Books | Age of Hyperwar

When machines will do the planning, executing, and adapting to the reality of the mission. An extract

Books HyperwarAmir Husain and John R. Allen


Broad contours of how this new shift in the way war will be waged already are becoming clear. Technologies such as computer vision aided by machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered autonomous decision-making, advanced sensors, miniaturized high-powered computing capacity deployed at the ‘edge,’ high-speed networks, offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, and a host of AI-enabled techniques such as autonomous swarming and cognitive analysis of sensor data will be at the heart of this revolution. The major result of all these capabilities coming together will be an innovation warfare never seen before: the minimization of human decision-making in the vast majority of processes traditionally required to wage war. This minimization likely will alter where the human will be located in the decision-action loop and the human’s specific involvement in decision-making itself. In this coming age of Hyperwar, we will see humans providing broad, high-level inputs while machines do the plannings, executing, and adapting to the reality of the mission, and take on the burden of thousands of individual decisions with no additional input.


Explaining Hyperwar

First, why refer to this AI-fueled, machine-waged conflict as Hyperwar? This is not a new term. In World War II, its use implied the global nature and many concurrent theaters of war. In today’s context, however, Hyperwar may very well be applied globally, but the element of ‘pan-war’ is not its singular defining characteristic. Instead, what makes this new form of warfare unique is the unparalleled speed enabled by automating decision-making and the concurrency of action that will become possible by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine cognition.

In describing the wars of the future, ‘hyper’ is used in the original Greek sense of the word—‘over’ or ‘above.’ This new type of combat will be beyond what has been seen before in important ways. In military terms, Hyperwar may be redefined as a type of conflict where human decision-making is almost entirely absent from the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop. As a consequence, the time associated with an OODA cycle will be reduced to near-instantaneous response. The implications of these developments are many and game-changing.


Infinite, Distributed Command & Control Capacity

Until the present time, a decision to act depended on human cognition. With autonomous decision-making, this will not be the case. While human decision-making is potent, it also has limitations in terms of speed, attention, and diligence. For example, there is a limit to how quickly humans can arrive at a decision, and there is no avoiding the ‘cognitive burden’ of making each decision. There is a limit to how fast and how many decisions can be made before a human requires rest and replenishment to restore higher cognitive faculties.

This phenomenon has been studied in detail by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who showed that a simple factor such as the lack of glucose could cause judges—expert decision makers—to incorrectly adjudicate appeals. Tired brains cannot carefully deliberate; instead, they revert to instinctive ‘fast thinking,’ creating the potential for error. Machines do not suffer from these limitations. And to the extent that machine intelligence is embodied as easily replicated software, often running on inexpensive hardware, it can be deployed at scales sufficient to essentially enable an infinite supply of tactical, operational, and strategic decision-making.


Concurrency of Action/Perfect Coordination

‘Overpowering the enemy’ is a phrase used often in the literature of war. In military terms, this refers to the concentration of force in a finite space, over a finite period of time, such that the application of this force against the opposing elements able to respond delivers a numeric or firepower advantage impossible for the opposition to counter or resist. This may not necessarily be because the attacking force is larger or more powerful than the entire defending force, only that it is more powerful when and where it matters. This is an important distinction. If a smaller force can be quickly ‘perfectly coordinated’ and applied to a precise point where the enemy is unable to reinforce over the period of hostility, then the smaller force usually will prevail. If such action can be replicated repeatedly, then much larger opposing forces can be effectively neutralized economically and often will be dislocated psychologically.

The two key variables of concern are time and space. The time is what it takes to form and execute kinetic action, and the space is where such action is to be executed. These variables are computed as a result of significant strategic, operational, and tactical decision-making. Identifying a candidate space for the application of force is the first ingredient. When done properly, it involves computing a large set of contingencies, called branches and sequels in planning parlance, regarding the enemy’s capacity to replenish, resupply, and reinforce. The tactical matters of identifying targets, maneuvering to achieve advantage or to avoid counterfire, and directing one’s own fire add to this list of decisions and to the cognitive complexity. With machine-based decision-making, a large group of sensors and shooters can be coordinated instantaneously, enabling the rapid forming or massing of forces and the execution of kinetic action and subsequent dispersal.

The degree to which concurrency of action can be achieved with machine-based decision-making fuels Hyperwar and will far outpace what can be done under human control and direction.


Logistical Simplification

The old adage that ‘amateurs talk tactics, and professionals discuss logistics’ is good guidance. Since time immemorial, waging war has required the movement of human armies that must be fed, clothed, and protected. When the level of intelligence required to fulfill a specific mission can be created in synthetic form, however, machines can become soldiers. The needs and logistical demands of robotic soldiers will not be as indispensable as a human soldier. The loss of these assets no longer will trigger the expensive and dangerous standard operating procedures involving infiltration of a medical team, extraction, and transportation to a field facility.

Today’s drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) mostly are remotely piloted systems that simply separate the human pilot from the craft, placing human decision-making at a distance. This is a useful configuration, but it has many downsides. First, the latencies involved means that only certain types of missions can be fulfilled by today’s drones. High-speed air-to-air combat would be difficult, for example. Second, the system remains susceptible to jamming and loss of communications. Third, the human pilot succumbs to many of the pressures and stresses of real war. This drone pilot post-traumatic stress disorder phenomenon has been well documented and sheds light on the limitations of the current model.

Truly autonomous UCAVs of a variety of types and sizes with on-board synthetic intelligence will be the foot soldiers in a future Hyperwar. Models the size of commercial quadcopters capable of weaving through forests and racing across open field will assemble, act, and dissipate in no time. They will be armed with sophisticated sensors that feed vision and decision-making algorithms both on board, in the swarm, and when accessible, in centralized locations. In addition, they will come equipped with a variety of cyber and kinetic payloads. A large number of these systems can be coordinated by means of swarm algorithms, enabling a ‘collective’ to ensure the fulfillment of a mission and for individual drones to support and to adapt to the loss of another.

Despite their flexibility, these systems principally will require only two resources: energy and ammunition. In the future, energy may be converted to ammunition, such as with directed-energy weapons. Still, it will be some time before the requisite miniaturization can be achieved to deliver this capability. These assets will remain ‘resource neutral’ until they are actively being employed, reducing the overall energy required to sustain them in a theater over time. With all these changes, the logistical effort will be simplified immensely, and as a result, the ‘teeth to tail’ ratios for autonomous forces will be higher than for any manned force.

Amir Husain et al
SparkCognition Press, Pg 170, USD 12.99



Call us