Bionic Warrior: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Cloaking, Directed Energy and Cyber Weapons

By Paul Evancoe

The United States dedicates significant resources in defense spending with the objective of keeping its competitors and numerous potential enemies focused upon discord between one another. A divisive new breed of technology is emerging that provides the necessary war-fighting capabilities to meet this challenge. The traditional rifle-carrying soldier will largely be replaced by the bionic warrior: a composite capability composed of human, artificial intelligence (AI), bionic, robotic and other high technology capabilities that can be brought to bear at both the strategic and tactical levels.

What is a bionic warrior? Is he envisioned as some kind of super-sophisticated robot that Hollywood often depicts? Is he a part human—part machine cyborg? To put the bionic warrior in the proper perspective, he should be thought of as an integrated family of capabilities with a scenario-driven configuration menu (plug and play). Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the foundation of the bionic warrior along with most every supporting piece of his kit. This is because the bionic warrior must, above all, have connectivity to, and interoperability with, his supporting family of capabilities, i.e., the numerous interoperable, immediately accessible, capabilities.

With the above said, let’s explore the bionic warrior concept, while remembering that everything in the bionic warrior’s kit has a relationship to AI in one form or another. Think of it this way: AI is the bionic warrior’s brain, and electrical energy is the heartbeat and blood that powers him. Component interoperability and configurability (mobility, sensors, weapons) provide the right capabilities (defense, offense, other) for mission-specific requirements. Let’s also keep in mind that this concept has begun to transition into the civilian market for sporting and personal defense applications. More on this later.

Artificial Intelligence

First, let’s consider the bionic warrior’s brain—Artificial Intelligence. While AI technology is developing at an exponential pace, today’s computing speed and memory thresholds limit its advancement. The domain of shared human and AI-controlled smart machines is still in its infancy. Combining human and artificial intelligence into functional synergetic processes that control weapon systems and their delivery platforms remains in sight but is still on the distant horizon.

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently ordered the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which is intended to be DoD’s hub for AI research. This is not DoD’s first crack at incorporating AI into the war-fighting arena. In April 2017, DoD established a shadowy program, code-named Project Maven, in partnership with industry (primarily Google) to integrate machine learning and big data analysis. In layman’s words, it uses sophisticated artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage as a targeting tool. Having already proven itself successful, this capability will be folded into, and continue as, an element of the JAIC.

What can we expect to see when an AI-integrated bionic warrior does become reality? Since not all potential events can be anticipated, AI systems must function in extreme environments often hostile to human life, while managing large, fast-flowing data streams (big data) otherwise overwhelming to human capability.

In a recent article, Mick Ryan stated, “The primary reason that militaries need artificial intelligence is the convergence of large quantities of sensors, communications networks and an accelerating stream of data and information. As the quantity of information continues to increase, the capacity of humans to deal with it is not increasing commensurately. Indeed, humans are fast becoming the most sluggish link in decision-making. And while there is much ethical debate in the West about the application of autonomous weapon systems, as Ian Morris has written, “When robots with OODA [observe, orient, decide and act] loops of nanoseconds start killing humans with OODA loops of milliseconds, there will be no more debate.”

Today’s commercial smartphones market offers sobering insights into AI applications. For example, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Netflix’s streaming algorithms and Amazon’s shopping sites all access large databases based on user input and provide decision support using tailored algorithms that leverage the user’s previous decisions with analogous solution consideration to millions of other users. Smartphones provide individual users access to the history of the world from a voice interactive device held in the palm of one’s hand.

Just as AI is proliferating the commercial smartphone market, it is also on the precipice of proliferating military weapons systems across the entire war-fighting continuum. The bionic warrior’s future weapons will have a collaborative learning capability and the ability to adapt themselves, even reconfigure themselves, as necessary, for maximum effectiveness while in the heat of battle.

