View Full Version : Peter W. Singer/Wired For War at The Complex Terrain Lab

Mike Innes
03-27-2009, 09:42 PM
Hi All. I'd like to call your attention to another symposium coming up next week at The Complex Terrain Laboratory (http://www.terraplexic.org), from 30 March to 2 April. This one is on Peter Singer's new book Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (http://www.terraplexic.org/review/2009/3/22/ctlab-symposium-on-pw-singers-wired-for-war.html) (Penguin, 2009). Singer's opening remarks will be posted early Monday morning.

Not all the stuff we do at CTlab is SWJ material, but I think this one will be of interest to readers. Plenty of ink (http://www.terraplexic.org/review/2009/3/26/ctlab-symposium-wired-for-war-additional-readings.html) has been spilled on the subject of robotics/unmanned systems, and symposium participants will be adding a fair bit of output to that over the next week.

Confirmed participants include:

Kenneth Anderson (Law; American University)
Matt Armstrong (Public Diplomacy; Armstrong Strategic Insights Group)
John Matthew Barlow (History; John Abbott College)
Rex Brynen (Political Science; McGill University)
Antoine Bousquet (International Relations; Birkbeck College, London)
Charli Carpenter (International Relations; UMass-Amherst)
Andrew Conway (Political Science; NYU)
Jan Federowicz (History; Carleton University)
John T. Fishel (National Security Policy; University of Oklahoma)
Michael A. Innes (Political Science; University College London)
Martin Senn (Political Science; University of Innsbruck)
Marc Tyrrell (Anthropology; Carleton University)

Quite a few of them are active elsewhere on the web, and several are active SWC participants. Their blogs include Arms Control (http://www.armscontrol.at/), Duck of Minerva (http://duckofminerva.blogspot.com/), In Harmonium (http://marctyrrell.com/), MountainRunner (http://www.mountainrunner.us/), Opinio Juris (http://www.opiniojuris.org/), PaxSims (http://paxsims.wordpress.com/), Spatialities (http://spatialitism.wordpress.com/), Third World Wired (http://www.3rdworldwired.com/), and Zero Intelligence Agents (http://blogs.nyu.edu/blogs/agc282/zia/).

I'd be especially interested to read what the COIN/CT experts here at SWC think of what Singer's written, on the issue of unmanned systems in general, and on whatever we manage to come up during our event. For quick post tracking, proceedings will be compiled and indexed here (http://www.terraplexic.org/indexsymposium4/). All comments welcome, whether at CTlab or here at SWC.


03-27-2009, 11:55 PM
If I finish the book this weekend I'm planning on carpet bombing the CTLAB. If not I'll drink more Tequila. Options are good.

03-28-2009, 07:44 AM
Frakin’ Cool and Winning Wars (SWJ Book Review)
by Robert L. Goldich

Frakin’ Cool and Winning Wars (Full PDF Article) (http://smallwarsjournal.com/mag/docs-temp/202-goldich.pdf)

After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there was a fusillade of remarks about how American technological superiority was the decisive factor in how we won the war. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf would have none of this. He stated that although our weapons and equipment were indeed technologically superior to those of the Iraqis, we would have won the war if we had had their equipment, and they had had ours. P.W. Singer would have done well to ponder this remark at some point in the researching and writing of Wired for War.

William F. Owen
03-28-2009, 12:05 PM
As the Middle East Editor of Unmanned Vehicles (http://www.shephard.co.uk/magazines/7/unmanned-vehicles/), the premier journal in the field, for which Pete Singer provided an article, I will follow this with some interest.

Personally, I just don't see the complexity in applying robotics to war. The problem tends to be more ignorance and aspiration based. The operational problems are generally solvable (as I have said in print) given simple and robust conceptual guidance, which we are not currently short of.

Ground crawling robots proved decisive in very obvious ways during Cast Lead

Mike Innes
03-28-2009, 01:01 PM
Bill, do you have a direct URL for Singer's article in Unmanned Vehicles? I can add it to the list of reference material we're compiling at CTlab.

William F. Owen
03-28-2009, 02:22 PM
Bill, do you have a direct URL for Singer's article in Unmanned Vehicles? I can add it to the list of reference material we're compiling at CTlab.

Sorry, there is no Online Edition.

