Throughout the vast history of warfare, there have been certain conflicts which have served as key hinge points in the advancement of military science. The foreshortened lens of history beguiles us with the view of wars as static monoliths: two sides slugging it out to a certain conclusion. We see entire years, or even decades, compressed into short highlight reels—whether literal in video form, or the textual equivalent; history books whose chapters gloss over years in a few choice and pithy gestures.
But as can be seen in the current Ukrainian conflict, looking out from the midst of the maelstrom affords a wholly different perspective. Months drag by, troops seem to crawl from one stagnant position to the next, with long interim caesuras of inactivity. Similarly, operational developments on the battlefield are elongated to months or even years.
But most major and lengthy wars, in fact, incur seminal advancements throughout their course, such that the end often bears little resemblance to the beginning—as if they were two separate conflicts bifurcated by an epochal shift, like the turning of an age.
The American Civil War, for instance, began as a conflict in some ways mimicking the staid European-Napoleonic style of warfare. Large processions of troops marching in orderly columns, fusillading each other with muzzle-loading muskets fired from long, even rows.
But as the war dragged on, cruel necessity became the byword by which soldiers plied new ways of staying alive, more efficient tactics for killing the enemy. Not only had the burgeoning industrial revolution greatly impacted the ability to—for the first time in history—maneuver and relocate forces and supplies by rail and steamboat, but inventions like the telegraph transformed the complexity of war communications.
But those were things which already existed, albeit in lesser form. As the conflict wore on, new ways of fighting were being insistently innovated.
For instance, long, cumbersome muskets like the Springfield 1861 model had made it necessary to stand while reloading, as the process of tipping the powder horn into the muzzle, ramming down the shot, was best done with the musket in a stable, upright position.
This naturally articulated itself into the standard tactic of three, rotating rows of men —one row firing, then stepping back to reload while the next steps forward to fire. Reloading on the ground was clunky or nigh impossible, as tipping the powder into the barrel was difficult if the rifle is horizontal, accessing your pouches holding the powder, shot, stuffing, etc., more awkward.
But with the introduction of repeating rifles, which saw increased circulation during the middle period of the war, troops could now lie flat in cover, and fire off salvos of multiple shots without having to reload. This opened a whole new paradigm of warfare, breaking free from the Napoleonic rigidity which previously dominated.
Troops could now be more mobile, fire from crouched positions like snipers. Smaller, nimbler groups became increasingly effective. Additionally, the emergence of rifled barrels (rather than smoothbore) gave a vastly improved accuracy which forced both sides to begin ‘digging in’ and fighting more from covered positions to avoid the progressing lethality of the new ballistic characteristics.
After several years, the war which started as a pastiche of the Napoleonic era suddenly devolved into one often featuring trench warfare.
Artillery science had made great strides during the war as well. Enterprising soldiers soon figured out that they could shoot not just directly at the enemy, but over masked terrain—and the birth of ‘indirect fire’ was realized. By the middle of the war, artillery was being calculated mathematically to score hits on troops beyond ‘visual sight’.
And what’s more, hot-air and hydrogen balloons began to see utilization as modern ‘drones’—eyes in the sky to correct artillery with a series of flags the balloon operator could wave to notify ground forces of the needed fire correction.
Lowe was called out for another demonstration mission that would change the effective use of field artillery. On 24 September 1861, he was directed to position himself at Fort Corcoran, south of Washington, to ascend and overlook the Confederate encampments at Falls Church, Virginia, at a distance further south. A concealed Union artillery battery was remotely located at Camp Advance. Lowe was to give flag signal directions to the artillery, who would fire blindly on Falls Church. Each signal would indicate adjustments to the left, to the right, long or short. Simultaneously reports were telegraphed down to headquarters at the fort. With only a few corrections, the battery was soon landing rounds right on target. This was the precursor to the use of the artillery forward observer (FO).
