This is a fun question, and if some of the technologies that research and development organizations like DARPA pan out, the answer might surprise you.
In the future, much of the weapons technology is going to shift to enable smaller and smaller teams becoming able to command more and more power on the battlefield. Of course, this initiative will be led by large nations and their multi-billion, perhaps trillion dollar budgets for research and development. Once the initial technological barriers are overcome, however, and the pandora’s box released, we very well might see new models for the old industries like defense and security come up that we haven’t seen before in history and art of warfare.
[New weapons systems] will allow smaller “players” to take part in global defense operations, allowing smaller nations wishing to get into the game, like the Netherlands or Qatar, to command vastly disproportionate forces to what exists today. The ramifications would be a world where very few, very powerful troops are required to dismantle regimes and upset political realities is that this power will shift from few massive nations, to many wealthy small nations. Large nations will still hold the majority of the strength, but small nations would shift the balance of power greatly. They will also be able to do this without the massive leviathan military apparatus of world spanning legacy systems that the United States currently fields. They will simply leapfrog this system entirely.
One interesting thing this also leads us to is that when small nations can afford elite special forces… so will large corporations and it may be a very profitable business to be in, far in excess of the Black Waters and the Academis of today. Future warfare technologies and techniques will be used against insurgents, unspecialized lightly trained militia, by experienced, professional troops using overwhelming resources. This will mean that the individual soldier will be far more valuable than the insurgent targets, but the average future mercs will also have a kill ratio orders of magnitude greater than that of the difference in their costs.
Jon Davis’ answer to As more advanced weapons and military knowledge become accessible, can we expect a terrorist organization to compete with the US army and use biological and nuclear weapons in the future?
By the way, this is the sort of technology I am referring to.
Raytheon has unveiled their new XOS 2 Exoskeleton, a wearable robotics suit developed for the military. It’s not made to kick soccer balls.
The wearable robotics suit is being designed to help with the many logistics challenges faced by the military both in and out of theater. Repetitive heavy lifting can lead to injuries, orthopedic injuries in particular. The XOS 2 does the lifting for its operator, reducing both strain and exertion. It also does the work faster. One operator in an exoskeleton suit can do the work of two to three soldiers. Deploying exoskeletons would allow military personnel to be reassigned to more strategic tasks. The suit is built from a combination of structures, sensors, actuators and controllers, and it is powered by high pressure hydraulics.
There are two main variants being developed; one which is meant for the logistics of carrying heavy loads in non-combat situations, which I can attest to, is a major pain, and the other a combat variant, intended to carry massive loads such as heavy packs, ammunition, and yes, heavy weapons and even massive shields. Right now the system requires a powered tether and hopefully going to be ready in the next five years, with an untethered version ready in the next eight. We’ll see…
The military is thinking much, much bigger than simple exo-skeletons. Along with these and other companies working toward producing military grade exoskeletons, the military is pushing for more in the terms of a completely armored combat power suit. The project’s name is the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS).
So far, the only thing that has come out of the TALOS project are CG and hopeful wishes, but in the future, the military is hoping to have specialized warriors straight out of the Iron Man comics.
Having shown at least some of what is actually being developed for the warriors of tomorrow, let’s look back at the question: What type of corporations might be capable of getting some use from having private armies? The first thing I always think about when I hear “corporate military” is the thought of some evil imperial international corp who brings about the use of a private army for reasons that aren’t clear in the goal of selling more of product “x”? Does that really make sense to anyone? Think about companies like Coca-cola or Apple, they are already some of the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet. They can sell their products almost anywhere on the planet. Now ask yourself this, honestly, what would adding in someone with a gun to the equation do to help them sell more cokes and iPhones? For the vast majority of products that people sell, the bottom line isn’t created by military conquest, it is provided by selling goods and services better, cheaper, and more abundantly. I just can’t really understand who would benefit in this regard by adding in a military wing. Let’s be honest, for almost any corporate model today, adding a division of trained and lethal, not to mention very expensive, soldiers just simply doesn’t improve profits. In fact, running a war machine is so expensive, that there is a reason that only large nations do it. Think about it, it just doesn’t make sense to add a military to a company that has a logical business model already.
Having said that, and keeping in mind that for most businesses, there is no sense in making a military no matter how easy it becomes, first let’s remember what new quality some of the future weapons are going to have. With the increase in technology and power per dollar, armies will get to be much, much smaller. At some point, a force no larger than a few battalions of United States Marines will reasonably have the fighting strength of the entire attacking force that overthrew Iraq in only three weeks. Don’t scoff. In the seventy years since World War II we’ve created Stealth Bombers than can fly half-way around the world and greater strength than what was held by an entire Marine regiment of Iwo Jima years ago can now be directed by a single squad of AMLICO Marines. Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
So rather than ask, which corporations might field large armies, ask which ones might have a need for extremely potent small armies.
