Future Wars

Future Wars monitors and scrutinises the development and use of novel military technologies, particularly by the UK government.  We want to ensure that the development and use of such technology always obeys international humanitarian law and international human rights laws, and complies with clear ethical principles which respect human life.

New technology is often a spur for social change, offering tremendous possibilities. Over recent decades we have seen, for example, how information technology has vastly increased the spread of  knowledge and understanding.  However, new technologies often find military applications which, while they could be positive in that they could increase precaution in the application of force, often provide more powerful capabilities of harm and destruction.

Current innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems, and biotechnology, are expected to bring social transformations on an unprecedented scale. However, these technologies are also being used in the military and security realms in ways which are not yet fully understood by the public. The capabilities they provide will directly and indirectly affect global peace and security, the nature of armed conflicts and how insecurity is managed. Scrutiny of these developments and explaining them in an accessible way to decision makers and the general public is crucial to prevent increased humanitarian harm during armed conflict.

‘Future Wars’ will critically examine the development of new military technologies such as hypersonic weapons, directed energy weapons, human enhancement and autonomous weapons.  Our research investigates the humanitarian impact of these emerging military technologies as well as their likely impact on peace and security.

 

Future Wars Briefings

 

1. Speed kills: The Growing Threat from Hypersonic Weapons
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Behind the scenes, arms companies and military powers are quietly developing a new class of weapon system that uses speed to project deadly force. Through travelling at extreme speed, hypersonic weapons can strike targets anywhere in the world in a very short period of time.

While these weapons are mostly at the development stage, once deployed they could introduce great instability and threaten global peace and security, particularly at times of crisis. A nation under attack would be unable to tell where a hypersonic missile is going, or whether it carries a nuclear warhead, creating a significant risk of misunderstanding and escalation. The speed of hypersonic weapons would dangerously narrow the time available for working out the nature of an attack and making a reasoned decision on how to respond, and would create ‘use it or lose it’ pressure on nations to strike first.

This briefing, the first in a series published by Drone Wars UK as part of our ‘Future Wars’ project, examines the development of hypersonic weapons, the UK’s involvement, and the risks they pose to peace and security.

 

  1. None too clever? Military applications of artificial intelligence
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Artificial Intelligence (AI), automated decision making, and autonomous technologies have already become common in everyday life and offer immense opportunities to dramatically improve society. Smartphones, internet search engines, AI personal assistants, and self-driving cars are among the many products and services that rely on AI to function. However, like all technologies, AI also poses risk if it is poorly understood, unregulated, or used in inappropriate or dangerous ways. As well as transforming homes and businesses, AI is seen by the world’s military powers as a way to revolutionise warfare and gain an advantage over enemies. Military applications of AI have entered everyday use over the past couple of decades and new systems with worrying characteristics are rapidly being rolled out.

This briefing is part of our ‘Future Wars’ project. It is an abridged version of a longer report, with both examining the military applications of AI and describes how the UK’s military is beginning to adopt AI technologies, before going on to outline the various risks associated with them. The full version is available here.

3. For Heaven’s Sake: Examining the Militarisation of Space
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This new abridged briefing, published as part of our Future Wars series, looks at the UK’s emerging military space programme and considers the governance, environmental, and ethical issues involved.

Space based operations affect many aspects of modern life and commerce. The global economy relies heavily on satellites in orbit to provide communication services for a variety of services including mobile phones, the internet, television, and financial trading systems. Global positioning system (GPS) satellites play a key role in transport networks, while earth observation satellites provide information for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, and crop observation.  Space is also, unfortunately, a key domain for military operations. Modern military engagements rely heavily on space-based assets. Space systems are used for command and control globally; surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance; missile warning; and in support of forces deployed overseas. Satellites also provide secure communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to fly armed drones remotely. Many precision-guided munitions use information provided by space-based assets to correct their positioning in order to hit a target.