A conversation with my son over a McDonald’s sparked a bit of architecture for Autonomous Networked Dynamic-learning Robots (AKA ANDR) and a short story about their use in a near future counterinsurgency operation. You can read the short story (First Mission ANDR12) on my writing and reading blog.
Being an analyst underneath and having worked on over 50 government projects I started off thinking about the requirements I’d write if I was going to procure some combat robots. Here’s the list I came up with, which uses MoSCoW to prioritise them.
operate without external control signals
be able to go anywhere a human could
be resistant to hostile interference or attempts to subvert control
follow legal commands and obey rules of engagement absolutely
Learn from experience and share that with other units
Have a modular construction to facilitate field repair and upgrade to maximise operational numbers
retain data integrity to the same tolerance as aircraft black boxes to facilitate lessons even when the robot becomes nonfunctional
Have diverse sensors and multiple redundant systems to ensure operation in a wide range of environments
be capable of operating without EM emissions and with the minimum IR signature for periods of up to two hours.
Have a reassuring presence for civilians to facilitate engagement
look indistinguishable from human soldiers at a distance to maintain surprise
Have secure communications to their home base and blue tracker/IFF capabilities built in
Be able to operate the full range of military equipment and weapons that human soldiers would be expected to.
So I’ve got some requirements for my ANDRs. That leads on to a bit of solution design. I’ll be honest here and admit that I committed the cardinal sin of creating the solution and then writing the requirements, but that’s because the conversation with my son involved him asking how you avoid it being hacked.
The best way to avoid something being hacked is to keep it physically and virtually isolated. So that’s what this architecture does.
I can hear you cry ‘Wait! Doesn’t the N in ANDR stand for Networked?’ You’d be correct. The ANDR is networked, but not the decision making bit, and there are various firewalls, encryptions and other controls in place to mitigate some of the vulnerabilities.
The key components are
Decision engine (i.e. the brain, this needs to be read/execute only and firewalled from all the other components. Updating the software would need physical access to the ANDR unit.)
The mission profile (a small EPROM unit that would store the current mission profile, orders, RoE and relevant int. It would have an explosive tamper trigger to stop it falling into enemy hands. It would probably need a command authority to update and that would be a base job, not something you would do in the field.)
Doctrine module. This would be the ‘training’ for the ANDR and it would be divided into two sections. One the legal and absolute restrictions that were read only. It would be isolated from the outside by not being connected to it. It could get an update from the base workshop.
The other part would be TPPs and SOPs that could be updatable by the machine learning module (see below).
Machine Learning Module. This would be able to monitor all of the inputs and outputs of the physical ANDR unit and draw conclusions from the experience. Its connection to the outside world wouldn’t be send only, to share lessons back home (pending a workshop update for other ANDR units if the analysis showed this was a better method). It would be able to update TPP if, for example, it found the current method didn’t achieve the expected results.
External HUD. This would be a blue force tracker style update. For firewall and compatibility reasons the ANDR would use visual and audio sensors in the same way as human soldiers would to assimilate data. This would keep them firewalled and also ensure that they had the same info as their human commanders.
The other important thing would be to give the ANDR units an ability to share physically with each other, both modular components to keep them upgradable and maximise serviceability. You’d also want them to have an in field method of sharing lessons, possibly through NFC style readers with physical contact required.
Lastly you’d also give them a hierarchy of trust. It would start with their isolated components, then their physical hardware, validated encrypted Comms and so on down. You’d probably also have some machine learning algorithms for recognising friendly forces and spontaneous chains of command.
ANDR physical attributes
It isn’t strictly necessary, but I reckon you’d want to skin the ANDR units so that they passed for people at first glance. Maybe even at second look too. This would make them a bit less scary, and therefore more useful in dealing with people. They could be really useful as reliable interpreters and also with FR etc in gathering intelligence on who was where.
You’d want to put the brains in the main body, where you could armour it better, and also put the same body armour on as the people had. This would keep your enemy guessing and would also improve the learning capability as it would be less likely to be destroyed. I expect it would be in a similar casing as an aircraft ‘black box’.
How far away?
It’s hard to be sure. There are already reasonable prototypes of a lot of the technology needed. None of them are ready for this yet, but one day they will be. I deliberately didn’t put a date on the story, but I would put a 40% confidence on it happening before 2030 and a 90% by 2050.
Mass mobilisation for a world war level conflict would need the country to repeat what it did for WW1 & WW2.
Discussion I’ve read on twitter amongst those interested and knowledgable about defence (a mixture of serving officers, military historians and political observers) suggests that Britain has a real problem with the level of defence spending and decaying of capability for mass mobilisation to support a world war level conflict.
Years of small wars on the back of the 1990s ‘peace dividend’ has prevented major equipment changes. The British Army is still using many of the same armoured vehicles that it had in 1989. They’ve had internal upgrades, and improved control systems. The lighter vehicles have fared better because there were urgent operational requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Britain was in a similar state to now in the early 30s. After WW1 we didn’t want to go to war again. The army was small and didn’t have any of their kit replaced. With few exceptions in 1933, when Hitler came to power, the British Army was using the same kit that it had ended the world war with in 1918. The recognition of the nazi threat lead to an abandoning of the ten year rule (where we funded our armed forces on the assumption there would be no major war for at least ten years).
Appeasement was a policy not of keeping Hitler happy, but of buying us time to re-equip and expand our armed forces in preparation for mass mobilisation. Through the late thirties a massive programme of expansion and re-equipment went on. In 1938 Britain spent 7.4% of GDP on Defence , which is three and a half times what we are spending now. This doubled in 1939 to 15.3% – not all of which was after the declaration of war in September. By 1941 it was above 50% and it stayed there for the duration.
The nazis were seen as an existential threat, so the public were willing to support mass mobilisation for world war two and accept the sacrifice of additional taxes to pay for the war. Income tax doubled from a basic rate of 25%, which is similar to the current level. I think it would be fair to say that Britain could only afford mass mobilisation for world war three if we could see an existential threat to the country.
Without an existential threat, today we could field one armoured Division with air and naval support. We can’t move it anywhere in a hurry without hiring civilian cargo vessels. Against certain countries that division would be an annoyance, but it certainly wouldn’t stop them doing what they wanted, just impose a stiff price.
Once it was destroyed, we’d be at their mercy. Either that or we’d be strongly considering our nuclear options. That said, anything that caused us to commit the 21st century British Expeditionary Force would almost certainly trigger the NATO mutual defence clauses. So there would be more than just the UK involved.
What does 2% Buy in Defence?
Britain is signed up to the NATO commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on Defence. Through some accounting adjustments we spend almost exactly 2% including some overseas aid. The actual defence budget of £38bn for MoD is likely to be about 1.9% of GDP this year. Almost 40% of that is spent on acquiring equipment, notably the aircraft carriers, trident submarines and F-35s. Between these three huge ticket items there isn’t much capital left.
As at 1 April 2016, the British Army had a trained strength of 79,750 regular personnel and 23,030 reserves, lower than it has ever been since before the start of the 20th Century. The Royal Navy and RAF both had slightly over 32k each, for a total armed forces trained strength of 168k personnel (very few of whom are reserves).
MOD reported that in 2015-16 it spent the following on each of the services:
You’ll notice that the totals don’t add up to the whole Defence budget, but that’s because I’ve left out the civilian elements and the long-term strategic acquisitions.
Mass Mobilisation of Our Armed Forces
There’s two ways to look at this, one is a simple uprating of what we currently have by the amount of extra money we might be able to spend and decide whether that would be effective. The other is to look at what we might need and then see if we can afford it.
For either of these tests you need to have an adversary in mind. When you get into it, quality and will to fight affect the answer. It’s not completely about raw numbers. Maybe someone somewhere has done the work to compare the economic strengths of warring powers and what that tells you about outcomes. I doubt it’s clear cut that the bigger economy always wins, but as a general rule it works.
What could we afford?
Britain is currently the 5th biggest spender on Defence worldwide, and our economy is 5th or 6th dependent on currency fluctuations and Brexit impacts. So there aren’t many countries that ought to be able to scare us, even if we can’t field enough troops to round up their military.
The UK GDP in 2016 is around £1.9 trillion. During WW2 we spent over 50% of GDP on the war effort. We taxed people more, borrowed heavily, and the economy also grew significantly from the war expenditure. I’m not sure that we could quite get to 55% on Defence, we’d still have the welfare state to fund, albeit some of it could be diverted to the war effort. We could also up the total tax share from around 37% (according to Treasury’s analysis the public sector spent £713bn in 2015-16) to match that WW2 55%. That could bring Defence spending to 20% of GDP.
Other sources of funding:
The Welfare budget The UK spends about £250bn on welfare, over a third of our public expenditure. Most of it is on pensions and disability, neither of which would reduce as a result of a world war. We do spend £3bn of it on unemployment benefits, and another £27bn on Housing Benefit, both of which might come down a little if there was mass mobilisation. We could perhaps squeeze 0.1% of GDP out of the UK welfare budget.
The NHS At £162bn annually this is the next largest chunk of public expenditure. At best some of the NHS will become defence medical assets, and the people will transfer to support those we’ve mobilised. Not to mention the inevitable casualties. In practice we’d probably need to spend more on the NHS, or make some really tough choices about priorities.
Borrowing – in 2015-16 we spent £45bn on debt interest. If we borrowed enough to capitalise the interest for the duration of the war then we could add this amount to Defence budget.
Efficiency Gains If the rest of government was asked to cut around 10% of their budgets then we could perhaps add another 3% of GDP to the war budget.
So where does all this get us to? About twelve times the current defence budget, so we could significantly increase the size of our armed forces. On a straight multiple that would give us about two million all ranks from mass mobilisation. However I expect more of them would go into the army than either the RN or RAF for the simple reason that it will take longer to produce ships and aircraft to support that level of expansion than it would to produce army equipment.
Britain’s approach to World Wars
Historically we have form. Britain doesn’t maintain its armed forces between major wars. We keep a training cadre and enough to cope with the various small wars we get involved in. When the big war happens we do mass mobilisation of reserves and recruit anyone we can find. Typically it takes 18 months for us to form the million plus citizen armies we need to stand alongside our allies.
Many people (especially civilian politicians and voters) probably consider the idea of a major war very unlikely. We felt the same in the 1920s. Further, they probably also consider that if one did start that it would go nuclear (or find a diplomatic peace) well before we could train and equip the recruits to expand our armed forces. During the Cold War this was almost certainly true.
What it means is that we’ve given up on necessary infrastructure to do mass mobilisation. We’ve stopped building military aircraft and tanks in the UK. We’d also struggle with a lot of other equipment, like small arms. Our wider manufacturing base is also shot, so the scope for repurposing factories to scale up production is also limited.
As an example, the British Army writes off small arms on a 10 to 15 year period. That means that normal production will be about a tenth of the current size of the armed forces need. So if everyone needs a rifle then we need 200k rifles for the regular and reserve. Let’s say we have a factory that makes 20k rifles a year, just to replace worn out stocks. When you scale up your armed forces through mass mobilisation to 2 million trained personnel then you suddenly need to build 1.8m extra rifles in under six months, and increase replacement levels to cover expected losses from accidents and combat.
We’d also need to find plant, machinery and skilled people to set up factories to produce gun barrels, armour, heavy vehicles, jet engines, aircraft and the complex electronics that make them all work. We’ve got some capacity just now, but it’s all based on small orders delivered over a decade and sharing with other states.
Unlike WW2 the UK doesn’t have broad manufacturing capacity that can be diverted to war production. The UK economy is dominated by service industries, mainly banking. Manufacturing accounts for less than 10% of the UK economy (compared to almost 80% from services).
The extra kit would be a 50% growth in total manufacturing capacity, more like 10-15 times in the specific industries that could produce it. There would also need to be a massive upgrade to chemical & electronics plants to produce military ordnance. It would need to do this almost overnight, we’d need more kit for training people, never mind fighting a war.
There’s room in the British economy for a significant increase in military spending if we faced an existential threat. There’s no political will to spend more than the 2% we’ve committed to via NATO.
The UK doesn’t have the economic base to support significantly increasing manufacturing to equip a scaled up armed force. Nor do we appear to have sufficient spare kit in stock.
Overall, I’d say that we’d need at least a couple of years run up to mass mobilisation. If it ever happens then I hope we get that long. In the meantime, we could do with investing in our manufacturing base. That would make it easier to gear up, and also grow our economy. A strong economy is a better indicator of strength than defence spending.
If we were to start bombing Syria, alongside a number of our allies, what would happen?
Well we can see that because others are already doing it. We also have experience over the last twentyÂ years in bombing from the former Yugoslavia to Libya. We know that bombing Syria would work best if it was in direct support of ground troops. This provides the best impact, because it minimises targetting mistakes and it also aids the ground forces to make progress with fewer casualties. We can see this operating in Iraq just now.
The other side we can see in other nations bombing Syria. There has been a lot of criticism that both the Russians and the French are hitting the wrong targets, things of little or no military value. Some of this is clearly propaganda from those that oppose their intervention. However there is a point here that without excellent targeting intelligence the value of some of the things you bomb will be insufficient to justify the strikes. The US are not bombing Syria as heavily as they are bombing ISIS in Iraq. This is because they recognise the limitations on their intelligence. I believe that the US bombing Syria is political tokenism rather than something that they feel has strong military value, the same is almost certainly alsoÂ true of the French.
The UK military teaches “selection and maintenance of the aim” as the master principle of war. At the moment we seem to lack a clear strategic aim. Daesh have painted the West as a blundering enemy. Based in the experience of locals over the last 14 years this isn’t obviously false. Getting involved as a knee jerk reaction and solidarity for others isn’t a good enough substitute for a clear strategic goal. In fact it will serve as a recruitment call for Daesh, both in the UK at overseas. We’ve already tracked hundreds of British Citizens leave the UK to fight in Syria, we don’t really want any of them to bring that fight back to the UK.
That said, I believe that we should develop a clear strategic goal of stopping Daesh wherever they are operating globally. However the best way to do this is not a limited military action, but a concerted effort to stabilise other countries. Politically we seem to recogniseÂ that, but the public narrative hasn’t quite caught up. Also, when conducting military operations we should obey one of the other principles of war “Economy of Effort“.
If we want to provide peace and stability in the Middle East we would be better with a lot of preparitory diplomatic work to build an effective coalition of Arab states. We need to help those with positive democratic leaning to establish their credibility with their people so that they don’t end up falling to military or theocratic controls. We also need to help them to fight the disruptive elements in their own countries and their neighbours.
The best military intervention we can make is to train and arm more locals. Help them vet recruits, extend and firm up the rule of law and avoid arbitrary rule. This has advantages that the locals provide their own solutions, and we are seen as builders rather than destroyers.
No Bombing Syria – Yes to Building Stability
In conclusion I think we should vote against bombing Syria tomorrow, but instead move the narrative to building stability across the region. We need to position the UK as a builder for the future. It is in everyone’s best long term interests.
I’ve been exploring the world ofÂ Perfects with some friends by running a roleplaying session with the Full Moon games group playing the senior officers of a police counter-terrorism group. More details on Operation Hawkeye. I couldn’t resist writing some press stories as a result of the session.
Silverton residents were woken by automatic gunfire and a bomb blast as terrorists fought off a police raid. Brave officers stormed through a hail of fire to take out the terrorists. One terrorist was confirmed killed by police, although not before two officers were wounded. Another is believed to have blown themself up in a suicide bombing.
Commander Coalfield, the Counter Terror Chief, called on citizens toÂ lookout for accomplices to the GM terrorists that may have escaped.
Forensic teams are scouring the scene for clues to where the explosives and firearms came from and any evidence that will keep the suspects behind bars.
[TV report – starting with a press conference with a senior female police officer in her early 40s]
Commander Coalfield “Acting on confirmed intelligence officers of CT conducted simultaneous raids on properties in London, supported by other emergency services and the Metropolitan Police Service. The intelligence received indicated that a group of genetically modified individuals were planning a terror campaign in central London in an attempt to over-turn the provisions of the Genetically Modified Humans Act. This campaign was intended to intimidate ordinary people as well as Members of Parliament.
Our sources suggested that the group in question were well funded and had secured weapons and know-how from overseas. We therefore acted promptly to deal with this threat. My officers were just in time, and we discovered an armed terror cell of genetically modified individuals in the process of preparing for an attack. On gaining entry to the house armed CT officers were met by automatic gunfire. Undeterred they pressed home their entry, which resulted in several officers becoming casualties. Some of these casualties were caused by a suicide bombing, we know from studies that the genetically modified are prone to suicide.
[cut to helmet camera footage from a police officer in the entry team]
[Police Drones drop to window height, switch on bright lights and the speakers blast “POLICE – LIE DOWN AND STAY STILL” on a loop. Two officers pound the door open with an entry e. A tense moment passes as the door initially resisted being opened. Immediately between the camera and the door opening team are a constable and an officer with Chief Inspector rank insignia on the rear of the helmet.
The door opens and the constable and the Chief Inspector rapidly enter. Shots ring out and the leading constable falls. The group pause just inside the doorway, more shots are heard. Two flashbangs are thrown into the next room.
Seconds pass, then two loud bangs. The Chief Inspector leads through a hail of gunfire, to cameraÂ police officer falls in the doorway. The view cuts to another camera, the Chief Inspector is seen to fire twice as the terrorist brings the weapon up. Then the ceiling collapses. ]
[Back to the press conference]
Fortunately our officers were all well protected and three of the five are expect to return to duty very soon. Two others remain in hospital under medical supervision, both are expected to make a full recovery. One terrorist was killed, we believe another blew themself up and we have three others in custody. It is possible that they have accomplices in other locations and I am calling on the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious behaviour immediately.”
Police released dramatic footage earlier today of the raid on an East London property where a terror cell was caught red handed preparing an atrocity. The first police officer into the terraced house was felled by automatic gunfire, an un-named Chief Inspector braved the hail of fire to shoot the armed terrorist. Moments later another member of the terror cell detonated a suicide bomb they had been preparing for Central London, taking the roof off the house and setting it on fire. A second armed terrorist also fired on officers entering from a different route.
Five police officers required medical attention. Three terrorists are in custody. It is thought that there may be other members of the terror cell and the public are asked to keep a careful watch for suspicious activity.
The National Police Counter-Terror Commander, told a press briefing that the attacks were an attempt to over-turn the Genetically Modified Humans Act. Two of those in custody have already been confirmed to be genetically modified and tests are under way on the others involved.
The scene at the house is one of utter devastation, two blasts are understood to have ripped through the house. The first in the attic space which police have confirmed was from a mix of high explosives and at least one incendiary device. A second later explosion is believed to be a residual gas explosion from damaged pipes set off by the fire. Both neighbouring houses were also damaged and the residents have been evacuated. Police forensic teams are still on the scene and are expected to remain for several days.