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«Thanks, grandpa, for the victory»: How Russia with its Soviet-era weapons is taking a beating from modern military tech

Victor Vilisov

The war in Ukraine has exposed Russia’s immense backwardness in military technologies. Over the last few decades, international armed conflicts occur less and less frequently, giving way to hybrid conflicts, proxy wars, and non-combat weapons: economic, social, and digital. The emergence of drones and cyber terror has put a distance between the target and the operator, making wars increasingly virtual. Connectivity and cooperation are key to succeeding in a modern war, while a regime based on secrecy and manual handling does not foster them. Putin’s military commanders are well aware of the latest trends yet incapable of adapting. They emphasize artillery strikes, while their efforts in reconnaissance, cyber, high-precision, and semi-automated warfare end up impotent because of sanctions and corruption. It is the technological backwardness that became one of the main causes of Putin's fiasco in Ukraine.

  • New types of weapons

  • Drones: an asymmetric warfare weapon

  • Military satellites and their impact

  • Smartphones are today's weapons

  • Artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons

  • Cyber weapons going lethal?

  • Sanctions, blockades, and migration

  • The hardships of import replacement

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The attack of a state run by seventy-year-old KGB officers on Ukraine looks surprisingly archaic, with tanks, warships, and planes leading the offensive and razing cities down to the ground. Bombed-out Ukrainian communities have the aspect of Grozny or Aleppo, and the evidence of Russian troops using indiscriminate weapons includes hundreds of cases. We seemed to have entered the era of “new”, hybrid warfare of the fourth or even fifth generation, network-centric, asymmetric, or digital — the kind of conflicts where metal objects that go “boom” play a less prominent role, if any at all. However, the Russian commandment lives in the past and has dusted off its 1960s tanks.

New types of weapons

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine makes it evident that warfare categories are a formalistic concept, while real-world conflicts may combine the features typical of multiple generations of warfare – from the second to the fifth. However, if the classification is anything to go by, the participants of “new wars” pursue several objectives. Firstly, they try to avoid combat activities involving kinetic energy weapons. If this is not an option, they seek to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, ideally to zero (which is nearly impossible in practice, considering the specifics of available weapons and the blurring of the distinction between civilians and troops). Other objectives include total control over the narrative about the course of the war and the reasons for starting it. Doing as much damage as possible with as little effort as possible, by saving or forgoing the use of munitions and equipment, saving the lives and health of troops, and distancing the weapon from the target. Gathering as much data on the ongoing conflict and processing it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Finally, ensuring connectivity across all troops for the quickest possible strategy adjustment based on emerging data.

As for modern warfare technologies employed to meet these objectives, many of them are experimental weapons, such as DIME bombs with a small blast radius (and superheated tungsten dust that scorches tissues causing life-threatening injuries; Israel has been accused of using such explosives). Then there are biological or chemical weapons, including substances used on the warring party’s own soldiers to suppress fear, drive aggression, and make them less susceptible to pain and more alert. Another option to consider is non-lethal weapons, which temporarily blind and disorient or create areas of an irresistible heating sensation on the opponent's skin with electromagnetic waves. The list goes on to include state-of-the-art military tech like HoloLens AR helmets customized to the needs of the US Army and fully autonomous combat vehicles for land, water, and air.

Nevertheless, the key weapon of modern warfare is data, while the list of crucial technologies focuses on devices and algorithms for data collection, processing, and synchronization across multiple networks: drones, satellites, mobile devices, machine learning algorithms, and global and local communication networks.

The key weapon of modern warfare is data

Drones: an asymmetric warfare weapon

Of the entire arsenal, military drones captivate the attention of researchers and observers more than anything else. Good books on military drones abound. One of the must-reads is A Theory of the Drone by philosopher Grégoire Chamayou. Describing the theory and technologies of unmanned aerial vehicles, both combat and surveillance, Chamayou shows how this class of devices pioneered “projecting power without projecting vulnerability”. Drones are the most vivid example of so-called asymmetric warfare weapons, characterized by one party’s incomparably higher ability to cause damage than their adversary's.

