Manabrata Guha: An Exegetical Incursion of the Emergent “Intelligent Battlespace” / ŠUM#11

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There remains no more time for reflection. No time to strategize. No time to plan an operation. The need for solutions or, more precisely, outcomes is in the here and the now. Bajito y suavecito is out—at least in war. This is not to say that speed has never been at a premium in war. The race to get the better of an adversary—strategically, operationally and cognitively—has been and continues to be a key indicator of military proficiency. But today, things are different. At least in the context of warfare, what we are witnessing is the veritable collapse of time, and this brings in its wake the need to overhaul (yet again!) how we think about war and, more importantly, how to wage war.[1]

While Cixin Liu, in the Death’s End, speculated that “every law of physics has been weaponized”,[2] for us, segueing into the second decade of the 21st century, the matter seems less speculative and more about the degree to which this is becoming a reality. Take, for example, Marko Peljhan’s exhibit. Among other things, it represents—even if as an “exit strategy”—the weaponization of the physics of sound. Or, consider the AN/SEQ-3/ XN-1 LaWS, a “directed-energy weapon”, which has been installed on the USS Ponce and has been in service since 2014.[3] This weapon-system represents the weaponization of the physics of light. In other words, it is not excessively speculative to say that not only are we well on our way to weaponize every law of physics, but also that of mathematics, biology, and chemistry.[4] The last, of course, was very likely the first science to have been consciously and actively weaponized. After all, since at least 1000 AD, gunpowder has been used in warfare.[5] But the depth and extent of the weaponization currently at play runs deeper than what we can imagine, which compels us to rethink how and in what ways the human, weapons and tactics are being reconfigured, and to what end.

This is not sensationalism.[6] Nor is it a matter only of interest to sci-fi aficionados or fantasists. Rather, it is a serious matter—serious enough for two Chinese military officers in 1999 to reflect on how “[w]ar in the age of technological integration and globalization has eliminated the right of weapons to label war and, with regard to the new starting point, has realigned the relationship of weapons to war.”[7] Indeed, as they go on to point out, “the appearance of new concepts, and particularly new concept of weapons, has gradually blurred the face of war.”[8] The two Chinese officers discussed these and related topics under the rubric of “unrestricted warfare”, which is grounded on the perhaps not unfounded perception that the world-as-such is weaponizable. Our interest in their discussion, however, lies in one particular assertion that they make, namely that the human, weapons and tactical mix is undergoing a transformation due to a change from “fighting the fight that fits one’s weapons” to “making the weapons to fit the fight.”[9] In the context of military affairs, this is important, for it signals a transformation—strategic, operational, tactical and, one dares to say, cognitive—in the context of weapons technology design which, in and of itself, is indicative of a profound change in the human, weapon, tactical mix. It also leads to the posing of a critical question for the military, but also for violent non-military agents—who eventually may or may not be human—namely what kind of fight can be imagined and, consequently, what kind of weapons can be designed to fight that fight?

But before the question regarding “what kind of fight” can be addressed, it is necessary to pay attention to the emergent battlespace wherein such “fights” can be imagined. While in the past, it was not problematic to define the “physical battlespace” in terms of geography, the human element and the machines of war, today we are much less sanguine about such certainties for, if we recall what the Chinese military theorists that we referred to above noted, the world-as-such is weaponizable. What precisely can this mean? If we mean, as the Chinese theorists do, that the world construed as nature—involving climate, vegetation, physical geography, the hydrosphere etc.—can be weaponized, then that does not break any new ground. We have already seen how the US strategic military establishment—using the infamous Agent Orange—conducted Operation Ranch Hand during which they waged a form of “herbicidal warfare” to destroy the foliage of the dense jungles in specific sectors in the Vietnamese theatre of operations.[10] We have also witnessed the conduct of what was known as Operation Popeye—a chemical weather modification effort—between 1967 and 1972 to prolong and intensify the monsoon season over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in a bid to adversely impact North Vietnamese military operations.[11] And, if we include the Human, then we have seen its weaponization too in the form of the “suicide bomber”. But now, in the 21st century, the notion of the weaponization of the world-as-such is assuming a radically different meaning.

To better grasp the implications of the weaponization of the world-as-such, it is necessary to understand it in the context of what we may refer to as the “intelligent battlespace”, which is inspired by and derived, in part, from the development of the so-called “internet of every thing”.[12] In brief, the “internet of every thing” is underwritten by the logic of Moore’s Law, and benefits from advances that are being made in energy management in addition to the rapid miniaturization that electronic devices are undergoing. Thus, as the per-unit-cost of components falls rapidly, electronic devices are being increasingly liberated from the need to be hardwired with each other as a precondition for them to be able to communicate between themselves. They are also being either appended to or designed into the world-as-such. As a consequence, as Mark Weiser put it: “The most profound technologies are those that [are] disappear[ing]. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”[13] Thus, as Manual Castell’s notion of “network societies” achieves traction and manifests itself as “smart cities”, the “internet of every thing” is gradually ensuring that machines are indeed making “computing an integral, invisible part of the way people live their lives.”[14] They are, in effect, becoming a co-constituent of the world-as-such.[15]

In the military sphere, this transition—even if not seriously reflected upon—is even more intense and it is already difficult to make distinctions between, for example, the computational and non-computational with definitive clarity, particularly where decision-making is concerned, which is often, in the case of warfare, a matter of life and death.[16] In fact, in the military context, this trend is intensifying to the point where even “the soldier”—that last bastion of anthropic fantasy in the context of war and battle—is being increasingly rendered in digital and informational terms.[17] Take, for example, what Bruce Sterling reported over a decade ago:

The First Company of the 12th Armored Cavalry Regiment prepared for … battle … [A]t the Combined Arms and Tactical Training Center (CATTC) in Fort Knox, KY, the troops prepared to enter SIMNET—a virtual war delivered via network links. With the almost Disney-like mimicry typical of SIMNET operations, the warriors were briefed in an actual field command-post … The attacking enemy would advance from west … But the exact enemy tactics were obscured by the fog of war … Bravo Platoon was the first to spot the approaching enemy scouts … Bravo Platoon saw red and yellow impacts spike their hillside landscape, and a vicious crump of high explosives burst from the Perceptronics audio simulators. As the engagement proceeded, dead men began to show up in the CATTC video classroom. Inside the simulators, their vision blocks had gone suddenly blank with the onset of virtual death. Here in CATTC’s virtual Valhalla, however, a large Electrohome video display unit showed a comprehensive overhead map of the entire battlefield … [T]he dead tank crews filed into the classroom and gazed upon the battlefield from a heavenly perspective. They began to talk. They weren’t talking about pixels, polygons, baud-rates, Ethernet lines, or network architecture. They were talking exclusively about fields of fire, and fall-back positions, and radio traffic and indirect artillery strikes. They weren’t discussing “virtual reality” or anything akin to it. These soldiers were talking war.[18]

It is worth re-emphasizing Sterling’s last two sentences: “They weren’t discussing ‘virtual reality’ or anything akin to it. These soldiers were talking war.” In other words, to the soldiers the technology that made this “virtual Valhalla” possible, which included the representation of themselves, had already receded, like Weiser had postulated, into the background.

While these developments are dazzling us with the technological virtuosity at work, they are also obscuring a more critical development, which is particularly relevant in the context of the “intelligent battlespace”. In a provocative essay, George Dyson draws our attention to an emergent state of affairs that arguably transcends the current concerns about “artificial intelligence”.[19] In brief, Dyson argues that the real issue at stake is not necessarily the prospect of digital computation eventually running rampant and subjecting the Human to its dictates; rather, he urges us to pay attention to the insidious nature of what he calls “analogue computation”, whose default tendency is to generate “control systems”. Nevertheless, while pointing out that there is no “precise distinction between analogue and digital computing”, Dyson suggests that, generally speaking, “digital computing deals with integers, binary sequences, deterministic logic, and time that is idealized into discrete increments, whereas analogue computing deals with real numbers, nondeterministic logic, and continuous functions, including time as it exists as a continuum in the real world.”[20] In the context of warfare, “control” is a major concern—thus the emphasis on “command and control”. Yet, the “control” that Dyson is referring to may be a kind of a “meta-control” paradigm, within which the strategic-military command and control system is subsumed. This state of affairs is, as of now, dimly recognized by us, and our current focus remains transfixed by an AI paradigm in which we assume digital computation, which has and continues to proliferate like a virus gone mad; it is both a panacea to our problems and a source for new ones.[21]

In the context of warfare in the 21st century, particularly where the question of what “kind of fight” is possible is concerned, these considerations are important. This is because the fundamental challenge that this emergent “intelligent battlespace” poses—unlike that posed by “intelligent machines”—is not whether it “respects” the dignity of the Human; rather, it is its propensity to reduce the Human into data-sets which serve as its source of nourishment. With the caveat that what precisely we mean by “intelligent” remains murky as of now, it is important to note that this emergent battlespace is not simply the admixture of physical geography and “intelligent machines”; rather, it is, to use Simondon’s term, a “technogeography”, which is gradually acquiring an awareness of itself.[22] And while this “intelligent battlespace” is indeed materialized by digital computation, its operative logic is underwritten by, as Dyson insightfully points out, the “control paradigm” of analogue computation which, for the most part, remains hidden from view.

