A wonder of the modern age, it can deliver its weaponry anywhere on the planet with staggering speed, knock out an enemy’s satellite communications system, or follow individuals biometrically for great distances.
Along with the country’s advanced cyberwar capacity, it’s also the most sophisticated militarized information system ever created and an insurance policy for U.S. global dominion deep into the twenty-first century.
It’s the future as the Pentagon imagines it; it’s
under development; and Americans know nothing about it.
With words of withering mockery, President Obama shot back:
Obama later offered just a hint of what those capabilities might be:
Amid all the post-debate media chatter, however, not a single commentator seemed to have a clue when it came to the profound strategic changes encoded in the president’s sparse words.
Yet for the past four years, working in silence and secrecy, the Obama administration has presided over a technological revolution in defense planning, moving the nation far beyond bayonets and battleships to cyberwarfare and the full-scale weaponization of space.
In the face of waning economic influence, this
bold new breakthrough in what’s called “information warfare” may prove
significantly responsible should U.S. global dominion somehow continue far
into the twenty-first century.
Over the span of a century, plunged into three
Asian crucibles of counterinsurgency - in the Philippines, Vietnam, and
Afghanistan - the U.S. military has repeatedly been pushed to the breaking
point. It has repeatedly responded by fusing the nation’s most advanced
technologies into new information infrastructures of unprecedented power.
Finally, during its decade-plus in Afghanistan
(and its years in Iraq), the Pentagon has begun to fuse biometrics,
cyberwarfare, and a potential future triple canopy aerospace shield into a
robotic information regime that could produce a platform of unprecedented
power for the exercise of global dominion - or for future military disaster.
Their sum was nothing less than a new
information infrastructure with an unprecedented capacity for mass
...created synergies that led to the militarized application of America’s first information revolution.
To pacify a determined guerrilla resistance that persisted in the Philippines for a decade after 1898, the U.S. colonial regime - unlike European empires with their cultural studies of “Oriental civilizations” - used these advanced information technologies to amass detailed empirical data on Philippine society. In this way, they forged an Argus-eyed security apparatus that played a major role in crushing the Filipino nationalist movement.
The resulting colonial policing and surveillance
system would also leave a lasting institutional imprint on the emerging
Among its nine branches, Research & Analysis
recruited a staff of nearly 2,000 academics who amassed 300,000 photographs,
a million maps, and three million file cards, which they deployed in an
information system via “indexing, cross-indexing, and counter-indexing” to
answer countless tactical questions.
Many of the materials it had so carefully collected were left to molder in storage, unread and unprocessed.
Despite its ambitious global reach, this first
U.S. information regime, absent technological change, might well have
collapsed under its own weight, slowing the flow of foreign intelligence
that would prove so crucial for America’s exercise of global dominion after
World War II.
Powered by the most advanced IBM mainframe computers, the U.S. military compiled monthly tabulations of security in all of South Vietnam’s 12,000 villages and filed the three million enemy documents its soldiers captured annually on giant reels of bar-coded film.
At the same time, the CIA collated and computerized diverse data on the communist civilian infrastructure as part of its infamous Phoenix Program.
This, in turn, became the basis for its
systematic tortures and 41,000 “extra-judicial executions” (which, based on
disinformation from petty local grudges and communist counterintelligence,
killed many but failed to capture more than a handful of top communist
The information these provided was then gathered on computerized systems for the targeting of incessant bombing runs.
After 100,000 North Vietnamese troops passed
right through this electronic grid undetected with trucks, tanks, and heavy
artillery to launch the Nguyen Hue Offensive in 1972, the U.S. Pacific Air
Force pronounced this bold attempt to build an “electronic battlefield” an
By 1972, the SC/TV drone, with a camera in its
nose, was capable of flying 2,400 miles while navigating via a
low-resolution television image.
Despite a dismal succession of short-term
failures that helped deliver a soul-searing blow to American power, all this
computerized data-gathering proved a seminal experiment, even if its
advances would not become evident for another 30 years until the U.S. began
creating a third - robotic - information regime.
It then built a biometric database with more
than a million Iraqi fingerprints and iris scans that U.S. patrols on the
streets of Baghdad could access instantaneously by satellite link to a
computer center in West Virginia.
This meant accelerating technological
developments in drone warfare that had largely been suspended for two
decades after the Vietnam War.
By 2011, the advanced
MQ-9 Reaper drone, with
“persistent hunter killer” capabilities, was heavily armed with missiles and
bombs as well as sensors that could read disturbed dirt at 5,000 feet and
track footprints back to enemy installations. Indicating the torrid pace of
drone development, between 2004 and 2010 total flying time for all unmanned
vehicles rose from just 71 hours to 250,000 hours.
These collected and transmitted 16,000 hours of video daily, and from 2006-2012 fired hundreds of Hellfire missiles that killed an estimated 2,600 supposed insurgents inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. Though the second-generation Reaper drones might seem stunningly sophisticated, one defense analyst has called them “very much Model T Fords.”
Beyond the battlefield, there are now some 7,000 drones in the U.S. armada of unmanned aircraft, including 800 larger missile-firing drones.
By funding its own fleet of 35 drones and
borrowing others from the Air Force,
the CIA has moved beyond passive
intelligence collection to build a permanent robotic paramilitary capacity.