The Gatling gun, too, was invented during the war, making it one of the first ever conflicts to feature a ‘machine gun’. By the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia in 1864, Gatling guns were being used to strafe enemy ‘trenches’ in a stark foreshadowing of later conflicts. The trenches themselves stretched over 30 miles around Petersburg and Richmond, completely changing the character of the war so that an unknowing observer would not have even taken it for the same war.
Needless to say, by the end of the war, it hardly resembled the opening, and instead looked forward to portend the tactics of the coming 20th century clashes.
The earlier Crimean and later Franco-Prussian wars, too, were known to see important advancements that changed the face of conflict. Although in the case of the latter war, it didn’t last long enough to experience a truly epochal shift.
For that, we need to turn to the First World War, a conflict which famously featured entire generational advancements in almost every category of warfare—though, admittedly, some of which regressed backwards. The advent of flight had just birthed the silver age of aviation. But the first planes were crude and primitive concoctions whose respective nations, in the early stages of 1914, scarcely even knew how to utilize this unforeseen tool.
The first planes, in fact, were used for reconnaissance purposes, and that of correcting artillery just like drones do today, and the balloons of the Civil War era. The planes, too, would elevate to observe the artillery hits, then signal down to relay the needed correction.
Eventually such flying spotters began coming in contact with those of the opposing side. The planes were as of yet unarmed, and the men had no way of harming one another, which ironically spurred the first such aerial run-ins into friendly fraternalizations. The opposing pilots saw each other as part of a distinct brotherhood, sometimes waving or otherwise even helping the other out.
Unsurprisingly though, there soon came a need to defend oneself. The earliest air battles witnessed airmen primitively heaving bricks, chains, darts, and other materials they had stuffed in their cockpits from the ground. Soon, pilots began equipping service pistols and were simply shooting at each other with revolvers and 1911’s, around which certain advancements quickly developed—like a cage for catching shell casings to prevent them littering the cockpit floor.
US .45 cal M1911 pistol with extended magazine and brass catching cage. In the early days of WW1 and aircraft didn’t have machine guns, enemy pilots would shoot at each other with pistols. The cage prevented the spent shells from ejecting onto the cockpit floor and interfere with the foot controls
A Russian pilot named Pyotr Nesterov even pioneered the technique of ‘aerial ramming’ in 1914. Though it unfortunately killed both him and the enemy, the technique was later refined and used widely.
Aircraft were still unarmed at this early stage, and Nesterov became the first pilot to destroy an enemy airplane in flight. During the Battle of Galicia on 25 August 1914 (by the Old Style calendar still used in Russia), after trying various methods on previous occasions unsuccessfully, he used his Morane-Saulnier Type G (s/n 281) to ram the Austrian Albatros B.II reconnaissance aircraft of observer Baron Friedrich von Rosenthal and pilot Franz Malina from FLIK 11. Eager to destroy enemy aircraft, he probably intended to hit it with a glancing blow but damaged his own aircraft as much as the enemy’s and both planes crashed. As was common for the time, Nesterov was not strapped in and he fell from his plane, dying of his injuries the next day. The Austrian pilot and observer also died. The town of Zhovkva (currently in Lviv Oblast, Ukraine), located near the battle, was renamed Nesterov in his honor in 1951. His ramming method was used during the Second World War by a number of Soviet pilots with success and without loss of life. The technique became known as taran.
Eventually, planners could see the utility of using the larger and sturdier planes being developed for bombing of targets. And so at first, pilots began to crudely throw bombs from the cockpit, improbably hoping to hit targets with no types of instruments or visual aids whatsoever.
Over the course of the war, this developed into more accurate systems, on much larger, dedicated bomber craft. Russia’s Igor Sikorsky is credited with creating the first four-engine plane and the Ilya Muromets was the first real ‘bomber’ in history. It proved successful in devastating enemy positions and infrastructure, and countries scrambled to arm their own ‘fighter’ craft with more capable guns to shoot down the larger bombers that were now being fielded.