Bill Moore
03-28-2009, 09:49 PM

Are you going to discuss the impact of robotics when our enemies start using this technology against us? Bill

Mike Innes
03-29-2009, 08:46 AM
Hi Bill. An important point. If participants don't bring it up, I'll be sure to moderate it into the discussion. Thanks for suggesting it.


John T. Fishel
03-29-2009, 11:52 AM
certainly explicit in Singer's writing. And if we have the technology others do too, or will soon get it. Of course, it will migrate to our enemies as well as our friends. Such is the inevitable course of technological innovation. For its implications, we'll see what we all say in the symposium.

Hat tip to you Bill:)



Mike Innes
03-30-2009, 06:00 AM
Peter Singer's opening remarks are now up, and several participant posts should be up later in the day. From Singer:

I wanted to thank Michael, Matt, and Matthew, and all the other for putting together this symposium. It is a great honor to have one’s work looked at in this way so soon after coming out.

Wired for War is a book about how something big that is going on today in the overall history of war, and maybe even of humanity itself. The US military went into Iraq with just a handful of robotic drones in the air and zero unmanned systems on the ground, none of them armed. Today, there are over 7,000 drones in the US inventory and another roughly 12,000 on the ground. But these are just the first generation, the Model T Fords and Wright Flyers compared to what is already in the prototype stage. And, yes, the tech industry term of “killer application” doesn’t just describe what iPods did to the music industry, but also applies to the arming of our creations with everything from hellfire missiles to .50 caliber machine guns.

There's more. Looking forward to reading what develops in this SWC thread.

Mike Innes
04-02-2009, 05:04 AM
I always thought that expression was a bit light - I mean, you need to have your cake, to eat it, right? Can't eat it if you don't have it, right?


Ken Anderson, who teaches law at American University and blogs on the laws of armed conflict at Opinio Juris (http://www.opiniojuris.org), has posted a pretty provocative piece (http://www.terraplexic.org/review/2009/4/2/weapons-bans-and-autonomous-battlefield-robots.html)that deals in large part with the non-law response to precision targeting. Having our cake and eating it, too, is his point: increased demand for technological precision in war, matched by increasingly negative response to what that means in practice: essentially, as Ken puts it, removing the anonymity of war and replacing it with much narrower focus on well identified, high value targets. The result, I'd have to agree with Ken, is more than a little bewildering, it not downright hypocrytical.


William F. Owen
04-02-2009, 10:30 AM
Just looked through some of the posts on CT Lab, and a couple of points spring to mind.

Closely observing the one military to make extensive use of "unmanned vehicles" in a recent conflict, I can safely say that NO ONE is talking about autonomy, in the terms currently being discussed and especially when it comes to lethality.

The primary uses of "unmanned systems" are pretty well codified and pretty well understood, based on recent experience. None of the items raised so far are in any way much relevant to how the actual user communities see the capabilities developing.

The current areas of discussion have very little to do with law (other than ROE) and everything to do with application within the battle space, where ever that maybe.

John T. Fishel
04-02-2009, 12:08 PM
such a carmudgeon.:wry: Actually, I agree with you in the main and my next post to the symposium - later this AM - will expand on what you are saying along with Robert Goldich's review of the book posted on the SWJ the other day and some sci fi for the fun of it.



04-02-2009, 04:40 PM
While I disagree that no one is talking about autonomy, this is not the real issue. We've attempted to dismiss technology-related problems through painful parsing, excuses, and legal mumbo-jumbo before. While that may ultimately succeed in the American, or even Western, court of public opinion, it doesn't work in the places where opinions really matter.

Ken White
04-02-2009, 05:35 PM
...it doesn't work in the places where opinions really matter.Hate to be slow but am unsure of your meaning.

04-02-2009, 05:58 PM
I was wondering if the sea of fog I'm swimming in from a sinus infection had rendered me combat ineffective...

As for the answer... Where do opinions really matter?? High School of course:D

Ken White
04-02-2009, 07:10 PM
for bad sinuses. Sinii??? :D

04-02-2009, 07:58 PM
just as soon as I can escape my four walled cell

04-02-2009, 09:31 PM
the public opinion I'm referring to is the war of perceptions, the struggle for minds and wills over both the indigenous population and a global audience who may be antagonistic to or conversely supportive of the mission.

Ron Humphrey
04-02-2009, 10:58 PM
When we discuss technology in all its forms and the perceptions of those who this tech will be aimed at helping/hurting would it not be important that we not put the cart before the horse.

What I mean is if we were to take for example tech systems that use behavioral analysis to explore possible points of contention or probabilities of a given thing happening( search for bots, anti-spam, anti-viral, social network mapping, etc) these should involve a high level of skepticism in their acceptance as singular solutions. Each requires somewhere in the process that
DUH check that only a human being can actually put the final approval/denial on its results.

This is not saying that they aren't effective on their own and they can and do effectively identify and at least minimize issues related the the realm they monitor.

Down side is I don't know about the rest of you but I'll be darned if I can get most of my family or friends to actually leave them turned on because they stand in the way of their ease to interact with the world through the internet.

Same generally goes for more advanced robotic applications involved in performing missions of great variety in replacing human beings. Sure those robots at the factory give the ability to build a whole lot more cars each day then humans could and may be more accurate but on the flipside if one of them gets set wrong then everything has to stop in order to get it straight before starting the whole line again, or even worse nobody notices and 6000 cars hit the road with a defect which may cost lives.

Take that to the next step and apply it to UAV's, ground systems etc. Disposable bot to check for a bomb great, bot whose supposed to determine whether a house is dangerous or not, or a human- What you gonna do when all the right elements for a concoction exist in a small enough area That it presumes its there to make what could be made from it and simply disposes of it without asking.

Long and short same argument you've probably heard a million times but seems worth restating- They may help you do what you do better, or even do what you faster and more effectively but that means they can also screw it up faster and more effectively then you could ever do.

Until we actually figure out our own brains it's probably a really bad idea to work to hard to try replicating in digital autonomy that which we have yet to explain sufficiently about ourselves.

04-03-2009, 01:48 AM

Are you going to discuss the impact of robotics when our enemies start using this technology against us? Bill

What happens when our enemies hack our systems and take control of our unmanned assets? If nothing else see what we are seeing? Imagine losing a number of Predators to hackers. Not sure if this is what you were talking about Bill, or if they just simple develop their own technology to counter ours?

Ken White
04-03-2009, 01:53 AM
the public opinion I'm referring to is the war of perceptions, the struggle for minds and wills over both the indigenous population and a global audience who may be antagonistic to or conversely supportive of the mission.but it seemed to me that American and western opinion was part of that -- and more likely to impact usage than the perceptions of the broader global audience.

While I am decidedly not a 'hearts and minds' guy, I certainly acknowledge the potential for adverse perceptions on the part of the local population in a COIN / FID / SFA/ IW / CIW scenario (is it just me or are we getting carried away in our list of terms...). However, since it seemed to me that any such adverse perceptions would be quickly acceded to, I was not -- and am not -- certain of the continuation of use of any equipment or TTP that provokes such an adverse reaction.

That's a long way of saying that I agree that "We've attempted to dismiss technology-related problems through painful parsing, excuses, and legal mumbo-jumbo before." We can probably also agree that's wrong, dumb and that we should not do that -- however, it's been my observation that pressure to cease such foolishness coming from American and / or western public opinion base is far, far more likely to achieve rapid cessation of the questionable practice than will the other opinions...

07-25-2009, 09:25 PM
“We have to diminish the idea that technology is going to change warfare…War is primarily a human endeavor.”

General James N. Mattis (USMC), Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command; and NATO Supreme Allied Commander

I am sharing below a summary post I did on a recent empirical analysis of the impact of technology/machines on insurgency outcomes - RB:

Using more machines in war may diminish a force's chance of success according to a new study authored by Jason Lyall of Princeton and Isaiah Wilson III of the US Military Academy.

We typically marvel at advances in technology, and the military is often on the cutting edge of these innovations. There is no question that machines and technology have transformed warfare, but the high-tech leader in conflict may not always have the upper hand.

The researchers began by looking at the outcomes of 286 insurgency conflicts occurring between 1800 and 2005. They observed that states (the incumbents) regularly prevailed through the first half of 19th century, but after that they began to lose to insurgents much more frequently. Whether the incumbents were Great Powers or not,states won about 80% of the conflicts before World War I, but only half as many in the period since then. In their study, Lyall and Wilson sought to understand the reasons for this dramatic trend. They believe that greater losses has a lot to do with the increased "mechanization"of military force.

