Innovative technologies shaping the 2040 battlefield
Technological change alone is unlikely to fundamentally alter the nature of the future battlefield but will continue to shape the character of warfare. The full effect of technological advances may only materialise in conjunction with enabling infrastructure or other technologies and, in Europe, may be shaped by EU-specific enablers and barriers.
What is the issue?
Looking towards 2040, the global innovation and technology landscape is expected to evolve significantly and drive changes in the character of warfare. It is important therefore to understand how the technological landscape will evolve and what impact this may have on the future battlefield in order to formulate policies and investment decisions that are, to the extent possible, future-proof.
How did we help?
RAND Europe was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) to examine the risks, challenges and opportunities related to new and emerging technologies that are most expected to shape the 2040 battlefield.
The research team leveraged a variety of research methods including horizon scanning, a literature review, expert interviews, workshops and case study analysis to investigate the possible implications of technological advances on the 2040 battlefield. The research team provided in-depth analysis of the implications of six technology clusters, selected on the basis of their likelihood of adoption and expected impact on the future battlefield out to 2040:
- artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data;
- advanced robotics and autonomous systems;
- technologies for the delivery of novel effect;
- satellites and space-based technologies and assets; and
- human machine interfaces.
The study identified several cross-cutting implications of new and emerging technologies for future battlefield dynamics and European defence.
What did we find?
- Technological change alone is unlikely to fundamentally alter the nature of the future battlefield but will continue to shape the character of warfare.
- The full effect of technological advances may only materialise in conjunction with enabling infrastructure or other technologies.
- Technology adoption in the European defence context may be shaped by EU-specific enablers and barriers. This presents opportunities for EU member states’ Armed Forces, but may also create new vulnerabilities that may need to be managed through non-technological approaches to fostering resilience.
What do we recommend?
This study presents three sets of policy recommendations for EU and member state institutions to consider in their ongoing effort to prepare for and shape this rapidly evolving landscape:
- Pursue a broad range of capability development initiatives
- Continue to monitor science and technology developments to assess corresponding opportunities and threats
- Identify priority areas for capability development to be pursued through joint initiatives to facilitate EU cooperation and interoperability
- Identify continued areas for strengthening cooperation and coordination with NATO and key non-EU allies
- Foster regulatory and organisational agility and absorption capacity
- Contribute to the development and uptake of norms, regulation and appropriate legislation for new and emerging technologies
- Ensure the fostering and retention of an adequate skills base
- Consider the impact that new and emerging technologies will have on concepts of operations and interoperability
- Facilitate EU investments and RDT&I activities in relevant technologies by strengthening collaboration with industry
- Identify means for providing industry with clear guidance on future military requirements to help incentivise and guide investment
- Explore ways for broadening and sustaining engagements with companies developing dual use technologies
Cross-cutting principles for consideration include:
- Adopting a broad range of initiatives
- Placing emphasis where possible on technology-agnostic approaches
- Prioritising investments according to a clear intervention logic
- Adopting approaches and initiatives that are cognisant and reflective of advances in technological innovation in the context of defence