Armed with a budget of over $700 billion for the coming year – which will likely continue to grow over the course of Trump’s Pentagon-controlled presidency — the Pentagon’s dystopian vision for the future of the military is quickly becoming a question not of if but when.
by Whitney Webb
While cyborg soldiers and fully automated weapons have long been fodder for futuristic sci-fi thrillers, they are now a reality and, if the Pentagon gets its way, will soon become the norm in the U.S. military. As Defense One reported last Thursday, the Army had just concluded a live-fire exercise using a remote-controlled ground combat vehicle complete with a fully automated machine gun. The demonstration marked the first time that the Army has used a ground robot providing fire in tandem with human troops in a military exercise and, as Defense One noted, “it won’t be the last.”
Indeed, last week’s exercise represents just the latest step in the Pentagon’s relatively quiet tip-toe into converting the U.S. Armed Forces to a machine-majority force. Faced with low recruitment and an increased demand for soldiers, the Department of Defense is seeking to solve that problem altogether while also increasing the military’s firepower and force in combat.
Though unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), better known as drones, are the most well known of these devices, the Pentagon has been investing heavily — for decades — in a cadre of military robots aimed at dominating air, sea, and land. In 2010, the Pentagon had already invested $4 billion in research programs into “autonomous systems” and, since then, its research wing — Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA — has been spending much of its roughly $3 billion annual budget funding robotic research intended for use in military applications.
According to former U.K. intelligence officer John Bassett, DARPA’s investments in robotics and automated weapons will not only quickly become the norm in the U.S. military, they will soon replace humans, who are set to become a minority in the U.S. military in a matter of years. During a recent speech, Basset – a 20-year veteran of the British spy agency Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) and very familiar with U.S. military research – warned that the U.S.’ attempts to “stay ahead of the curve” will result in the Pentagon’s deployment of thousands of robot soldiers over the next few years. The upshot, according to Basset, is that the U.S. Army will have “more combat robots than human soldiers by 2025” – just seven years from now.
The mechanization revolution in the military, however, isn’t set to stop there. According to the Army’s official Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) strategy, the Army plans to have autonomous “self-aware” systems “fully integrated into the force” between 2031 and 2040 along with the complete automation of logistics. The strategy also states that, by that time, the Army will have a cadre of robots at its service including “swarm robots” that will be “fully powered, self-unpacking and ready for immediate service,” along with advanced artificial intelligence designed to “increase combat effectiveness,” particularly in urban combat zones.
Now that ground robots are undergoing testing alongside human soldiers, the Army’s vision along with Basset’s prediction are set to become the new reality of the U.S. military.