What current technologies have prevented wars?

The new high-tech wars?

There is currently a bitter debate in the political parties and in the media about the question of whether the Bundeswehr should get combat-ready drones. However, drones are by no means the only “innovation” in the field of military technology: Military planners are already debating the need to use weapons to resolve conflicts in space and cyberspace. The mostly technological debates hide the political struggle for urgently needed preventive conflict resolution skills in a fatal way. It is always emphasized that the use of military means can only be the “last resort”. Investing in military-technical solutions, however, always requires far more financial resources than the search for preventive diplomacy and early action. The consequence is obvious: if there is a conflict, the (mostly military) instruments that are available and tried and tested are used.

Technological innovations have strongly influenced warfare over the centuries. The examples of this are Legion: They range from the introduction of the stirrup to that of gunpowder and nuclear weapons. The invention of the longbow, the tank and the missile made drastic changes in warfare possible. Especially in the 20th century, scientific and technical developments led in rapid succession to new doctrines, armed forces structures and unfortunately also arms. The tank, the submarine and the fighter aircraft were used for the first time in World War I and had a lasting influence on the war. What was decisive, however, was the industrially planned use of machine guns, artillery and handguns.

During the Second World War, the further development of tanks, submarines and airplanes led to new possibilities for the offensive, but ultimately the use of radar and cryptography was decisive for the war. The Cold War gave birth to the ICBM, armed with nuclear weapons, and established the paradoxical strategy of nuclear deterrence. The US tried to compensate for the numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact in the conventional armed forces in the 1980s with its military-technical superiority and the stationing of nuclear weapons in Europe. With the end of the East-West conflict in 1989/90, the USA finally lost its main enemy, the Soviet Union, and an extension of classic military structures became obsolete. Since then, the USA has been massively promoting the integration of high technology.

The digitization of warfare

The current world order continues to be significantly influenced by the existence of nuclear powers and the risk of further proliferation. Although the end of the Cold War reduced the immediate nuclear danger for Germany, this debate has not ended to this day. At the same time, the introduction of new weapons technologies after the end of the East-West conflict and the experience of foreign missions in association with alliance partners under a UN mandate represent significant new challenges in the 21st century.

Today it is especially the advances in the field of information and communication technologies that lead to new strategies and operational patterns.2 Developed and sold mainly in the industrial and private sector, they lead to enormous improvements in the performance of weapon systems (“force multiplier effect”). The speed of computer processors has increased tremendously. The transmission and analysis possibilities of large amounts of data ("Big Data") have achieved a new quality and allow new applications. What every computer user who works with the Internet, smartphone or navigation system experiences every day has long been integrated into the armed forces, weapons and warfare of modern armies. New multispectral sensors, paired with improved computing and storage performance, fast data transmission and networking as well as refined navigation are just a few areas whose applications have found their way into new weapon systems such as unmanned missiles.

In the course of the digital revolution, the mass armies of the 20th century are increasingly being replaced by high-tech armies in which enormous technical aids are available to individual soldiers. The integration of the new technology spectrum into the modern armed forces leads to new military capabilities that have produced a whole spectrum of military technologies: (a) precisely controllable, unmanned missiles that have powerful reconnaissance sensors, but will also be able to carry more precision weapons in the future, (b ) Precision and ranged weapons with different ranges, (c) new weapon effects (cluster or aerosol bombs) and principles (lasers, microwaves), (d) missile defense and (e) powerful surveillance systems of different ranges and capacities.

The use of space for communication, navigation and reconnaissance is a fundamental requirement for global armed forces. The networking of various systems, from effective reconnaissance by day and night to precise target allocation, is the next step that experts in the USA in particular are promoting in order to dispel Clausewitz's “fog of war”. The model here is the dream of General Westmoreland, which he articulated during the Vietnam War in 1969: "On the battlefield of the future, enemy forces will be localized, pursued and targeted almost immediately through the use of data links, computer-aided evaluation of the reconnaissance and automatic fire control." This "net-centric warfare" - that is, the networking of a wide variety of weapon systems for reconnaissance, target assignment up to combat and damage assessment - has been established since the Iraq invasion in 2003 at the latest. However, many of these technologies are still immature, despite impressive promotional videos.

In view of technical progress, US experts have been talking about a "Revolution in Military Affairs" for years, which gives the impression of increasingly "automated warfare". [1] Other western armed forces promptly adopt elements of this propagated new type of warfare. [2] The dynamism in the high-tech area released in this way ensures continued procurement, new demands on soldiers and rising costs for many weapon systems, but also for a further arms race and massive proliferation of military technology.