They will come in a variety of shapes and forms and operate in semi-autonomous (man in the decision/control loop) and fully autonomous modes (no human input). They will both augment human war fighters by fighting beside them, as well as replace them completely with specialized ranks of their own. They will possess decision-processing cognition that far exceeds humans in both speed and quality. They’ll have superior survivability and lifespan and repair themselves in the event of malfunction resulting from non-destructive damage. Most importantly, they will change the face of conflict.

Both semi-autonomous and fully autonomous unmanned and robotic warriors will be employed by the thousands, even tens of thousands. Soon, most potential enemies will possess AI capabilities to achieve this capability to one degree or another. At that point we will see bionic warriors oppose one another in hostilities, and the winner will be determined by the most intellectually quick who can accurately bring to bear the right capabilities against their opponent the fastest. Think of it like an Old West gunfight with the option of instantaneously applying the right level of force to a perfect winning formula.

Today, there are numerous advanced robotic development programs that range from a human-worn robotic exoskeleton to semi- and fully autonomous robots and drones. As previously stated, AI provides the bionic warrior’s brain while electrical energy is the powering heart beat and blood. The provision of adequate electrical energy for long-term, un-plugged bionic warrior operations is a major engineering and physics challenge. Today’s systems primarily rely on battery power, but development of energy harvesting capabilities and other means of generation will be necessary for sustained independent bionic warrior operations. Let’s explore a sampling of some emerging bionic warrior technologies.

TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit)

TALOS is US Special Operations Command’s initiative to build a high-tech bulletproof soldier-worn, load-bearing exoskeleton (suit) that may optionally provide life support and protection from environmental extremes. It will also likely provide protection from CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) agents and monitor soldier vitals. This suit will provide options for communications connectivity, target acquisition, firing solutions and be interoperable with multiple weapons systems ranging from PDWs (personal defense weapons) to marking targets for air strike targets. In the words of former USSOCOM commander, Admiral Bill McRaven, “It’s essentially an Ironman suit.”

USSOCOM intends TALOS to provide a divisive leap ahead for individual soldier war-fighting capabilities. However, a suit that achieves all the capabilities envisioned will be heavy. The armor alone will greatly restrict a soldier’s mobility, and with all the other envisioned computer and sensor bells and whistles attached, the suit will weigh in well above that which a man can carry. That is the purpose of the load carrying, strength-enhancing exoskeleton upon which all the weight will be borne.

As one might imagine, the most crucial hurdle is not developing the exoskeleton to carry all the weight. It’s providing an adequate power system to run the exoskeleton servos (miniature motors that power the joints and allow human-like free movement). TALOS power requirements far exceed today’s battery technology, so without some profound discovery in power generation, the exoskeleton will need to carry with it a multi-kilowatt, gas-powered generator about the home-use size, and that is unacceptable for many reasons. So, the wild card in this grand exoskeleton initiative is coming up with an adequate portable power source. USSOCOM says, “We’re working on it.”

How might TALOS technology be applied to the commercial market? It’s no leap to envision the adaptation of TALOS-like technology in prosthetics that operate like real human appendages and are thought-controlled by a direct human brain–AI link. Neither is it difficult to envision a TALOS-like suit adapted for First Responders, construction workers, heavy manufacturing, shipping and handling. Even a bare bones sportsman’s version might emerge that would assist in negotiating rough terrain, load carrying or camp construction. The potential technology benefits and spinoffs are immense. USSOCOM is working towards a TALOS prototype demonstration late in 2018.

Humanoid-Robot Soldiers

As part of the family of fully autonomous robots, there will be humanoid robots that will vastly replace the necessity of human-soldier battlefield presence in wars of the future. Humanoid capabilities could include most everything a human can do, from augmenting them with a human-virtual reality interface to Haptic control required for delicate operations, e.g., special operations, demining, surgery, construction, etc.

