Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been fighting with each other, but armies and wars are something that really only emerged around the 3rd millennium BC From that point on, all the conventions that we still know today have emerged. Permanent armed forces, coordinated maneuvers, siege, domination of the territory. Over time, these concepts have evolved to incorporate new technologies.
Without venturing, I could almost say that wars are a yardstick for understanding the developments of civilizations. In other words, a civilization can be measured by the content and distribution of its armed forces. In the past century, human civilization has changed dramatically and those changes have been reflected in the way wars are fought.
Much, much more could change by the middle of this century. To the point that our ancestors would not recognize future practices as "war". What will happen?
All new threats
Between 1945 and 1991, the geopolitical balance saw the juxtaposition of two major blocs: the cold war, baby. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everything changed drastically.
According to a 2020 report from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the greatest threats to national security are no longer nuclear wars or conventional wars. The new threats are called cyberwar, terrorism, foreign influences in elections and natural disasters.
The (gloomy) picture of possible wars in the coming decades
Within the 2050, the growth of distributed systems, quantum computing, 3D printing, cryptocurrencies, biotechnology and climate change will disrupt everything. On the geopolitical level, many predict that the power of states could drastically decrease, giving way to autonomous regions, even private city-states. Already today the first signs are felt of this trend.
Technologies such as gene editing CRISPR , biological printers, genetic databases and artificial intelligence software will create new opportunities also for bioterrorism. Groups animated by bad intentions will be able to design viral bodies or toxins in a laboratory. The sparks of new wars will multiply considerably.
This is why it is difficult to imagine the battlefields of the future. As always, however, the examination of emerging technologies and current dynamics allows some provisional conclusions to be drawn. Future wars are likely to contain a handful of major factors: new technologies, new threats, the end of heavy weaponry, and the replacement of humans with drones, robots, and possibly cyborgs. Let's take them into consideration.
Quantum weapons arrive
I know, you know, cyber wars are raging. Since the advent of the Internet, countries around the world have been trying to use the Internet as a weapon against financial markets, systems and digital infrastructures of other nations or large companies. Dolman Aradori, Head of Security di NTT Date estimates that in 2021 there will be a cyber attack every 11 seconds. Hackers and "hacktivists" are among the most wanted, for better or for worse, among the police trying to arrest them and the governments trying to hire them.
This situation will radically change with the advent of quantum calculation. Quantum computers can work incredibly fast and with astronomically high numbers. Two important factors in the development of quantum computing are qubit counts (the quantum equivalent of computer bits) and coherence time, the amount of time a qubit can hold information.
During the 2010s, the most powerful quantum computers had qubit counts below 100 and coherence times from nanoseconds to microseconds. One study estimates that between 2030 and 2040 the qubit count and coherence time will both be increased to the point that they may be able to crack all current cryptographic algorithms in just 10 seconds. To be clear: data sent or received over the internet cannot be trusted. Many current businesses such as using credit cards or online banking could become a nightmare.
To avoid this, many world governments (leading the US and China) are making a "quantum race" to also develop new cryptographic systems that the new quantum computers are not able to violate. Whoever wins this race will have access to all the information of the opponent, as long as he is not able to protect himself.
In its own way, compelling but much more dangerous (for world stability) than the space race in the 60s.
Drones as if it were raining
Since the beginning of this century, the use of unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs) has grown dramatically. Among the reasons are the reduction of risk, the improvement of remote operations, the desire to reduce the risk of casualties and the growth of counter-terrorism operations.
A 2013 study conducted by Brookings Institution shows that from 2008 to 2013, the number of drone pilots who graduated in training with the USAF, the US Air Force, went from about 500 to 1300 (from about 3,3% to 8,5 % of the total). In the last decade, the USAF has not infrequently trained more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined.
The current goal of the research is to make drones smaller, invisible and versatile. The new military drones will perform many more tasks: including aerial refueling, synergies with aircraft carriers, reconnaissance and transport. By 2050, drones could completely replace human-piloted vehicles.
Another possible development is that of micro drones, even one millimeter large aircraft. They could be launched in coordinated swarms by artificial intelligence to hit and destroy enemy targets.
The future of wars is stealth
Another noticeable change is the growth and proliferation of stealth technology. The development of radar-concealing material began in the mid-70s and in the late 80s led to the first "invisible" aircraft such as the F-117 Nighthawk and B-2 Spirit .
Forty years later, stealth technology has expanded to include fifth-generation fighters, stealth ships, and next-generation drones. Stealth technology could become the norm everywhere, and not just for armaments - infantry are also looking for ways to become more stealthy.
Mimicry has been in use since the 19th century (now a military uniform in the collective imagination is camouflage). Modern armies are looking for new ways to remain undetectable: for example, the multiscale mimicry. Considerable research has also been directed at making infantry units "invisible" to detection. Research moves to develop real "invisibility cloaks"which constitute the troops to disappear from sight.
If this type of technology is available to all branches of service by 2050, it will be time for invisible wars.
Death bells for the tank
For many decades, the mainstay of modern wars has been the tank. Since the end of the Cold War, however, this vehicle has shown the signs of aging: its life may have come to an end. By 2050, technology will make them obsolete.
