The Future of Warfare

2020-12-12

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the battleship was a prized military asset. It’s guns were able to annihalate enemy fortifications ashore, making way for landing craft, with little risk. Submarines were a danger, but paired with destroyers, made for a lethal combination. It was the weapon that made countries global powers.

With the advent of aircraft, battleships were now exposed anew. Aircraft carriers were the new prized asset, able to conduct reconnaissance and bomb enemy territory from a distance. Similar stories of technological advancement are available throughout military history – tanks, satellites, ICBMs, drones, as well as earlier technologies.

Technological advancement will almost certainly continue to bring about such disruptions. However, rather than in conventional military hardware, or even cybersecurity, I believe the future of success in warfare, particularly against a relatively evenly matched enemy, will hinge upon being able to make a series of great decisions leveraging the available hardware and intelligence.

Think of a chess game. Military hardware is like the pieces you have on the board – if you have more than your opponent, you have an advantage. Military intelligence, is like knowing where your enemy’s pieces are, in say a game of blind chess. Cybersecurity is a game of military intelligence, protecting your own information while learning information about your adversary. But you can have equal, or more, pieces and know where all your opponents pieces are, and still lose. The critical ingredient is strategy – having dominant cognitive ability.

For much of human history, cognitive ability has been the near exclusive domain of human beings. But technological advancement is at a point where artificial intelligences can outperform natural intelligence in certain games. I believe we’re entering a time where AIs will be as good as or better than humans at mission planning, strategy, timing, control of aircraft and other vehicles, etc.

A much weaker adversary probably will not find this of much use – with only a king, one cannot win a chess game against two rooks and a queen. But against an adversary with significant military hardware and intelligence, this will become the critical ingredient.

A corollary to this thesis is that while today Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon, and other companies specializing in military hardware are the goliaths in the market, I expect that data and artificial intelligence companies in the sector will come to dominate, companies such as Palantir.

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