what the US Air Force calls “new or worse aggressive behavior or hostility.” In turn this sets a simple question with heavy legal implications over and above any ethical or military effectiveness issues: when "bionic war operatives', pilots or soldiers, make a mistake is this due to the drugs, the technology, or the human beings? Are there now overwhelming legal, ethical, psycho-social or military operational limits on the extent to which a warfighter may be "enhanced"?
We could imagine a future battlefield overflown by amphetamine-fueled pilots, with cyborg commanders running the 'ground ops' and slugging it out, robotically, but confronted by neurological and cognitive disorders due to the chemical, bionic, electronic and other shock treatment that their troops received to provide them "otherwise impossible levels of tactical cunning". To be absolutely certain nobody would be churlish enough to use a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon, or weapons, to clear away the rats and vermin from the vidgame playingfield, quicktime! Nobody would do a nasty thing like that!
Exactly like that World War 2 invention, the atom bomb, deadly organophosphate insecticides like TEPP originated as nerve gases developed by Nazi Germany during World War 2. To be sure the insecticide is a lot less effective than its nerve gas-only military equivalent Sarin, which has a lethal dose of about 12 milligrams for an average-size soldier, but TEPP is above all in large-scale worldwide industrial production. There is no shortage. Even Khadafi was almost able to produce it, proving that any grunt, only slightly more "enhanced' than Khadafi can produce it.
With supreme irony, so-called "bionic" warfare technology draws heavily on biomedical research, with a dose of robotics thrown in. Despite the dirty drone war - which is a success for American war planners because it enables Americans to kill other people with no short term risk of retribution - the stated goal of Robo Grunt supplier company business plans is to produce " perfect future warfighters". These are ground troops, and by definition are vulnerable to any scale or type of ground combat weapon and of course aerial attack of any kind, from drones and planes, to missiles.
To be sure, liberal scribblers wring their hands in anguish about proliferation threats and urge that human soldier "enhancements" should be regulated by international law, or possibly banned outright. Typical questions are: If an implant malfunctions or a drug causes unexpected side effects, who is responsible? If returning demobilized "cyborg fighters' go lobo and take out consumer cyborgs in a supermarket, or kill cyborg consumers in a film theatre watching robo film products like "Avatar", are we confronted with an "unethical result" of military progress?
As we know, the laws of armed conflict like the Geneva Convention, and weapons limiting attempts like the NPT (nuclear nonproliferation treaty) are joined by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, but their reach is very weak. For military deciders, over and above the clouded question of the "legitimate military purpose" of bionic enhancement, the simple question of is it necessary is however not possible to avoid.
COMIC BOOKS AND SCIENCE FICTION
Most commentators from inside the emerging and amorphous "military enhancement industry" in the US say that the Pentagon should start figuring out a framework for military human enhancement now, because these interested parties claim that "fantastical technologies and capabilities" have now slipped out of the magic bottle and "mutant military power" really is changing the world.
They can, whenever they want, take a look at the meltdown sequence of nuclear reactors at Fukushima and check out the economic damage caused by the Fukushima disaster. Taking the count at a mimimum of 3 reactors "confirmed meltdown" and 1 "probable meltdown" the same economic damage - about $500 billion over 10 years - could be attained by 3 or 4 not very high tech missiles or drones with totally conventional high explosive warheads. The goal of modern war is economic damage - even if the new business class of Robo Grunt weapons suppliers didn't know it. Cost-benefit analysis shows that doing the maximum credible economic damage to your enemy has never been cheaper than today, also explaining why gung-ho traditional international or continental scale warfare is terminated.
In 2012, India became the latest member of the highly-restricted club of nations with full ICBM long-range missile capability - defined as missiles with a range over 5000 kilometres and very high precision guidance capabilities. At the same time, dating from long before 2012 high precision short-range missiles with a capability of 2 - 7 kilometres, either shoulder launched or ground launched, have also proliferated, but club membership is already high and always growing. Almost any of the world's 440 nuclear reactors are "accessible" to attack, from a large range of increasingly sophisticated but ever cheaper ordnance.When or if the nuclear reactors or nuclear waste centres were not available as targets, we have pesticide factories, LNG terminals, oil refineries, power plants and other smaller, but high economic damage potential targets available. In profusion.
This itself explains why international war is now a museum piece - mutual assured destruction would be exactly that - assured. Playing with the idea of setpiece infantry battles, 1914-1918 style but operated by Robo Grunts today is the ultimate in outdated thinking, even if business is business. ***
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
© 2012 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.
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