Droning out the MADness

Droning out the MADness

The ability for a state to wage war is directly tied to the technology it is able to deploy. An army that has mechanized transport can move reinforcements and supplies at greater volume and steadier pace than an army that depends on horses and mules; a navy that has aircraft carriers can conduct airstrikes on targets that would not be otherwise reachable; an air force that has radar will have a sizable advantage over one that does not. If a state wants to ensure it can protect its interests and its people, the state must ensure it is up-to-date with technology.

Up to this point, thermonuclear weapons are considered the pinnacle of technological supremacy in warfare. Magnitudes more powerful than the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II, thermonuclear weapons have the capacity to exterminate life on earth. It is this precise capacity which has made their use unthinkable - the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented open war between nuclear powers. This self-interest has resulted in a relatively peaceful world.

But this self-interest requires the ability to bluff the other side that they would be obliterated if they were to use nuclear weapons against you. As such, enough nukes must be ready to launch so a retaliatory strike would have the ability to destroy the aggressor, even if the aggressor were able to knock out a large percentage of your nuclear capacity. The United States maintains this bluff with the Nuclear Triad - a strategic combination of land-based nuclear missiles, submarine-launched nuclear missiles and airplane-deployed nuclear bombs. Even if the hundreds of missile silos in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas were destroyed in the first strike, the constantly patrolling planes and submarines would be able to strike back.

All this is predicated on the idea that nuclear weapons cannot be reliably intercepted. Even if a kill vehicle were able to intercept a missile, it would be one out of thousands. And if even one missile got through, millions would die. American attempts to develop a reliable counter to nuclear weapons have been sharpened by Arabian use of Patriot missiles, but still have not met the efficiency required to avoid Mutually Assured Destruction, and as such we still live in a world kept in balance by the threat of the apocalypse.

And yet, technological progress has not stopped. The development of drone vehicles for military purposes has been met with relative success - the usage of drones by the American military has widely expanded since the Predator's introduction in 1995. And it is not only America that utilizes drones - ISIS included footage of drones dropping grenades in their propaganda, showing that drones are not limited to sophisticated militaries. Drones in warfare will become more widespread, and this will have gargantuan effects on the geopolitical stage.

The foremost effect of drones is that they can be used in higher-risk situations than a manned flight. Drones are expendable because they are relatively cheap, and as the process of manufacturing these drones becomes streamlined with further research and development, the cost will likely decrease further. As drones multiply in number, the need to track and shoot down these drones increases. The standard has so far been using portable missiles such as the Stinger, but it may become cheaper to use one drone to collide and detonate another drone.This expands to the concept of a drone swarm - if one drone may take down a target, multiple drones will certainly take down a target. The need to track and target both an incoming drone and intercepting drone will accelerate the development of software able to do so.

Aircraft carriers make this an urgent necessity for the United States. Carriers are the backbone of American global power projection - the ability to perform military action anywhere that is needed. Carriers have surrounding them a screening force of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and minesweepers to make sure they are not sunk. While no standing navy in the world can stand against the United States Navy, there are other ways to fight them. Foremost is the usage of anti-ship missiles; attempts to counter these have resulted in the Phalanx CIWS, which is essentially a minigun that puts up a wall of lead. But the effectiveness of the Phalanx is directly related to how many targets it has to intercept when they get in range. The publicly disclosed maximum range of the Phalanx is 3.5 kilometers; the newly developed BrahMos-II missile can cross that range in less than 1.5 seconds. A Phalanx may be able to shoot down one BrahMos, but what about 5? What about 10?

Drones can serve as the necessary supplement for the Phalanx's shortcomings. Having a constantly patrolling shield of drones surrounding a naval task force that can accurately track and intercept multiple incoming missiles will become a necessity if the United States wishes to maintain global power projection. But this naturally leads to the question of drones being used to intercept nuclear weapons - it is not yet feasible with current technology, but technology does not stay still nowadays. At some point in the future, drones will be able to intercept nuclear weapons - or more accurately, drone technology will advance to a point where military strategists consider them to be an effective counter to nuclear weapons; a protective dome of steel and thunder to preserve the people of America from annihilation. That's a good thing, right?

Perhaps not. Military strategists have been wrong before - World War I had strategists on both sides certain the war would end quickly; the French Army didn't order steel helmets for its soldiers because it was believed the war would be over before the helmets got to the front lines. Thousands died because of this mistake. The German army neglected to provide adequate winter clothing to its soldiers for the Ostfront, leading to inefficiency in combat due to freezing to death. Strategists that believe they have a way to end Mutually Assured Destruction with drone defense may in fact be ensuring it - false confidence has led to countless defeats. And if a state thinks itself immune from nuclear retaliation, it may be more pliable to using their own nuclear weapons.

The concept of the Great Filter is one that hypothesizes that intelligent life eventually gains the capacity to destroy itself, and inevitably does so. We have had that capacity since the Trinity test in 1945, but have been able to keep that horror in a bottle since the bombing of Nagasaki. It would be the height of irony if we unleashed that power as a result of trying to negate the destruction it would cause.

Regardless if the defense drones are effective at stopping nuclear weapons or not, the development of drone technology inherently makes war more likely; not only because of the end of Mutually Assured Destruction, but because of the decrease in cost and lives lost per combat engagement. A President is more likely to order an airstrike on a target if there is no chance that they have to answer to the grieving family of a deceased serviceman.

Technology moves faster than society, and it is difficult to keep up with the repercussions of new developments. But keep up we must, for if we fall behind, we perish.

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