The commercial humanoid robot industry is well on its way to producing robots so life-like that it will take close examination to discern the difference between them and us. Coupled with AI, their abilities to learn and conduct human tasks will quickly exceed our own. In fact, they may well threaten human existence at some point in their evolution. They will most certainly change our culture.

The bionic warrior may lead them into battle either beside them, or from a virtual control location out of harm’s way. Robots will almost entirely replace today’s soldiers, and the winners of future wars might be those who can field the most robots with the most capabilities. Robot attrition resulting from conflict may become culturally acceptable, making warfare more palatable if confined to non-human surrogates. Regardless, the bionic warrior will be the puppet master in such conflicts, to one degree or another.

Drones, Mobility, Communications Connectivity

This category consists of readily configurable modular air, water (both surface and subsurface), land (both wheeled, tracked and foot-like) load carrying, fighting (armed) and reconnaissance/surveillance vehicles/drones that directly interact with and support operating forces. These platforms will eventually have the capability to reprogram, reconfigure and combine themselves into swarms to bring the right capabilities to bear.

AI connectivity links will provide individual soldiers the capability to control swarms of interoperable robotic systems to accomplish missions that have historically required large troop numbers. This human-robot teaming, coupled to AI machine learning, will become the future war-fighting norm. For example, a single soldier, controlling dozens, or even hundreds, of both air and land robotic systems, could recon and clear large urban areas that would otherwise require numerous troops to clear buildings, infrastructure tunnels and related outlying areas.

Bird Drones

It might sound far-fetched, but lifelike robotic birds that fly by flapping wings and that can land upon a telephone pole, or windowsill, are a reality. Reportedly, over 30 Chinese military and government agencies employ bird-like drones to surveil and track people of special interest in at least five provinces across China.

Code-named “Dove,” the Chinese “spy birds” program is being led by Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian. Unlike unmanned aerial vehicles with fixed wings or rotor blades, these “birdbot” drones realistically mimic the flapping action of a bird’s wings to climb, dive and turn in the air. The aim of the Dove project is to field a new generation of biologically inspired drones that, like birds, are oblivious to human detection and radar. The robot flock is so lifelike that actual birds often fly alongside them.

How it works: Professor Bifeng claims each Dove drone is independently fitted with a high-definition camera, GPS antenna, flight control system and AI data link with satellite communication capability. The flapping mechanism comprises a pair of crank-rockers driven by an electric motor, while the wings themselves can deform slightly when moving up and down, which generates not only lift but also thrust to drive the drone forward. The birdbot’s body can also be covered in real bird feathers, making it nearly indistinguishable from real birds without close-up examination. Its flight characteristics also make the birdbot undetectable to modern RADAR and LIDAR systems.

Birdbot technology offers a wide range of possible uses beyond spying and military that includes first responder uses, environmental protection and urban planning. The sky is the limit for commercial applications and sporting uses.

Soft Robots and Smart Gels

In a capabilities demonstration recently released by Rutgers University–New Brunswick, engineers printed a 3-D soft robot composed of a 70% water smart gel. A small electrical current triggered this inch-tall, cartoonish-looking bot to deliberately flop about underwater, grab and pull objects and walk.

How it works: According to Rutgers, “The speed of the smart gel’s movement is controlled by changing its dimensions (thin is faster than thick), and the gel bends or changes shape depending on the strength of its salty water solution and electric field. The gel resembles muscles that contract because it’s made of flesh-like soft material (has more than 70 percent water) and responds to electrical stimulation.

We already know that walking is the least efficient means of underwater locomotion, but if the robotic soft form works, why not? Upscaling and equipping the smart gel body with a sensor capability, these soft robots could be submarine-launched in deep water or air dropped closer to shore where they would walk or swim to shore and provide hours or days of advance force surveillance before humans or more sophisticated bionic warriors are sent in.

