The Future of War Technology Whispers to Us From a Past, and We Must Listen Better

Trying to expect a destiny of record is a fool’s errand, is it not? After all, even Dr. Vannevar Bush, a eminent designer of a American scholarship establishment, likely behind in 1945 that intercontinental missiles would be unfit for many years. And Thomas Watson, a President of IBM (yes, a synthetic comprehension complement “Watson” was named after him), is pronounced to have likely in 1943 that there would be a universe marketplace for maybe 5 computers. The list of laughably wrong predictions about destiny technologies is endless. Surely we should not be too tough on ourselves when desirous weapon programs keep failing because, in part, a required record turns out to be too distant away. How could we know?

I disagree. The destiny of troops technologies — with implications for a destiny of a crusade itself — is not an unknowable and pointless mystery. Granted, examples of erroneous forecasts are numerous. And yet, quantitative investigate shows that a accuracy of predictions in troops technologies — even long-term predictions looking 30 years into a destiny — are scold surprisingly often, about 70-80 percent of a time. Even a numerical measures of systems’ opening grow over time in a sincerely consistent, pretty likely demeanour — a figure above is though one example.

Figure 1: A mixed magnitude of opening attributes for mixed approach glow complement grows in a consistent, unchanging demeanour over a final 700 years. (Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation)

Decision-making about troops record expansion programs — and their specific objectives — does not need to be a delight of wish over experience. It can — and should — rest on persistent, disciplined, quantitative, history-based technological forecasting.

Accuracy of Predictions

But how do we know that record forecasts can be amply accurate? In investigate with my co-author, we explored a normal accuracy of long-term forecasts about destiny troops technologies. Here, by “long-term” we meant about 20-30 years. Why so long? After all, blurb record forecasts tend to concentration on significantly shorter time horizons, usually adult to 10 years into a future.



Unfortunately, it has turn common for a vital invulnerability merger module to take on a method of dual decades from judgment expansion to initial handling capability. Even before that, it takes another 10 or some-more years to rise a required foundational science. That’s because a 20 year or longer setting is mostly critical for troops record forecasts.

In entertainment a data, we happened to be lucky: It turns out that behind in a 1990s, as a Soviet Union collapsed, a lot of intelligent people were gazing into a transparent ball perplexing to figure out what would occur with all things military. And for some reason, many of them favourite to make their predictions about a year 2020. (Perhaps they favourite a sound of a word “2020 Vision”.)

We collected a series of such published predictions. For example, that swarms of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (or indolence munitions) would be means to destroy countless belligerent targets, or that some tank munitions would be laser-guided. Then we asked 10 rarely gifted and well-credentialed troops technologists to decider either a predictions came true. On average, a experts’ assessments showed that a predictions were 76 percent true. That’s a surprisingly high number.

We also explored a rather opposite question: Even if a sold prophecy has not nonetheless materialized, does it paint a earnest instruction for investigate and development, and has it exhibited poignant swell by this time? We found that by this measure, 89 percent of foresee statements were good.

Another engaging anticipating was that some record categories exhibited most aloft foresee correctness (with clever statistical significance) than others. Specifically, a normal correctness of forecasts associated to “informational technologies” (i.e. technologies for cyber and electronic warfare, intuiting and information collection, and authority and control) was 87 percent. And forecasts of “physical technologies” (i.e. line-of-sight effects, non-line-of-sight effects, protection, and platforms) had a normal correctness of usually 65 percent. These numbers are broadly identical to what other researchers have found about public technologies.

The Long Trajectory

To be clear, a investigate we report above was about qualitative capabilities or features, not quantitative. It did not hold on forecasting numerical characteristics of destiny technologies. For example, a foresee like “some tank munitions will be laser-guided” can be loyal or not, though it does not contend anything about a quantitative operation of a munition, how most armor it can penetrate, and so on. How about giving us some tough numbers?

Well, it turns out that in some ways a numbers could be even easier to forecast. Many law-like quantitative regularities are famous to request to technological systems. For example, certain opening measures of technological systems mostly vaunt exponential (or similar) patterns of growth over time, definition that if we take a logarithm of a magnitude and tract it as a duty of time, a bend will be a true line. A quite good famous instance of such a rule is a Moore’s Law. It states that a opening magnitude of a mechanism chip doubles approximately any dual years. Many other technologies follow a identical law of exponential growth. Even widely opposite — though functionally identical — technologies finish adult combining a surprisingly steady, law-like arena of development.

