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US Army-sponsored workshop envisions War Fighting Capabilities and Technologies for 2050 Hybrid Warfare

ARL has released a report “Visualizing the Tactical Ground Battlefield in the Year 2050: Workshop Report” based on workshop of thought leaders from the Defense Department, the U.S. Army Research Lab, the Institute for Defense Analysis, and national security thinkers across academia.

The scope of this workshop was limited to tactical ground war fighting circa 2050. The battlefield was assumed to be on the order of 100 km by 100 km and include a population center with significant numbers of civilians present. Besides engaging in “conventional” warfare, the technologically sophisticated opponents could be assumed to be capable of employing irregular warfare.

This is the concept of ‘hybrid warfare’ – broadly, situations where the adversary uses a combination of conventional and irregular warfare – has gained renewed prominence following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and fomenting of instability in Eastern Ukraine. Last July, the then NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen publicly accused Russia of waging hybrid warfare.

Military Capabilities

The workshop participants dwelled on two themes “Seeing, Communicating, Understanding, And Deciding” and the second “Moving, Shooting, Effecting, And Sustaining.”

Seeing, Communicating, Understanding, and Deciding

The group identified and discussed the following 7 interrelated future capabilities that they felt would differentiate the battlefield of the future from current capabilities and engagements:

The battlefield of the future will be populated by humans that would be physically and mentally augmented with enhanced capabilities that improve their ability to sense their environment, make sense of their environment, and interact with one another, as well as with “unenhanced humans.”

The tactical battlefield of 2050 will be qualitatively more automated with autonomous processes making many decisions that humans make today. Decision agents would be integral to all of the processes associated with Command and control, information preparation of the battlefield, ISR, and Battle Damage Assessment.

The “information-rich” environment (some would call this a condition of information overload) by 2050, shall result in where it will be difficult for an individual to assess the quality (correctness, authenticity, security) of each piece of information. This makes directed misinformation attacks relatively hard to detect.

Micro-targeting concept involves the identification and surgical engagement of specific individuals employing either kinetic or non-kinetic means.

An expected feature of the battlefield of 2050 would be the existence of new, more edge-like approaches to command and control where individuals, teams, and software agents would, when appropriate, self-organize, dynamically creating and modifying collaborative processes.

A vastly improved capability to understand an opponent and predict their actions will enable a new and potentially disruptive capability in this time frame.

The battlefield of 2050 would still contain a significant amount of noise mixed in with information. Therefore, it would remain difficult to extract key information and identify misinformation, as well as identify unverified, unattributed, unsourced, and incorrect and/or out-of-date information.

Moving, Surviving, Effecting, and Sustaining

The tactical battlefield of 2050 would be characterized by the following:
The battlefield of 2050 shall be populated by large numbers of autonomous entities of all kinds, like unattended ground sensors, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and fire-and-forget missiles. However, their 2050 versions would possess significantly greater capabilities of machine reasoning and intelligent autonomy than those existing today.

Robots will commonly operate in teams or swarms in the battlespace of 2050 in the same way Soldiers act in teams today. These self-organized and/or collaborative collections of robots would operate with varying degrees of freedoms (from being actively managed to being autonomous) under dynamically established rules of engagement/priorities.

Dynamic hacking and spoofing is likely to be a prominent feature of the tactical environment circa 2050, both being used in “agile” attacks that dynamically, as a function of the circumstances and conditions, select the effects that are created.
The principal Army unit operating in 2050 will be mixed human-robot teams. The human members shall be enhanced in a variety of ways will feature exoskeletons, possess a variety of implants, and have seamless access to sensing and cognitive enhancements

The Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) shall offer a transformational ‘game changer’ to counter asymmetric and disruptive threats, while facing increasingly sophisticated traditional challenges. Several DEW technologies that have shown promise include high power micro and millimeter wave, and lasers of various kinds (solid-state, chemical, fiber), both airborne and ground.
Force fields consist of particles, energy, or waves that destroy, cripple, or otherwise interfere with objects that attempt to penetrate them.

They will be developed to help protect easy to locate assets and track high value targets.
Some of these 2050 battlefield capabilities require a great deal of energy to function effectively. The reliable supply of this energy is essential for mission effectiveness.


The workshop concluded that a critical challenge of the mid-21st century will involve successfully managing and integrating the collections, teams, and swarms of robots that would act independently or collaboratively as they undertook a variety of missions including the management and protection of communications and information networks and the provision of decision quality information to humans.

Success in this aspect of command and control would depend upon developing new C2 concepts and approaches, in particular, developing and fielding an effective hybrid cognitive architecture that leverages the strengths of artificial intelligence and human intelligence to go along with the development of new robotic, communications, information, and systems technologies.

About Rajesh Uppal

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