Drones are the most vivid example of so-called asymmetric warfare weapons

The use of drones by the US and Israel is a distinct manifestation of a neo-colonial militarist policy. The cynical narrative of drones being a “humane weapon” for high-precision strikes that do not lead to civilian casualties received no proof, as thousands of peaceful bystanders have been killed in the course of operations involving UAVs. Casualties are inevitable with a blast radius of 15 to 50 meters. During Bush’s and Obama’s presidencies, the US even practiced so-called signature strikes. Drones were targeted at unidentified individuals whose behavior patterns indicated involvement in terrorist activity in the understanding of the American military.

The number of innocents killed in such attacks is hard to assess because, as William Merrin points out in Digital War, the use of drones has transformed military invasions into minor, low-profile events that get little to no media coverage unless the military comes forward with details. Another crucial feature of modern dispersed wars is their lack of accountability to civil society.

An important feature of modern dispersed wars is their lack of accountability to civil society

Drones replace soldiers on the battlefield with remote operators, making real human casualties seemingly more virtual. Nevertheless, drone operators suffer from PTSD and other consequences alongside contact troops. Furthermore, as Merrin points out, maintaining and operating these weapons requires input from many civilians, whose actions also bear real-world consequences in target locations.

Bayraktar, a Turkish UAV
Bayraktar, a Turkish UAV

Drones have more uses than dropping explosives on their targets. Glider drones and quadcopters are widely used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and – which is particularly obvious in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict – for identifying and specifying artillery targets.

For the moment, Russia is losing the drone war, as the Ukrainians have deployed a powerful network of civilian and military drones to meet the objectives of reconnaissance, artillery targeting, and even dropping munitions with makeshift prongs installed on former civilian copters. The Ukrainian army employs so-called kamikaze drones, devices that cost mere tens of thousands of euros but can annihilate tanks and other heavy machinery. Russia lacks the infrastructure to engage civilian UAVs and is losing military drones by the dozen. Meanwhile, massive jamming of Ukrainian drones is not an option either because, having lost around ten jamming systems, Russia is hesitant about dragging them out to the front line.

Military satellites and their impact

The use of military satellites (and the speculation about hypothetical space wars) dates back over three decades. The US and Russia both established dedicated “space forces” in 1985 and 1992, respectively.

Over the last fifteen years, improved resolution and reinforced communication channels have enabled real-time surveillance from space. Military operations employ satellite images for reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, and navigation. Satellites show the location and movement of enemy troops (even in the dark or beneath clouds, in the case of SAR satellites), coordinate the movement and actions of friendly troops, intercept the enemy's radio communications or detect their attempts at GPS or radio jamming. Furthermore, satellite images have been instrumental in investigating war crimes in multiple major armed conflicts – including the Bucha massacre.

Satellite images have been instrumental in investigating war crimes in multiple major armed conflicts

Satellite Internet has also been playing a major role in the war between Russia and Ukraine. An hour before the Russian invasion, cyber criminals “with ties to Russia” hacked into the network of US satellite provider Viasat. Experts characterized this attack as uncompromising use of brute force: the hackers did not bother to tread lightly, tearing down all defense systems they managed to reach, disabling tens of thousands of satellite modems across Europe, and affecting the operation of a thousand wind turbines in Germany. Importantly, Ukrainian troops used Viasat Internet as a means of communication between the front line and the commandment. Without going into detail, Ukrainian officials admitted that the attack resulted in a major “communication gap” in the early stages of the war. However, the hack accelerated Ukraine’s negotiations with Starlink, a SpaceX provider piloting broadband provision with a network of low-orbit satellites. Over 11,000 Starlink terminals were shortly brought in, considerably changing the course of the war by restoring Internet connectivity in the regions of Eastern Ukraine where the Russians had taken down all other means of communication. Starlink thus enabled both vertical and horizontal communication throughout the Ukrainian Armed Forces (including Web access for Azovstal defenders). Ukrainian drones that coordinate artillery strikes on Russian troops are connected to Starlink too. Since the network operates as a constellation of numerous satellites, blocking it is problematic, if at all possible. Owner of SpaceX Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that Russia had attempted jamming the satellite signal, but changes to the code had mitigated the attack.

Over 11,000 Starlink terminals were shortly brought in, considerably changing the course of the war

Ukraine has no satellites of its own. However, there have been multiple reports of Western governments supplying Ukraine with massive volumes of intel, including satellite data, almost in real time. An American general characterized this intelligence exchange as the most “accurate, timely, and actionable” in his 35 years of service. Meanwhile, Russia is struggling, as its satellites are few, located too far, and offer a mediocre resolution.

