Foreseeable new means of mass destruction: Inexpensive swarms of drones that independently decide about life or death.
A classic war rages on the ground with tanks, cannons and soldiers in trenches. On the other hand, high-tech hovers over the battlefield: Commercial drones follow the action with cameras. They are used by both parties.
In addition to reconnaissance, they are also used for attacks with attached improvised explosive devices. And the drones are also used for propaganda. Because the video recordings from a bird’s eye view are ideal for documenting your own successes on the battlefield.
Live images from the impact
However, the live images from the front are also very helpful for the soldiers in the rear, in order to adjust the artillery pieces correctly over many kilometers. “As far as is known, the Ukrainians now have a sophisticated system that they use to forward drone footage directly to artillery positions,” says Michel Wyss, who researches modern warfare at the Military Academy of ETH Zurich.
The commercial drones have other advantages: They are mass-produced, are relatively cheap and easily available at several hundred to several thousand francs. And also easy to use. But that is also its weak point, because if the signal between the person on the remote control and the drone is disrupted, the latter becomes useless.
Autonomous and deadly
That’s why technological development is moving in the direction of autonomous drones, explains Stuart Russell. The professor at the American University of Berkeley researches artificial intelligence and has warned of autonomous weapons for years. “To ensure that the connection is not disrupted, the drone has to find its target without human intervention. This development is unstoppable and is coming very quickly,” says Russell.
The first companies have already announced that they will produce exactly such autonomous drones – even if little is known about the technical capabilities and features. So far there is no evidence that such drones are already being used in Ukraine.
Drone defense must follow suit
Nevertheless, the problem with autonomous drones will come sooner or later: “As soon as the drones head for their destinations autonomously, they could be produced in huge numbers. That would literally create a weapon of mass destruction,” says Russell.
Michel Wyss from ETH Zurich also assumes that the development of autonomous drones is only a matter of time. At the same time, however, drone defense will also make progress – like air defense once did as an answer to combat aircraft.
With autonomous drones and their defense, the next phase in the technological advancement of war is already emerging.