Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Building the Robotic Phalanx

It seems that the future of warfare whether in the air, on land, or at sea, could replicate the old phalanxes of the ancient world.

Strategypage writes that the swarms have arrived:

Since the 1980s the U.S. Department of Defense has been spending more time and effort on developing technology to make it possible for autonomous robots to communicate and cooperate in maintaining the most efficient “swarm” of robotic sensors or weapons. Progress has been slow but successful. Now the navy is testing swarms of small submarine detecting surface and underwater vehicles. The air force has already developed swarming systems for UAVs as well as some types of aerial decoys. The army is doing the same with small robotic vehicles used for surveillance and security. After more than half a century of theoretical and practical work the swarms are about to enter service.

The old infantry phalanxes were rectangles of men who fought shoulder-to-shoulder in an interlocking formation that pressed into an enemy phalanx to slash at the forward edges and ultimately shove the enemy formation back until it lost cohesion and could not stand it's ground in the "push of shields."

Could we eventually see a joint force in a theater function as a giant phalanx of swarming robots with persistent surveillance and long range firepower called in to support the battle in mortal combat with an enemy theater-wide phalanx?

Lanchester's Square attrition models might rule the battles, with the winner being the last one with functioning robots surviving on the battlefield.

If so, our strategy of using quality to overcome quantity will no longer work if our enemies have qualitatively equivalent robot swarms directed with an equivalent command and control system with an equivalent surveillance network.

Will we then have wars of attrition based on robots rather than men locked in combat?

Years ago, perhaps before I started blogging (and I think that was the case since it was based on my reaction to the book Breaking the Phalanx), I wrote a draft about this concept. I should probably dig it out. Lord knows what version of Word it is on!

I did suggest this future 6 years ago in this post, anyway.

UPDATE: The aerial portion of the robotic phalanx is becoming evident, anyway:

In 2015 the American military, for the first time, used more UAVs to deliver air strikes than manned aircraft in one combat zone. In this case it was Afghanistan, where 56 percent of the air-to-ground weapons used were delivered by UAVs.

Of course, the volume is low--530 bombs and missiles delivered by drones. But still, this is the path.

You'll also know we are closer to the robotic phalanx when our forces don't call in fire support by requesting artillery or air support, buy simply call for fire support and the system simply chooses from bombs, air-to-ground missiles, shells, ground-launched rockets or missiles, or whatever is in range and appropriate for the target, without the source being relevant in the least.