DailyPost 2012

While the world was involved in the battle against COVID-19, there was another war that was being fought towards late 2020. This was the battle in the South Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh to be precise, this was the battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This battle gave a glimpse of the future. A jingoism laden video uploaded on YouTube is graphic. The backdrop of the video is of a convoy of army vehicles laden with not missiles or rockets but what is now popularly known as Loitering Munitions. The launch of these drones speaks it all. This has been the watershed moment in modern warfare. The drones that made the difference were from the Israeli state-owned defence manufacturer IAI, and the name of the model was Harop.

Once launched they fly towards the target area autonomously, and can wait or loiter for long periods of time, while pursuing its effort to scan the target and once the target is located, it flies into it, Kamikaze drones as they are called, because of the suicidal form of attack. These drones made a market difference in the Armenia – Azerbaijan war, and the victory of the latter is being attributed to it. This has been the victory of Loitering Munitions. Azerbaijan, understanding the technology and that it can come to its rescue, in advance procured and picked up the necessary skills required to handle it. They were in possession of four highly sophisticated models totalling to 200, while Armenia had one domestically produced one. The full usefulness and utility of the drones was on display for the world.

This war was the first war which was fought and won in part by autonomous weapons. The arms race changed its direction, military after military eyed with each other in acquiring these weapons. This was declared as the future of warfare and the current Russia – Ukraine War is proving it again. Bayraktar TB2 is being discussed for its lethal potency. R&D picked up in a big way in this sector after the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war. It was turning out to be another area of arms business as well. ”Fire and Forget” is the comfort these drones were promising to provide to the defence forces which adopted them. The debate of their entry into forces has been laid to rest; when, which one, how many and in which manner are the logical questions now.

Israel is the leader and the battle of autonomous weapons is on. This is the Arms Race that is underway, very different from the earlier ones. Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence is its backbone. AI will make a difference in the battlefield is a realization that has already dawned on military strategists the world over. AI being dual use and multi-use and for civil and defence, makes it totally different from the arms races of the past. Level of autonomy of these weapons systems is being debated upon. Swarming has become the hottest area of weapons development. Human eye cannot keep track of it. Given the speed, humans don’t have a chance. Will autonomous systems define the wars of tomorrow? Flash crash trading of 2010 gives a clear scenario, if the same use of AI is replicated in war. We have to find a way out to minimize the risk of unwanted escalation. Meaningful human control is a must.

Sanjay Sahay

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