Seen globally, there remains an important difference between high-tech weapons, which only industrially advanced countries can afford, and low-tech weapons, which are easy to handle for many conflict actors and which are used through export or illegal proliferation. The latter are usually so-called Small arms and light weapons (SALW) such as rifles, grenade launchers, etc. They do not need to be integrated into networks, are easy to manufacture and easy to use without training. Both in production and in handling, high-tech weapons are integrated into an electronic environment, the infrastructure of which must first be set up and maintained. This requires both an industrial base and extensive military research, development and testing. A high-tech soldier can "face" a simple fighter in an unfamiliar environment without taking advantage of his modern equipment.

A key factor that makes high-tech armaments possible is the persistently high level of military spending. According to SIPRI, worldwide military expenditures in 2013 were 1,747 billion US dollars. [3] While military spending in the US fell by 7.8 percent after years of overarming, it rose by 7.4 percent in China and 4.8 percent in Russia. These three countries account for over 50 percent of world military spending. Meanwhile, military spending is falling in the western countries, while it is increasing in the BRICS countries, in Saudi Arabia (14 percent), in Ukraine (16 percent), as well as in Africa (8 percent) and Asia (3.6 percent). Decisive for the increase in armaments spending are, among other things, the transformation of the armed forces and the acquisition of new, expensive weapon systems - also and especially after the end of the East-West conflict - as well as the regional arms dynamics.

The US accounts for the highest spending on military research and development (R&D) at around $ 80 billion annually. Further US expenditures flow into central projects, such as 10 billion in missile defense alone. Despite the budget cuts imposed by Congress, spending on R&D by the armed forces alone is still around 50 billion dollars. Four billion dollars alone flow into US universities each year and produce new high-tech products. [4] Ever since President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex more than 50 years ago, the US strategy has been to outperform any other competitor in all essential areas of military-technical progress. The latest armaments surge is the development of unmanned robots, flight systems and the increasing automation of the battlefield. [5]

Unmanned Delivery Systems: The New War of the Drones

Air warfare "from a distance" has changed dramatically. Since the second Gulf War in 1991, the USA has been using tomahawk "cruise missiles" more and more frequently - almost 1,000 of them during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. These can measure their so-called high value targets - "high-quality goals", in other words: people and material - meet.

But other countries - such as China, India and Pakistan - are developing these unmanned cruise missiles independently, which are difficult to detect due to their flight that is adapted to the landscape. It is estimated that there are 75 different types of cruise missiles today (80,000 worldwide), 90 percent of which, however, are used to combat ships. The trend is towards greater range and accuracy.

Cruise missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction can become a central threat to states. After their massive deployment in Iraq in 2003, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAV), i.e. remotely controlled re-deployable flight systems or drones for short, are on the procurement lists of many countries. A broad spectrum is already available to modern armed forces: from low-flying reconnaissance drones with different propulsion systems to high-flying surveillance aircraft; for a wide variety of missions, such as optical and electronic surveillance. While US UAVs still completed 35,000 flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, in 2008 it was already 800,000 hours.

50 countries now have reconnaissance drones, but most of them own the US armed forces. The United States has around 6,000 screen-controlled UAVs. The range of types used is very large: it ranges from small, inexpensive systems for observation "beyond the horizon" (Raven), which soldiers can launch by hand, to large, expensive unmanned reconnaissance aircraft that can stay in the air for days (Global Hawk).

However, the technological development of drones is only at the beginning. For example, new research is focused on equipping with artificial intelligence and pattern recognition. New designs with stealth technology, swarm behavior and new sensors are already being planned. However, numerous fundamental problems - such as the information overload of the operators or the susceptibility of the systems to failure - are far from being solved. For example, drones can crash if they lose contact with the surgeon.

On the way to the push button war

Increasingly, UAVs are also being converted for combat missions. A completely new military threat arises here, because drones are relatively small, quiet and, in principle, have long periods of use. The drone war in the border area of ​​Pakistan and Afghanistan sets the precedent for this: It is a remote-controlled conflict in which the CIA in particular "eliminates" opponents from the air. The operators are sitting 13,000 km away and are waging a push button war on video screens. The missions are highly controversial under international law and mostly politically extremely counterproductive. Because especially if civilians are killed, regionally this can lead to a new mobilization effect for more terrorists.