To that I will suggest a few. The first might be the privatization of national militaries. The European Union could have a use for this model as it would allow them to temporarily gain a large amount of military power when needed, but not have a need to house, man, and fund large standing armies. Of course, this is just a modern variant of classic mercenaries, but given that future technology will lower the threshold of creating world class military forces, mercenaries are going to be an important part of the picture again. That said, professional militaries today have very little geopolitical role outside of private security for high value individuals. That said, we could foreseeable see a time when these forces will be strong enough that they will be able to realistically threaten nations without the means to defend themselves. You could one day soon see a small unit of elite troops, perhaps a thousand or so, be able to win the war against a regime like Saddam Hussein in 2003, where it took the United States and Coalition forces more than 300,000 to do it then with the strongest military alliance formed in the history of the planet.
But just saying mercenaries isn’t really that interesting. The second group that I could foresee having a real motivation for an on-call private army might surprise many today… so that’s why I want to talk about them.
Let’s say that a future exists where data science and advanced prediction algorithms exist that are so powerful that they make it possible to estimate the risks of various losses in various conflict scenarios so precisely that one might consider it a logical financial venture to insure candidates with good enough rating, but a lot to lose. Sure, these accounts may be multi-billion dollar accounts, with payouts in the hundreds of billions of dollars if a claim is rewarded, but what if such a business model could still be considered profitable?
Take the country of Lathodonia, a small nation in the Balkans. The Lathodonians are growing concerned about the loss of a power plant in their territory. They have no reason, at the moment, to fear something happening, but if it did, the country would suffer massively. It could be lost in a natural disaster, attacked by terrorists, or captured in a war far down beyond the foreseeable horizon. If this were to happen, they would need their losses covered while they get back online and the people of Lathodonia returning to a normal life with as little disruption as possible. That might including fixing the installation, paying for electricity to be imported into the grid from other sources, or maybe even to pay out damages and reparations for the time when the lights went out. So Lathodonia does what all sensible nations do and it takes out an insurance policy. Let’s say they consult an insurance company like none other in the industry. This company doesn’t deal with automotives, or health care, nor do they deal in fire protection or anything else that might be available on the market in 2015. This company ensures government agencies, multinational corporations, and entire nations in the cases of catastrophic loss for many billions, and sometimes, trillions of dollars against any number of threats and foreseeable losses that could have never been provided with less than an entire branch of government only thirty years prior. That insurance company is named GloboSure.
Where the future gets terrifying is that in the event that a conflict breaks out. GloboSure has a vested interest in ensuring that it suffers as few losses as possible and this means avoiding payout wherever it can. Insurance companies aren’t charities afterall. They would, for that reason, be incentivized into supplementing defense of this particular asset to help ensure that it doesn’t need to award any multi-billion dollar payouts in the near future. Rather than that, they would rather just offset the costs of an defensive operation to defend the asset, this time being a power plant, and deduct it from next year’s tax returns. Of course, before that, GloboSure’s diplomatic wing of international government lobbyists will have a go at it first, keeping, of course, return on invest always in mind. Either way, they know that spending a few million to safeguard a client’s assets will cost far more than paying out the balance of the account.
It won’t end with small nations, though. The second possibility would be very large multinational corporations that have an interest in protecting their fixed assets abroad. Once again, it doesn’t make sense for them to build their own military, and very rarely would it be worth going through a private military company either. All they really want is asset protection, after all. Why go through all that trouble? Once again, they will find their solution through insurance companies like GloboSure. But when would a multinational company ever really want to hire an insurance company that specializes in armed defense?
Imagine a future where nuclear power became the norm and a few companies now produce electricity for billions of people across the globe. They have many, many plants across the world and across border lines. Say that, as sometimes happens, one nation, let’s call it the Meznick Federation, decides it is in the best interest of all parties concerned, that they should annex the Western portion of Lathodonia, which just so happens to be the territory holding the power plant. NuPower, the owners of the international power electric company, are not particularly willing to see their multi-billion dollar energy plant be handed over to Meznick Federal Electric, in what amounts to a very hostile takeover. The billion dollar insurance account includes catastrophic loss, hostile government seizure, or terrorist involvement policy. This happens to be a high risk moment for the event of item #2 “Hostile Government Seizure”, so it is in the interest of the GloboSure Insurance Company to provide a reaction force capable of ensuring that no hostile powers decide they wish to also annex their client’s asset. Globosure’s quick reaction force would also ensure that no patriotic Lathodonian defenders decide to use the site outside of it’s intended design, by turning their own lovely nuclear plant into a defensive location. So while NuPower won’t have a need for its own actual military, it has one available at a moment’s notice… if GloboSure determines that such intervention is necessary.
Of course, there is nothing to say that the policy’s owners may not just another agency, or group of agencies acting together for some other random interest, one that is totally their business, but that few others would expect to be an active participant in a war. The policyholder on the power station could, for instance, be a collection of international environmental agencies pooling their collective funds to ensure that there is no major nuclear disaster anywhere in that part of Europe. If a nuclear power plant were to suffer a catastrophic event caused by some conflict, it could poison the entire region for generations. Clean up from such an event would also be devastating and cost millions to cleanse of the radiological purge and millions more to restore the land to something useful. By their estimation, it is a logical idea to have someone prepared to prevent an incident from occurring, while also having the fallback of getting a large enough payment award that clean-up can be made. So they too have a use for a policy with the hopes of safeguarding, or at least having a plan to clean and rebuild after an event that would be a worst case scenario today. As a side note, if you were paying attention, I just laid the groundwork for the United States Environmental Protection Agency to have a legitimate cause for creating a “Combat Operations” department.