Smartphones are today's weapons

The overall trend toward mobility determines which weapons lose or gain popularity. Even if we leave out Chinese experimental weapons that combine a rifle and a grenade launcher or shoot from around the corner, experts have observed an increasing efficiency of low-cost, small, and easily operated weapons against heavyweight conventional artillery, planes, and warships. The Ukrainian resistance has proven how a major platform-centric army can be efficiently countered with small drones, Stingers, and Javelins (portable missile systems).

Yet one of the most macabre implications of this war is how ordinary phones become weapons. In her book Frames of War, Judith Butler raises the issue of tools used for waging war and contemplates whether the camera is becoming a weapon on par with a rifle or a bomb. Some may find it preposterous since you cannot shoot anyone with a camera. However, Butler provides ample evidence of how producing images, as well as visual and discursive fields (a combination of visuals and text in mass media) in the location of the conflict or even outside it becomes an element of the kill chain, determining targets, setting categories of people deserving death, and employing propaganda to promote a militarist outlook or the perception of the war as fair or even moral – like the Russian regime is trying (and failing) to do today. The Russian-Ukrainian war has provided examples of people with smartphones in their hands perceived as armed and fired at.

The Russian-Ukrainian war has provided examples of people with smartphones in their hands perceived as armed and fired at

Co-author of Radical War Matthew Ford has penned three articles on how smartphones are facilitating defense operations in this war and becoming a real weapon. The underlying idea is to include civilian and military phones, which are essentially multipurpose sensors, in the so-called targeting cycle. Ever since the war broke out, Ukrainian residents started using feedback bots and other channels that are better integrated into military communications to report the location of Russian troops and equipment, submitting their coordinates, photos, and videos. As The Financial Times points out, these grassroots reports play “really a great role”. Ford specifies that, while the precise effects of including smartphones into the targeting cycle require further investigation, the Ukrainian army has essentially outsourced a significant share of the enemy kill chain and equipment annihilation to its civilian population. This tendency is further reinforced by the use of civilian drones and, for instance, guerrillas making fire bottles and distributing DIY manuals on how to produce them. In the ongoing defensive war, this raises few brows but looks unnerving nonetheless, demonstrating yet again the fuzzy distinction between civilians and troops.

Artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons

Apart from civilian involvement, the datafication of conflicts effectuates the engagement of artificial intelligence – software that utilizes deep machine learning algorithms – in data collection and processing. So far, the Russian-Ukrainian war has featured at least one impressive case of AI application. Primer, an American company offering AI products to private-sector enterprises and the military, decided to aid Ukraine and use the occasion to test its data analysis algorithms, focusing on those identifying key points in massive data arrays. Connecting their software to unprotected audio streams of Russian troops’ communication, Primer was able to analyze these streams almost in real time, identifying toponyms, the names of personnel, the denomination of equipment, and situation descriptions and offering the output data to the Ukrainian military. The latter had already been analyzing intercepted Russian communications, but the process had been manual. The use of AI saves time, boosts analysis efficiency, and ensures a higher relevance of field data, which is beneficial for timely strategy adjustments.

The datafication of conflicts effectuates the engagement of AI in data collection and processing

Military agencies in multiple countries already employ deep-learning algorithms for military purposes, chiefly for intelligence data processing but also in the targeting cycle. China utilizes AI algorithms to address the engineering challenges of hypersonic missile development. As a result, the last five years have seen an increased urgency of matters pertaining to the use and regulation of autonomous weapons.

Thrishantha Nanayakkara, a robotics professor at Imperial College London, defines the autonomy of weapons and robots as computational capacity sufficient for assessing a situation and performing an action (hitting a target, for instance) without external human input. Essentially, weapons that meet the definition have been around for a while, for instance, homing missiles with heat-seeking or electromagnetic radars, missiles that determine their location by the number of rotations in flight, or anti-tank mines that only explode under certain conditions (responding to a certain weight or even distinguishing between friendly and enemy tanks).

