Three Ukrainian border guards at the Marinka checkpoint have suffered retina burns of varying severity while conducting terrain surveillance using optical equipment. The Ukrainian State Border Service suspects that prohibited special purpose laser weapons were used against them.
“The nature of the burns and preliminary medical diagnosis leads to the conclusion that it’s possible that the enemy used high-power light emitters, which could be the so called ‘dazzling lasers,’” the State Border Service website says. The border guards were hospitalized at the Central Clinical Hospital of the State Border Service for specialized treatment.
Information about the possible use of the laser weapons by the pro-Russian separatists was brought to the attention of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and representatives of international and human rights organizations. It is worth noting that in Russia, blinding lasers are used by the troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and are mass-produced.
In accordance with the “Additional Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects” (Vienna, October 1995), it’s prohibited to use laser weapons specifically designed for use solely in combat or including the intent to causing permanent blindness to sight organs of a person who doesn’t use optical instruments.
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The human race is on the brink of momentous and dire change. It is a change that potentially smashes our institutions and warps our society beyond recognition. It is also a change to which almost no one is paying attention. I’m talking about the coming obsolescence of the gun-wielding human infantryman as a weapon of war. Or to put it another way: the end of the Age of the Gun.
The advantage of people with guns is that they are cheap and easy to train. In the modern day, it’s true that bombers, tanks, and artillery can lay waste to infantry—but those industrial tools of warfare are just so expensive that swarms of infantry can still deter industrialized nations from fighting protracted conflicts. Look at how much it cost the United States to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, versus how much it cost our opponents. The hand-held firearm reached its apotheosis with the cheap, rugged, easy-to-use AK-47; with this ubiquitous weapon, guerrilla armies can still defy the mightiest nations on Earth.
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Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from a talk given by the author to the Special Operations Medical Association Scientific Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 24, 2016.
Question: Do the wars of the last 15 years really prefigure the future? Many people think they do. But, the answer is “Yes” only if all future fighting is done in tribal shatter zones, where we retain air dominance. Meanwhile, additional questions that should haunt everyone in uniform for the remainder of their careers are: What is particular to Afghanistan and Iraq, and what is generalizable? What belongs in the lockbox because it won’t apply elsewhere? Or, which lessons are worth retaining versus which will we think we should retain, but will make us more vulnerable?
Historically, being able to reach, keep, and smash objectives so that your forces can move forward without you having to fear for your rear was critical. At the broadest level, no war was deemed over until one side conceded defeat. This required killing your adversary’s hope and not just his will to continue. When your enemy acceded to the terms you dictated, you had finally succeeded.
The piss poor substitute today, given our inexplicable reluctance to declare war, is to talk about end states instead. Yet, if you stop and think about it, there is no such thing as an end state. Time goes on. More events occur. End states don’t end anything. But, repeat “end state” often enough and the term begins to take on a reality of its own.
In my mind, this is similar to invoking “complexity,” which everyone now accepts as a description of today’s reality. Yet nothing we face today is more complicated than World War II. Instead, the scope of what we think we should consider seems to have expanded, thanks to the speed and volume of information flows. On top of that, we think we have the capacity — or will soon develop the ability and/or the software — to help us think through all likely consequences, even though this will only compound paralysis by analysis.
Meanwhile, who are we currently up against? Jihadis, to whom nothing is particularly complex or nuanced, except how long it might take to undermine us. They aren’t encumbered with our same sensibilities: If you’reof us, good. If not, you’re expendable.
To be clear, I am not advocating that we become more like them. Just the opposite. I want us to tilt war back to a format that advantages us, which means we need a 21st century rethink of Just War theory, and of who deserves noncombatant status among other things. We also need to give serious consideration to the following lessons that have emerged out of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But along with this, we need to rethink our conviction that if we just keep on technologically innovating we will retain a sufficient edge. Take improvised explosive devices versus drones. Which have had a more profound psychic effect on people? With precision-strike, the individuals we target change their tactics, techniques, and procedures, and a lot of them get killed. But the pressure is Darwinist and we are helping individuals get smarter faster; drones do not dissuade communities from supporting terrorists. With IEDs, on the other hand, the randomness has been pernicious, forcing us into rolling fortresses and sowing seeds of not-yet-detonated post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meanwhile, in the who-is-out-innovating-whom sphere, we not only overlook innovations in what people are willing to do with and to other human beings at our growing peril, but we ignore the ways in which future adversaries will be able to take greater advantage of our self-inflicted Achilles’ heels. We have quite a few.
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It started innocuously enough. The prime minister-for-life never missed the annual “Liberation Day” parade. With the drums and platoons thundering, nobody noticed as the quadcopter, barely larger than a sparrow, floated down toward the dais, its faint whirr drowned out by the industrial machinery rolling by in formation.
It was at once a child’s birthday present and the summation of millennia of military science. A flying machine postulated long ago by Michelangelo, now equipped with a vial of biological toxin, a GPS chip, microprocessors, and facial recognition software.
The attackers had uploaded the prime minister’s face to the quadcopter’s onboard processor, given it a rough search grid where they expected the target to be located, and then let it loose. The drone found its target, quickly zoomed within a few inches of the man’s face, deployed its payload, and self-destructed. The prime minister and his coterie were dead within the hour.
His remaining lieutenants were at each other’s throats by the end of the day. Their respective clans lobbed accusations at one another on social media, live-streamed protests, and employed smartphone-wielding teenagers as spotters.
By week’s end the country was awash in blood, thrown into a full-scale civil war. Community centers equipped by aid organizations with 3D printers quickly turned into weapons-printing armories. An enterprising college student, sent away to the University of London by her urban middle-class parents, translated a copy of the U.S. Army’s Ranger Handbook into the local dialect and uploaded it to a well-known file-sharing website clandestinely built by locals on top of Wikipedia.
Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks