The digitalisation of armies

Warfare has changed more in the past century than it did in the previous 500 years. The First World War saw the maiden use of tanks and planes in combat. The plane, at the time an invention that was only 11 years old, (invented in 1903  by the Wright brothers, war broke out in 1914) was at first used to gather intelligence. The tank, on the other hand, was specifically made to be used in active combat, it was made to kill and. During the war, the plane developed into different roles, some planes were built as fighters, equipped with guns to fight other planes, and some were built as bombers, to target the ground.

In World War Two, the impact of mechanised war was like no other. Planes, tanks, and ships were used extensively by both coalitions in the effort to win the war and the incentive of victory brought technical innovations faster than ever. Almost sixty years later, in 2002, innovation was brought in combat as the first Predator drone was used in a targeted killing in Afghanistan.

With drones, for the first time in history, a soldier could actively fight from thousands of kilometres away while staring at a screen and pressing some buttons. At the same time, drones, like any other connected service, can be hacked. The hacking of a drone first occurred in 2011 when the Iranian military managed to take control of a U.S. drone by jamming the GPS frequency and then changing its virtual position to make it believe it was near its home base. The drone at that point was on autopilot and landed in Iranian-controlled territory instead.

Cyberwarfare was, from that point on, not only about computers, servers, and information but became real, active warfare with direct consequences caused by digital actions. If a hacker can tell a drone that it is in its home base while it is miles away, it can also tell it to attack a specific target by replacing the original attack location with a new one. Likewise, it can also crash it into a base by jamming the sensors and GPS, for example making the drones’ computer that it is time to prepare for landing while it is only a few meters away from the ground.

Digitalised technology has acquired new power since the digitalisation of armies. Intelligence data can be stolen from the Pentagon in the U.S. by an 18 years old guy in China. The mechanisation of armies has now developed in their digitalisation. Its vulnerability is highlighted in drones, plane, and tanks still have human operators that can override a jammed computer. Drones, on the other hand, do have human operators but since they command the aircraft from afar using frequencies, they are useless if the connections are interrupted, in that case, the drone is by itself and once the internal computer is hacked nothing more can be done in order to save the aerial vehicle. In a world in which everything seems on its way to becoming as digitalised as possible can something as old as war be too?