One way to understand the import of this emergent “control paradigm” would be to consider the case of “targeting”. Targeting—notionally, at any range—is a matter of determining coordinates, principally geographical, of an object of interest.[23] But there are other coordinates that matter too—often critically. Thus, for example, a “target” emits “information” about itself, which can be in the form of thermal, electromagnetic and other kinds of signatures. These “signatures”, which radiate from an object, allow for its identification and “locking” thereby enabling it to be tracked and, if necessary, interdicted. Note, however, that this process of targeting occurs within a “grid of intelligibility” that presumes a “technogeographical” substrate, that is to say a computational backdrop over and against which targets are, in at least two senses of the word, “fixed”. Such considerations have led military theorists like Martin Libicki to observe that “even with stealth, everything ultimately can be found … [and] how sensors of certain minimum discrimination placed close enough together can, at some epsilon, catch anything.”[24] Also notice that as the process by which a “target” is being identified, located and “fixed” is under way, the computational backdrop which facilitates this process recedes into the background, thereby validating, at least to some extent, Weiser’s contention about the most profound technologies receding into the background. But there are also other kinds of signatures that some targets exhibit. These involve biological (prospectively, neurological) and behavioural signatures—principally, of human targets—which are now increasingly registered and tracked digitally.[25]

One constant theme of this “technogeography” on and within which targets roam is the propensity of the technological substrate to not simply engage in “pattern recognition”, but also to create “patterns of behaviour” or, alternatively, parameters of “acceptable behaviour”, which are deemed indicative of being threatening or non-threatening, which contribute to assessments of whether an entity is a “friend or an enemy”.[26] In the context of the emergent “intelligent battlespace”, a “threat” is any activity and/or presence of an agent or element or even tendency that can undermine the integrity of the mesh of networks that constitute the “intelligent battlespace”. The notion of “threat” is central to the “intelligent battlespace” for, arguably, one way to construe its “intelligence” and sense of “awareness” may be in terms of the fluid and ongoing assessment that it makes of itself in terms of its somatic coherence and integrity which, it should be noted, is constantly in a state of strategic expansion and tactical contraction.[27] In this way, the “intelligent battlespace”, by constantly enhancing its “awareness”, may be said to be operationalizing a “control paradigm” whose “ideal” objective is to maintain and optimise its somatic integrity by managing adversarial elements that may undermine it. One important consequence of this, which is of relevance to us, is that “tactical imagination”—both as an attribute and as a capability—is increasingly subjected to the direct and indirect control exercised by the “intelligent battlespace”.[28] As a pertinent aside, it could thus be said that this characteristic of the “intelligent battlespace” is indicative of its instituting an “organizing principle” as opposed to affirming and/or underwriting a “principle of organization”, which enables it to increasingly evade any external forms of control and direction, thereby acquiring a growing degree of autonomy.[29]

Given this, the task of imagining “new ways to fight” appears to pose a seemingly insurmountable challenge. This is because, given the gradual instantiation of the “intelligent battlespace”, our understanding of an Adversary—both as a Soldier and as the “accidental” (or deliberate) guerrilla/insurgent—is being rendered passé.[30] While these “traditional” forms of the Adversary may continue to inflict damage—some of which may be on a large scale and rate high on the lethality index—in the context of the “intelligent battlespace” and the “control paradigm” that it operationalizes, they nevertheless represent elements that can be managed and, when necessary, interdicted.

Take, for example, Reza Negarestani’s account of what he refers to as “the shadow terrorist” which, by most standards, is a frightening description of the performativity of a “new” kind of “terrorist”. In his insightful essay titled “The Militarization of Peace”, Negarestani engages with the incendiary proclamations of Abdu-Salam Faraj and draws our attention to the tactical dexterity involved in what he refers to as “the new wave of terrorism” in which “tactical lines are not aligned with (or configured by) the plane of conflict and visible military friction (battlefields, terrains for guerrilla warfare, street-wars etc.) … [and which] do not have localizability which is a prerequisite for direct conflict and military formation.”[31] Negarestani highlights the tactical benefits of “strategic (dis)simulation” that the “shadow terrorist” draws on, which involves “dismantling the theatrical aspect of the battlefield and selecting civilians as primary targets … [and which] makes survival itself a field of exploitation.” Negarestani informs us that invoking the tactics of Taqiya, the Takfiri “engages as a shadow terrorist in White War—the endo-militarization of peace, a state of hypercamouflage (best defined as complete and consequently symmetrical overlap between two entities on a mereotopological plane).” He further posits that “in this war, the cover of camouflage cannot be penetrated or disrupted, and the defensive camouflage … is replaced by a wholly novel, highly offensive deployment, the space of hypercamouflage.”[32] For our purposes, it is necessary to ask: can such an adversary, at least in the way Negarestani describes him, survive in the context of the emergent “intelligent battlespace”?