Nevertheless, the biggest concerns voiced in the debate on autonomous weapons pertain to “killer robots”, which mainly implies AI-enabled drones capable of independent situational analysis, followed by pursuit and annihilation of a target that matches the pre-set pattern. Such attacks have indeed taken place. The massive use of such weapons poses numerous risks. Speculations about AI weapons being “more humane” because they process data more accurately, thus avoiding civilian casualties, have found little proof. AI algorithms are notorious for frequent mistakes, aberrations, and bias caused by training data deficiencies or the learning process specifics. Such algorithms still have a poor understanding of context: say, a drone may detect an enemy tank but fail to notice it is positioned outside a kindergarten. When it comes to human lives, outsourcing combat decisions to AI is as much of a crime as unleashing the war in the first place. Moreover, autonomous weapons further intensify the dissolution of power, a process addressed extensively by Chamayou and other researchers. In the case of already low-profile UAV operations, the responsibility for autonomous strikes will be near impossible to place, so the implementation of autonomous weapons has sparked rightful protests.

A drone may detect an enemy tank but fail to notice it is positioned outside a kindergarten

Cyber weapons going lethal?

Another untraceable, evasive and legally questionable kind of weapon is cyber weapons. Some researchers question the substantivity of the term “cyber weapons” – supposedly because its immediate impact on physical infrastructure and people is limited and therefore cannot be lethal. This argument is most likely false because, quite understandably, cyber-attacks (possibly in combination with information warfare) activate social engineering mechanisms and expose or block sections of communication networks, modifying the possibility space around large groups of people, which may result in individual fatalities.

Over the last fifteen years, we have seen several cyber attacks on critical infrastructures: The notorious Stuxnet malware, which shut down uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran, the recent reciprocal cyber attacks of Iran and the US, Russia’s attack on Estonia in 2007, which paralyzed the digital government for a significant stretch of time, or Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian power grid in 2016, which left an unprecedented 230,000 people without power supply for several hours (reports also pointed to the US and Russia mutually infecting each other’s power grids with malware). If you consider that a cyber attack can cut health care infrastructure or emergency response services from the power supply, the question of the potential lethality of cyber weapons becomes moot.

Sanctions, blockades, and migration

Transforming cyberspace into a battlefield is another example of international ties being weaponized, as Mark Leonard points out. There are many more such examples. Resisting the use of military equipment, Western governments weaponize their borders, markets, industries, energy resources, and laws.

Resisting the use of military equipment, Western governments weaponize their borders, markets, industries, energy resources, and laws

The West's anti-Russian sanctions are one of the core instruments of countering the aggression of Putin's regime. The very notion of “economic sanctions” seemingly implies that their consequences are purely economic and non-life-threatening. However, the history of applying this kind of pressure has proven this notion wrong. For one, US sanctions against Iraq and Venezuela are directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths caused by the ramifications of economic blockades across multiple sectors, from health care to food.

The lethal implications of anti-Russian sanctions are hard to assess, but we are getting more and more cases of sanctions hampering the operation or maintenance of critical infrastructure elements, from power grids to ambulance cars, or causing medicine shortages. Russia has long since been militarizing its few interdependencies with other states too – mostly those revolving around energy carriers. On another note, migration crises show how entire population groups become tools in a conflict. For one, Turkey extorted billions of euros in subsidies from Europe by threatening to allow passage for millions of refugees and migrants. Turkey also leverages water superiority by blocking rivers and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without water supply as part of a military strategy. James Gow and Georg Gassauer also describe how such crises feature the use of biometric technologies for better control over refugees, which is another manifestation of a low-level conflict.

Russia has long since been militarizing its few interdependencies with other states too – mostly those revolving around energy carriers

Addressing how the hyperconnectivity of states and markets provokes conflicts in his book The Age of Unpeace, Mark Leonard explains that perceiving conflict as inherent to any network is not entirely correct. It is more likely the result of a “toxic behavior complex” – heads of state and army commanders succumbing to their masculine habit of resolving issues by force. According to Leonard, the best way to avoid sliding into a never-ending conflict is to disarm this connectivity, possibly through new international agreements in the areas of interaction ripe with conflict. However, it will not be possible until we realize that it is militarized mainly by men. Ignoring gender dynamics in the unleashing of wars means remaining in the dark as to why wars are still possible at all.