They summarize their argument in the following way:

We argue that this trend can be best explained by the force structures of post–World War I militaries. Force structure refers to the specific mixture of materiel and personnel that compromises a military’s war-making capabilities. ....(w)e follow the lead of historians in dividing our 1800–2005 time period into two distinct eras according to prevailing patterns of warfare. Until WorldWar I, armies consisted mostly of infantry and were organized around the principle of “foraging,” in which the bulk of their supplies were obtained, usually coercively, from local populations. World War I ushered in a new era of “machine war” marked by the replacement of manpower with motorized vehicles -that is, tanks, trucks, and aircraft- to increase the mobility and survivability of military forces on industrial-age battlefields of unprecedented lethality.

The advent of mechanization would have deleterious consequences for a military’s ability to wage COIN. Foraging armies, often quite rudimentary in their level of technological sophistication, were forced to interact extensively with local populations to acquire their provisions -mostly food, water, and fodder. Frequent soldier population interaction generated high volumes of information that enabled foraging armies to be more selective in their application of rewards and punishments. Highly complex modern armies, by contrast, are isolated from local populations since conflict zones cannot provide either the type or quantity of needed supplies. Mechanized militaries therefore suffer a kind of “information starvation” that inhibits their ability to solve the identification problem. (pp 72-73).

Empirically, they find strong support for the core of their argument. Understanding that discerning any kind of "causes" in analysis of war and conflict is a daunting task, the researchers took great care to use the best available data (their new compilation of 286 insurgencies is, itself, a great contribution) with balanced and reasoned consideration given to competing explanations.

Machine War Era

Most conflict scholars agree that World War I marked the beginning of the "machine war" era. There is, however, often a conventional wisdom that the more sophisticated force with the latest gadgets will nearly always win a war. This research suggests that may not be true - and in fact, the opposite may be true. But the finding that incumbent militaries' increased use of machines was associated with more military losses in COIN campaigns is not the end of the story.

Why would a more mechanized force reduce the likelihood of success? Lyall and Wilson educe two key factors - effects on the population's perceived sense of security and on the military's ability to selectively use its kinetic force - getting the real bad guys, but not impinging on the innocents. These points are cornerstones of traditional COIN strategy.

The "take-away" message from this research is not that machines are bad or that they necessarily make militaries lose wars. Rather, that a side effect of using more machines - rather than troops - in a force structure is that there it creates less soldier-to-population contact. And it is that kind of contact that both affords the force access to information that helps them to separate the bad guys from the others, especially in a battlespace where they may be indistinguishable through the sites of an armored vehicle. Selectivity is a major driving force in determining whether a population will perceive the military as protectors or threatening invaders. Lack of selectivity emboldens insurgent recruitment. Better information leads to better selectivity. "With the innocent and guilty equally likely to be punished, rational individuals will seek security and predictability with insurgent groups" (p.77).

In exploring possible competing hypotheses, the authors make a couple of other other notable observations.

First, that the declining trend in incumbent COIN success mirrors a trend in the democratization of incumbent nations. That is, democracies may find it tougher than autocratic states to prevail as incumbents. Democratic publics may feel more bound by international norms and laws and be more "averse to the casualties and moral compromises necessary to conduct COIN successfully."

Second, when the counterinsurgent is a foreign occupier, it may be at a particular disadvantage. This risk of loss for foreign counterinsurgents was especially evident in the Post WWI "mechanized" era.

Application in Iraq

To supplement their large-scale, historical analysis of COIN outcomes, the authors also did a more qualitative contemporary analysis, comparing two U.S. divisions in Iraq- the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Air Assault Division—during 2003–2004 to explore how mechanization might have shaped information gathering.

These two divisions were chosen because:

Despite its name, 4th ID was the most heavily mechanized unit in the entire U.S. Army, with 1,690 M1A2 tanks and armored vehicles for its 17,000 soldier -or ten soldiers per vehicle. The 101st, by contrast, was one of the least mechanized units, with only 296 vehicles, principally unarmored HMMWVs “Humvees”,for its 20,000 soldiers - or nearly sixty-eight soldiers per vehicle.