Negarestani’s key insight is that a “shadow terrorist”, the Takfiri, engages in strategic (dis)simulation, which involves the consideration of the target’s body as a host and to burrow deep within it, not as a “foreign” agent, but by masquerading as an integral element of the body, thereby avoiding detection. But consider this “tactic” in the context of the emergent targeting paradigm that we referred to above. The Takfiri’s strategic cover, in a manner of speaking, is to effect an absolute and total overlap with its target. While this may have worked in non-intelligent battlespaces where the “control paradigm” was still a conjecture, in current and emergent conditions, the Takfiri would have to either redefine the tactic of hypercamouflage or consider it being rendered ineffective and thus irrelevant. In other words, it is not simply enough for the Takfiri to engage in “deep deception” or, as Negarestani points out, in Faraj’s terms, “seeking the highest degree of participation with the infidels, with their civilians: ‘if they take drugs we must do the same, if they take part in every type of sexual activity we must drive those activities to the point of excess’.”[33] It is also not sufficient for the Takfiri to avoid engaging with(in) recognized “planes of conflict” and sites of military friction. This is because the emergent “intelligent battlespace”, while accommodating such overlaps engaged in by the Takfiri, also—by twisting the “recognized planes of conflict” into a seemingly seamless continuum, which has no apparent beginning, middle or end—serves as a virtual prison from which the Takfiri would never be able to either escape or act again. Thus, while the Takfiri may be able to effect a strategic (dis)simulation operation by “militarizing peace”, his strategic objective of undermining the integrity of his target by a timely dissimulation would be impossible given that any violation of the “control paradigm” would invite instant identification and retribution.[34] It would also, perversely, heighten the efficiency of the “intelligent battlespace” since the Takfiri would, by his (dis)simulation operations, provide it with an additional dataset which would only augment the “intelligence” of the “intelligent battlespace”. In this way, the “intelligent battlespace”, constituted by “the most profound technologies”, and which is increasingly standing-in as the world-as-such, represents a degree of weaponization (and securitization) which is, and may be projected to be, unparalleled.

As if wanting to put a hi-tech and “modern” twist to the tactics of the Takfiri, the Economist breathlessly proclaims that “hypersonics” is “the new form of stealth”.[35] But all it does is to exhibit a profound misunderstanding of the critical issue at stake. For, as we have seen, in the context of the emergent “intelligent battlespace”, “speed” is no guarantor of “stealth”; rather, it is, ironically, representative of the instantaneity of retribution—an instance of reaping the benefits of the weaponization of speed—which is wholly dependent on the “grid of intelligibility” that the “intelligent battlespace” etches.[36] This virtual collapse of time and the weaponization of the laws of the sciences which, in the context of high-intensity warfare involving nation-states, involves the use of hypersonic missiles to break down Anti-Missile defensive systems and which, in the context of low-intensity, counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations, is the harbinger of “instant death” from the skies, also renders the insidiousness of a sophisticated adversary like the Takfiri, or the shadow terrorist, ineffective.

For an Adversary intending to contend with the emergent “intelligent battlespace”, following the age-old adage of “knowing one’s adversary” remains crucial. But this “knowing” will have to be undertaken differently and, in the first instance, will require the fulfilment of at least two basic pre-requisites. First, a re-envisioning of the “intelligent battlespace” will be necessary. This will involve recognizing the “intelligent battlespace” not as an innovative organization of people, processes, technologies and forms of organizations, but as a “new” form of organism—one that is adept at shape-shifting (effecting strategic expansions and tactical withdrawals).[37] Second, and perhaps more importantly, it will require a patient and intricate reworking of the alphanumeric concordances, which underwrite and sustain the logic systems that constitute the “intelligent battlespace”.[38] Among other things, this will also involve paying close attention to how it “learns”.

