Machines Might Replace up to a Quarter of Human Troops on the Battlefield by 2030

Machines like drones and robots are already being deployed to enhance capabilities, reduce risks, and improve efficiency of human soldiers. By 2030 a significant portion of tasks currently performed by human troops could be automated, leading to more strategic and less human-intensive operations

By Neeraj Mahajan

Opinion

The landscape of warfare is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Machines such as drones and robots are projected to replace up to a quarter of the human troops in combat roles by 2030.

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Already armies all over the world are competing with each other to develop combat robots to collect intelligence, carry out search and rescue missions, attack the enemy and replace the human soldiers on the battlefield. The biggest advantage of combat robots is that they don’t get tired, feel sleepy, hide or close their eyes due to fear or pain and can perform their duty 24x7x365 days a year.

Another advantage of the robotic soldiers is that they can be programmed to operate on their own and even recharge their own batteries while operating behind enemy lines—without fear or emotions blurring their judgment.

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According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute covering  800 occupations in some 46 countries up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and will be replaced by robots. This shift towards automation is not only reshaping military strategies but also raising important ethical, legal, and technical issues.

The Rise of Autonomous Warfare

The concept of autonomous warfare, where machines play a significant role in combat, has evolved significantly over the past few decades.

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Each human soldier in Afghanistan costs the Pentagon roughly $850,000 per year or even more. In contrast, TALON—a small robot that can be outfitted with weapons, costs $230,000. According to the US Army Training and Doctrine Command support robots could help reduce the size of a brigade from four thousand to three thousand soldiers–  without compromising on efficiency and effectiveness.

No wonder the use of drones and robots in military operations has expanded from simple surveillance tasks to complex missions involving direct combat and logistical support.

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Today, armies all over the world are competing with each other to develop combat robots to collect intelligence, carry out search and rescue missions, attack the enemy and replace the human soldiers on the battlefield. The biggest advantage of combat robots is that they don’t get tired, feel sleepy, hide or close their eyes due to fear or pain and can perform their duty 24x7x365 days a year

Drones: Eyes in the Sky

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become a staple in modern military arsenals. Initially deployed for reconnaissance and surveillance, their roles have expanded to include precision strikes, electronic warfare, and even autonomous swarm attacks. The advantages of drones are manifold:

  • Risk Reduction: By operating remotely, drones eliminate the risk to human pilots, making them ideal for missions in hostile or inaccessible environments.
  • Endurance and Efficiency: Drones can stay airborne for extended periods, providing continuous surveillance and rapid response capabilities.
  • Precision and Flexibility: Equipped with advanced sensors and guided munitions, drones can conduct pinpoint strikes with minimal collateral damage.

As technology advances, drones are becoming more autonomous, capable of executing complex missions with minimal human intervention. Autonomous drones can make real-time decisions based on AI algorithms, enhancing their effectiveness in dynamic combat scenarios.

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Ground Robots: Boots on the Ground

Robots are increasingly being deployed on the ground to perform a variety of tasks traditionally handled by human soldiers. These tasks range from bomb disposal and reconnaissance to direct combat and logistics. Ground robots offer several key advantages:

  • Hazardous Environment Operations: Robots can operate in environments that are too dangerous for humans, such as areas with chemical, biological, or radiological threats.
  • Operational Efficiency: Robots can perform repetitive and physically demanding tasks without fatigue, improving overall operational efficiency.
  • Force Multiplication: By augmenting human soldiers with robotic counterparts, militaries can enhance their combat capabilities and maintain a technological edge.

Robotic platforms are being developed to be more resilient and adaptable, capable of navigating complex terrains and performing a variety of mission-critical tasks. The integration of AI further enhances their decision-making capabilities, allowing for greater autonomy and flexibility in the field.

The Impact on Military Operations

The integration of drones and robots into military operations has the potential to revolutionise warfare. By replacing up to a quarter of human troops with machines, militaries can achieve several strategic advantages:

Reduced Casualties

One of the most significant benefits of deploying drones and robots is the reduction in human casualties. Machines can be sent into high-risk areas, reducing the exposure of human soldiers to danger. This not only preserves human life but also has a positive impact on morale and public perception of military operations.

Enhanced Operational Efficiency

Machines can operate continuously without the need for rest, food, or medical care. This continuous operational capability allows for sustained missions and rapid response times. Robots and drones can also perform tasks with a level of precision and efficiency that surpasses human capabilities, particularly in repetitive or hazardous scenarios.

