Small Wars Journal

Revolution in Military Affairs vs Military Revolution: The Emergence of Drones and Robotics as a driver in Societal Change

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 11:13am

Revolution in Military Affairs vs Military Revolution: The Emergence of Drones and Robotics as a driver in Societal Change

By Bill Edwards

The war in Ukraine has proven one explicable truth, the convergence of commercial off-the-shelf drone technology with the military-industrial complex (MIC) drone platform is here to stay and possibly the first military revolution we’ve seen since the advent of the nuclear age.

What is a military revolution?  “Military Revolutions (MR) are defining points for those who study and wage war. These rare but sweeping events bring about systemic change in society, recast the character of war, and change the ability of states to project power. In effect, military revolutions are a periodic redefining of what is possible in war and what is not, and those military organizations that first grasp their potential have an advantage over their less adept rivals.” 

In Ukraine, the overwhelming strength of the Russian military was blunted by small-unit tactics, a strong will to remain an independent nation and the creative use of a myriad of available technologies… most important drones. In a war that has shown to be a laboratory for drone experimentation, there are very few nations left that have not contributed to this conflict and subsequent military revolution.

Reports have stated that over 6000 drone platforms have been used in Ukraine of various types and configurations.  If you link this directly to the economic issues of this time, inflation, and now recession on a global scale it is hard to argue that drones and robotics have not emerged as a primer for change.  Emphasis on the conflict and the global movement for social change have come together at a critical juncture to support the thesis and more important the private sector is not far behind with the advent of drone delivery services and countless other innovations surrounding drone ideas that are on the table to improve everyday life, but with this growth comes a challenge.

So, how is this different from a revolution in military affairs? Simply stated, “Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA) are much less influential than the societal-military earthquake-inducing Military Revolutions (MR). The confusion is not simply semantic, but rather crucial as RMAs have little to no influence beyond the tactical and operational levels of war.”  Historians may disagree on the validity of the concepts, but it is appropriate to note that RMA’s change battlefields and MRs change society. 

Most recently, an MIT paper released in April of 2022 stated that drones have not revolutionized warfare. The article's timing could not be more important, and their thesis uses the three most recent conflicts before Ukraine to argue the point, but the paper might have been released too soon. Now, that we’ve seen the war in Ukraine evolve with drone platforms to include air, land, and sea in play coupled with the rhetoric from major nation-states concerning the “second Cold War” and “World War III” it seems that the most prevalent technology shaping the discussion is drones, autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. The “Age of Robotics” has significantly come to light and set a substantial foothold on society.

Now that the contextual difference is defined, it is evident that drones and robotics could be argued as falling into both camps. This makes this an even stronger argument as the technology is operating in multiple domains not the least of which is society outside of conflict zones. Since the tide of war in Ukraine was changed tactically and operationally by drones, it should be noted that drones by themselves have not won this war, but in Ukraine and future wars cannot be fought without them. 

Why is this important to discuss and understand? As security professionals, evolving technologies require attention. A good example is the “cyber awakening” of recent times. When cyber defense and attack became prevalent topics in society it was addressed in a whole of government manner. Drones should be handled in the same way, and we are falling far behind the pace of technological development. We must be compelled to actively watch and learn from what is developing from a technological perspective globally and how those evolutions and maturity models are shaping the security environment.

Like conflict, security planning and execution is a consistent rhythm of action/reaction. It should never be considered static and nor should our approach to security technology design and employment.  In this critical function, the threat environment has evolved beyond a camera and access control system.  In today’s threat environment “trusted access management” and “drone detection and monitoring” have become the third and fourth legs of the security technology chair. Leveraging a sound four-pillar technology approach (VSS, access control, trusted access management, and drone detection and monitoring) to counter the evolution is prudent and forward-thinking.

Clearly, technologies used and tested in conflict zones can make their way to the private sector, especially in a time when information flows in seconds and countries like Ukraine have made information readily available. The framework of comprehensive security program development is essential for every business.  This is most important for public spaces and those venues that bring the public together for large events. 

It’s important to have plans and operational procedures in place to address a myriad of situations. The public demands that businesses take their “duty to care” responsibility seriously and budget properly for operational success. Waiting for the “bad day” to show itself is a poor course of action. In a time when emerging technology can change warfare and society simultaneously, pay attention. We’ve already seen how far behind we are concerning legislation as it pertains to drone use and acceptance. 

It's important to remember, there are millions of drones in our global airspace daily. That should cause a pause for reflection. The real question is will historians eventually add the recession of 2022 and the war in Ukraine to the list of military revolutions that have taken shape over time?  Only time will tell.  As security professionals, we must stay vigilant with emerging technology and proactive in our approach to overall program development.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

About the Author(s)

Bill Edwards is a retired Army Colonel and Veteran of the Iraq War. He is currently President of Federal and Public Safety.