Thank you for reading, seriously. You’ve probably wondered why I would bother writing a 16,000 word essay on every terrible thing that could happen in the next twenty years.
That said, I wanted to write on this subject in particular, is a matter of background. I am a Marine, honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps in 2008. My primary military occupational specialty was Tactical Data Network Specialist and this was the role I carried on my first tour in Iraq in 2005 along with my second in 2007.
My job centered on building and maintaining the information network with which mission critical information and communications were carried out. Our responsibility was to ensure that that data network was secure from outside threats both physical and through our network. I maintained my base’s SIPRnet that is discussed over and over in the Manning case. We knew the information was critical, mission-important and not necessary for the general public at their malls. Below, you’ll see what were effectively my area of operations during 2005. Yeah, starting to see why I care so much about internet and military security so specifically now?
Since leaving active duty, I went to college and became a writer. It is through writing that my greatest achievements have been realized. I’ve met people I never thought I would and learned lessons I never would have imagined. In that time, I’ve focused on educating others about the military. From Iraq to what it was like and what it means to be a military veteran, there was so much that needed to be understood. In doing this, I’ve learned a great deal about the conflicts of our world and the dangers we face. Since growing to understand all of this, it’s been a personal mission of mine to explain all of this to as many as will listen. That said, it’s also been among the great joys of my life to build and be a part of a community dedicated to understanding the world, its dangers, and bravely pushing through to live in the world we all want so badly. That said, there is another reason why I have been writing so hard this last week.
A few months ago, my wife peed on a stick and now my life is going to change forever.
This is my daughter Gabi and in July we look forward to introducing her to all of you. Nevermind the blue bear, trust me there was some confusion. That said, because I am about to be a dad, this could be one of my last posts like this where I get to drive my focus towards a single massive project, eating away my time for the benefit of others. A good dad has to provide a future and sharing knowledge pro bono, while an endless source of self-fulfillment, doesn’t give Alex the life I want him to have. I’ve been very lucky where I work to be able give time to my second profession. Where do I work? I’m a teaching paraprofessional in Oklahoma. I work with the kids at our school who make bad choices. In my room they mentorship and discipline, learning to write essays and pick up trash in the way only an obsessive compulsive Marine writer could make them.
That said, being a teacher, let alone a paraprofessional teacher, isn’t all that great. The benefits don’t provide much, and the pay is terrible. According to the Washington Post, Oklahoma ranks 48th this year in Teacher Pay at about $44,000 a year . Yeah, and as a para… I can expect about a quarter of that. Did I mention that my wife is also a teacher? If you would like to know what it is like for our house take a look at the title of this little gem: .
That said, the last real chance for me to keep writing projects like this is to appeal to people like you. Over the last year and a half, I have been submitting my work through the crowdsourcing website Patreon. If you follow me, you’ve probably seen my little at the bottom asking you to pledge to my campaign. My supporters have literally changed my life and allowed me to do projects I never would have imagined, all the way up to the point where I was finally able to write my own book. Still, if want to give my son the life I really want, I need more. That’s why I’m going full mercenary, and writing one of my longest answers ever, just to get your attention. If you really like my submissions, I really need your help.
This is a link to my Patreon Support Page:. Here you can pledge any amount you like and every time I submit an article, post, or chapter to one of my books, you’ll donate that amount to the Jonathan Alexander Davis College Fund and/or Leaky Roof Trust. There is also a monthly maximum that you can elect to make, so you don’t have to worry about me writing fifty articles at a time. The only ones that make Patreon are big articles… kind of like this one.
By supporting me, you also support others. 20% of my donations go to other Patreon users as well, namely other veterans like me. So a donation to me helps others veteran artists as they grow, cope, and share their own experiences with the rest of the world. So once again here’s that link: (PS – Baby/Veteran/Poor Teacher – needs your help).
That said, If you’re reading this far, I’m sure you’ve already upvoted, by the way (cough). All kidding aside and with deepest sincerity, I enjoyed every minute of the research and writing that went into it, and hope each and every one of you enjoyed it too. Thank you for reading and sharing.
The last leg of this answer to, “What are the biggest ways in which the world 20 years from now will probably be different from today?” is the Black Swan.
Black Swan events, as defined by the guy who proposed their theory are thus:
- The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
- The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
- The biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.
