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Is the UK able to respond to the changes in modern warfare?

Tactical advantages on the battlefield, weapons of mass destruction and immobilising a nation’s digital infrastructure: technology is pivotal to winning a war.

Silhouette of a soldier against a sunset. He's wearing a helmet and binoculars.
Technology in warfare.

Through examination of how warfare is changing, our new Centre for War & Technology will challenge perceptions and forecast how battle spaces of the future will look.

‘As technology changes, so too does human behaviour,’ says Professor David Galbreath, Director of the Centre.

‘Our research examines how technology has the potential to change the agents, space and time of warfare as we know it through new developments: from networks to sensors to bioengineering and biochemistry.’

Time to re-think our defence plans

The launch comes at a time when there is much public debate and uncertainty surrounding military and defence funding. Traditional nation-based wars are in decline, while levels of global conflict in politically unstable regions seem to be increasing.

In this new climate, current defence plans no longer address threats, a recent report by a House of Commons Select Committee stated.

It is time to re-think our defence to meet new threats, support stability in a dozen different theatres simultaneously and to engage with both unconventional and conventional threats, the report outlined.

‘The report illustrates what we are trying to examine here in the Centre, by highlighting the structural changes in the threats posed to the UK. At the same time, the report stops short in understanding how technology will change both the nature and character of emergent warfare,’ Professor Galbreath says.

Unique benefit from involving technological expertise

Understanding the nature of warfare has traditionally been the job of military historians and philosophers.

The new Centre will bring in the expertise of those working on emergent technologies to show how they might empower and disrupt the way states and other actors go to and experience war.

Drawing upon expertise across faculties and disciplines, the Centre is ideally placed to start answering the questions emerging from the new global setting.

‘So far as we need experts in military and defence studies, we also need to understand the techno-philosophical effects of developments in science, technology and engineering.’

But what about the future of the UK and the technological changes to warfare?

‘The challenge for the UK will be to understand how changes in technology can be used in military and security operations while also being able to cope with the ever-increasing developments that challenge traditional notions of production, threat and agency. This is a major challenge to any government seeking to balance resources with security needs.’

War and technology projects

Alongside the new Centre, Professor Galbreath is also leading on three research projects.

'Biochemical Security 2030 - towards improved science-based multilevel governance' brings together work on arms control, security governance, science and policy-making to examine the question of regime effectiveness.

'The drivers of military strategic reform in the face of economic crisis and changing warfare' will complete over 100 interviews across a range of comparative states, NATO’s Alliance Command Operations and Alliance Command Transformation Headquarters.

'Forever Vigilant? Technology and the Rise of Boundless Warfare' will identify whether the political theory of war may be mistakenly placing the human at the centre of an altogether unhuman system.

‘These projects support the Centre in situating the changing nature and character of war within the context of developments in science and technology, from biochemical threats to defence reforms.’

High-impact research

The impact of our Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies research was ranked 8th in the UK by the independently-assessed Research Excellence Framework 2015.

‘The challenge for the UK will be to understand how technology can be used in military and security operations, while also being able to cope with the ever-increasing developments that challenge traditional notions of production, threat and agency.’
David Galbreath

The Centre for War & Technology examines the impact of technology on politics, war and society in the 21st century