No matter who owns the policy, the government being attacked, the company who owns the assets, or the collective of environmental agencies, or whoever else in the world feels they have a large enough stake in the matter to merit taking out a policy, when conflict seems imminent, GloboSure is going to get a call. When they do, they deploy their troops, most likely third party contractors to the selected sites and a new level of complexity is created in the future of warfare.
In truth, it’s doubtful that anyone in these situations would actually fight. Their goal is to exist as merely the threat of violence that would force anyone who might seek to make this private piece of property their own for either greed or nationalistic purposes. By merely bringing a big enough gun to the show, in this case, that gun being a next generation special operations infantry task force, whose one job is to make sure no one sets foot inside the power station, battlefield commanders for both the Meznick Army invasion forces and Lathodonian Defense Forces will have to decide if taking that asset, or even damaging it, is truly something worth sacrificing men and material for. Likely, a strong nation could take it, but at what cost? Among other things, the station itself when it gets caught in the crossfire, most likely. What would most likely happen following this, is that the power station would become a no man’s land. No one would set foot within miles of the place besides those authorized to. For anyone else, a warning shot from over three miles away, followed by less subtle methods of delivering a message of welcoming.
Quite frankly, if war is unavoidable, this is the best option for everyone. Lathodonia will probably lose, and the plant will probably be turned over, but that isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Consider this from the policy holder’s points of view, what they ended up with, and what they would have had had they not taken out the policy.
NuPower didn’t have a total loss. They still control the plant even if there is a several mile long siege around it. Meznick wouldn’t break the No-man’s-land to suffer some needless battle because that would surely destroy the station. That station, by the way, is no good to anyone broken and impossible to take from the forces guarding it with likely doing just that and definitely killing a lot of his own people. Besides, the plant itself is still precious, not only to NuPower, but to Meznick, as well. Instead, because of the threat of force of what would happen if players didn’t play nicely, it’s doubtful that anything else would bring the new owners of the real estate and the old owners of the plant to a table to plan a mutually beneficial trade. Mutually beneficial may not be an appropriate word, but GloboSure did provide NuPower with the best possible scenario, given the bleak state of affairs and given that their only other option without GloboSure was having their technology looted before being violently taken over by an enemy army. NuPower eventually lost the plant to Meznick Federal Power, but left on their terms, took what they wanted from the plant, and remarkably, never had a day without service to its customers throughout the war.
That was good for Lathodonia too. They got to keep the lights on during the war for as long as possible. Furthermore, there is little to no destruction of the grid, which means life can get back to normal relatively quickly. This wasn’t the case in Iraq where terrorists bombed the grid regularly, keeping a constant state of not being able to rely on the power. In Lathodonia, though they don’t want to admit it now that half their nation is flying the wrong flag, they suffered little beyond the loss of their lands. That was unfortunate, but a completely collapse, that was avoided.
The EPA got their money’s worth out of the deal. One more nuclear disaster averted.
Lathodonia may rate a payout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Globosure might be able to negotiate a reasonable settlement there too in exchange for leaving the plant peacefully for the Meznick forces. A few bargaining chips like that can be worth a lot, perhaps better terms in the treaty at the end of the war. You never know. Globosure might end up saving a lot of money on this operation, and just out of good fortune and the well applied application of greed, a lot of lives too.
I know this reads like some dystopian science-fiction, but it is actually rather utopian when you really think about it. This move represents one more layer of complexity making the act of war that much harder and more costly for those who want to use it for their own gain, be it nation or individual. As with insurance companies today wanting to maximize their own profits through ensuring the best chance of never paying out, like when they offer you a discount for having working fire and smoke detectors or driving safely, they will be incentivized to make sure that client assets are protected from human harm. This will save lives and save money on all sides. It’s not altruistic by any means. It’s just flat out capitalistic greed. But where greed does more good than altruism could ever hope for, who really cares about why it works?
As twisted as it sounds, for some private companies to gain the ability to become armed forces, it might lead to a future that sees less destruction from war, less disruption to daily life during conflict, and fewer deaths and suffering when times of violence erupt. Conflict will never stop. Conflict is a natural and unavoidable reality of life, but that doesn’t mean that conflict might not become more bearable for the innocents who are caught up in it. That said, in most insurance cases, you aren’t hoping for a best case scenario. No one gets paid unless something bad is happening already. Everyone just wants to make it out better than a total loss. Today we have total loss, but who knows about tomorrow?
Still, I’m a little weirded out by a future that creates actuaries making millions if they hold a double Master’s Degree in both the fields Finance and Accounting and Military Studies.
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