According to estimates by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan, the CIA carried out 370 drone strikes in armed drone strikes as part of the "war on terrorism" between 2004 and 2013, in which between 2548 and 3549 people are said to have died, including between 411 and 890 Civilians. During the same period, it carried out around 46 to 56 drone attacks in Yemen (estimated between 240 and 349 people killed, including 14 to 49 civilians), and between three and nine attacks in Somalia (seven to 27 people killed, including up to 15 civilians) . [6]

The USA is only the spearhead of this development: Other countries are also investing in UAVs and it is foreseeable that these will also be used for combat missions or terrorist attacks. Iran claims to have developed a new drone that is said to be able to travel around 1900 km at a time. Hezbollah itself used drones over Israel. And it is foreseeable that more states will get armed drones. Only the USA, Great Britain and Israel are still in possession of combat drones, but armed UAVs are also being developed in China, Turkey, the UAE and South Africa. Great Britain and France are particularly active in Europe. In this respect, the German debate and the ongoing criticism of the development and introduction of armed drones is also an expression of global unease about the fact that global development is increasingly tending towards fully autonomous weapon systems that can independently "judge" over life and death or kill people indiscriminately . [7]

“Prompt Global Strike” and the war of the robots

The problem of long preparation times for global weapons deployments is to be solved by another US high-tech program: Prompt Global Strike. The aim is to be able to destroy almost any target on the globe within minutes to a few hours using conventionally equipped carrier systems and precision weapons. Different weapon carriers such as conventional ICBMs, hypersonic or reusable missiles that also operate in space are being planned or tested here. The idea of ​​attacking targets from the air at the push of a button is continued here. Air warfare "from a distance" is being refined and classic military front lines seem to be dissolving. Warlike attacks could be carried out faster than ever and come surprisingly from every direction. The US is doing research and development in this area, but other countries may follow suit.

However, unmanned systems are also increasingly used on the ground and in water. Robots with different drive technologies are developed for various tasks. In the Afghan war, the military robot PackBot used to defuse bombs. BigDog is a metal four-legged friend that can transport equipment, and MAARS15 is equipped with a machine gun and grenade launcher and can “keep watch” or be used as a marksman. Robots have considerable combative “advantages”: They know no emotions such as panic or pain, but they also have no critical judgment that prevents them from being deployed.

The development of small missiles, Micro-Air Vehicles (MAV), no larger than ten centimeters, is being pushed. There are no limits to innovative concepts, especially since the US military has enough money for such research and can always argue that these new systems protect the lives of their own soldiers. Research in the field of nanotechnology promises even smaller systems in the future. [8]

After initial skepticism in the military, the use of robots has increased dramatically since the Iraq war in 2003: while 150 unmanned systems (EMS) were still on site in 2004, there were 2400 a year later, and today the US Army has more than 12,000 systems. The US Navy has also expressed interest in unmanned underwater vehicles and motor boats. The development will therefore certainly continue in the next few years. In some cases it is already postulated that in the wars of the future the soldiers will be largely replaced by robots. However, due to the increasing automation of war, people are in danger of losing their ability to make responsible decisions. With automation through EMS, many political, legal and ethical questions are exacerbated.Who makes the decision about life and death on what basis? How can compliance with the rules of engagement and international law be checked? Aren't wars more likely when apparently “only” robots wage war? Do these developments trigger new technical arms races? And last but not least: Can and should a robot kill opponents on its own during war? All of these are unresolved ethical and moral questions.

In addition, known (and as yet unknown, but already created) deficits of modern technology must be taken into account: Program errors can quickly lead to accidents and pose high risks. A military solution that fails in an emergency can also lead to an "illusion of security" . It should also be borne in mind that potential opponents will react to this new technical superiority, at the latest during war, if not already in peacetime. The list of countermeasures to mislead high-tech armed forces is getting longer and longer: jammers, inflatable tank dummies or thermal sources to fool heat-seeking sensors are already being used with success. Developments for the electronic and physical protection of armed forces are also being promoted. New armor and bullet-proof or splinter-proof materials are being developed for soldiers. Soldiers are therefore often well protected - but not the civilian population, whose casualty rate is increasing in today's conflicts.

Anyone who does not want to (or cannot) react symmetrically to the new high-tech weapons will resort to asymmetrical answers. These include the increased interest of some states in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. Against this threat, the missile defense is supposed to protect. However, this technology cannot be regarded as fully developed to this day, especially since there are many other ways of targeting weapons of mass destruction with poor accuracy or of deceiving the defense with countermeasures. In this respect, any protection against nuclear weapons is an illusion - and itself contributes to the armament spiral.