The activity of the 4thID and 101st compared in the following ways:

101st used a police-style model of “walking beats”, averaging 200 to 250 patrols daily - mostly dismounted. They tracked sizable increases in the average volume of weekly tips provided by local collaborators from none in May 2003 to about 150 by September 2003 and 370 by January 2004. The reliability of these tips also dramatically improved. 101st was able to target insurgents much more selectively with raids that minimized inconveniences to the general populace, arresting 11 individual a day on average. The 101st averaged 5 attacks a day from insurgents. Attacks against them diminished over time.

4th ID had mostly mechanized patrols, and averaged about 169 of them daily. They measured their performance mainly by counting enemy casualties or the number of firefights. 4th ID’s intelligence-gathering efforts were criticized by other divisions and its commanders. Interviews and data suggest that these “presence” patrols only stirred up resentment, a fact even acknowledged by those generally supportive of such patrols (p.99). 4th ID averaged 33 arrests each day, and had the highest total of any division in Iraq (~ 10,000 over the course of its tour). They were considered to be struggling with selectivity. The Army Inspector General concluded that 4th ID was “grabbing whole villages because combat soldiers were unable to figure out who was of value and who was not." The 4th ID averaged 25 attacks a day from insurgent (highest of any known Army division). Attacks against them increased over time.

By the metrics used here, the 101st seemed to have more success in selectivity and in securing the population. But the greater population contact also had a substantial cost.

It also bears emphasizing that the 101st’s relative success in counterinsurgency was purchased at the price of suffering higher casualties. The 101st lost eighty four soldiers during its tour; the 4th ID lost thirty-four. The same force structure that proved flexible enough to enable the 101st to build its information networks through dismounted patrolling also left its soldiers more vulnerable than their mechanized counterparts. This suggests the existence of a bitter tradeoff: minimizing soldiers’ risk lowers the volume and accuracy of information obtained, thus lowering the probability of defeating an insurgency. Perversely, a higher casualty total— which in modern war terms is viewed as evidence of failure—is often evidence that the counterinsurgent has anchored itself astride the information networks that will ultimately improve its effectiveness" (p. 102).

Lyall, J., & Wilson, I. (2009). Rage Against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars International Organization, 63 (01) DOI: 10.1017/S0020818309090031

07-25-2009, 10:16 PM
The Lyall-Wilson articles were cited and discussed briefly here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65660&postcount=55) and here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65691&postcount=57). This is Cavguy's area of research - above my SWC pay grade, but I offer free umpire services. :)

07-25-2009, 10:59 PM
The Lyall-Wilson articles were cited and discussed briefly here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65660&postcount=55) and here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65691&postcount=57). This is Cavguy's area of research - above my SWC pay grade, but I offer free umpire services. :)

Mike - Thanks very much for the pointers to those threads. I read through them with some interest. There are certainly a number of points in the study with which one could take issue, but it is one of the first large scale empirical - rather than andecdotal - studies on the topic that I have seen. One may reasonably disagree with aspects of the methods and conclusions, but it was certainly not careless or ill-considered. They got, not surprisingly, a LOT of feedback before their manuscript version went to press. I was actually less captivated by the aspect of "mechanization" than I was by their explanation about why those findings might emerge. I found the idea that increased population contact enhances the counterinsurgent's capacity for kinetic selectivity (because you have a more accurate and timely gauge on who the bad guys are) to be very intriguing. I'm very pleased CavGuy is considering writing a response. I think it would be useful to push the discourse on this a bit further. Thanks - RB

William F. Owen
07-26-2009, 01:10 PM
The Lyall-Wilson articles were cited and discussed briefly here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65660&postcount=55) and here (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showpost.php?p=65691&postcount=57). This is Cavguy's area of research - above my SWC pay grade, but I offer free umpire services. :)

Wow. Hadn't seen the Lyall-Wilson. I don't know about "Rage against the Machine" but i felt a certain amount of rage reading it. Makes me want to invoice them for the ink I wasted printing it out! :mad:

03-26-2010, 08:47 PM
Here’s (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/pw_singer_on_robots_of_war.html) a one year old 16 minute talk by Singer on TED.com.