The next generation of warfare

“With . . . warfare [evolving] toward a fourth-generation, why would you bother militarizing space?”

That’s the latest question/comment in response to my guest-post on John Scalzi’s blog (and it may be the last one as we’re several days past the original posting now). But I have to admit, this is the kind of question I was expecting to get in the first place, and it’s a much better question than stuff like “what are you smoking to make you think that Russia’s going to be a superpower?” In fact, I’m still amazed at how many people bought (or just skipped over) my fundamental argument about the direction in which warfare is heading and proceeded to dive straight into the details of the geopolitical backdrop I’d constructed. Thereby potentially missing the wood for the trees.

Something that no one can accuse this question of. In many ways, it’s the key one, and it’s natural to ask it given that all we’ve got on the news is an endless war in Iraq and all we can see the world over is the U.S. struggling against guerilla/insurgent movements. What’s the point of weaponizing space when we can’t even dig our way out of all these endless ground quagmires?

The answer, of course, is there isn’t.

Right now.

Because right now there isn’t much more we can do in space. After all, we’ve got the most advanced hardware deployed up there that we can build. In fact, our domination of space is one of the reasons that the only folks challenging us are resorting to insurgent warfare in order to do so. Nor should my original essay be construed as offering a plan to deal with such insurgents in the here-and-now.

The problem for those kind of insurgencies, though, is a more long-term one. Technology doesn’t stand still. We’re starting to see inklings of the shape of things to come even now: anti-U.S. guerillas have to be real careful about what U.S. satellites can see even on a street-by-street level, and are acutely aware that being suddenly nailed by an unseen Predator UAV is a constant possibility. But our cameras are going to get better and ever more extensive. And once we start to deploy directed energy weaponry in orbit alongside those cameras, and harness that to ever-increasing computational power—and start deploying unmanned drones throughout the atmosphere—all bets are off. Put simply, within the next several decades we are going to have (a) the ability to monitor every single square inch of the Earth’s surface in real-time and (b) the ability to target anything on that surface at the speed of light. And THAT, folks, is why space weaponization matters.

Will that mean the end for insurgencies? Absolutely not. It’ll just make their lives a hell of a lot more difficult. In THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, the worst guerilla movements are situated in the sprawling Third World megacities (to which you can regard Baghdad as a precursor), where the emissions/pollutants provide partial protection from being seen, as do the sheer scale of the buildings. But irrespective of the exact nature of such cities, the basic point that many of 4G warfare’s proponents fails to take into account is that we will, ultimately, see the rise of fifth-generation warfare (and yeah, I’m calling it here first): the supremacy of nation-states conferred by mature space weaponization capabilities. Even if no other nation-state emerges to challenge the United States, the burden of proof is on those who claim that the technological determinants now propelling us in the direction of 5G warfare will hit as-yet-unanticipated roadblocks. Those determinants are in their infancy now. They won’t be for long.

And if another nation-state DOES challenge the U.S. (as happens in my book), then make no mistake about it, the center of gravity of that stand-off would be in orbit. If the two sides came to blows, the nation that could disrupt/disable/destroy the other side’s space assets would win.

Meaning that space weaponization may not be a choice we get to make. It might yet be made for us.

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4 Responses to “The next generation of warfare”

  1. PurpleSlog Says:

    Please post a link to the discussion mentioned in your post. Thanks!

  2. PurpleSlog Says:

    I think this is the post:

  3. David Williams Says:

    Yes, that’s it. Thanks for calling my attention to the oversight. I’ve added the link on the blog post as well.

  4. When Sci-Fi Writers Quibble | Says:

    […] we’ve moved on to Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). The author of the book, David Williams, responded to that question (poorly worded as it was) in his blog. And now I feel the need to respond […]