The New Frontiers of War

Addison Scufsa

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In a historic test last week, the United States Missile Defense Agency successfully destroyed a dummy ICBM launched from the Marshall Islands over the Pacific Ocean. Using two missiles launched from California, the U.S. hit multiple parts of the dummy ICBM, proving that the US is on its way towards establishing a reliable counter defense system against nuclear weapons.

This test, along with developments in drone warfare, cybersecurity, and satellite construction, display the shift by the United States and other major nations towards the new frontiers of war: space, the internet, and the skies. 

In space, the threat of ICBMs has long been the major concern of the United States. The Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” program started by President Reagan in the 1980’s was the first major step towards developing a reliable countermeasure to the most destructive weapon ever created. Despite being officially discontinued in 1993, the military has since created a vast network of air defense missile systems to defend ourselves and our allies. 

The Patriot missile system is perhaps the most famous, having been used extensively in the Middle East with good results. Most recently, the Saudis have used it to defend themselves against Yemen attacks in their war, much to the chagrin of some members of Congress. THAAD is another short and medium range missile system that was widely talked about during the North Korean crisis last year.

Even against non-nuclear missiles, both of these systems can counter anti-ship cruise missiles being developed by China to destroy US carriers and warships in the South China Sea if necessary. The geopolitical battle between China, Russia, and the U.S. over missiles in space will continue to be important well into the future. 

Satellites are another major source of recent military funding in the U.S. as accurate information becomes even more important for the conflicts of the future. SpaceX, a U.S.-based space company, recently launched their first military satellite last year, marking the introduction of private companies into military space navigation, a critical component of our fighting capabilities.

As made clear by the 2016 election, cybersecurity in the United States needs to be improved quickly. Russian and Chinese hackers have long had their way with American companies and agencies, stealing millions of dollars worth of key information and state secrets. With the total reliance of everyday people on the internet and staying online, cybersecurity is likely the number one security threat to the United States. Huawei recently succeeded in distributing its 5G capable phones across the globe, despite the US government’s efforts to stop them. In order to combat the Chinese and Russian dominance in the cyber sector, the Army Cyber branch, the NSA, and the NIA have all seen a massive increase in staffing and funding in the last decade 

Drones are another concerning frontier for both the private and public sector as companies continue to grow and develop increasingly complex drones at an obscenely rapid pace. Companies such as Citadel Defense, Rafael, and Dedrone have all entered the anti drone defense market and have been proven to develop capable systems that are used by Israel, the UK, and others. The shutdown of Gatwick airport last year in the UK by 50 drone sightings was resolved thanks to anti drone technology purchased for military use by the UK. 

Due to the tiny and unmanned nature of drones today, militaries are concerned that they can be used as spy tools or even weapons themselves if they are strapped to a bomb. While perhaps not as pressing of an issue as cybersecurity or missile defense, drones will be the future tool of war. 

The next frontier of war will likely not involve actual humans at all as technology continues to allow humans to do more without our involvement. The U.S. military and others clearly have defined the parameters of the new battlefield, but in a time of seemingly increased tensions, it will be important to see who wins the race to the next milestone of war technology.