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Hilal English

Algorithms: The Silent Architects of Warfare

January 2024

The era of military dominance is shifting away from mere personnel strength, the quality and quantity of military equipment, the size of the defense budget, logistical capabilities, or nuclear prowess. As nations strive for supremacy, the race is now defined by the prowess of these digital architects, ushering in an era where the mastery of algorithms becomes the cornerstone of military dominance.



Welcome to the era of algorithmic warfare. Military domination in the new era will not be defined by personnel strength. The quality or quantity of military equipment will not define military domination in the new era. The size of the defense budget will not define military domination in the new era. In the new era, military domination will not be defined by logistical capabilities. In the new era, military domination will not be defined by nuclear prowess. In the annals of military history, a new chapter is being written—one that is not defined by soldiers on the front lines; one that is not defined by traditional battlefields.
What are algorithms? Algorithms are step-by-step procedures or rules designed to solve problems or perform specific tasks. Algorithms are precise sequences of instructions a computer follows to execute a particular job or process. In high-stress war scenarios, algorithms collect data efficiently, analyze a situation, and make the best decision in a critical situation. Algorithms also neutralize human prejudices that may come with purely human input.
In the new era, military domination will be defined by lines of codes silently executing commands in a digital realm. In the new era, military domination will be defined by the ‘performance of military algorithms.’ Algorithms taking over command and control. Algorithms taking over strategy. Algorithms taking over tactics. Algorithms taking over data analysis. Algorithms taking over intelligence. Algorithms taking over logistics. Algorithms taking over supply chain management. Algorithms taking over simulation. Algorithms taking over training. Algorithms taking over predictive analysis. Algorithms taking over cybersecurity. Algorithms taking over communication. Algorithms taking over targeting. And algorithms taking over precision strikes.


Algorithmic warfare will redefine the concept of a global superpower. The nation or entity wielding the most advanced and effective algorithms will emerge as the preeminent superpower, marking a shift in the geopolitical landscape.


Here’s a partial list of countries that have established algorithm-based robotic units within their armed forces: The United States, China, Russia, Israel, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkiye, India, Iran, Japan, North Korea, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Spain, Estonia, and Singapore.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are using Palantir’s algorithms as the brains of their targeting systems to target Russian positions and counter Moscow’s firepower advantage. Ukrainian company devDroid has developed an algorithmic-driven robotic gun that uses cameras to detect potential threats in the field, and algorithms decide which targets are enemies.
In warfare, speed is always a decisive factor. While Russia has a numerical superiority in artillery over Ukraine, the latter strategically leverages algorithms to cultivate speed and precision. Ukrainian soldiers use algorithmic-based mobile units to let their commanders know what the enemy is doing before they know what they are doing. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, provides a digital lifeline to AFU to communicate on the battlefield.
The Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) is dominating air from 10,000 feet down, deploying small drones. Dragonfly provides the UAF with custom-made drones for mapping, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, landmine detection, search-and-rescue, and other unspecified military tasks. The Ukrainian Ground Forces employ algorithms to "geolocate and analyze open-source data, including social media content, to identify Russian soldiers, weapons, systems, units, and their movements."
One of the most promising advancements of algorithms in military applications is using swarms of drones, as swarms are much more effective than a single drone. When a single drone receives vital information, it communicates the same to other drones in the swarm. Other algorithm-assisted systems include AI (artificial intelligence)-integrated command and control, swarm robotics, autonomous tanks and ground vehicles, cyber weapons, autonomous missile systems, AI-enhanced surveillance systems, unmanned underwater vehicles, automated sentry guns, robotic soldiers, and algorithm-enhanced electronic warfare systems.
Numerous conventional warfare tactics have developed their distinct logic in the past century. However, algorithms are introducing unprecedented solutions that were previously unexplored. Commander Millind Kulshrestha of the Indian Navy has designed, developed, and successfully implemented the inaugural algorithm-assisted Naval Combat Management System.


In warfare, speed is always a decisive factor. While Russia has a numerical superiority in artillery over Ukraine, the latter strategically leverages algorithms to cultivate speed and precision. Ukrainian soldiers use algorithmic-based mobile units to let their commanders know what the enemy is doing before they know what they are doing.


Russia has deployed algorithm-assisted robots to terrorize Ukrainian civilians and disable critical infrastructure. Russia has also deployed algorithm-based propaganda and disinformation digital infrastructure.
Israel has tested and deployed algorithm-based remote-control guns on Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank. The guns used algorithms to track targets and then fire tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets at protesting Palestinians.
Iran’s Shahed Drones have been trailing USS Dwight Eisenhower, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Shahed Aviation Industries also manufactures Shahed 136 loitering munition as an autonomous, kamikaze, pusher-prop drone that can be launched in a drone-swarming format. Russia has augmented Shahed's suicidal, one-way attack on uncrewed aerial vehicles with lethal weapons.


Algorithms are precise sequences of instructions a computer follows to execute a particular job or process. In high-stress war scenarios, algorithms collect data efficiently, analyze a situation, and make the best decision in a critical situation. Algorithms also neutralize human prejudices that may come with purely human input.


There is a diverse range of off-the-battlefield algorithmic applications, including predictive maintenance (in contrast to preventive maintenance), logistics optimization, intelligence, surveillance, cybersecurity operations, soldier safety, simulations, training, and the necessity for live exercises.
Who has the most potent algorithms? Algorithmic warfare will redefine the concept of a global superpower. The nation or entity wielding the most advanced and effective algorithms will emerge as the preeminent superpower, marking a shift in the geopolitical landscape.
Amidst the tumult and uncertainty of battle, no one wants to be left behind. China aims to assume a leadership role by 2030. What is unfolding before us is not just a traditional contest of weaponry but a paradigm shift, where the architects of warfare are no longer flesh and blood but silent algorithms working behind the scenes.
The era of military dominance is shifting away from mere personnel strength, the quality and quantity of military equipment, the size of the defense budget, logistical capabilities, or nuclear prowess. As nations strive for supremacy, the race is now defined by the prowess of these digital architects, ushering in an era where the mastery of algorithms becomes the cornerstone of military dominance.


The writer is an eminent analyst who regularly contributes for national and international print and electronic media. 
Twitter: @SaleemFarrukh
 

 

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