The battle tank became a mainstay during the 70s, when progressively a single model wiped out all of its competitors. Several nations have produced their own versions, including the M1 Abrams US, the T-80 / T-90Soviet-Russian, the Leopard II German, the Leclerc French, lo ZTZ80 / 88 Chinese , the Israeli Merkava , Challenger 2 British and others.
The situation worsened as anti-tank systems became more sophisticated. During the first Chechen war (1994-1996) and the wars in Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghanistan (2001-2021), armored units were unsuitable for the local geography and resulted in several human casualties.
To solve this problem, the designers experimented with active protection systems, integrated fire controls and other remedies. They will not be enough. The "tanks" will go the way of the dinosaurs: too expensive to adapt them to different conditions, better to replace them with more flexible systems.
An example? The DARPA GXV-T program, which focuses on a vehicle with wheels that can change shape.
By 2050 we will see lighter vehicles around in wars on the planet that will have wheels, shapeshifting devices or even legs instead of tracks. They will rely on radar, AI-based “strategic awareness” software and active countermeasures that detect incoming threats and neutralize them in advance. The power supply? High capacity electric, or hydrogen. Crew? One, or none. And in a hundred thousand.
In terms of weaponry, the more traditional cannon could be exchanged for an induction gun electromagnetic (i.e. a rail gun) or a directed energy weapon (aka a laser).
Human machine interface
Real-life soldiers still on the battlefield by 2050 will surely have robotic support units to help them with almost anything. Indeed, battlefield robots are a focal point for DARPA and other developers who want to create machines that can take on the responsibility of handling particularly dirty, dangerous, boring or expensive operations in wars. Until, perhaps, to kill with autonomous decisions.
Some possibilities include robots similar to the humanoid robot known as Atlas, Cheetah and Spot, all of the Boston Dynamics. These and other robots are based on the principle of biomimicry: machines that mimic living things to achieve greater freedom of movement and flexibility.
There are also Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV), the terrestrial counterpart of drones already widely used in current wars. These robots handle all kinds of tasks, from carrying supplies and disposing of mines, bombs and IEDs, to performing sentry duty, reconnaissance and fire support. These robotic systems are likely to become more common, more sophisticated and fully autonomous in the future.
Soldiers and super soldiers
Perhaps the most radical transformation that will integrate robotics into humans concerns the soldiers themselves. Soon the exoskeletons they will give them more strength, endurance and carrying capacity.
According to a recent report of the United States Department of Defense (DoD), 2050 will be the year in which i cyborg soldiers they will be an integral part of the armed forces. According to the report, the following "cyborg technologies" are expected to have the greatest impact:
Eye implants of the future offer the potential to improve vision and situational awareness. By integrating the circuits into the eye, the soldiers they will see in other wavelengths (such as infrared), identify targets and project AR scenarios directly into their field of view.
Muscle control programmed
Soldiers from future wars may also have subcutaneous sensor networks built into their bodies to improve muscle control by providing stimulation optogenetics (light pulses). These sensors could also provide automatic hazard prevention.
by replacing or modifying the middle ear bones and cochlea, soldiers would have a wider hearing range, and greater protection from hearing loss. In combination with eye and neural implants, hearing implants could improve communication and situational awareness. This would include identifying low-intensity sounds, potential hazards, echolocation and localization.
Direct neural enhancement
the ability to graft computer chips directly into the human brain will allow for interfacing Brain-Computer and brain-to-brain interactions (electronic telepathy). In essence, soldiers would be able to communicate directly with autonomous systems and other soldiers, with profound implications for optimizing operations during any wars.
The cyber components will also have significant implications for medical care and recovery. For example, the neural implants could address symptoms that result from brain injury. They would be a kind of small and flexible circuits arranged on the damaged areas of the brain to act as a "bridge" between the damaged neurons. They could break down the symptoms of PTSD by breaking the connection between external stimuli and the panic response. Or let us witness wars fought by soldiers whose fear has been taken away.
Bionic prostheses will become a custom for soldiers with irreparable damage to parts of their body. They will not only restore normal functions, but will put them back directly on the battlefield, with perhaps greater mobility and perception than before.
Other notable advances include bioprinting and other expanding fields of biotechnology. The ability to print organic tissue on demand, such as skin, organs, muscle tissue, and blood vessels, will dramatically improve the survival and recovery rate of soldiers in the next damn wars.
As the old saying goes, "soldiers always prepare to fight the last war". This means that armies always evolve to face new wars always after have dealt with them (a bit like antivirus software). This honored tradition will certainly continue into the future, with results that are difficult to predict.
While making accurate predictions is never easy, to summarize, the nature of wars by 2050 could include some important changes;
- Distributed technologies that give rise to new terrorist threats;
- Quantum computing and the escalation of cyberwarfare;
- Camouflage reaches the point of true invisibility;
- No more tanks or tank battles;
- Robots and cyborgs who take on most, if not all, combat roles.
Alas, some things never change. In my opinion, war is and will always be a man-made enterprise. Even if robots take over the battlefield, they will always fight at our will. Again: real wars are never entirely predictable, and it is difficult for all forecasts to be respected. The nature of technological change will still create new levels of uncertainty.