While it is not possible within the current constraints to provide a detailed account of how these twin prerequisites may be fulfilled, what follows, however, is a brief account of how an assessment of the “intelligent battlespace” may be initiated. With the caveat that such an account will, at this stage, be brief, speculative and necessarily abstract, a viable starting point for an Adversary preparing to contend with the “intelligent battlespace” would involve recognizing that the process by which it “learns” has at least two distinguishing features. First, “learning” in the context of the “intelligent battlespace” takes place across differing timescales, and second, there are at least two kinds of “learning” that take place. Here “learning” refers to “the process of extracting structure—statistical regularities—from input data and encoding that structure into the parameters of the network.”[39] If we think of the “intelligent battlespace” as being comprised of two layers—the digital computational and the analogue computational—then the “learning” that takes place at the digital computational level can be said to be “experiential”, which is attributable to the fact that the digital computational level is, among other things, primarily constituted by a plethora of sensors which interface not only with what lies outside it, but also between its own constituents.[40] In this sense, the digital computation level serves as the “interactive” mechanism with which the “intelligent battlespace”, in a manner of speaking, animates itself. From this it follows that the “learning” that takes place at this level occurs along and across a much shorter timescale as compared to that which takes place at the analogue computational level where, on the other hand, the timescales involved are much longer and are, perhaps, best understood in evolutionary terms. As such, it is akin to a “learning substrate”, whose primary function is to enhance, but also direct the learning capabilities of the digital computational level that rides on it. One way to understand this is to consider it in terms of “active learning” and “innate learning” systems.[41] “Active learning” is “learning by experience”. “Innate learning”, on the other hand, is “intrinsic”/“natural”/“unsupervised”. Thus, if the digital computational level is the site where “active learning” takes place, then the analogue computational level is the site where “innate learning” takes place. The question then arises: how does “innate learning” at the analogue computational level take place? While in the case of biological entities, “innateness” (of learning and knowledge) is a function of specific encodings within the genome as a consequence of evolution, in the case of the analogue computational level, “innate learning” may be understood as the forming of abstract statistical regularities drawn from vast quantities of input data over extended timeframes. It is important to note that these abstract statistical regularities contribute to the evolution of the architecture of the analogue computational level. When considered in this way, the digital computational and the analogue computational levels appear to share a symbiotic relationship in the sense that the abstract statistical regularities that are formed at the level of analogue computation are derived from the “experience” acquired by and at the digital computational level. Simultaneously, these abstract statistical regularities, which inform the architecture of the abstract computational level, in turn, “condition” how the digital computational level functions. In this way, the analogue computational level “conditions” and “reinforces” the “learning” that takes place at the digital computational level. Put differently, it could be said that analogue computational level does not “encode representations or behaviours … or optimization principles directly”; rather, it “encodes … rules and patterns, which then must instantiate behaviours and representations” at the digital computational level.[42] In this connection, it is also worth pointing out that the constitution of the digital computational level, which is comprised of a plethora of sensors, undergoes a more rapid transformation as compared to any change that may occur at the analogue computational level. This is because the devices that constitute the digital computational level are more directly impacted by the effects of Moore’s Law and, consequently, are upgraded more frequently. However, as they are upgraded and as their performance achieves higher levels of efficiency and increasingly finer resolutions, they remain subject to the “reinforcement” that the analogue computational level provides.

This brief overview of how the “intelligent battlespace” “learns”, which contributes to the progressive enhancement of its “intelligence” (and “awareness”), suggests that for the Adversary, perhaps the most remunerative but long-range target that the “intelligent battlespace” affords is at the analogue computational level. There are two reasons for this. First, as we have seen, the learning process at the analogue computational level is more drawn out and the degree of abstraction is very high. Second, in comparison to the digital computational level, the “learning” that occurs at the analogue computational level is more foundational in the sense that it co-constitutes not only the architecture of the analogue computational level, it also encodes the rules and patterns by which the representations and/or behaviours at the digital computational level take place. Thus, any interdiction at this level will have, albeit slowly/gradually, a cascading effect on the nature of the “intelligent battlespace”. In this sense, the nature of offensive operations that the Adversary will engage in will necessarily have to be “effects-based” where the “effect” would not be in the form of “spectacular” events, but one of gradual decay. This leads to the assessment that while on the one hand the concept of operations that may prospectively underwrite the martial operability of the Adversary will be one informed by the “principle of decay” rather than that of destruction, the tactical manoeuvre that the Adversary will adopt, unlike that of the Takfiri’s tactic of hypercamouflage, will be one of “transpiercement”.[43] To be able to achieve this, however, the Adversary will have to seek “staging areas” which, in the context of the constitution of the “intelligent battlespace” that we have cursorily described above, can only be available where the digital computational and analogue computational levels overlay (and abut) each other. Here the Adversary will seek (and find) interstices—holey spaces—within which to reside temporarily and to plan and stage his offensive operations.[44] Such spaces, marked by complexity, ambiguity, hybridity, contradiction and otherness, will afford the Adversary a space of respite, sheltering him from the “gorgon stare” of each of the computational levels, thereby affording him the cover required to plot and plan his intervention.[45] They will also serve as portals through which he will be able to carry out his offensive operations.

Endnote to the Exegetical Incursion of the “Intelligent Battlespace”:

The “intelligent battlespace” is yet in a formative stage. One way to gauge the extent to which it has been instantiated is by closely following the development of the “internet of every thing”. The radically insidious nature of this emergent battlespace ensures that our recognition of it is always going to be subverted by the apparent ease and functionality that it provides, principally by means of the digital computational level, which we see being manifested by “consumer” technologies like smart phones, GPS-enabled devices, augmented reality systems, among others, which have already become a part of, in Michel de Certeau’s terms, the practice of our everyday life. These technologies and devices, as Weiser had written in 1991, have not yet receded wholly into the background. But they are in the process of doing so. We “consume” them not recognizing that simultaneously we are also being consumed by them. The apparent benign-ness of these technologies, which are little more than user-interfaces to a deeper analogue computational logic, seduces us to progressively acquiesce in our rendition—like the soldiers Sterling observed in the CATTAC—as little more than digital objects. In the military context, as we have already seen, it is now almost impossible to think about war and tactics outside the purview of these kinds of machines and technologies whose operational envelope remains constricted by the deep logic(s) of the “intelligent battlespace”.

