The next world war will be fought by enhanced humans

Security and intelligence expert P. W. Singer has penned a fascinating article outlining the various ways leaders must prepare for the "chaotic battlefields of the future." Looking at the latest developments, they're going to have to anticipate a whole new way of making war.

Above: A conceptual image of the Lockheed Martin SR-72, a hypersonic aircraft that will be fly at mach 6, be capable of carrying weapons — and will be able to attack from the edge of space. Credit: Lockheed Martin/Aviation Weekly.

Singer makes the case that the United States is currently in a position occupied by Great Britain at the dawn of World War I: Empires on the decline. America is becoming a "status quo power," one that's overextended, budget strapped, and forced to anticipate the potential for crazy-futuristic new technologies and weapons.

There's the networked battlefield to consider, one that will include autonomous robotics, directed energy systems (what you and I call lasers), and of course, enhanced humans.

Singer writes:

"[H]uman performance modification" technologies are changing our physical and mental capabilities. Whereas Luke Skywalker had a robotic hand, now we have bionic prosthetics that allow victims of improvised explosive devices to go back into combat even after losing an arm or leg. Consider that 10 percent of the U.S. population now has a pacemaker, drug delivery system or some other medical device embedded inside their bodies.

Humankind has evolved from using fists and stones to guns, bombs and soon lasers and cyberweapons in our wars against one other. But the frail human body remains fundamentally the same. HPM is about changing that fact, encompassing everything from technological hardware implants to chemical effectors that extend stamina, focus, even learning ability.

He wonders if we'll adapt, pointing to the eerie effectiveness of Syria's rogue Electronic Army — the same group that hacked into AP's twitter feed convincing everyone that Obama had been hurt in a bombing incident at the White House.

Singer looks at history for precedents:

Necessary change will inevitably be resisted, sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with battlefield performance. For instance, the British invented the tank yet veered away from fully adapting to the Blitzkrieg concept they arguably birthed, largely because implementing it would have undermined the cherished regimental system at the center of British military culture. This was not just a British phenomenon; as late as 1939, the head of the U.S. Cavalry, Maj. Gen. John Knowles Herr, declared that "not one more horse will I give up for a tank."

He describes the parallels today, like Washington's love-affair with the F-35 strike fighter — a plane conceived in the 1990s "whose massive budget threatens to strangle a new generation of unmanned systems at birth are as much about identity as anything else."

Singer has lots of fascinating things to say about this and more, so be sure to read the entire article.