Over two administrations, there has been continuity in the development of a cyberwarfare capability at home and abroad. Starting in 2002, President George W. Bush illegally authorized the National Security Agency to scan countless millions of electronic messages with its top-secret “Pinwale” database.
Similarly, the FBI started an Investigative Data
Warehouse that, by 2009, held a billion individual records.
In 2009, the Pentagon formed U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), with headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and a cyberwarfare center at Lackland Air Base in Texas, staffed by 7,000 Air Force employees.
Two years later, it declared cyberspace an
“operational domain” like air, land, or sea, and began putting its energy
into developing a cadre of cyber-warriors capable of launching offensive
operations, such as a variety of attacks on the computerized centrifuges in
Iran’s nuclear facilities and Middle Eastern banks handling Iranian money.
In 2012, after years of ground warfare in both countries and the continuous expansion of the Pentagon budget, the Obama administration announced a leaner future defense strategy.
It included a 14%
cut in future infantry strength to be compensated for by an increased
emphasis on investments in the dominions of outer space and cyberspace,
particularly in what the administration calls “critical space-based
Significantly, both space and cyberspace are new, unregulated domains of military conflict, largely beyond international law.
And Washington hopes to use both, without
limitation, as Archimedean levers to exercise new forms of global dominion
far into the twenty-first century, just as the British Empire once ruled
from the seas and the Cold War
American imperium exercised its global
reach via airpower.
And Washington has filled this legal void with a
secret executive matrix - operated by the CIA and the clandestine Special
Operations Command - that assigns names arbitrarily, without any judicial
oversight, to a classified “kill list” that means silent, sudden death from
the sky for terror suspects across the Muslim world.
As early as 2020, the Pentagon hopes to patrol
the entire globe ceaselessly, relentlessly via a triple canopy space shield
reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, driven by drones armed with agile
missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, monitored through
a telescopic panopticon, and operated by robotic controls.
By late 2011, the Air Force and the CIA had
already ringed the Eurasian land mass with a network of 60 bases for drones
armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs, allowing air strikes against
targets just about anywhere in Europe, Africa, or Asia.
Establishing the viability of this new
technology, NASA’s solar-powered aircraft Pathfinder, with a 100-foot
wingspan, reached an altitude of 71,500 feet altitude in 1997, and its
fourth-generation successor the “Helios” flew at 97,000 feet with a 247-foot
wingspan in 2001, two miles higher than any previous aircraft.
Flying at an altitude of 20 miles, it is expected to,
Although the first test launches in April 2010
and August 2011 crashed midflight, they did reach an amazing 13,000 miles
per hour, 22 times the speed of sound, and sent back “unique data” that
should help resolve remaining aerodynamic problems.
By the time its second prototype landed at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in June 2012 after a 15-month flight, this
classified mission represented a successful test of “robotically controlled
reusable spacecraft” and established the viability of unmanned space drones
in the exosphere.
In response, the Pentagon is now developing the F-6 satellite system that will,
And keep in mind that the X-37B has a capacious cargo bay to
carry missiles or future laser weaponry to knock out enemy satellites - in
other words, the potential capability to cripple the communications of a
future military rival like China, which will have its own global satellite
system operational by 2020.
To manage the surging torrent of information within this
delicately balanced triple canopy, the system would, in the end, have to
become self-maintaining through “robotic manipulator technologies,” such as
the Pentagon’s FREND system that someday could potentially deliver fuel,
provide repairs, or reposition satellites.
The system would allow future space warriors to
see the whole sky wrapped around the entire planet while seated before a
single screen, making it possible to track every object in Earth orbit.
Thus, by 2010, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had 16,000 employees, a $5 billion budget, and a massive $2 billion headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with 8,500 staffers wrapped in electronic security - all aimed at coordinating the flood of surveillance data pouring in from Predators, Reapers, U-2 spy planes, Global Hawks, X-37B space drones, Google Earth, Space Surveillance Telescopes, and orbiting satellites.
By 2020 or thereafter - such a complex
techno-system is unlikely to respect schedules - this triple canopy should
be able to atomize a single “terrorist” with a missile strike after tracking
his eyeball, facial image, or heat signature for hundreds of miles through
field and favela, or blind an entire army by knocking out all ground
communications, avionics, and naval navigation.
If all or much goes according to plan, sometime in the third decade of this century the Pentagon will complete a comprehensive global surveillance system for Earth, sky, and space using robotics to coordinate a veritable flood of data from biometric street-level monitoring, cyber-data mining, a worldwide network of Space Surveillance Telescopes, and triple canopy aeronautic patrols.
Through agile data management of exceptional
power, this system might allow the United States a veto of global lethality,
an equalizer for any further loss of economic strength.
Even if this robotic information regime could somehow check China’s growing military power, the U.S. might still have the same chance of controlling wider geopolitical forces with aerospace technology as the Third Reich had of winning World War II with its “super weapons” - V-2 rockets that rained death on London and Messerschmitt Me-262 jets that blasted allied bombers from Europe’s skies.
Complicating the future further, the illusion of
information omniscience might incline Washington to more military
misadventures akin to Vietnam or Iraq, creating the possibility of yet more
expensive, draining conflicts, from Iran to the South China Sea.