Consider the soft bot’s gripping arm’s ability to pull an object inward, as it might be applied to the mouth of a robotic fish, or hidden inside the life-like robotic bodies of artificial mammals, birds or reptiles for overt intelligence collection. Such animals could be deployed, for example, to infiltrate high-security facilities, collect documents from restricted areas or even stealthily follow in the wakes of coastal patrols (pay attention USSOCOM). Operating underwater, soft bots, employing this technology, could recover intelligence from lost vehicles, sift through contraband tossed overboard and maybe at a larger scale even be used in demining operations.

The commercial range of applications for soft robots touch every arena from artificial human organ replacement to wide-ranging underwater operations that include searches, surveys, inspections, maintenance, emergency response and consequence management.


A Chinese research team at the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves in Southeast University in Nanjing, Jiangsu province has developed a metamaterial that acts as an “invisibility cloak” for use on non-stealth military jets to help them evade radar detection.

How it works: Applied as a thin metallic membrane on an aircraft’s outer skin, metamaterial cloaking technology uses a fabricated layer composed of microscopic structures analogous to integrated circuits. When an electric current is applied, the metamaterial alters the way radio waves bounce off its surface to create an apparition image, and/or alter the return echo on a radar so that the aircraft disappears or appears to be something other than it really is. In conjunction with AI-controlled modulation, metamaterial can serve to transform the radar signature of an inflight aircraft rendering it unrecognizable.

The United States and several other countries have also heavily invested in metamaterial research and development for use in cloaking, but thus far, there have been no public reports on application or progress of this research program. It is safe to assume that this material would work equally as well when applied to boats, ships and land vehicles.

Metamaterial technology is by no means mature enough to operationally field. Current metamaterials are extremely difficult and expensive to mass-produce. Additionally, the metamaterial membrane in its current state of developmental maturity is somewhat fragile and won’t withstand a harsh combat environment. This reliability issue will no doubt be overcome, but for now the technology is unreliable.

Commercial uses for metamaterial may seem elusive, but it has many, ranging from high energy shielding, which could include directed energy or other radiation forms, to chameleon-like, color-changing outer garments for automatic background matching camouflage and even high fashion.

Directed Energy

Soldier-carried weapons will morph away from today’s kinetic reliance toward directed energy. Ballistic warfare will not disappear, but it will be out-gunned by directed energy weapons. Kinetic weapons will eventually morph to smart weapons that fire programmable smart projectiles configured for specific target lethality. However, as several first-world nations move closer to deployable laser weapons on land vehicles, ships and aircraft, man-portable laser weapons aren’t getting the same program attention of investment. Well, that’s true for all but China.

China recently went public with its latest man-portable directed energy weapon, claiming the ZKZM-500 is a non-lethal laser assault rifle, billing it as a “laser AK-47.” They say it can ignite clothing worn by the target at a half-mile. The ZKZM-500 reportedly has an AK-47 weight profile of around 6 ½ pounds and is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery that provides a 1000-shot capability—each burst lasting no more than two seconds, all for the production price of $15,000 a copy.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences where the gun was developed revealed the ZKZM-500 can “burn through clothes in a split second,” leading to “instant carbonization” of organic tissue. The South China Morning Post also quoted these researchers, explaining, “If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire. The pain will be beyond endurance.”

How it works: While some capability claims appear dubious, we must assume the gun exists with some form of operational capability, because performance is described and pictures are provided. Based upon performance claims and known limitations, we can deduct that it is a relatively low-energy laser generated by a solid-state system. However, beyond mention of the lithium power pack there is no description offered about the actual system design containing the required capacitors and optics that provides all that claimed power in a columnated energy beam. It is difficult to believe that the Chinese engineered a small, battery-powered, man-carried directed energy weapon that is powerful enough to incinerate a target at a distant half-mile without being refracted by environmental detractors like dust, fog, rain or snow. It is even harder to believe they’ve achieved that performance using a smart phone-like rechargeable lithium battery pack that provides a 1000-shot / 2-second burst capability. Finally, if the ZKZM-500 is a blinding laser (it’s clearly not eye safe if it incinerates clothing and flesh), it is strictly forbidden for use against humans by international convention. Yes, it’s still okay to shoot your opponent’s eyes out on the battlefield, but it’s against international convention to burn them out using directed energy.

The ZKZM-500’s performance claims are in marked contrast from existing directed energy weapons (and known prototypes) that require large power supplies and are mounted on platforms like ships, aircraft or large ground vehicles that can accommodate a laser’s demanding power requirements. Secondly, a laser beam must be held steady against a target (on the same spot) until the laser has burnt through whatever it has the design capacity to terminate. Firing bursts of lasers like bullets looks good in the movies, but doesn’t match the known law of physics in the real world.

The US Army is currently testing 5-kilowatt, high-energy lasers mounted atop Stryker-armored vehicles for protection against incoming enemy rocket, artillery and mortar fire. These laser-modified Stryker-armored vehicles are called the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL). According to a July 2, 2018, press release from Raytheon, the Army awarded Raytheon Company a $10 million dollar contract to develop a “100 kilowatt-class laser weapon system primarily designed for integration onboard the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs).” The release quoted Roy Azevedo, vice president of Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems at Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business unit, as saying, “The beauty of this system is that it’s self-contained. Multi-spectral targeting sensors, fiber-combined lasers, power and thermal sub-systems are incorporated in a single package. This system is being designed to knock out rockets, artillery, mortar fire or small drones.”

According to US Army officials involved in the program, “When it comes to directed energy weapons, sending more energy downrange is better, because it can always be dialed back if need be.” Once perfected for use on mobile platforms, Army officials expect directed energy technology will provide a low-cost alternative to kinetic weapon systems that require expensive ammunition and have a telltale report.

Cyber Weapons

The conflict asymmetric environment between global competitors is evolving toward a reliance on cyber dominance. The common focus aims to control technology development and exploit it, sustain pre-conflict conditioning and definition of the potential battlespace and to manipulate an opponent’s psychological will and physical war fighting capabilities against him. Therefore, cyber warfare is largely transparent, and it comes in many forms, making anything that is computer-controlled and/or data-dependent vulnerable to attack and corruption.

How does it work? In 2010 the US and Israel devastated Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges by introducing a cyber-weapon malicious code named “Stuxnet.” This digital worm caused centrifuges to spin out of control and essentially self-destruct, setting Iran’s nuclear weapon program back several years. Cyber weapons are not limited to things like scrambling centrifuge operations or shutting down factories.

Cyber weapons can be used effectively to kill people by turning petrochemical plants into bombs, derailing trains and causing electrical generating plants to self-destruct, for example. Everything that is networked and computer-controlled is vulnerable to attack. As AI matures, more sophisticated cyber weapons will appear. AI will be used to design, develop and employ extremely sophisticated cyber weapons with capabilities beyond our current ability to imagine. China is the only nation that has entire universities dedicated to cyber technology and cyber warfare. They are the equivalent of MIT, only they’re dedicated to cyber. China is both our main cyber competitor and threat, and they are rapidly advancing their capabilities throughout the cyber continuum.

Future wars will involve, in large part, industrial cyber sabotage. Cyber-attacks will be aimed against infrastructure networks that control power grids, liquid fuel distribution networks, all types of refining facilities, critical product manufacturing, transportation networks, ports and their cargo handling facilities, aviation, human services facilities that include water purification, waste disposal plants, hospitals, etc. To put the cyber threat in its proper perspective, all infrastructure elements must be considered vulnerable.

What does this all mean to the bionic warrior? We can safely assume that by the very nature of the highly sophisticated weapons, communications and AI network connectivity the bionic warrior has in his kit, that he and all those supporting him will be vulnerable to cyber-attack. His defense will be his AI counter-cyber link, which will constantly scan his operating system and network links for attack and instantaneously provide the appropriate defensive measures.

We can also envision the bionic warrior possessing a cyber-weapon capability that would be generated through his AI connectivity link. Should he find a cyber vulnerability and opportunity to conduct or support a cyber-attack, the necessary tools would be at his disposal to attack it. Think of it like calling for close air or artillery support in conventional war. Instead, the cyber warrior would mark the target and call in a cyber-attack against a specified vulnerability, or perhaps, a cyber counter-attack in his defense.

In closing, consider this. In reading this article today, we are the age to likely see everything discussed become a reality within the next several years. That puts us into one of two categories. We’re either unafraid of such advancements because we don’t understand, or don’t care about, the ramifications; or advancements like those discussed threaten us to one degree or another because we envision a wide-range of related consequences facing the future of our country and humanity, as we know it. Perhaps there’s a third category too—those who will become bionic warriors and like today’s warriors, professionally embrace it.

The Cyber Warrior

By Tom Verbeck

While the information battlefield remains consistent, cyber warfare is the new combat. Cyber weaponry is changing … that’s for sure … and it is affecting outcomes. In fact, the impact of cyber warfare is more dramatic than the World War I horse Calvary being slaughtered by machine guns and changing land warfare, forever.

In World War II, Tokyo Rose, Iva D’Aquino, an American, broadcasted English-language propaganda to Allied forces throughout the Pacific. And Axis Sally, Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, an American, was employed by the Third Reich in Germany for propaganda. These information operations, a form of cyber war, sought to affect the outcome of the war. Its effectiveness can be debated, but its influence on military operations is real.

Cyber warfare is changing war. Webster defines “War” as “a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.” And, the end always remains a debate. The cyber warrior is not about gaining territory or land. The cyber warrior focuses on wealth and information no matter its location.

It’s a fact that war, today, still involves kinetic weapons, but future wars will be fought and won with new cyber weapons nested in computer code. Cyber weapons will affect, disrupt, change and alter the flow of information … before the war, during the battles and after the war. Future cyber warriors will have the capability to alter intelligence; corrupt logistics; steal and destroy mechanical weapons; bring winnings home by both overt and covert means; and remain invisible to their adversaries.

So, what is the cyber warrior of the future? First, the cyber warrior may, or may not, have any country of origin or allegiance. The cyber warrior may not even be a person. He may be military but maybe not. Operating from wherever a cyber warrior wants to, the cyber warrior can virtually roam the world looking for an optimal way to plug into the information technology highway. And without any regard for rules, a cyber warrior may operate from Germany but appear to be in Brazil, or from downtown Beijing and appear to be in Colorado.

The cyber warrior will have the means to alter intelligence. Much of today’s intelligence is gathered by unclassified means: Who is going where, what is the latest weather, and who is inventing what. Search engines like Google and logistics support by Amazon are easy pickings for the cyber warrior, and the ability to gather and alter that information is technically easy. Even mechanical military exercises carry their information vulnerabilities. And the overt cyber-attack on a military system will always be followed up with covert and unclassified gathering of information all around an exercise to see what can easily be understood.

The cyber warrior will corrupt logistics. The what, when and where of a supply chain for military, manufacturing or infrastructure essentials will all be easy pickings for the cyber warrior. The cyber warrior will be able to disrupt; change locations of delivery; adjust times of delivery and ultimately have goods delivered where cyber warriors want them, not where they are needed.

On the cyber warrior’s target list are major mechanical weapons to corrupt or destroy. An aircraft, for example, destined to land back at its home base, will receive new coordinates, its heads-up display will be altered, and the aircraft will land where the cyber warrior wants it to land. The convoy on its way to re-supply will receive another location, and new information traffic will alter its destination to where the cyber warrior wants it. And finally, weapons will be discharged, not at the enemy, but where the cyber warrior wants them to be discharged.

In the spring of 1993, a group of Senior US military officers visiting the former Soviet Union, now Russia, met with Senior Russian Military officers. When asked, “Why had the US won the cold war,” a large Russian Admiral stood up and said in Russian, “USSR would have matched you bomb for bomb, bullet for bullet, airplane for airplane, ship for ship … you won because the information wall came down.” It was clear—that day, the military’s bombs and bullets had not won the Cold War. Rather, the real war of ideas, economies and of peoples’ wants and needs was won in the field of information—cyber space.

US strategy-recognized bad actors on the cyber battlefield are both inside and outside the military. The ability to influence and change economies and affect the diplomatic field of battle … to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own … is real. Since the 1980s, with the changes in information technology, the weaponizing of this battle space is a formidable threat, both inside and outside the military. But to call any of this new or allude that we in the US are not aware of what is happening world-wide is false and wrong.

The cyber warriors do not always wear uniforms; they might not even be human. Today’s major industry leaders … from the Boeings/Northup Grumman’s to Mercedes Benzes to Bank of America … all have formidable cyber warriors in their employ. Normally found under the direction of the Company’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), now a Corporate Board officer, their job is to ensure their companies’ information is securely transmitted, received, stored and processed in near real time. This is not easy, and they are constantly under attack.

We have been defending ourselves since the beginnings of the Internet (1980s) and the ever-growing networked technology. We know Russia, China, Iran and North Korea routinely launch cyber-attacks on civilian areas, hacking private companies or undermining foreign governments and their militaries, using online tools to manipulate information and create digital propaganda to shape others’ opinions, while employing digital mercenaries to do the work.

The Chinese military stole US plans to the technically sophisticated F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, allowing Beijing to create the copycat J-31. Hackers with connections to the Iranian government were charged earlier this year for attacks on US banks. North Korean operatives released a trove of damaging emails from Sony as the entertainment company planned to release a comedy with an unflattering portrayal of the country’s leader. And they never left home to make it all happen.

In 2006, a European Partnership for Peace information technology interoperability exercise grew to include over 43 countries, on 4 continents. The global goal was interoperability of information systems. Evidence pointed out that information sharing, in todays’ complex world, required immediate interoperability. This exercise included Russia. Remarkably, the Russian exercise play was often limited to teletype—the most sophisticated cyber weapon they had in 2006—and they still remain technically behind most of the First World nations.

Real change in today’s cyber war is birthed in economics and the cheap availability of new cyber weapons and the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI). While a new aircraft will cost billions of dollars, the cost to play on the new information battlefield with a new cyber weapon is thousands of dollars. For example, each F-35A military jet is priced at $94.6 million. But a new cyber weapon, a fully decked out I MAC only costs $1,499.00. Comparatively, a new aircraft requires trained aircrew and maintainers, and when employed, the whole world will take notice of where it came from and what it destroyed. However, a state-of-the-art cyber computer system requires a knowledgeable computer hacker (a teen or millennial) whose motivation might be in gaining wealth or status. It’s happening today. In Georgia and in Ukraine full-scale cyber warrior operations are built into all military maneuvers.

Finally, the cyber warrior will remain invisible to his or her adversaries and even his or her partners. The cyber warrior is constantly moving within his or its information technology domain. The movements occur at the speed of light and aren’t inhibited by conventional barriers or human blocks. Where ever a cyber warrior wants to be, it is; and time and speed have no meaning.

The future cyber warrior may come from the military or not. He may be human or AI or both. Internationally, businesses and governments remain engaged in constant cyber war, and the only real question is who wins? And how will the cyber warriors divide up the new world?


Thomas J. Verbeck was promoted to U.S. Air Force Brigadier General and was a former top 100 Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO). He has 40 years of IT leadership experience, and from 2002 to 2007, he served as the first Combatant Command Cyber J3 (responsible for offense and defense), J6 (CIO) and J9 (CTO).

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N8 (October 2018)
and was posted online on August 24, 2018


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