In the Ukraine conflict we are seeing drones that spy and bomb as if they were forest spirits, satellites that always remain in the rear of armies, and artificial intelligence that makes decisions as if they were the gods in the heavens that answer prayers of mortals.
The American biologist Edward O. Wilson already said: “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And that’s terribly dangerous.”
Technology has changed the rules of the game. Drones are being a widely used weapon in the conflict, both from one side and from the other. In the case of Ukraine, it is surprising defensive resistance that they are providing these low-cost devices that different countries have donated to them, or the Ukrainian citizens themselves have given their army.
Drones that we can find in any large online store and that can cost between 100 and 2,000 euros. These weapons are proving to be so effective that the company that manufactures them, the Chinese DJI, faces the dilemma of neutrality, since its products are being used by both nations.
To get an idea of the importance of this technology, suffice it to say that the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation reproached DJI on Twitter for being an accomplice in the deaths of his fellow citizens:
But drones for recreational use are not only being observed in the skies, but given their effectiveness in the conflict, both armies have acquired several more models.
On the Kyev side, the well-known Punisher drone has been joined by an important ally. On April 4, the United States announced the shipment of a very important consignment of defensive weapons to Ukraine. The shipment included 100 Switchblade drones, an effective prowling weapon capable of long-flying and launching like a missile at any interesting target it encounters (in this case, tanks). The advantage is that the launch of these missiles can be done in a simple way.
This kamikaze technique is called loitering. Don’t expect the Switchblade to be a definite asset to Zelensky’s army, but it will certainly serve to support ground troops, scouting, and further sabotaging supply lines on the Russian front.
In fact, this type of drone is technologically much more advanced than the famous Turkish Bayraktar TB2, with which the Ukrainian army has performed several patriotic songs. As we will see with the following examples, the future of drones may go through this type of smaller ships, used in swarms, compared to the larger and heavier Turkish UAVs.
However, as expected, the Russian side has not stood idly by in the face of the Ukrainian offensive. And for this, one of the defenses it has is the Pantsir defense systemwhich is mainly used for heavier drones, such as the aforementioned Bayraktar.
Following the maxim that fire is fought with fire, the invading army has armed itself with different drones. For example, the Orlan-10 and the KUB-BLA suicide drone.
The first of these refers to a medium-range drone used mainly on scouting and fire regulation missions.
On the other hand, the KUB-BLA suicide drone has alerted the experts. This device can fly at about 130 kilometers per hour for 30 minutes, and uses artificial vision algorithms to detect and launch autonomously on any type of target, exploiting its 3-kilogram load with it.
It is precisely this type of weapon that most worries the international community and researchers in autonomous weapons.
An algorithm is nothing more than a black box that will coldly carry out its programmed function, without any consideration of possible collateral effects or civilian casualties. Not even the military commanders will be able to answer why an innocent target was chosen by this suicide drone. Only the ship will fix its sight on its target through its mathematical black box and destroy it.
One more step towards automated and optimized warfare, without the human component that revealed that in World War II less than 15% of soldiers fired their weapons with real intention to kill due to the psychological cost and human empathy.
We are probably at the end of the post-Cold War. Perhaps we have opened Pandora’s box and we are losing our fear of what happens in a modern war, of the delicate geopolitical balance, surrounded by technology, in an environment of globalization and under the magnifying glass of social networks.
And it is possible that we are facing a new type of war in which automatic machines play a fundamental role, and that implies the beginning of the end of a war symbol such as the tank. But hopefully we don’t have to check it.