This in turn meant the fighter aircraft were now armed with powerful machine guns like the Hotchkiss, ushering in a new era where pilots no longer threw bricks and haplessly plinked pistols at each other, but rather fired large, accurate calibers which could tear through planes’ soft-skinned fuselages.
Russian inventor Gleb Kotelnikov pioneered the knapsack parachute at this time as well, and air battles now regularly featured bailing pilots parachuting from damaged planes, balloons, and zeppelins, requiring the codes of war conduct to be rewritten on the fly, as firing on parachuting combatants soon had the stain of dishonor, and became viewed as unchivalrous.
World War 2 began similarly in the sense that the first iterations of tank forces were equivalent to a kind of groping in the dark, as countries struggled to found new doctrines, discover the most effective tactics, combinations and usages of the newly burgeoning age of armor.
Not only were the Germans earnestly striving to understand tank tactics, but the early days of WW2 looked nothing like the penultimate ones. As Serge explains, Germany’s first foray into France featured a monopoly of dinky Panzer I and II’s, a distant cry from the hulking, terrifying and revolutionary Panthers and Tigers of the later era.
World War 2 saw an unprecedented wealth of generational jumps, about which entire volumes could be—and have been—written. But the highlights include planes which went from propellers to the advent of the jet age by the end of the war. Early warning systems for detecting large fleets of aircraft and bombing runs were crude at the start. Giant acoustic locators like these were in use by every country:
Though Britain, Germany, and USSR all had early-generation ‘radar’ systems by the beginning of the war, they were crude and lacked the transmitter power to hit microwave-level frequencies required for granularity of detection. But as the war dragged on, new generations of much more powerful radars were introduced. By 1942, the USSR had fielded its first airborne early warning radar, which changed the calculus in aircraft detection.
Some estimate that the German Wehrmacht’s force composition at the start of the war was only around 20% mechanized, the remainder still using horse-drawn wagons to haul the army forward through treacherous terrain.
But slowly the war’s character permutated, with the induction of things like the V-2 rocket—essentially a modern ballistic missile—in 1944, as well as V-1 flying bombs.
By the end of the war, the conflict no longer even remotely resembled that of the onset. Massively armored and powerful new tanks and tank destroyers roamed the killing fields, planes with radar systems and jet-fighters spanned the skies as relatively accurate long-range missiles struck targets hundreds of kilometers away.
Not only had the world turned a page into the age of rocketry during the long course of the war, but even more significantly, into the atomic age with U.S.’s ignominious milestone strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Towards the end, even glide-bombs and TV-guided bombs had begun to see widespread use.
An entire era had passed. While the opening of WW2 in some ways resembled WW1 and other previous conflicts, the tail end of the war looked toward the coming conflicts like the Korean War, and in many ways had begun to resemble modern warfare in its breadth of telecommunications, exponentially longer ranges, greater accuracy and power of every type of weapons system.
Today in Ukraine we are witnessing what is likely to become another epochal shift—a passing of an era. The beginning of the conflict saw clumsy utilizations of first-generation drone technologies, like the basic family-friendly DJI Phantom models. This quickly expanded into the smaller and more versatile DJI Mavics, and other type of larger and more powerful octo- and hexacopters, fixed-wing-VTOL-hybrids, and now VR-goggle-aided FPV racing drones.
Drones began to be modified with special batteries, receivers/transmitters, and propellers to expand their endurance, range, and killing potential. Equipping them with Thermal (IR) cameras likewise became ubiquitous, lending drones the full-spectrum ability of near total ISR.
But even so, the clumsy grasping of the early stages of this evolution becomes apparent in light of future possibilities—but has revealed hints of the coming storm of advancements which will serve as the ‘bifurcation’ point from which the conflict will never look back.
Particularly because ‘asymmetricality’ remains the only means by which Ukraine can impose any sort of battlefield pressure on Russia, they and their controllers in the U.S. have been busy pushing the envelope both experimentally and conceptually in terms of what the future of conflict might look like. Depending how long this one drags out, and there’s good chance that it will be very long (Colonel Macgregor recently shared the purported insider info that Russian planners are now expecting a 30-month war), we may begin seeing things inaugurated into the battle-scape few of us imagined.
