Redesigning the U.S. Military


military theorists and researchers are increasingly preoccupied
with how the rapid growth of cities in the global south undermines
their technological advantages over non-state insurgents. In particular,
a concerted effort is being made to redesign and re-equip the U.S.
military so that its purpose becomes the violent takeover and control
of large cities in the global south. 

the bloody results of the urban insurgency in Iraq adding evidence
to support their views, many leading military theorists in the U.S.
now argue that the urban terrain in poor, global south countries
is a great leveler between high-tech U.S. forces and their low-tech
and usually informally organized and poorly equipped adversaries.
A U.S. Defense Intelligence Reference Document, for example, argues
that “the urban environment negates the abilities of present
U.S. military communications equipment.” 

results in dead spots, which severely undermine the principles and
technologies of network-centric warfare—the style of high-tech
targeting and killing that is the preferred mode of operation. Global
south cities are thus seen to be refuges that shelter insurgent
groups from the overwhelming technological superiority of U.S. forces.
The major military think tank RAND reported recently that this is
leading to what they call the ‘urbanization of insurgency’.” 

the usual euphemisms of the military, Major Lee Grubbs of the U.S.
Army argued recently in a U.S. military report that U.S. forces
need to be redefined so that their main purpose is to “create
operational shock in the urban environment. The challenge is the
development of an executable operational concept for achieving systematic,
across the entire system, effects within the urban environment through
the selective use of force.” 

major areas of work have resulted from such a policy shift. The
first involves programs designed to saturate global south cities
with small scale surveillance systems so that U.S. forces can build
up a full picture of global south cities in real time. The dream
of U.S. military theorists is that this can be done to such an extent
that any target can be automatically identified at any time and
so exposed to high-technology tracking and killing powers of their
network-centric weapons. Such visions imagine pervasive and interlinked
arrays of loitering and “embedded” sensors overcoming
all the limits and interruptions that large city environments place
in the way of successfully implementing network-centric warfare. 

Combat Zones That See 


major example of such a development is the Combat Zones That See
project. This is led by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA)—the agency responsible for dreaming up futuristic
military systems. Made public at the start of the Iraq insurgency
in 2003, the launch report for the project claims that it “explores
concepts, develops [computer] algorithms, and delivers systems for
utilizing large numbers (1,000s) of video cameras to provide the
close-in sensing demanded for military operations in urban terrain.”
Through installation of thousands of computerized video cameras
across whole occupied cities, the project organizers envisage “motion-pattern
analysis across whole city scales.” In other words, the movements
of cars across whole occupied cities will be tracked in real time. 

Once it has been
developed (by 2007), CTS “will generate, for the first time,
the reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting information needed
to provide close-in, continuous, always-on support for military
operations in urban terrain.” It will be designed to specifically
address the “inherently three-dimensional nature of urban centers,
with large buildings, extensive underground passageways, and concealment
from above.” 

central challenge of CTS, according to DARPA, will be to build fully
representative data profiles on the normal movement patterns of
entire subject cities so that computer software could then use statistical
modeling to “determine what is normal and what is not.”
This will be a purported aid to identifying insurgents’ activities
and real or potential attacks, as well as warning of the presence
or movement of target or suspect vehicles or individuals. 

a stream of protests from U.S. civil liberties groups, DARPA stressed
that, while the initial test of mass, urban tracking will take place
at a U.S. Army base within the United States (Fort Belvoir, Virginia),
the deployment of CTS will only take place in what DARPA calls “foreign
urban battlefields.” 

possibility of saturating occupied or target cities with tiny sensors
and cameras is also being investigated by an associated DARPA program
labeled HURT. This program centers on the development of a wide
range of surveillance and weapons platforms tailored to loiter for
long periods within and above global south urban environments. DARPA’s
HURT and CTS programs are, in turn, being backed up by major virtual
simulations of wide scale future urban wars in cities like Jakarta
(an exercise known as Urban Resolve). In these, future suites of
surveillance systems, like those under development in HURT, are
inputted into the simulations to assess their likely effectiveness. 