The hardships of import replacement

Nine days before the war, Politico published a questionable piece that went along the following lines: while Ukrainians were digging trenches and building wire communications, Russia was investing heavily in a state-of-the-art army capable of reinforcing well-planned and coordinated attacks in the field with cyber strikes. The article even quotes Ukrainian soldiers saying that Russia is “better positioned than they have ever been to marry technology with a potential siege” and that it allegedly sends a serious message to the West, challenging its abilities to counter this 21st-century power. Many other pieces similarly lauded Russia for its advanced military technologies. There were reports of Russia building an army of autonomous weapons with Chinese AI technologies and developing strategies of information dominance on the battlefield. A CNA report detected as many as 150 AI-driven military systems at various development stages, while Pentagon presumably “admitted Russia’s incredible military power”. Even the speeches and interviews of Russia’s Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov (and the doctrine he is said to have penned in 2013) contain the idea that “non-military means to political and strategic ends are often more efficient than military ones”.

After Russia's unexpected successful annexation of Crimea, the world's first effective attack on Ukraine's power grid, two explosions at Czech armories that were supposed to ship ammunition to Ukraine, and the poisoning of the Bulgarian arms dealer who acted as an intermediary; finally, after meddling in the US elections, Putin’s regime earned the reputation of hybrid conflict masterminds (while in reality, their success resulted from a handful of operations carried out in a most favorable environment). Russia was gradually increasing the scope of its cyber attacks on Ukraine since 2021, continuing to bombard it with the full range of non-kinetic weapons – hacks, psychological terror, economic pressure, and soft power – up until the war. By February 24, everyone was so convinced of Russia’s superiority in military tech that even the US intelligence believed Kyiv would fall in the maximum of 72 hours.

Russia was gradually increasing the scope of its cyber-attacks on Ukraine since 2021: hacks, psychological terror, economic pressure

And then everything went as it went. Russia has lost thousands of pieces of equipment, including its flagship cruiser and expensive planes and helicopters. Aviation has little to no impact on Russia’s progression because Ukraine's dispersed anti-missile system has withstood the onslaught. As it turned out, legendary Russian drones somehow fail to determine the exact coordinates of enemy equipment and transmit them to the artillery, as they should. Moreover, Russia is losing its drones at a frantic pace, with as many as fifty Orlan-10 UAVs shot down or jammed by May. Observers have reported exactly zero cases of Russia using AI-powered weapons. A dozen or so Russian jamming systems (intended for use against enemy drones or GPS receivers) have been abandoned, bombed out, or captured. “For reasons unknown”, Russian National Guard fighters turn up on the front line before the armed forces, spend days wandering in the fields, and sustain heavy losses. Land forces receive no air support when it is needed. Counter artillery is inefficient because artillery pieces get stuck in traffic jams. Russian troops use unprotected communication channels on a massive scale and cannot block mobile signals by bombing towers because they rely on the same network, to the advantage of Ukrainian intelligence. Notably, this is one of the explanations for outrageous losses among Russian generals. Russia is trying to use kamikaze drones, but they miss the mark, and so do “high-precision” missiles. Meanwhile, a Russian state-owned media informs that Russian drones will soon be able to identify and annihilate NATO equipment using neural network image segmentation (in other words, AI).

“For reasons unknown”, Russian National Guard fighters turn up on the front line before the armed forces, spend days wandering in the fields, and sustain heavy losses

In this context, MK’s interview with a tank commander (who was killed shortly after) is particularly touching: he is frank about the technical superiority of the Ukrainian Army, which gets “American supplies”, including Internet access and digital maps. “Every single shot hits the bull’s eye,” he says – because Ukrainian artillery uses drone-enabled automatic targeting (which was extensively covered by Novaya Gazeta). All of the above must have determined the Russian army’s modus operandi after the failed blitzkrieg, which draws heavily on the playbook from Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria: carpet bombings, massive use of unguided missiles, urbicide, banned cluster bombs, the deliberate slaughter of civilians to prevent resistance, frantic recruitment of mercenaries without previous experience or even with a criminal past, import of volunteers from Syria, torture, and terror, such as fake newspapers for Ukrainian POWs, mobile propaganda stations broadcasting Russian TV channels, mass text messages to Ukrainian soldiers urging them to “kill [their] commanding officer and go home”, numerous cases of sexual violence and the completely unjustified brutality of Russian soldiers looting homes and stores after filling their bellies with expired rations. Russia would only be too happy to unleash a colonial drone policy on Ukraine, in Chamayou's terms, but to date, the most obvious colonial feature of this war has been the disproportionately high involvement of military personnel from Russia’s poorest regions.