And many thought-leaders on the Russian side, too, have begun calls for a re-orientation towards future systems. Dmitry Rogozin, who’s previously served as head of Roscosmos (Russia’s ‘NASA’) and Russia’s defense industry, recently posted such a call-to-arms. In his very first paragraph, he echoes our own recent sentiments by decrying the use of combat aviation in the modern ISR-rich battlefield, which has, in essence, obsoleted the glorious ‘strike hammers’ of the 80’s.
“The battle with NATO and its puppet and heavily armed Ukraine showed that modern war is a war of robotic means that ensure the effectiveness of artillery and assault infantry. This is a war of avatars, combat robots, when the outcome of the battle is decided not by a two-meter giant sollate with a formidable machine gun at the ready, but by a “smart bespectacled man” who creates a reconnaissance and attack UAV with a protected radio link, a complex for overcoming enemy electronic warfare jamming and localizing his UAV according to video data, as well as another “smart bespectacled man” who can deftly dispose of this means of modern war, establish the location of the enemy and within a couple of minutes give our art the exact coordinates of the enemy.”
He goes on to outright call for the entirety of Russia’s aviation and fleet capabilities to be unmanned and autonomous.
Similarly, it is time to finally understand that both aviation and the fleet should be predominantly unmanned and have increased stealth from the enemy and autonomy of application. Air and sea drones will inevitably displace combat aviation and the traditional fleet. And all other participants in the armed conflict should proceed from the fact that all of the action will be fixed by means of optical-electronic, radio-technical and other types of enemy reconnaissance – space and unmanned / air, and the most important means of their survival on the battlefield is the maintenance of “indestructible” communication between units and the efficiency of decision-making.
It should be noted that both the new Su-57 and T-14 Armata tanks were designed with un-manned capability in mind. Future versions were meant to be pilot-able remotely, and Russia’s newest S-70 Okhotnik drone is likewise meant to eventually have an autonomous ‘wingman’ mode for assisting Su-57’s missions.
Just this past month, Rogozin pioneered the entry of Russia’s ‘Marker’ UGV’s (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) into the conflict. The robotic vehicle comes in numerous variants which allow it to serve roles of tank-killer (with ATGM’s), anti-infantry, anti-air, or a combat-mule which hauls ammo, supplies, or wounded soldiers.
Russia had already tested the heavily-armed Uran-9 back in Syria and gleaned a lot of useful information for developmental purposes, but the technology had not yet matured enough for regular use.
It’s difficult to determine how much of this is true, but Rogozin already claimed that the Marker robot has a catalog of enemy tank targets (like Abrams, Leopards, etc) saved into its database and can autonomously differentiate between them and engage them.
“As soon as deliveries of Abrams and Leopard tanks to the Ukrainian troops begin, the Marker will receive an appropriate electronic image and will be able to automatically detect and hit American and German tanks with ATGMs.”
Right now the chief limitation of such platforms appears to be control/signal range. UAV’s enjoy the luxury of an open sky, so the signal usually has no obstructions. But UGV’s must usually have a direct line of sight (or nearly so) to the controller, making their ranges very limited—and this was the chief failing of the Uran-9 in Syria; reports claimed Russia struggled with signal dropouts at even relatively short to medium ranges like 300-400m. In urban environments, where such vehicles would prove particularly essential, it becomes even worse due to the vast amount of signal-attenuating obstructions.
One solution could obviously be aerial drones which serve as signal ‘repeaters’. This has already been used in the current SMO by both sides. UAV’s carry a signal repeater into the sky, allowing the military unit to communicate with its battalion headquarters if the combat radios become out of reach.
And as regards the more immediate future, one popular Russian Telegram channel “Starshe Edda” believes that, if the war goes on, we will see by this Fall a ‘completely different war’, where the experimental weapons now being trialed and prototyped will go into mass production on both sides.
