The history of the dominant technologies of 21st Century warfare won't spend much time on the complex and expensive systems developed by US defense contractors. Instead, the focus will be on the innovations that are derived from open tinkering networks of amateur inventors. The reasons for this include:
- Higher levels novelty production. Diverse and open networks of amateur hackers, tinkerers, and inventors can pursue more paths of discovery and development simultaneously than large, expensive, and linear development efforts. The importance of this will increase as Moore's Law, which measures the level of computing power available to the average user, increasingly shifts to the vertical (remember, this is an exponential curve). See open decision making for more.
- More platform leverage. Open development has access to all the global platform has to offer from services to systems to knowledge. In short, the more open and globally networked you are, the better you can take advantage of this leverage.
- Faster adoption. The delta between development and widespread adoption of innovations that work will increasingly shrink due to widespread sharing. This is in contrast to the closed and tightly controlled process of deployment seen in traditional defense systems acquisition.
We can see an early example of this trend in weapons development with the IED (improvised explosive device) which has migrated from a tactical device to an operational (operational art is between tactics and strategy) weapon. Another weapon that may follow a similar path of development is the DIY (do it yourself) rocket. Although it is early days, the writing is on the wall. DIY rockets are inexpensive ($500 to $2000 currently). Easy to store and quick to launch (they require less set-up time than IEDs). In terms of effects, they convey the message (despite the current inaccuracy) that no place is safe for civilian supporters of a war effort. It can also be used to destroy economic activity in affected areas. For example, the Israeli town of Sderot, which has suffered an increasing number of DIY Rocket attacks over the last seven years:
About 4000 of the town's 23,500 people have moved out in the past two years, according to municipal figures. Many more say they would leave if they could... Home prices have fallen by 50 per cent... 20-30 per cent of businesses in Sderot and surrounding areas have shut down... Overall sales at the stores that remain open have dropped by nearly 50 per cent...
Given this example, it's clear that DIY Rockets can make wars with global guerrillas disastrous under the requirement (set by the highly competitive global marketplace) that these wars should be fought during peacetime. Further, if they combined with a defensive hedgehog, it forces conventional forces to make relatively ineffectual and harried strikes on fleeting targets, which creates the collateral damage so useful to an insurgency.
We can expect these DIY efforts to get steadily better as new amateur tech (tinkering networks) adds increasing levels of sophistication (from range to accuracy). Here's a great example of low cost design software from RocketSim. Basic avionics. Here's a nice system that adds telemetry and inertial/GPS measurement. As a capper, here's potentially a platform play in open source avionics for rockets. The last step, a control system connected to servo based vanes is all that is needed to enable it to hit specific buildings. That's hard, but well within the capabilities we see emerging in the tinkering space.
NOTE: Of course, I should point out (and was encouraged to do so by quite a few people), that a much simpler solution in the short term is to use small drones to do the same thing (essentially, a V1 solution). Further, this area is much farther along the development path, as you can see on Chris Anderson's DIYDrones site.