Recently, we researched either such a regularity competence report a opposite collection of mobile direct-fire systems, over a long, multi-century history. we deliberate widely opposite families of technologies that camber a duration from 1300 to 2015: Soldiers armed with weapons trimming from bows to attack rifles, feet artillery and equine artillery, towed anti-tank guns, self-propelled anti-tank and attack guns, and tanks.

Quantitative analysis shows that a single, basic rule describes a chronological expansion of this intensely extended collection of systems. Remarkably, a sincerely elementary regulation when practical to multiple, widely opposite arms systems — from a bowman to a tank — produces numbers that all tumble approximately on a same curve, a duty of time. The pivotal partial of this experimental regulation turns out to be a limit kinetic appetite that a complement can potentially approach during a aim in section time and per section mass of a altogether system. That magnitude of appetite took about 60 years on normal to double before a 1830s, and about 15 years after.

You can see this bend in a figure during a commencement of this article. Essentially, it is a mixed of dual successive exponential laws: One true line from 1300 to a 1830s, and another true line between a 1830s and a stream time. If a latter line binds (and so distant there is no sold reason to doubt that it will), it can be used to foresee some of a characteristics of destiny mobile direct-fire systems. It is not going to be accurate — indeed, there is a satisfactory volume of separate around a bend — though it can give us a suggestive operation of values and a receptive basement for a some-more in-depth research and forecasting. Of course, one contingency not forget that opposite families of technologies might follow opposite curves.

Disruptions that Stabilize

But what about “technological revolutions” or “disruptive technologies”? Aren’t they ostensible to break all prior assumptions and constraints, and move totally new, astonishing capabilities? Should we also discuss a “revolution in troops affairs”? Nah, let’s not go into that long-lived ideological swordfight.

A standard expansion of a given category of record is mostly described as a S-curve. The swell of a record starts slowly, afterwards fast accelerates, and afterwards slows again to a plateau. Then a opposite record — a disruptive record — emerges, overtakes a prior technology, and goes by a possess S-curve. The method of such disruptions — multiple S-curves — combine into a roughly continual curve. One common instance is a bend of how a series of computations per second per $1000 of a computing device’s costs modernized from 1900 to early 2000s. This sincerely well-spoken bend deduction from automatic calculators by opening tubes (certainly a disruptive technology) by transistors (another disruptive technology).

Of course, a S-curves are an oversimplification of reality. But if we flicker a little, we might discern identical patterns in a figure during a commencement of this article. You can see how in a mid-1300s muzzle-loading smoothbore firearms started to overcome longbows and crossbows, and eventually plateaued between mid-1600s and early 1800s. You also see how purloin record began solemnly in mid-1500s, fast accelerated in mid-1800s, and might or might not nonetheless be facing a plateau about now.

And what about that rhythm indicate around 1830, we ask? It has been noted before for mixed technologies, and substantially formula from singular and large changes in a socio-technical story of a mankind: a Industrial Revolution, a American and French Revolutions, and other developments. That’s a really engaging subject for another time.

The indicate is, disruptions are what keeps a arena of record stable. Without any successive disruption, a bend would squash out. Paradoxically, we need a continual method of disruptions in method to stay on an approximately solid trajectory.

Disciplined Forecasting

To be sure, technological forecasting will never be accurate and infallible. Nevertheless, it is an unusually critical apparatus for decision-making about vital expansion efforts. It can assistance revoke a rate of unsuccessful programs. It can motivate a persistent, desirous creation and keep us from unexpected finding ourselves outranged and outgunned. We contingency adopt a fortify of continuous, systematic, severe technological forecasting. It should be formed on chronological data, on well-documented methodologies, and on continual feedback and training from mistakes. It contingency not be a one-off initiative, no matter how well-intentioned, though rather a sustained, institutionalized effort.

Such fortify will make certain we pursue brazen innovations though succumbing to fallacies such as a captivate of a latest technological over-excitement. We should not rush into way-ahead-of-its-time programs like a idealist though ill-fated Future Combat System. We should have likely — behind in 1990s — that a required record for such a module would not be accessible for decades yet.

The destiny is not a wordless mystery. It speaks to us from a past, though whispers really softly. We only need to listen some-more carefully.



Alexander Kott, PhD, is a Chief Scientist of a Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, a member of a U.S. Army Futures Command. Earlier he served as a Program Manager during DARPA. He has authored over 100 technical papers, and edited and co-authored 10 books. The views voiced in this essay are those of a author and do not simulate a central process or position of a Department of a Army.

Image: U.S. Army (Photo by Christoph Koppers)



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