The drone is not new in warfare. The first drones were used in World War 2. A pilot would fly a bomber towards the target and then leave in a parachute. A plane behind would then radio control the bomber to it’s destination. It was Project Aphrodite and you can read more about it here.

So if drones are not new, what is the future of warfare? We spent day four with Will Roper from the Strategic Capabilities Office, which is tasked with answering just that question. And the answer is partly drones – drones that can fly together in units with no leader and so ‘heal’ their formation if one of them is taken down. But it is also less about technology and equally about the human.

In a world where warfare consists of drones destroying other drones (rather than people destroying other people), will this make us more likely to go to war. Will we be less cautious when it is not human lives at stake and so quicker to fight a battle or to carry out an operation that we might not previously have done? This is exactly the kind of question that helps us to define what the future of warfare looks like. We probably shouldn’t rush into operations; the requirement to plan and evaluate the potential outcome lets us consider if this is the right move strategically to take. So the danger with drone warfare is that we become clumsy and careless. We make poor decisions based on the perceived lower impact of a loss.

And that’s why, despite the rise in technology, the future of warfare is still about people. It is still about people fighting people. It is just conducted in a different way. The old structures of a land, sea and air force (which fight land, sea and air battles respectively) is probably no longer the right way of structuring the people and the brains that go to war.

And so the nations that have the best fighting forces in the future, those that dominate the world militarily, will not necessarily be those with the best hardware, the best drones for example. But will be those who best structure their human resources to fight the battles of the future and deploy the best software that enables them to analyse situations, make decisions and execute them in the most efficient way.

The future is in people and software and not in the hardware. After all the latter is the easiest to replicate or to steal.

See everything the team got up to on Day Four in Austin

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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