Will the Pentagon’s Techno-Fantasies Pave the Way for War with China?

By William D. Hartung, TomDispatch

On August 28th, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks chose the occasion of a three-day conference organized by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), the arms industry’s biggest trade group, to announce the “Replicator Initiative.” Among other things, it would involve producing “swarms of drones” that could hit thousands of targets in China on short notice. Call it the full-scale launching of techno-war.

AI weapons systems

Her speech to the assembled arms makers was yet another sign that the military-industrial complex (MIC) President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about more than 60 years ago is still alive, all too well, and taking a new turn. Call it the MIC for the digital age.

Hicks described the goal of the Replicator Initiative this way:

“To stay ahead [of China], we’re going to create a new state of the art… leveraging attritable, autonomous systems in all domains which are less expensive, put fewer people at risk, and can be changed, upgraded, or improved with substantially shorter lead times… We’ll counter the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army’s] with mass of our own, but ours will be harder to plan for, harder to hit, and harder to beat.”

Think of it as artificial intelligence (AI) goes to war — and oh, that word “attritable,” a term that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or mean much of anything to the average taxpayer, is pure Pentagonese for the ready and rapid replaceability of systems lost in combat. Let’s explore later whether the Pentagon and the arms industry are even capable of producing the kinds of cheap, effective, easily replicable techno-war systems Hicks touted in her speech. First, though, let me focus on the goal of such an effort: confronting China.

Target: China

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