If the SVO does not suddenly end with negotiations and a truce, then by the fall we will see a completely different war. Those types of weapons, first of all, are of course unmanned systems (both aerial and ground-based) what is currently available in the form of samples and prototypes will be transferred to the category of mass-produced products.
There will be a lot of robotic and unmanned systems, as well as high-precision ammunition, but in my opinion there will not be one, namely, the tactics of their use laid down in a coherent system. So far, these are still tentative steps in the war of a new technological order, something like Dreise or Mitrailleuse needle rifles. Not yet a breech-loading rifled rifle with a unitary cartridge of the usual pattern and not a machine gun, but no longer a fusee and not a buckshot. Under all this, tactics will be developed, combat regulations will be added, some samples and branches of development will be recognized as dead ends, others, on the contrary, will develop and reach perfection in killing a person.
He accurately judges the current period as what I termed the “groping in the dark” phase of development. This is the eerie teething moment of the infant slowly coming into its own; the WW1 equivalent to pilots throwing bricks and bicycle chains at each other, not yet comprehending the full potential of what they had. In such moments, directions still remain uncertain until something takes hold, congeals into intelligible doctrines, modes of operating, and rules of conduct which beget the most effective use of each new system.
For now, the most obvious developmental direction remains that of faster, more precisely controllable—and cheaper—drones of the FPV variety, which can be used to take out both armor and personnel. Their speed and size make them virtually invisible to radar detection, or at least extremely impractical to engage and shoot down. And their maneuverability likewise allows them to bypass EW anti-drone gun systems which rely on the operator’s reaction times to detect and track the drone with his sights long enough to disrupt its communications link.
Though both sides are already utilizing them with increasing regularity, by virtue of necessity the AFU seems to be pushing the envelop heavier in this direction, as seen in these recent videos.
But beyond that, A.I. is the most ascendant technology which will soon transform the face of all conflict, including this one, should it last long enough. A.I. systems which can ‘smartly’ negotiate terrain and find, identify, and even engage targets on their own are already in nascent prototyping phases all over the world, and will more than likely soon see their entry into the current conflict.
This Israeli Elbit Systems drone for instance, can autonomously negotiate interior environments and use facial recognition to detect and engage enemy combatants on its own.
For those that may balk, this technology is not revolutionary. Social media apps and iPhones have already long used facial recognition algorithms to detect faces in photos. Consumer cameras, also, for several years now, had facial detection autofocus features, allowing them to automatically ‘focus’ the lens on a person even if they are moving back and forward. Hell, even cheap new consumer security systems like this one from ADT, now come with facial recognition which saves faces of your friends and family and notifies you when they’re approaching your home, and conversely can notify you if it’s a ‘stranger’.
There are even grimmer exploitations of this technology:
Applied to a drone, mixed with the environmental detection tech from things like Tesla’s ‘Full Self Drive Mode’ directly leads to advancements like the Israeli system above. Where the true ‘mojo’ lies, however, is in the much more advanced algorithms used to parse threats from non-threats; i.e. detecting certain bodily ‘postures’ for instance, or weapons in hand, differences in uniforms, etc.
Cruise missiles have had basic AI capabilities of this sort for a while now, used to compare ground targets vs. the stored satellite/imagery data. Here’s a description of France’s ‘Storm Shadow / Scalp’ missile’s terminal phase, where it climbs up over the target:
Climbing to altitude is intended to achieve the best probability of target identification and penetration. During the bunt, the nose cone is jettisoned to allow a high resolution thermographic camera (Infrared homing) to observe the target area. The missile then tries to locate its target based upon its targeting information (DSMAC). If it can not, and there is a high risk of collateral damage, it is capable of flying to a crash point instead of risking inaccuracy.
Google has been pioneering this work under their contentious ‘Project Maven’ banner, which elicited a near-mutiny of the duly worried employees, for the grisly military implications such technologies entailed.
