Western militaries should adopt artificial intelligence (AI), unmanned and autonomous machines and other new technologies to face the threats of the digital age, LSE IDEAS, a foreign policy think tank based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) said in a new report.
Cyber war can happen at the click of a button and missiles can cross the globe in less than an hour, and hence there is a need for Western governments to urgently transform their military capabilities to defend against these attacks and deter and defeat opponents, it said.
The report has urged the armed forces for the UK and allied powers to explore the role of autonomous machines, stating that they can significantly reduce labour costs, remove people from danger and increase military effectiveness.
However, the use of these machines will need careful governance, it said.
The LSE IDEAS report warned that other world powers with different values and interests may not feel as constrained about using autonomous capability and the UK and others must be prepared to counter such lethal autonomous weapons in the future.
The report also outlined key considerations for military modernisation such as recognising the leading role civil society currently plays in digital advancement.
It urged the armed forces to tap into this expertise and adapt or adopt technology which already exists or will soon exist.
The report also called for a transformative change, even if this means starting from scratch and getting rid of cherished forms of organisation and equipment. Over time, this could include equipment such as aircraft carriers, manned fighter jets, and most armoured vehicles.
Author of the report, former Commander Joint Forces Command and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE IDEAS, Gen Sir Richard Barrons, said: “As the digital age really starts to transform how we all live, work and play, it will just as surely transform how states and other actors confront and fight.
“There is great potential risk in ignoring this as others will seize telling advantage. There is also currently an opportunity to fix the current dilapidated state of Western defence at an affordable price.
“We need an urgent discussion between government, the military, tech, defence industries, law, philosophy and finance, underpinned by some common principles that will drive innovative, disruptive transformation by design.”