The most obvious colonial feature of this war is the disproportionately high involvement of military personnel from Russia’s poorest regions

So what happened to all the tech resulting from the ongoing Russian army reform that was launched in 2008? Why do Russian cruise missiles utilize electronic components from the 1970s? How come Russian drones are outfitted with plastic bottles and consumer-grade cameras? Why on earth is Russia reinforcing its troops with 60-year-old tanks and civilian vessels some three months into the invasion? Russian equipment captured by Ukrainians could give a hint: most Russian military technologies are critically dependent on foreign components, from semiconductors and microchips to printed circuit boards, engines, and antennas. The Ukrainian military specifically invited Western experts to study Russian equipment, including laser rangefinders and cruise missile guidance electronics, which turned out to be chock-full of American and European components. This could explain such massive use of unguided munitions: Russia could either be saving homing missiles or could have run out of them with nowhere to restock because the imposed sanctions have blocked 90% of Western military component imports and Russia is still unable to produce a sufficient amount of semiconductors for domestic needs. Evidence has been released of Russian troops using semiconductors from kitchen appliances to repair their equipment.

Most Russian military technologies are critically dependent on foreign components

Sanctioned components are an old story: ever since 2008, Russia has been trying to procure microelectronics, weapons guidance systems, and radiation-hardened chips (critical in combat) with intermittent success, either through straw firms or by misinforming suppliers about the purportedly civilian future application. In 2018, Russia prohibited American export control officers from conducting inspections in the field to verify whether the imported equipment is being used as promised. Secure Russian walkies intercepted by Ukrainians featured microchips with erased manufacturer logos, which is a long-standing practice to conceal the origins of electronics.

However, even if Russia somehow succeeds in streamlining under-the-counter supplies of the necessary equipment, devices alone won't get you far in modern warfare. What matters more is a comprehensive infrastructure they are connected to – the proverbial Internet Of Military Things (drawing parallels with the Internet of Things, a network for smart home appliances). Along with American practices of the unblinking eye, JADC2, or deep sensing, this term refers to a system bringing together a wide range of equipment and personnel in the location of the conflict and beyond, for continuous information exchange. The US is working on TITAN, a centralized system capable of setting up such a network. Russia too has an agency with a similar mission: the National Defense Management Center. We’ve all had the chance to see it at work. Considering head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin's recent rhetoric against digital progress and connectedness, which would allegedly put the West on its knees, this may well be Russia’s conscious policy.

From the onset, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict featured factors beyond Russia’s control – primarily the criminal, cannibalistic nature of this war, both unjustified and unprovoked. Therefore, Russia has irrevocably lost the battle of narratives – the battle for “hearts and minds”, which is essential to modern armed conflicts.

From the onset, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict featured factors beyond Russia’s control

However, there are also factors that Putin's war machine could have taken under control but failed to for multiple reasons. Firstly, there is connectivity and communication, a well-coordinated effort of setting up data streams from the battlefield to the commanders and back. Connectivity has become a paramount success factor in modern warfare. However, it is not a strong suit for elderly ex-KGB officers, especially those paranoid about confidentiality and regarding progress as a sequence of force-driven decisions. A geopolitical worldview often gets in your eyes, making it all too easy to think that giant complex systems way down below, flows of troops and equipment, will move smoothly in formation, following your orders even if you keep them in the dark until the very last moment. As it turns out, reality doesn't work this way.

Apart from the fact that we are standing witness to a big and terrifying lesson on how conflict-free horizontal communication between states is infinitely better than severing ties or weaponizing dependencies, there is one more aspect worthy of attention. As I was reading many texts on military technologies to write this piece, I was astonished at the default acceptance of war and its machines as inevitable. We still live in a culture of war, which allows for the resolution of tensions through conflict. Today, the production of weapons is entirely controlled by the state, the military, and closed private corporations. In fact, almost any technology-intensive enterprise is centered on exclusive expertise and trade secrets. And yet, as we may learn from Andrew Feenberg’s papers, the critical theory of technology, to which he greatly contributed, and feminist theories of technology, innovations aren't neutral. For artifacts and algorithms to promote freedom instead of murder, civil society must have access to discussions, design, and the early stages of development, instead of protesting them post factum. Autonomous weapons are not inevitable; napalm was banned in 1980 following powerful anti-war protests, and so were cluster bombs in 2008, with input from civil society. The anti-war movement includes protests against military technology, among other things.

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