Just last week, this new exposé showcased how Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO and Executive Chairman of Google and Alphabet Inc., has been working hand-in-glove with the U.S. gov’t to accelerate and streamline their AI technologies acquisitions and development. In fact, he left Google to make this his new career and full-time pursuit. He is apparently beyond driven as regards defeating China in the AI war, and goes to great lengths to underline the point that AI is the technology that will determine the future’s winner.
“Let’s imagine we’re going to build a better war-fighting system,” Schmidt says, outlining what would amount to an enormous overhaul of the most powerful military operation on earth. “We would just create a tech company.”
In short, he believes the government’s procurement processes are too ponderous to compete in this accelerating singularity age, so his ‘forward-thinking’ goal is to use the architecture of a Silicon Valley tech firm as the basis for how the government should research and acquire these new technologies.
A New Weapon
The Pentagon’s tech problem is most pressing, Schmidt says, when it comes to AI. “Every once in a while, a new weapon, a new technology comes along that changes things,” he says. “Einstein wrote a letter to Roosevelt in the 1930s saying that there is this new technology—nuclear weapons—that could change war, which it clearly did. I would argue that [AI-powered] autonomy and decentralized, distributed systems are that powerful.”
There’s a multitude of ways in which AI will very soon revolutionize warfare. Many of which are already in their inaugural stages, others have progressed much farther along. Those who’ve read my ISR article know the growing importance and dominance of that field; but now imagine in place of human analysts laboriously poring over endless gigabytes of satellite data to locate Russian troop positions, instead a tireless, and far faster and more efficient, AI algorithm scans and processes thousands of hectares worth of terrain data in seconds, picking out every single targetable object of interest, sorting and collating them into appropriate baskets, and even—eventually—autonomously routing the data to the exact, appropriate sector fire unit which the AI judges to be most capable, ready, equipped, etc., to handle the task.
The initiatives are already being explored; this article details a program called SMART (Space-based Machine Automated Recognition Technique) which does just that. Initially revolving around more mundane tasks, like training neural networks to detect construction projects all over the world from satellite imagery, they admit in the final paragraph that the real goal is to ‘transition this technology to the intelligence sector for real world use’—you know what that means.
However, I would not be surprised if intel agencies already are utilizing some iteration of this, as typically whatever the top agencies have is several generations/decades ahead of what civilian startups are researching. I’m certain that in Ukraine they use incipient versions of such AI software trained to comb satellite photos for Russian positions.
Likewise, for many other systems like radars, for example, AI plays an increasingly dominant role, as radar systems rely on advanced algorithms to magnify the target signal by clearing the clutter, knowing which noise/clutter can be discarded based on a host of criteria. One might think radar to be fairly simple: point the beam into the empty sky, whatever pure signal is returned is the target.
But here’s the catch: in today’s ISR dominant environment, almost EVERY asset of note flies low, “under the radar” for the sake of evading it—from combat aircraft, to drones, to even cruise missiles which are now exclusively programmed to ‘hug the ground’ via terrain-mapping.
Thus, the importance of ‘Look Down’ radars rapidly becomes supreme. These are radars fitted on things like AWACs which can scan not just the sky, but the ground, and differentiate a moving object against the vast clutter of other ground objects like moving cars, people, swaying trees, etc. For a computational system to distinguish a helicopter moving at roughly car-speed at 50ft above ground, from other cars traveling directly beneath it, one needs massive amounts of parallel computational power feeding into advanced AI algorithms which can very ‘smartly’ distinguish this data. This is how such radar systems can even detect ground objects like tanks and mobile formations on the move.
But the final frontier in AI capability won’t be simple algorithms for ‘smart’ detection of objects, but full on autonomy scaled up into network-integrated assets which can communicate with each other, and solve tasks together. In layman’s terms, this describes the coming age of ‘drone swarms’—which is by far the single most critical area of development. And here, China appears to lead the field.