Some military planners foresee that in addition to land, air and sea warfare, conflicts in space and cyberspace will also be fought with weapons in the future. Both are "community-free areas" that can be used by many states and individuals and in which their own physical laws apply. Not all states and citizens have the same access to space and cyberspace, although many societies are dependent on these “strategic spaces”. The use for communication, navigation and earth observation from near-earth space is essential for the globalized world of states today. Regulation and control of these domains therefore present new challenges. Also in the context of the proclaimed Revolution in Military Affairs Global armed forces depend on space-based infrastructures for communication and reconnaissance. Space technology is a dual-use technology, which means that it can be used for both military and civil purposes. Space has been used militarily by the superpowers since the beginning of the space age and their competition in space continues to this day. [9] Only rocket technology enables the necessary access to space. At least ten countries can currently permanently transport payloads into orbit: USA, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Ukraine, India, Israel, Iran and North Korea. Other countries such as Brazil, Iran or South or North Korea are currently trying to set up their own missile programs.

Iran and North Korea have already succeeded in transporting small satellites into orbit. More and more states are also interested in the military use of space. Most of the military satellites are now operated by the US, which also accounts for nearly 95 percent of "space military spending". Today, world-wide use of weapons can only be carried out “progressively” using space, be it through optical reconnaissance or space-based GPS navigation. The satellites commonly used today, however, (so far) only have passive applications, that is, there are no “weapons” on board. However, the voices of those who call for active space armament for the purpose of controlling space are getting louder and louder, and this taboo could soon fall. A clear warning sign is that both China (2007) and the USA (2008) have already shot down their own satellites that are no longer needed for testing purposes.

Several technical possibilities for the destruction of the vulnerable satellites are currently being researched: Earth-based laser weapons, mini-satellites or missile defense. No serious international effort is being made to fill the loopholes in the 1967 Space Treaty and generally forbid the destruction of satellites in space. The effects are considerable: the destruction creates large amounts of debris, which in turn threaten other satellites as well as the International Space Station. There is also the problem of space junk, which is already a threat to the functionality of space-based infrastructures. A verifiable ban on space weapons would therefore benefit all parties - the states as well as the operators and users of satellites. So far there have only been efforts by the European Union to establish an international code of conduct.

War in cyberspace

Next to space is another one Nova Terra, vulgo: "New territory" (Angela Merkel), moved into the center of interest: cyberspace, i.e. the Internet, global communication networks and the digital services associated with them. The coordinated cyberattacks on Estonia in 2007 and during the war in Georgia in 2008 heighten fears that cyberspace could become the battlefield of the future. The discovery of the Stuxnet worm, which can manipulate and thus destroy industrial controls, makes it clear that states obviously also have offensive, electronic measures in place to attack the data systems of potential opponents. The consequences are considerable: “Information infrastructures are one of the critical infrastructures today, without which private and public life would come to a standstill. Attacks on them can, due to their close interlinking, lead to the destabilization of our state as well, with serious consequences for national security, ”says the Defense Policy Guidelines from 2011. [10] Such attacks also take place against military networks and facilities. As early as September 2010, the Swiss army chief described cyberattacks as the “most dangerous threat at the moment”: “If someone succeeds in paralyzing our communication and electricity networks, then we no longer have to discuss the use of our systems.” [11]

Today there is a serious danger that cyberspace will become increasingly militarized and become a new domain for conflict in the event of a crisis. States are increasingly investing in the establishment of cyber commands and developing strategies to strengthen their "cyber security". [12] Since cyberspace is still a medium that is difficult to describe and can hardly be regulated, completely new questions arise here: What is a cyber attack and what effects can it have? Are there any cyber weapons at all? How can you identify the perpetrators of attacks or set up an effective early warning system?

Internationally, there are hardly any attempts to achieve a functioning arms control in cyberspace. Institutions and norms were insufficiently developed. The debate about global surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and future “Internet governance” make the search for binding regulations even more complicated. [13] One thing is certain, however: the more space and cyberspace become part of our lives, the more they threaten to be drawn into violent conflicts. Preventive arms control in space, but also in cyberspace, is therefore absolutely desirable in order to prevent the militarization or arming of these domains.

The debates about space war and cyber war show: In the globalized world of the 21st century, classic front lines and territorial borders between states are increasingly dissolving. This is also proven by a look at the current war events “on the ground”: According to SIPRI, there were only four interstate wars between 2002 and 2011, whereas in 2011 alone there were 36 active, internal armed conflicts. Rebellions, civil wars and terrorist attacks determine the everyday life of modern armed forces much more than the large, strategically designed military confrontation, as it was prepared (or just prevented) during the Cold War. However, strategies and weapon systems are still too strongly determined by technological advances. They are therefore often incompatible with the realities of the conflict constellation. The consequences are devastating: enormous sums of money are being spent on increasingly complex military technologies, while international instruments for preventive and peaceful conflict resolution are still poorly developed and tested.