Fantasies of Robotized Killing 


second area of work involves a shift towards robotic air and ground
weapons, which, when linked to the surveillance and target identification
systems just discussed, will be deployed to continually and automatically
destroy purported targets in potentially endless streams of state
killing. Here, crucially, fantasies of military omniscience and
omnipotence, which blur seamlessly into wider sci-fi and cyberpunk
imaginations of future weapons, become indistinguishable from major
U.S. military research and development programs. The fantasies of
linking all-seeing surveillance to automated machines of killing
are a central feature here. 

by the reports on DARPA’s CTS Program,

Defense Watch

magazine provides a telling example of such fantasies. In their
scenario, swarms of tiny networked sensors pervade the target city.
These provide continuous streams of target information to arrays
of automated weaponry. Together, these systems produce continuous
killing and destruction: a kind of robotized counter-insurgency
operation with U.S. commanders and soldiers doing little but overseeing
the systems from a safe distance. 


thus fantasizes about “a battlefield in the near
future” that is wired up with the systems, which result from
the CTS program and its followers. The text is so revealing it is
worth quoting at length. “Several large fans are stationed
outside the city limits of an urban target that our [sic] guys need
to take,” they begin: “Upon appropriate signal, what appears
like a dust cloud emanates from each fan. The cloud is blown into
town where it quickly dissipates. After a few minutes of processing
by laptop-size processors, a squadron of small, disposable aircraft
ascends over the city. The little drones dive into selected areas
determined by the initial analysis of data transmitted by the fan-propelled
swarm. Where they disperse their nano-payloads. 

this, the processors get even more busy,” continues the scenario.
“Within minutes the mobile tactical center has a detailed visual
and audio picture of every street and building in the entire city.
Every hostile [person] has been identified and located. 

this point on, nobody in the city moves without the full and complete
knowledge of the mobile tactical center. As blind spots are discovered,
they can quickly be covered by additional dispersal of more nano-devices.
Unmanned air and ground vehicles can now be vectored directly to
selected targets to take them out, one by one. Those enemy combatants
clever enough to evade actually being taken out by the unmanned
units can then be captured or killed by human elements who are guided
directly to their locations, with full and complete knowledge of
their individual fortifications and defenses. When the dust settles
on competitive bidding for [the Combat Zones That See program],
and after the first prototypes are delivered several years from
now, our guys are in for a mind-boggling treat at the expense of
the bad guys.” 

fantasies extend even further to the automated surveillance, through
brain scanning, of people’s inner mental attitudes to any U.S.
invasion, so that targets deemed to be resistant can be automatically
identified and destroyed: “Robotic systems push deeper into
the urban area. Behind the fighters, military police and intelligence
personnel process the inhabitants, electronically reading their
attitudes toward the intervention and cataloguing them into a database
immediately recoverable by every fire team in the city (even individual
weapons might be able to read personal signatures, firing immediately
upon cueing). Smart munitions track enemy systems and profiled individuals.
Satellites monitor the city for any air defense fires, curing immediate
responses from near-space orbiting guns. Drones track inhabitants
who have been read as potentially hostile and tagged.” 

Emerging Robotized Killing Systems 


such fantasies are far from the realms of sci-fi. Rather, as with
the CTS and HURT programs, they are fuelling very real multimillion
dollar research and weapons development programs for ground and
aerial vehicles, which not only navigate and move robotically, but
which select and destroy targets without humans in the loop based
on algorithmically-driven decisions. 

in the U.S. military magazine


in 2004, U.S. Air Force
commentator Maryann Lawlor, for example, discusses the development
of “autonomous mechanized combatants” for the U.S. Air
Force. These are being designed, she notes, to use “pattern
recognition” software for what she calls “time-critical
targeting.” This means that automatic sensors will link very
quickly to automated weapons so that fleeting targets both within
and outside cities can be continually destroyed. Such doctrine is
widely termed “compressing the kill chain” or “sensor
to shooter warfare” in U.S. military parlance. The “swarming
of unmanned systems” project team at U.S. forces Joint Command
Experimentation Directorate, based in Suffolk, Virginia, she states,
are so advanced in such experimentation that “autonomous, networked
and integrated robots may be the norm rather than the exception
by 2025.” 

that date, Lawlor predicts that “technologies could be developed
that would allow machines to sense a report of gunfire in an urban
environment to within one meter, triangulating the position of the
shooter and return fire within a fraction of a second” providing
a completely automated weapon system devoid of human involvement.
She quotes Gordon Johnson, the Unmanned Effects team leader for
the U.S. Army’s Project Alpha, as saying of such a system,
“If it can get within one meter, it’s killed the person
who’s firing. So, essentially, what we’re saying is that
anyone who would shoot at our forces would die. Before he can drop
that weapon and run, he’s probably already dead. Well now,
these cowards in Baghdad would have to play with blood and guts
every time they shoot at one of our folks. The costs of poker went
up significantly. The enemy, are they going to give up blood and
guts to kill machines? I’m guessing not.” 