Recently released footage demonstrates a swarm of autonomous Chinese drones navigating a bamboo forest without the use of GPS.
Many people saw the above video, but not the accompanying graphic showing how the drones were also able to track a human target together, through this very forest:
Now imagine releasing dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of these—armed with 4-6kg of explosives like a typical FPV drone now regularly carries—to autonomously scour the barren, smoke-strewn, trench-stitched landscape of Ukraine’s vast farm fields and hunt the soldiers burrowing haplessly in those very fortifications.
The U.S. has recently issued another call of alarm, claiming that Russia and China both are heavily investing into this field.
And in fact, last month came news that Russia’s Wagner PMC is covertly working with Chinese firms to develop drone swarm tech to use against the AFU. Improbable, perhaps, at first blush, there is every reason to believe this is true. Not only does Ukraine present the ultimate real live-fire battlefield testing platform for China to hone their secret technologies in preparation for the inevitable Taiwan escalations, but it was even directly confirmed by an Australian mercenary fighting in Bakhmut last month.
In this video, the Australian merc who fought against Wagner openly states that special ‘Chinese DJI teams are helping Wagner behind the line’.
He Who Controls The Chips Controls The Future
We’ve established that those who have the biggest computational power will have the most advanced AI systems, with the most possible pure instruction/operations-churning abilities. And that means, those with the best chips, i.e. semiconductor industries and capabilities, will be the kings of the coming AI wars.
The Intel CEO at Davos said that: “Chip supply chains will shape geopolitics more than oil over the next 50 years”.
U.S. and China, of course, are among the leading nations in this regard, while Russia nurses here one of its most glaring weaknesses. However, not all is lost. U.S. has the technological base, but relies heavily on H1B visa emigres from many other countries like India, China, Russia, etc. (how many, for instance, are aware that Intel’s Pentium line was named after its Russian chief designer, Vladimir Pentkovski?)
This is a major weak point for the U.S. because, as the world continues to de-dollarize, and the worth of American fiat and lifestyle continues to plummet in comparison to the ascendant home countries which these emigres come from, it will become less and less attractive to come work in the U.S., and alternatively, more competitive to stay home. This will lead to a severe degradation of American ‘innovation’ in these fields.
And on the topic of actual human capital as regards the programming and designing of these future AI systems, Russia can be said to have no equal in the world. And its newer generations are shining ever brighter. Just take a look at these results for the renowned ‘International Collegiate Programming’ championships:
Sure, the U.S. finally snatched a single victory in the most recent event. But the entire past two decades have been dominated by Russia.
The institutions with the most wins:
And if you want to see how far U.S. has fallen in its intellectual human capital and native education system, just look at previous decades of the same contest:
The U.S. was nonpareil, back before the disastrous neo-liberal policies condemned the very fabric of society.
One could argue that the future belongs to those with the technology, but the technology will belong to those with the human capital to dream it up and innovate it.
Recall, one of the only reasons for Russia’s putative ‘backwardness’ when it comes to tech advancement in comparison to the West, is due to the vast and unfair handicap artificially imposed upon it—Russia has had its wings clipped at every turn. Via overwhelming sanctions. Obstacles and sabotage imposed for decades. When it came to critical industries, the West had always selfishly ‘hogged’ the tech amongst themselves for iterative development.
For instance, the reason that South Korea and Japan are such semiconductor powerhouses is because the U.S. heavily invested in and subsidized their industries post-WW2 in order to create a sort of cheap labor marketplace from which the burgeoning American middle-class could source its goodies.
Russia, unfortunately was never afforded such luxuries, but rather the contrary:
And as I touched on in this article, just as the West feigns Russia’s dependence on their chips, they in fact conceal their own, true dependencies on both Russia and China for the resources by which to make those chips. You see, the West has the (H1B imported) technological know-how, but not the raw materials. This article from a U.S. think-tank calls it a national security threat of the highest priority.