This is the stuff no one saw coming that will, more or less, invalidate every prediction we have had so far. They are the agents of chaos, and the disorder in ordered states. They are events which cannot be predicted with ease, never predicted together, and barely explained even in hindsight, but which have monumental effects on the hereafter. They are the surprises God throws at us that both level and unlevel the playing fields as industries rise up out of nowhere, nations fall into memory, and cities crumble as the earth shakes. Consider technology, the surprise we all see coming, but no one guesses quite right. Technology is still growing at an exponential pace. Every day it continues to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and how we conduct business. The rise of social media, perhaps the most unexpected event of the last ten years, and the rise of cellular communications in general over the last twenty certainly fits the ticket. Unfortunately, as technology has become a tool which has empowered literally billions of people into a better, more enlightened and more productive life, so too has it empowered millions of others to pursue their own interests at the detriment of everyone else. Twitter, something that was only founded exactly 10 years to this month helped spur revolution in states like Libya and Syria. Of course, now it also serves as a recruiting tool for Islamic State radicals. Drones, the weapons that were only in their infancy during my first deployment to Iraq, are now toys for children and delivery tools for Amazon. Of course, they too have a dark side which many, many already fear.
For that reason, from Swarm of Things to Human Augmentation, Crowd-sourcing to Autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing to Genetic Engineering, the brave new world we are all ready to embrace will empower those of ill-aims so greatly that only an equally aggressive improvement in the means by which we secure our safety, both bodily and the information about us, will ensure the dream of tomorrow the builder’s of this technology wish to provide today.
Beyond technology, Black Swans are the wills of billions of people; competing, converging, colliding. Nearly all you will never meet, but a few of which, will shape your future.
A Black Swan is former fighter of the Soviet Union, setting his sights on his former ally. 
Black Swans are are planes filled with people crashing into buildings on a clear day in September, and from the visceral reaction, war in two nations erupts.
As those wars drug on, the Black Swan was an angry and deeply confused young Army private, with a desire to punish the world. He let slip the largest stockpile of military secrets in history. Some were secrets of the United States, but more importantly was what we had learned of everyone else.
In the aftermath, a Black Swan was a wave of democratic energy and revolution. Spurred by the leaks, and the revelations about their dictators, millions went to the streets demanding reform.
Amidst the cheering, the sounds of bullets rang out and three civil wars began.
In the void that arose, one of these saw the Blackest of Swans, a resurrected medieval empire of hate rising from the desert sands to engulf and overwhelm the Levant.
In the terror it brought millions set to flight, many overwhelming Europe.
And terror following them in.
Those of us alive in 1996 remember that time before the towers fell and not a single one could have predicted any of this. Then we lived in a world of plenty where we were all still cheering the fall of the last evil empire which crumbled when its reach was greater than its capabilities. We were building relationships and the world was going closer together. “They were simpler times,” is something old ones always say of when they were young, but looking back to the last two decades, do we not all feel old now? Who, in their most honest self could have predicted any of the events of chaos which bears fruit only to more chaos like it? Who standing back before would have suspected a future like we have seen in his next 20 years?
What we can be sure of is that not everything will turn out as we hope. Change will come, but not like we expect. We can’t turn away from it. It’s coming whether we like it or not. And as soon as think we have it all figured out, a black swan will swoop down to remind us how little foresight we had. This post isn’t meant to scare or to paint a dark cloud on the future because of a few of the nightmares that exist today. It is simply a reminder that the unexpected is a factor, and that running from it, or being afraid of it, we need to prepare for it. The best we can do is prepare. Learn the threats that exist today and prepare as best we can so that when change come, we… you, me, us, are able to embrace it. Only those who build their houses on solid rock will weather the coming storms or terror, hacking, disasters, cyberware, and the dark abyss of humanity behind a mask of anonymity and a jihadist’s mask. Don’t be afraid. I’m sure, exactly because of all the answers which existed to this question, that the world of tomorrow will be as a utopia to the one I live in today, but only if we are collectively prepared for the changes utopia brings along the way. That’s why, above all else, those who look to their own security, their adaptability, and their capacity to embrace change and endure disruption… they will be the x factor in the next 20 years.
3D printing is going to be a universal game changer.
The above is a schematic for a weapon of the future. A gun anyone can print at home with parts printed in a 3D printer. While this is a step back in the actual technology of the gun as far as reliability, accuracy, durability, and safety for the end user, once the means to “print” a gun becomes ubiquitous, it is going to be a real democratizing force.
While I know many people are going to think about the United States when the topic of gun violence comes up, the US actually won’t be where the real story is. Here, we have a system built around the assumption that guns are readily available and have built a society around this fact that attempts to allow responsible gun use without forbidding it outright.