The two Chinese military theorists who we had invoked previously had observed that “[w]ar in the age of technological integration and globalization has eliminated the right of weapons to label war and, with regard to the new starting point, has realigned the relationship of weapons to war.” When cast against the backdrop of our brief “incursion” of the “intelligent battlespace”, we can now see how their concerns, while not misplaced, may have underestimated the context in which their observations assume an even greater importance than what they may have imagined. While it is true that “technological integration” (and globalization) has indeed eliminated the right of weapons to label war, this elimination, as we have seen, may, in part, be attributable to the emergence of the “intelligent battlespace”, which is subjecting current and emergent designs of military hardware and software to its dictates. In the process, it is also impacting the “wetwares” of war, or what we have previously referred to as the “tactical imaginations”, that we seek to employ in the so-called “physical battlespace”. In this sense, the theorization of war and of modes of martial operability remains bound within the envelope of possibilities afforded by the “intelligent battlespace”, thus vindicating the concerns articulated by the two Chinese military theorists, albeit differently. Thus, while we remain cognizant of the conceptual envelope that may have restricted the imagination of the two Chinese military theorists, we cannot help but empathize with their call to focus our thinking on “how to fight”, for that is the challenge that we, in the context of the emergent “intelligent battlespace”, face.

Consequently, if we must think about war, martial operability and new concepts of weapons in the 21st century and beyond, we have to think differently. We must free our imagination from the “control paradigm” that the “intelligent battlespace” is instituting. It is in this sense that Marko Peljhan’s exhibit—though representing an instantiation of the weaponization of speed—is both apposite and (un)timely for it issues a call to “escape”—an escape from the embrace of the “intelligent battlespace”.


Dr. Manabrata Guha is a Research Fellow and a member of the VDST Research Group at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, Australia. His current research deals with autonomous/intelligent battle/weapons systems and their impact on war, strategy and tactics.


[1] I emphasize on “again” because in the domain of strategic studies, strategic military transformation, while a contested subject of study, remains a critical activity. The intense interest in the so-called “revolutions in military affairs” is a prime example of this.

[2] LIU, Cixin, Death’s End, New York: Tor Books, 2006, p. 1392 (e-version).

[3] See, for example, OSBORN, Kris, “Navy Declares Laser Weapons Ready to Protect Ships in Persian Gulf”, in:, 12/10/2014, available at:

[4] The complex and often intimate relationship between Science (and Technology) and War has been a subject of keen interest and discussion. For a popular discussion on this topic, see DEGRASSE TYSON, Neil & LANG, Avis, Accessory to War – The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2018. See also BOOT, Max, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, New York: Gotham Books, 2006; MCNEILL, William H., The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982, among others.

[5] ANDRADE, Tonio, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History, Princeton University Press, 2016.

[6] It is a matter of speculation, however, which we will return to below, for it invokes a specific notion of “speculation”.

[7] LIANG, Qiao & XIANGSUI, Wang, Unrestricted Warfare: Assumptions on War and Tactics in the Age of Globalization, Beijing: Peoples Liberation Army Arts Publishers, Feb. 1999, p. 12, emphasis by the author.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 19.

[10] BUCKINGHAM Jr., William A., Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia 1961–1971, Office of Air Force History, Washington, DC: United States Air Force, 1982, available at:; YOUNG, Alvin L., The History, Use, Disposition and Environmental Fate of Agent Orange, New York: Springer, 2009, available at

[11] The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, Chapter 2, “U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965–1968”, Boston: Beacon Press, 1971, pp. 277–604; see also HERSH, Seymour M., “Rainmaking Is Used As Weapon by U.S.”, in: The New York Times, 03/07/1972, available at:

[12] See, for example, KELLMEREIT, Daniel & OBODOVSKI, Daniel, The Silent Intelligence: The Internet of Things, DND Ventures, PLC, 2013; MATTERN, Friedemann & FLOERKEMEIER, Christian, “From the Internet of Computers to the Internet of Things” (updated translation of “Vom Internet der Computer zum Internet der Dinge”), in: Informatik-Spektrum, 33(2), Distributed Systems Group, Institute for Pervasive Computing, ETH Zurich, 2012, pp. 107–121; See also AARTS, E., HARWIG, R., SCHUURMANS, M., “Ambient Intelligence”, in: DENNING, Peter J. (ed.), The Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration of Technology Into Everyday Life, New York: McGraw Hill, 2002. Aarts et al. specifically draw attention to the emergence of what they refer to as “ambient intelligence” in the context of the “internet of (every) thing”.

[13] WEISER, Mark, “The Computer for the 21st Century”, in: Scientific American Special Issue on Communications, Computers, and Networks, September 1991. Weiser’s third draft version is available at:

[14] Ibid.