Superior Situational Awareness

Equipped with advanced sensors and communication systems, drones and robots can provide real-time situational awareness to commanders. This enhanced intelligence capability allows for better decision-making and more effective coordination of military assets. AI algorithms can process vast amounts of data, identifying threats and opportunities that may be missed by human operators.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

The rise of autonomous warfare raises important ethical and legal questions that must be addressed to ensure the responsible use of these technologies.

Accountability and Decision-Making

One of the primary ethical concerns is the issue of accountability. In traditional warfare, human soldiers are responsible for their actions, and accountability can be traced back to individual decision-makers. However, in autonomous warfare, machines make decisions based on pre-programmed algorithms and real-time data. Determining accountability in cases of unintended harm or collateral damage becomes complex. Ensuring that autonomous systems adhere to international humanitarian laws and ethical standards is crucial.

Rules of Engagement

The deployment of autonomous systems also necessitates the development of new rules of engagement. These rules must define the conditions under which machines can use lethal force and the level of human oversight required. Clear guidelines are essential to prevent the misuse of autonomous systems and to ensure that their deployment aligns with ethical and legal norms.

Human-Machine Collaboration

While machines can enhance military capabilities, the human element remains crucial in warfare. Effective human-machine collaboration is essential to leverage the strengths of both. Training and protocols must be developed to ensure that human operators can effectively manage and coordinate with autonomous systems. This collaboration also involves designing interfaces that allow humans to maintain control and oversight over machine actions.

Machines can operate continuously without the need for rest, food, or medical care. This continuous operational capability allows for sustained missions and rapid response times. Robots and drones can also perform tasks with a level of precision and efficiency that surpasses human capabilities, particularly in repetitive or hazardous scenarios

Technical Challenges

Despite the potential benefits, several technical challenges must be addressed to fully realise the integration of drones and robots into military operations.

AI and Decision-Making

The effectiveness of autonomous systems relies heavily on the capabilities of artificial intelligence. Developing AI algorithms that can make reliable and ethical decisions in complex and unpredictable combat scenarios is a significant challenge. AI must be able to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, adhere to rules of engagement, and respond to rapidly changing situations.

Communication and Cybersecurity

Autonomous systems rely on robust communication networks to operate effectively. Ensuring reliable communication in contested environments, where jamming and cyber-attacks are prevalent, is critical. Additionally, the increasing reliance on technology makes these systems vulnerable to hacking and cyber threats. Robust cybersecurity measures must be implemented to protect against these risks and ensure the integrity of autonomous operations.

Integration and Interoperability

Integrating autonomous systems into existing military structures and ensuring interoperability with human troops and other military assets is another significant challenge. Autonomous systems must be able to operate seamlessly alongside human soldiers, sharing information and coordinating actions effectively. This requires the development of standardised protocols and interfaces that facilitate smooth integration.

The Future of Warfare

As we look towards the future, the role of drones and robots in military operations is set to expand. Several trends and developments are likely to shape this evolution:

Autonomous Swarms

One of the most promising developments is the concept of autonomous swarms, where multiple drones or robots operate in a coordinated manner to achieve a common objective. Swarms can provide enhanced coverage, redundancy, and resilience, making them highly effective in various combat scenarios. Research is ongoing to develop algorithms that enable autonomous swarming and coordination.

Advanced AI and Machine Learning

Advancements in AI and machine learning will continue to enhance the capabilities of autonomous systems. AI algorithms will become more sophisticated, enabling better decision-making and adaptation to dynamic environments. Machine learning techniques will allow autonomous systems to learn from experience, improving their performance over time.

Human Augmentation

While autonomous systems will play a significant role, human soldiers will remain an essential component of military operations. The future will likely see greater integration of human augmentation technologies, such as exoskeletons and brain-machine interfaces, enhancing the capabilities of human soldiers and enabling more effective human-machine collaboration.

Conclusion

The integration of drones and robots into military operations represents a transformative shift in the nature of warfare. By 2030, it is projected that these machines could replace up to a quarter of human troops in combat roles, offering significant advantages in terms of reduced casualties, enhanced operational efficiency, and superior situational awareness. However, the rise of autonomous warfare also raises important ethical, legal, and technical challenges that must be addressed to ensure the responsible use of these technologies. As we move forward, careful consideration and strategic planning will be essential to harness the potential of drones and robots while mitigating the associated risks and challenges.

–The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda