What does the army of the future look like?

1st November 2022
Paige West

Nothing can do what a soldier can do – this is the message in a new campaign from the British Army.

This article originally appeared in the Oct'22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

The campaign has been running for a few months now, but the advert keeps catching my eye every time I see it.

The one-minute advert depicts a dystopian future where a robotic soldier scouts out the terrain of a conflict zone. It features more than 4,000 individual CGI elements and 2,000 sound design samples.

As technology advances, there’s been talk for a while about a robotic military where human fighters are replaced with autonomous or remote-controlled robotic soldiers.

The British Army has already been experimenting with the likes of swarming drones and intelligence gathering robotic ‘dogs’.

In fact, back in 2020 Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen Sir Nick Carter, said that robot soldiers could form an integral part of the British Army by the 2030s, according to The Guardian. He suspected that we could have an army of 120,000 of which 30,000 might be robots – although he did later clarify that he wasn’t committing to any specific numbers.

A report by PwC found that 30% of jobs in Britain were potentially under threat from breakthroughs such as AI, robotics and other forms of smart automation.

Despite this and despite the effort of the advert to make “the army of the future” look like something straight from The Terminator, the whole point of the What does the army of the future look like? campaign is actually to highlight that technology will never fully replace the need for human soldiers. The end of the ad shows the robot soldier transforming into a human solider after asking, “What does the army of the future look like?”.

On Sky News, Colonel Nick Mackenzie, Assistant Director Recruiting, said that the idea behind the campaign was to “dispel one of the many myths that surround the British Army.”

He added: “We want to tell future recruits that no matter what technological advancements we make, it is the judgement, intelligence and even the wit of our soldiers that is indispensable to the future of the Army.”

In The Independent, Richard Holroyd, Managing Director of Capita Defence, Fire and Security, said: “While we live more of our lives online and increasingly in augmented realities, it’s easy to believe that the future of any armed force is now about mass robotic units managed by unfeeling AI.

“As a former soldier, I know that will simply never be the case. Technology must work alongside the human ingenuity of soldiers and personnel – the army of the future still needs you.”

The advert does actually depict soldiers and technology working side-by-side, as Holroyd suggests – mini robot rovers can be seen being remotely controlled as well as drones taking off into the skies.

I think that, at the moment, this is a much more realistic depiction of life in the army. Whilst technology is advancing at a rapid rate, there are still too many unanswered questions on the ethics, security, and safety of ‘smart’ connected technology. And, as the campaign suggests, nothing can do what a soldier can do!

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