Friday, June 30, 2017
If we can fly drone strikes – releasing highly-targetable missiles remotely – against ISIS targets thousands of miles away from the “pilot’s” control display, if our smart, submarine-launched, cruise missiles can even pick out their own targets from an internally programmed database, what happens when you add the fairly innocuous notion of a driverless car or truck to the equation? Obviously, the U.S. military is working on combining these elements to create new, fearsome, weapon systems. But in 2015, the Russians unveiled what is the most powerful battle tank on earth.
“The game-changing feature on the T-14 [Armata, pictured above] is its fully automated and unmanned turret, the first tank in operation to ever feature one. It allows the Armata to operate with a well-protected crew of three (as opposed to an M1 Abrams tank's more vulnerable crew of four), and opens up the possibility that it will, one day, be the first fully automated tank.
“‘For the crew, it's like playing a video game, taking some final moves and making decisions,’ the tank's deputy designer explained to the foreign media in 2015.” BBC.com, June 9th. A driverless vehicle is already old news, so the fact that the Armata doesn’t “yet” have this feature is of little consequence. If Uber and Google can implement that technology as a replacement for old-world taxis and personal vehicles, the Russian military has little in the way of technology issues to add this option.
The armament on this bad boy features the world’s most sophisticated tank-mounted cannon – 2A282-1M 125mm smooth bore cannon (for gun mavens) – which is easily upgraded with an even more deadly 2A83 152 mm gun (add the Armata’s capacity to carry anti-aircraft missiles), an array of interactive (Malachit dual-explosive reactive) armor and increased accuracy. But the crew has a lot more than that external protection. Not having to man the turret, the three-man crew sit in a further armored capsule inside the lower part of the tank. Stealth design reduces detectability and further increases its operational effectiveness.
But that automated turret is the most interesting… and scariest… part of the Armata: “The tank uses an integrated, computerized control system which monitors the state and functions of all tank modules. In battle, the software can analyze threats and then either suggest or automatically take actions to eliminate them, while without the external threat it can detect and rectify crew errors.” Wikipedia.
Aside from the staggering cost of implementing these weapon systems, separating the machines of war from the risk of human military casualties absolutely makes declaring war and engaging in military conflicts a whole lot easier. The mounting US military death tolls during the Vietnam War accelerated the end of that combat mission. Take away those losses in extended combat operations, and “staggering costs” plus the waning vestiges of “ethical responsibility” are really the only remaining deterrents to rushing to military over diplomatic solutions. Adding the capacity of operating on the terra firma, literally occupying and holding territory, redefines the notion of “boots on the ground.” The ethics of combat are increasingly terrifying.
When such fearsome technologies are combined with the growing capacity to infect and control computer systems, from military installations to power grids to our entire financial infrastructure, and to manipulate social media – through hacking, detailed disinformation, big-data-generated individual analysis and automated communications targeting personal psychological vulnerabilities – it is obvious that warfare, conquest and political control threaten every aspect of our daily lives. The manipulators have so many ways to deny their malevolent activities. We do it. North Korea does it. China does it. And looking at the masters of political disruption and denial, the Russians clearly do it. We all pretend that we do not. It is a great big lie.
That we engage in that denial, keeping our cyber activities clandestine (wrapped in massive layers of “top secret” stamps), even though everyone know we “do it” only makes the possibility of diffusing these technologies and weaponized social media campaigns through treaty negotiations that much less likely. It’s bad enough that our economic world is rocked with challenges from automation and artificial intelligence, but we now have to face those same forces deployed to topple or at least destabilize Western political systems. It’s time to bring that which we already know out into the open, into the arena of free discussion and at least giving treaty-negotiation a chance to change this terrifying future.
I’m Peter Dekom, and what seems scarier to you… the Armata tank or Terminator robotic soldier above… or the forces being deployed by malevolent foreign operatives with the clear intention of collapsing our entire social-political system from within?