The limits of high-tech warfare

So what remains in the end - after almost 25 years of high-tech armaments since the end of the Cold War?

With an army intended for World War III, the USA fought against Iraq in 1991. In particular, the use of precision weapons in the 1991 Gulf War created the image of a “clean and surgical war” in the public eye, even though only six percent of the weapons used were precision-controlled. “Only” 246 Allied soldiers died in the fighting and established the myth of low personal losses. The losses on the Iraqi side were all the greater. US policy has since "perfected" the supposedly new way of waging war. The wars of the past clearly show, however, that military-technical armament is by no means a guarantee of sustainable success.

Technologically superior US forces lost the war in Vietnam or achieved highly dubious results in Iraq (1991 and 2003) and in Serbia (1999). A numerically and technically clearly superior Soviet army was defeated in Afghanistan. During the five-day war in South Ossetia / Georgia in August 2008, 10,000 Russian soldiers with 150 tanks defeated the better-equipped Georgian army. During the “Gaza War” in 2012, the technologically superior Israeli armed forces attacked a non-state actor, Hamas, with more than 800 air raids in order to destroy its infrastructure. However, compared to the political costs involved, they have had limited success.

And even when high technology such as unmanned drones and space reconnaissance are used successfully militarily - as in the first phase of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 - it often becomes clear in the subsequent phase that technology can do little to contribute to the stability and security of a country. The subsequent collapse of public infrastructure and security in Iraq led to riots that claimed thousands of deaths on the Iraqi side in the years that followed. In addition, there was fighting in the cities, in which the US losses increased significantly. Mere technological superiority turns out to be meaningless here. In particular, the low number of US troops and serious mistakes in building new state structures led to a civil war and, increasingly, to an uprising against the American occupiers.

In short: the apparent technological advances during the invasion and the rapid military victory obscured the view of the military and politicians - for the necessities of security precautions and state (re) construction. The approximately 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq were not prepared for this type of operation, poorly equipped and could not fill the security vacuum that had developed. The result was massive attacks and uprisings that brought the battered country back to the brink. The rapid advance of radical Islamic ISIS in particular makes one thing clear: conquering countries with technology seems easy - compared to the challenges of building sustainable security and peace structures.

Nevertheless, modern technologies will play an important role in the wars of the future - especially in the planning, training and deployment of modern armed forces in asymmetrical disputes. The “post-heroic” West will therefore not forego high technology in order to minimize its own losses and to be able to convey armed arms to the public in this way. The US wars in Vietnam and Iraq in particular contain a double warning: The use of modern technology is neither a guarantee for low losses of people and material, nor can it achieve the decisive political goals, namely peace, stability and the rule of law.

This article is based on the author's text for Uwe Hartmann and Claus von Rosen (eds.), Yearbook Innereführung 2014, Berlin 2014 (i.E.)

[2] Jan Helmig and Niklas Schörnig (eds.), The Transformation of the Armed Forces in the 21st Century. Military and political dimensions of the current "Revolution in Military Affairs", Frankfurt a. M. 2008.

[3] Sam Perlo-Freeman and Carina Solmirano, Trends in World Military Expenditures, 2013; SIPRI Fact Sheet 2014.

[7] At a state conference on the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which took place in Geneva in May, the participants discussed concepts for banning future lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS).

[8] See Jürgen Altmann, Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control, Abingdon and New York, 2006.

[9] Götz Neuneck, Cooperation or Rivalry in Space, in: “International Magazine for Security”, 3/2010, pp. 20-22.

[10] Defense policy guidelines of the Federal Ministry of Defense of May 27, 2011, p. 3.

[11] Quoted from Walter J. Unger, Cyber ​​Defense - a national challenge, in: "Sicherheit und Frieden", 1/2014, pp. 8-16, p. 9.

[12] For detailed background information see: Theresa Hitchens, James Lewis and Götz Neuneck (eds.), The Cyber ​​Index. International Security Trends and Realities, United Nations Publications, New York and Geneva, UNIDIR 2013.

[13] See: Götz Neuneck, The Secret Services and the Military: New Threats in Cyberspace, in: Friedensgutachten 2014, Berlin 2014, pp. 237-253.