Image from Future Atlas.
Over at Future Atlas, a very real question is raised about the viability of hugely expensive nuclear submarines in a future environment that includes autonomous underwater drones like the one above.
I would go one step further and ask about the viability of any military vehicle larger than a drone or occupied by a human. My country seems hellbent on purchasing a bunch of the F-35 ‘5th generation’ fighters at great expense, but I can’t help but wonder how many drones could be bought for the same price. Future Atlas makes the point:
After all, with Moore’s Law in the drones’ corner, a submarine becomes a larger and larger piece of information to hide.
How many $5000 lightweight drones would it take to find and destroy a multi-billion dollar submarine? How about an aircraft carrier?
In the air, how many autonomous drones, with maneuverability far beyond anything holding a fragile human, would it take to make a particular volume of airspace non-survivable for a fighter plane or a bomber? What is the relative cost of each?
In WWII, the Americans actually had weaker tanks than the Germans. Ditto the airplanes, at least most of the time. We just had so very many more than they did. Even then, the soldiers operating the tanks and airplanes had an interest in surviving an engagement. Drones would have no such concern, and combat would be a simple cost-benefit analysis. And a drone is much, much cheaper than anything carrying a human (not to mention the obvious interest of the human in question).
Militaries are known for their tendency to prepare to win the last war instead of the next one. They are also prone to become over-committed to their existing strategies and hardware. I suspect the dominant military of the future will have most of its humans safely hidden away while the robots and drones do most of the damage. But that won’t stop current military efforts to continue operating on the same assumptions.
Navies as we currently think of them are essentially doomed, or at least going to change a lot as technology surpasses their ability to control the air and water around them. I suspect air forces are similarly doomed in their current form. That said, most current conflict is not between technology rich forces, but between a dominant military and a resistance of some kind. Drones are already playing a large role in these conflicts, and I suspect that will expand exponentially.
Of course, Stanislaw Lem predicted this decades ago in his book One Human Minute, (The second story, The Upside Down Evolution) but that was his way.