Quote of the day – military edition

Solomon, blogging at SNAFU, commented on the problems currently being experienced with the Marine Corps’ new CH-53K helicopter.  In that article, he observed:

NO ONE WEAPON SYSTEM is indispensable.  You equip the man, you don’t man the equipment!

I applauded the sentiment at first . . . but then I thought about it.  That was certainly true during my military service, and it obviously remains a public talking point – just look at all the companies in the “military-industrial complex” who spout public relations glurge about “equipping the warfighter”.  However, in many cases, their operations seem more geared towards the latest gee-whiz factors than towards the poor soldier who’ll have to use their equipment.  Furthermore, in some cases, they aren’t designing for the individual soldier, sailor or airman at all.  They’re designing technology that can be “optionally manned” – indicating that sooner or later, it can be operated remotely, perhaps even autonomously (i.e. self-directed via artificial intelligence) instead of requiring a “human in the loop”.

So many of the weapons we put into the hands of our armed services are aimed and guided by electronics, rather than people.  During World War II, I daresay 99% of the rounds fired (whatever they were fired from) were aimed by eye, or by analog calculations such as a warship’s gears-and-wheels fire control system.  The first Persian Gulf War brought “smart weapons” to bear for the first time in large numbers.  Today, it seems “smart weapons” are taking over wholesale.  Even field artillery is now relying to an overwhelming extent on guided shells.  (There’s a very interesting discussion on restocking artillery shells and rockets, and the impact of technology on army logistics in general, over at Strategy Page.  Go read it for more information.)

We’ve seen an increasing reliance on automated assistance in flying planes (even civilian airliners), driving cars, and so on.  Are we now seeing the same reliance developing in our combat arms?  Will the individual soldier, sailor or airman be, in so many words, just one element in a weapons system – and not the most important element, at that?  Will new equipment acquisitions (such as the CH-53K helicopter) be driven by human concerns first, or by “the system” (military administration) determining what “systems” (equipment) will be needed to deliver and support other “systems” (weapons, etc.), and ordering accordingly, without major regard to the people involved?  Will casualties caused by incomplete weapons development (see, for example, the V-22 debacle) simply be regarded as unavoidable “collateral damage” – part of the process?

I haven’t thought this through to any great extent yet;  but Snafu’s comment made me wonder.  How about you, readers?  Would those of you who are current or former military concur that this is going to be the wave of the future?  Please discuss in Comments.



  1. Cliche ridden Science Fiction to the contrary (I liked the first two TERMINATOR films, but they were hardly original) while computers may decide HOW to get something somewhere (a car, a plane, a bullet) a human will always need to decide where that somewhere is.

    The fad for self-driving cars is going to hit an absolute brick wall the morning that 3000 copies of the same model suffer a software bug and suddenly turn left. If they have left the owner substantial override it will be a major scandal. If they haven't it will be a major tragedy, and will kill self-driving vehicles for the foreseeable future.

    Computer controlled weapons system will always need a human to determine fire/don't fire.

  2. So much of the what the military depends on these day is electronic, well the big stuff.

    Then I read about everyone developing weapons to take out satellites, India tested one last month. I wonder how well will our military machine work when all the satellites have been taken out in the first hour of hostilities?
    No GPS, no drones flown from half way around the world. I read that in the Ukraine the Russians fire on any EM they detect, I suspect that would put dent in modern battlefield communications.

    I am just a layman about all this stuff, I could be 100% wrong but I'll bet if a big peer war starts there will be a huge amount of junk orbiting the earth that does not work anymore.
    I'll miss my gps… 🙂

  3. We haven't gone up against someone with decent electronic warfare capability yet. Given that China has been building our chips for years, I wouldn't bet on these wonder weapons working if we have to fight them.

    Also, it's reported that the Russians have been using the Ukrainian militia's cell phones to track troop movements. Are we keeping the Army from carrying their cell phones with them?

  4. Until our AI improves a lot I still see the need for a human early in the loop of autonomous weapons systems. How much involvement in minute to minute operation the human is needed for has been reduced from 100% in the remote controlled dumb platforms to a tiny fraction of that for many smart systems today and the trend is heading down.

    A remote operated fully functional infantryman is still a bit beyond us but many individual tasks are within our reach. I tend to see powering one as more of an issue than controlling it.

    The problem with the enemy firing on RF emitters is in finding them, as enemy direction finding and anti-radiation guided munitions improve that will be more and more of a threat. Countering that is the ability to use remote transmitters that are easily replaceable if blown up, and wire/fiber or laser to connect to them if mobile. A laser in a dusty/smokey environment is a bit visible making it a risky choice. Even 20 years ago we would train on remote locating our radio jeeps at the end of a spool of commo wire. Never bothered to actually unroll more than a 100 feet or so but we had the idea for when the enemy had real arty.

  5. Troops carrying cell phones is a self-limiting event in a peer war.

    So is targeting them.

    All one has to do is move some faux units around, and scatter cell emitters, and wait for the enemy to expend a barrage or twenty, and he's out of pricey homing shells, and all you're out is some cheap transmitters.

    Ask the Air Farce guys who kept bombing the same dead tanks over and over in Bosnia in the 1990s how this works in practice.

    On the greater question, unless machines kill people, they're pointless, except as a means to wear a hole in defenses, allowing you to get back to killing the actual enemy.

    It takes two hours to make a laser-guided bomb, but it takes six months to make one basic trained infantry grunt.

    Men are becoming too valuable to waste (witness fighter pilots, who'll be the first to be replaced), until the technology is all a smoking heap, then it'll revert to medieval rules again, my herd against yours in melee.

    "I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." – Albert Einstein

  6. Dorsal due to electronic warfare went low tech.

    Way before the power of smart weapons, drones, etc. became reality.

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