[15] A similar argument, albeit in a different context, is made by Jennifer Gabrys in her excellent Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2016, p. 4). It is also worth pointing out that I share Gabrys’ understanding of “computation to include computationally enabled sensors … [i]n other words … to the extended scope of computation”. This is as applicable to her project as it is to the “intelligent battlespace” that I attempt to draw attention to.

[16] One possible reason for this unreflective attitude is that there is a consistent resistance to the implications of “ubiquitous computing”. Additionally, it is also an indicator of the sapping of what I refer to as “tactical imagination”. In this connection, it is interesting to note an initiative that has been undertaken by the US military. Specifically, within the US Marine Corps, it was deemed necessary to engage in “futures forecasting” by taking recourse to “science fiction”. The objective of the Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate is to engage in continual examination of the deep future. This is one instance—and a rare one—which aims to expand, or at least animate, the growingly moribund “tactical imagination”. See See also

[17] This project, at least in the context of the US Armed Forces, has seen multiple revisions over the years in terms of focus and terminology. Over time, this program to “enhance” the soldier has been labelled as Net Warrior (2011), Land Warrior (2007) and Future Warrior (2004).

[18] STERLING, Bruce, “War is Virtual Hell”, in: Wired Magazine, Issue 1.01, March–April 1993, available at:

[19] DYSON, George, “The Third Law”, in: BROCKMAN, John (ed.), Possible Minds: Twenty-five Ways of Looking at AI, New York: Penguin, 2019.

[20] Ibid., p. 55.

[21] This is not to suggest that questions of “ethics” and “morals” are not important in the context of the digital battlespace and in the increasing use of autonomous weapon systems. For a cogent account of the implications of digital computation in the context of war, see, for example, GALLIOTT, Jai, Military Robots: Mapping the Moral Landscape, London: Routledge, 2017.

[22] SIMONDON, Gilbert, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, Paris: Aubier, Editions Montaigne, 1958, trans. by Ninian Mellamphy, Preface by John Hart, London, ON: Univ. of Western Ontario, June 1980, pp 48–49. It is necessary to highlight that here I am appropriating Simondon’s term technogeography and not suggesting that his use of the term was anything akin to how I have used it in this essay.

[23] Note here that the question regarding “the intent of the target” would have been resolved before a targeting action is initiated. In other words, it would have been (ideally, but not always) ascertained that an entity has a hostile intent prior to its being designated as a “target”.

[24] LIBICKI, Martin C., The Mesh and the Net: Speculations on Armed Conflict in a Time of Free Silicon, McNair Paper 28, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington, DC: National Defence Univ., 1994, p. 23.

[25] Such nascent efforts are already underway though they appear more in the context of the emergence of the surveillance state. However, considering that the expanded battlespace makes no distinction between the “civilian” and the “military”, to that extent these nascent efforts may be considered to be emergent instantiations of the “intelligent battlespace”. See, for example, BOTSMAN, Rachel, “Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens”, in: Wired, 21/10/2017, available at:

[26] The IFF (Identification Friend/Foe) systems installed in combat aircraft are rudimentary examples of this. It should be noted that despite the name, such systems, which have both military and civilian applications, only identify “friends”. This identification is done by registering the transponder signals that aircraft emit. The IFF system falls under a more comprehensive Combat Identification System (CID), which is “the process of attaining an accurate characterization of detected objects in the operational environment sufficient to support an engagement decision.” See “Joint Fire Support”, in: Joint Publication 3–09, 30/06/2010, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defence.

[27] It may be argued that this is analogous to the “immune system” of an organism. But this is not so since an immune system aims to maintain the somatic integrity of the organism by neutralizing “the threat”. In the case of the “intelligent battlespace” as described and discussed here, the strategic aim of the assessment is not to make itself “immune” to a threat. Rather, it is to “accommodate” the threat as a means to become more “resilient”.

[28] This resonates with the observation made by the Chinese military theorists that “the evolution of weapons … has a decisive constraining effect on the evolution of tactics.” See LIANG & XIANGSUI, Unrestricted Warfare, p. 19.

[29] This is not a “new” claim; nor is it a matter that has not been observed and/or theorized upon in the past. These discussions have taken place, generally, under the rubric of “the surveillance state/society”. What is new, however, is the overt weaponization that is currently underwriting this state of affairs. For insightful accounts of the emergent surveillance systems at various degrees of granularity see, for example, ZUBOFF, Shoshana, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, New York: Public Affairs, Jan. 2019; HARRIS, Shane, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, London: Penguin Books, 2010; LYON, David, The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1994, among others.

[30] The reference to the “accidental guerrilla” is taken from David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011). It should be noted that Kilcullen is, in some quarters, considered to be “a ground-breaking theorist whose ideas ʻare revolutionizing military thinking throughout the westʼ” (as reported in The Washington Post, 22/03/2009). Of course, now, in 2019, with insurgencies continuing unabated, one wonders what ground was indeed broken in the conduct of COIN wars and what the concomitant impact has been in terms of “revolutionizing military thinking throughout the west”!