In other parts of the world, where guns of any sort are criminalized, they have no means to prevent the sudden appearance of massive amounts of undocumented and unregistered firearms. Where many people live under harsh government rule, and also have no rights to gun ownership, this could be a lethal combination. Consider China, where 93% of the people have no democratic representation because they do not qualify for the “high standards” of the Chinese Communist Party. At a time when 3D printing might already upset the economy there, the sudden appearance of so many weapons could plausibly result in the end of a regime. Consider also the case of the Middle East. Actually, I’m just going to let you imagine that yourselves, considering that thehappened just because all these people had access to Twitter. Syria and Libya showed us how far some people are willing to follow that through… and those conflicts are having . Seriously consider the implications of universal access to weaponry, which if all the 3D printing evangelicals are declaring is true… is exactly what will happen.
I’m just going to be honest about this, a lot of people are going to die. The numbers are going to be so staggering that the current gun debate in the US is going to seem like a cruel joke. I don’t really know how to stop this once 3D printing technology becomes more universal, but the truth is that it is something that should be considered in any long term questions about the future of the technology. No one expected Twitter to be a force for international upheaval, but it became so. 3D printing is opening a lot of doors for amazing new things, but once weaponry via such a medium becomes commonplace, much of the world is going to change.
I will say this, as threatening as this posts appears, I am optimistic in the long run. While I think that many, many terribly undemocratic regimes are going to be challenged, some overthrown, I think that 50 years out from now, the democratic nature of a universally armed populace is going to have a massive effect towards the propagation of civil liberties among the the bottom billion. Once they are provided with the ultimate liberty, the respect of their leaders, they will be empowered like nothing we have produced for them before.
I don’t imagine a dystopian future where everyone has a gun and is murdering everyone else. There are more guns than Americans in the United States. Despite this fact and what the news reads, most of us have never experienced gun violence in spite of unknowingly passing hundreds every day with concealed carry licenses. I don’t imagine a utopia either. There will be gun violence. If mental health is not considered an important factor in gun ownership debate for the rest of the world as it currently isn’t in the United States, they will face the same staggering gun suicide rates that we do, and they will experience the same shooting sprees that dot our headlines periodically. Either way, the United States needs to lead the world in how we solve gun rights issues because soon, every single person in the world could be armed with a gun they made in their garage.
On the Future of Ammunition and the 3D printed Gun
Numerous people have made comments about a perceived failure of what I am trying to explain. The most logical of these arguments centers around the problem of ammunition, so I’ll give it special attention as I try to address some of the others.
I’ll give credit to those who thought far enough ahead to realize that ammunition is going to be a major choke point in the arming of any population, be it national militaries, or a collection of free individuals. The way we think about ammunition today would not work for a system where 3D printed guns are made illegal. Even the one pictured at the beginning of this post would not be able to work without some form of continual ammunition source. However, what many need to understand about ammunition is that it isn’t as rare as most of us think… or even, in the case of 3D printed weapons, as necessary.
I want it to be clear, we aren’t talking about making every piece of a weapon, from the barrel, trigger, and down to the ammo, from a 3D printer just for the sake of saying we did with some novel technology. That scenario is so specific that it also is impractical. The revolution in the dynamics of humanity’s relationship between itself and the gun will change because the hardest parts of weapon acquisition will be made easier through the use of these new machines and processes. We are talking about overcoming barriers and getting around the traditional, well established means by which most defense and security assumptions are made. To help illuminate this, the general populous and well established industries, and nations don’t specialize in this sort of grand thinking. This is the specialty of terrorists, insurgents, and anyone who views their survival tied to the use of unconventional warfare as a means of overcoming the grand and deeply entrenched mechanisms in place by the stabilized and powerful forces they compete with. For these people, the need to create a weapon system, from beginning to end through some novel form, isn’t necessary. What is necessary, to them, is a means to overcome an the few obstacles which exist that narrows their wider ability to compete, in this case, the banning of factory line weapons. After the logistical choke point can be overcome, in this case with the production of an untraceable weapon, then we will start to see the hidden potential of these clandestine/revolutionary/terrorist/black market actors have had available all along, but thus far ignored because they didn’t have the key resources available to act on them. One these key resources after the creation of a gun supply will be ammunition, but this can be produced via other processes, all of which are already well documented, and well known, if you only know where to look.
1) Ammunition isn’t as rare as you think.
My father-in-law was an avid shooter. Like me, he didn’t come from wealthy stock, so to support our mutual love of the sport, he introduced me to the fact that it was easy to make bullets at home. I was, at the time, under the belief that the only place to get ammo was a store, so finding out that it was possible to make it at home was a revolutionary concept for me. Not only for me, but for what that means in the way of insurgency warfare, a topic I’ve written about often given my history as a Marine deployed the Iraq War.
Guides to making bullet cartridges are available throughout the internet. While you may not be able to 3D print these, there really isn’t a need to reinvent the wheel when the means to just build it are so readily available across the internet. –. Usually, the only logistical choke point involved here is the creation of the metal cartridges used to store the primers and propellant. Having said that, there is an abundance of knowledge on even the homemade creation of these with none too rare supplies available to the average machinist.