It’s why big sites like TomsHardware ran headlines like this last year:
In the article they state clearly:
Some concerning numbers, highlighting the reliance of the US chipmaking industry on Russia/Ukraine-based materials, are shared by the source. For example, market research group Techcet says that 90% of US semiconductor-grade neon supplies come from Ukraine, while 35% of US palladium is sourced from Russia. In addition, other vital materials like C4F6, Helium, and Scandium also come from the potential flashpoint region.
In short, Russia has just as many pressure points on the American semi-conductor industry as the reverse, and both are investing heavily in trying to change that—U.S. in expanding and diversifying its supply chains (much harder than it sounds, for reasons beyond this scope), and Russia in developing its chip-fab capabilities.
The face of the Ukrainian conflict is already rapidly evolving. We now regularly see drones crudely fencing in the skies above the ruined landscape—something that would be hard to imagine a few years ago.
As highlighted in my previous article, Russian forces are already beginning to use an array of automated ‘trench guard’ EW systems like the Harpoon-3 and Stoizh, which are disabling drones even as the soldiers sleep in their dugouts. Will Russian ‘Marker’ robots also soon be hunting Leopards and Abrams in the wild, as Rogozin envisioned?
What’s certain is that if the conflict continues for several years, it could be nearly unrecognizable when seen through the lens of those primitively humble, grasping beginnings. For several years now, Russia has showcased demonstrators of how troops can work in conjunction with un-manned UGV or autonomous systems, and with the increasing intractability of Ukraine’s echeloned trench-works problem, it’s conceivable that Russia could begin rolling out un-manned systems to provide fire support in the ever-difficult trench-line clearing operations.
Both sides are scrambling to make strides in battlefield management systems built to organize the distribution of the vast amounts of sensor data coming in. Western ‘partners’ have helped Ukraine develop such systems, like the ‘Delta’ which is claimed to have some basic AI capabilities in giving ‘target recommendations’.
The above video even claims that Rheinmetall’s Autonomous Combat Warrior (ACW) vehicle will be sent to Ukraine. Although, I haven’t been able to verify that one, there were reports that Germany intends to supply Ukraine with the Boxer RCH 155, an incredible autonomous self-propelled artillery platform which must be seen to be believed.
As Ukraine’s manpower depletion grows more dire, the Western backers will push toward increasingly autonomizing the AFU to make up for the deficit. These un-manned systems will be controlled, of course, by Western officers removed far enough from the battlefield to reduce risk to themselves. This is already being done by way of UAV drone warfare, but could likely soon extend to ground systems as well.
And likewise, as Russia continues capping off the destruction of Ukraine’s offensive potential (which is already essentially gone), Ukraine will be forced to fight an increasingly defense-first, stalemate-minded strategy—which will necessitate even further entrenchment into the type of intractable warfare now prevalent.
This could spur Russia to inaugurate the use of unmanned UGV systems to better mitigate the disproportionate danger of having to storm endless reinforced positions and trenches at great loss of life. After all, it’s not a far stretch—the Uran-9’s very own unarmed little brother, the Uran-6 mine-clearer, has already been used effectively since the beginning of the conflict.
And how long before we start seeing new versions of Russia’s Lancet and KUB drones programmed with AI to hunt the battlefields for enemy targets autonomously, even far out of reach of controlling data-links?
In the end, we can’t predict how long the Ukrainian conflict will last, though it’ll likely be some time, at least several years, barring any unforeseen black-swan events. And that’s more than enough time to witness a truly epochal turning of the page in the evolution of combat systems, which will forever change the face of all warfare.
One day we’ll look back at these dim birthing moments of consumer-grade drones crudely hoisting bomblets into trenches in the same light we took to that seemingly lawless, antediluvian world of aerial pistol shoot-outs, long before the Red Baron’s Fokker scourged the Allied skies. And with the galvanized national spirit, the unprecedented solidarity of the Russian narod, and fervor of ingenuity seen daily in their fighters, it’s clear that Russia will be the one who takes the reins—and leads the world by the hand through the inchoate darkness of this new era.