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Future Wars

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 19 May 2012

Robot spy planes as small as insects, drones that hover high overhead for days at a time, interfaces to plug a soldier's mind directly into a weapons system and lasers that could temporarily blind you: some of this technology is still on the drawing board but some of it is already used on the battlefield.

How much will all this change wars of the future?

Bridget Kendall discusses the changing nature of warfare with Elizabeth Quintana, a specialist on aerial combat from the Royal United Services Institute in London; Elizabeth Moon, an award winning author of science fiction whose novels often explore military themes; and David Rodin, a leading authority on war ethics from Oxford University.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: cranial implants allowing us to control drones to observe and kill on the battlefield.


4 items
  • Elizabeth Quintana

    Elizabeth Quintana

    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, are never far from the news these days but their operation is often shrouded in secrecy. Elizabeth Quintana, who is in charge of the Air Power and Technology programme at the Royal United Services Institute, RUSI, in London, explains the advantages and limitations of UAVs and introduces us to some of the other advanced battlefield technology we are likely to see in the near future.

  • Elizabeth Moon

    Elizabeth Moon

    Science-fiction often helps us imagine worlds completely different from the current reality. But when it comes to the future of the military, Elizabeth Moon has an additional insight because she had been a US marine. So when she suggests that the line between human soldiers and military machines might become increasingly blurred by various sorts of implants, we should take note.

    Photo credit: Nancy Whitworth

  • David Rodin

    David Rodin

    David Rodin, who specialises in military ethics at the University of Oxford and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York, proposes a radical re-think of the moral responsibilities carried by individual soldiers. Instead of simply following orders, each of them should decide whether the war they are asked to fight in is just or not.


    Elizabeth Moon says that everyone should have a unique ID permanently attached, a kind of barcode or an implanted chip, that would provide an easy, inexpensive way to identify individuals. It would be imprinted or implanted into everyone at birth. In war, the barcode would allow us to more easily differentiate between legitimate targets, and innocent civilians: this could prevent mistaken identities that result in innocent bystanders being killed. And when anyone fired a weapon, they could be identified by their barcode, leading to more responsible warfare and more accountability, even in the world of drones and remote war.

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