predicts that such robo-war systems will “help save lives by
taking humans out of harm’s way.” Here, only U.S. forces
are considered to fall within the category human. 

addition, unmanned aerial vehicles armed with intelligent munitions
are already being designed which will, eventually, be programmed
to fire on and kill targets detected by U.S. Air Force’s real-time
surveillance grids, in a completely autonomous way. Such munitions
will loiter over targets for days at a time, linked into the data
links, until targets are detected for destruction. A program called
TUDLS (Total Urban Dominance Layered System) for example, is currently
underway to provide what Benjamin Plenge of the U.S. Air Force’s
Munitions Directorate in Florida, describes in his geek speak as
“long hover and loiter propulsion systems, multidiscriminant
sensors and seekers, mini- and micro-air vehicles, mini-lethal and
non-lethal warheads, autonomous and man-in-the loop control algorithms,
and a strong interface with the battlespace in formation network.” 

stresses further that the loitering munitions developed through
the TUDLS program will “be capable of completing the entire
kill chain with minimal human involvement.” They will be able
to cooperate to maximize their autonomous destructive power or,
where there are “more stringent rules of engagement,”
through referring back each time they strike to humans-in-the-loop
when they are “in close proximity to friendly forces.” 

such munitions will be equipped with algorithms designed to separate
targets from non-targets automatically. The ultimate goals, according
to Chuck Pinney, an engineer at the Raytheon Corporation, is a “kill
chain solution” based on “1st look, 1st feed, 1st kill,”
where each armed unmanned vehicle continuously “seeks out targets
on its own.” Tirpak, a U.S. Air Force specialist, envisages
that humans will be required to make the decisions to launch weapons
at targets only “until Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles establish
a track record of reliability in finding the right targets and employing
weapons properly.” Then, he predicts, the “machines will
be trusted to do even that.” 

bombs that will be tasked with such automated killing are already
under development. One, termed LOCAAS (Low Cost Autonomous Attack
Systems), the USAF has already committed to buy. This loiters and
searches over an area of 80 square miles, scanning the area and
comparing signals received with what the USAF engineer Greg Marzolf
describes as “stored target templates” that use the “advanced
[computer] algorithms” of what is known as “automated
target recognition” or ATR software. When the signature of
a known target is detected, the missile hones in to destroy it. 



are many people, even within the U.S. military, who are skeptical
that the horrors and “fog of war” in bloody urban operations
like the Iraqi insurgency, can ever really be automated. With over
1,500 U.S. military dead, mostly through bloody and close urban
combat, the technophiliac fantasies of U.S. defense contractors
and R&D organizations must look highly unrealistic to the U.S.
infantry on the streets of Fallujah or Baghdad. As ever, then, the
casualties from the glitzy fantasies of military theorists, who
grow ever-fatter on the back of lavish spending increases from the
Bush administration, are all of the poor and impoverished of the
world’s cities. 

such systems will ever function as imagined even in military terms
is, then, beside the point. The very existence of an imperial project
of launching the world’s military hegemon’s high-tech
killing systems into global south cities will inevitably lead to
mass civilian carnage. This seems especially so as new computer
systems will likely emerge, which are the actual agents of continuous,
autonomous killing as “kill chains are compressed,” sensors
are linked automatically to shooters, and the fantasies of “persistent
area dominance” achieve full expression through the favorable
context of Bush’s huge defense spending increases and ideologies
of preemptive war. The real worry is that, in bringing the fantasy
that U.S. personnel can be withdrawn from risk to supervise automated
machines that do the business of killing in global south cities,
the barriers to U.S. aggression might be further reduced. 

broader tragedy, of course, is that these military debates and fantasies
translate the human richness of whole global south cities and their
residents into mere targets to be assaulted and annihilated at will.
They reduce the politics of empire to an age-old quest for using
the technological advantage of the colonizing power to exterminate
those who might politically oppose it. They fundamentally rest on
the essentially racist idea that life in the global south is essentially
worthless and expendable.

Stephen Graham
is a professor of Human Geography at the University of Durham in the
UK. His new book is

Cities, War and Terrorism