[31] NEGARESTANI, Reza, “The Militarization of Peace: Absence of Terror or the Terror of Absence”, in: MACKAY, Robin (ed.), Collapse I, Oxford: Urbanomic, 2007, pp. 54–55.

[32] NEGARESTANI, “The Militarization of Peace”, p. 55.

[33] Ibid., pp. 61–62.

[34] The instantaneity of response is an instance of the weaponization of hypersonics.

[35] “Hypersonic missiles: Speed is the new stealth”, in: The Economist, Technology Quarterly (Print Edition), 01/06/2013.

[36] Note that the “hypersonic missiles”—even if they are of the “fire and forget” varieties—that the Economist refers to have to fly along a “trajectory”. This trajectory is always precalculated and tracked by a variety of radar systems. In this way, the missile remains tied to a “grid of intelligibility”.

[37] It is necessary to be wary of needlessly anthropomorphizing this notion of “an organism”.

[38] Concordance here refers to an “equivalence relation” between two links (link-concordance). In mathematics, concordance is a foundational mechanism that underwrites the sign “=” (“equal to”), which is an example of an “equivalence relation”.

[39] ZADOR, Anthony M., “A Critique of Pure Learning: What Artificial Neural Networks can Learn from Animal Brains”, in: bioRxiv, 20/03/2019, p. 2.

[40] There is nothing esoteric about this, for it approximates the operational logic of the “internet of every thing”.

[41] It may appear to be a contradiction to speak of “innate-ness” and “learning” in the same breath. This is because “innateness”, by definition, means some quality or attribute or ability “which you are born with, or which is present naturally.” (Cambridge English Dictionary: I am using this admittedly contradictory term to gesture to the “process” that takes place by means of which these qualities, attributes, behaviours etc. have “become natural”, which I refer to as “learning”. This “learning”, when considered in evolutionary terms, may at one time have been “active”, but over time it has become “encoded” within the structure and organization of the entity concerned and, in this way, appears “natural”. In this connection, it is also important to point out that the word “knowledge” may seem to be a more appropriate term to use—thus, “innate knowledge” and “actively learned knowledge”. However, the aim of the Adversary, as we will see, would not be to launch offensive operations against a “body of knowledge”—innate or actively learnt; rather, the offensive would be launched against the process (i.e., the process of learning) by which knowledge is produced.

[42] ZADOR, “A Critique of Pure Learning: What Artificial Neural Networks can Learn from Animal Brains”, p. 7.

[43] As Deleuze and Guattari, referring to a “splendid text by Élie Faure … [in which] the infernal progress of the itinerant peoples of India” is evoked, observe: “Transpierce the mountains instead of scaling them.” (DELEUZE, Gilles & GUATTARI, Félix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. and Foreword by Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2005, p. 413) For an account of how the “principle of decay” works, see NEGARESTANI, Reza, The Corpse Bride: Thinking with Nigredo, Collapse Volume IV: Concept Horror, Urbanomic, 2008. Whether Negarestani’s account applies in the context of the “intelligent battlespace” remains to be investigated.

[44] The term “holey space” is drawn from the work of Deleuze and Guattari (see their A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, pp. 413, 500). As Hélène Frichot describes it, “holey space is not properly volumetric, nor surface-like, nor linear, but always on the way to becoming one state or another. It can thus be called ʻmetamorphologicalʼ. As such, holey space registers the demand for a creative practice of ʻhollowing outʼ regions of escape. Holey space is not as absolute as smooth space, and offers instead the possibility of temporary respite: a ʻtentʼ, ʻholiday homeʼ, ʻgîteʼ, or ʻshelterʼ.” See FRICHOT, Hélène, “Holey Space and the Smooth and Striated Body of the Refugee”, in: HICKEY-MOODY, Anna & MALINS, Peta (eds.), Deleuzian Encounters Studies in Contemporary Social Issues, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007, p. 175. In our context, “holey space” is a space of complexity, ambiguity, hybridity, contradiction and otherness which interfaces with the analogue computational level on one side and the digital computational level on the other.

[45] The Gorgon Stare “is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system … which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town. The system, made up of nine video cameras mounted on a remotely piloted aircraft, can transmit live images to soldiers on the ground or to analysts tracking enemy movements. It can send up to 65 different images to different users … Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance … [is reported as saying] ʻGorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.ʼ” See NAKASHIMA, Ellen & WHITLOCK, Craig, “With Air Force’s Gorgon Drone ʻwe can see everythingʼ”, in: The Washington Post, 02/01/2011, available at: While my use of the term here is not meant to invoke the specific platform, my intent, however, is to invoke the operational principle of an omnisensorial capability.