I’ve even seen another video that clearly demonstrates how to create a complete working bullet, at least functionally speaking, out of everyday household items that would be economically impossible for any government to outlaw.
Granted, anyone who watched carefully will note that the weapon produced was not lethal to the extent that a modern military grade rifle is, but I’m using it as a proof of concept in the point that ammunition is not the rare commodity that many people seem to be basing their long term national security on. It is also important to know that when people are creating ammunition stores in their own homes, quality controls won’t produce the kind of reliability that one could expect from respected ammunition manufactures, such as those used by the military or major distributors of guns and ammunition. That said, these kinds of “cook houses” aren’t uncommon in any black market/insurgent enterprise. A simple house in the middle of the desert could be converted into an ammunition factory with five guys pushing out a thousand rounds a day. I’ll use the example of Palestinian terrorists. It would be not unlike how the Qassam rocket is produced to aid Palestinian terrorists.
In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.
These individuals have created entire missile factories inside their homes for the purposes of shelling Israeli cities. Similar sites also existed in Iraq, as well. They are able to use mostly scrap, publically available legal chemical products, and some rough designs to allow good engineers to train moderate to mediocre engineers in the art of building these projectiles. In this way, a modern missile has been in the hands of terrorists for many years in various parts of the Middle East.
That is, if you even need to produce the ammunition.earned a research award for his summary of a report put out on where groups like Syria get most of their ammunition. The results were shocking by some accounts.
…here’s the short answer to the question [of where does the Islamic State get its Ammunition]: Everywhere. China. The USSR/Russia. The US. Eastern Europe. North Korea. The Sudan. Iran. All told, of 1,730 identifiable new and expended small-arms cartridges, CAR identified the markings of manufacturers in 21 different countries all over the world.
Source: Conflict Armament Research. “Analysis of small-calibre ammunition recovered from Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria”
What the report showed was there was still a healthy black market for ammunition, readily flowing across the world from any location to virtually any other location on the map. Given that premise, I don’t really see why we need to ask the question of where an insurgency force would need to look to get ammunition. As Murao put it well… everywhere.
2) Is that even a gun?
The thing that I think many people are having problems with is the lack of understanding about what 3D printing is going to mean. Some comments have said that the weapons are limited by the limitations of plastic guns, being mainly, that they aren’t durable and their fire isn’t reliable over time. This is true, but the statement comes with a belief that the printers will only work with plastic, or that they will only be basic copies of designs made today. Both of these assumptions have already been proven false.
Firstly, the limitations of material use are nowhere near being fully explored, while the current generation is mostly creating products through plastics, metals have also been used, and even biological and organic materials. That is to say, even organs made of living cells have been made through printing.
The point of explaining this is to say the 3D printed materials are going to have ridiculous properties that defy many of our common understandings of how things can be made. Most people say that with optimism, but as this post should show, that too can be a very frightening concept. To make my point even more clear, the world’s first metal 3D printed gun has already been made.
Now, consider modern forging of weapons. The entire weapon’s metal components are cast from a single alloy and set. What, however, would be the properties of a barrel made millimeter by millimeter, from the inside to the outside? Could one not create a weapon of many varying alloys, layered to combine the properties of several metals throughout the length of the weapon in a way that traditional metal casting never could? What if a coil of copper could be set in during the curing process, producing a magnetic current as the bullet passed through the barrel, either slowing down or speeding it up before escaping the weapon? Consider pockets of a different material homogeneously interwoven throughout the weapon that had the property of absorbing the vibration of the weapon. This would have the effect of both reducing the need for a large buffer spring and completely eliminating the need for a silencer without slowing down the round as silencers do. That’s a weapon design that would be a major upgrade for both snipers and assassins. I’m not saying that any of these particular ideas would work. I’m not a physicist, so my ideas might explode the weapon and kill the user, but once we get away from the idea of the cast-metal weapon, someone will create new designs that will fundamentally alter the way we see the material that these weapons are made of.
To complete my point on the strange properties that 3D will offer, I’d like to talk about another novel weapon system that just didn’t work out. Below is the Metal Storm system.
The Metal Storm is weird. That’s all that can be said about it. It is a weird gun. Here’s a description:
Metal Storm used the concept of; multiple projectiles loaded nose to tail in a single with propellant packed between them. The , a traditional design, employs the same basic concept, however, the continues to burn in the Roman candle’s barrel, igniting the charge behind the subsequent projectile. The process is repeated by each charge in turn, ensuring that all projectiles in the barrel are discharged sequentially from the single ignition. Various methods of separately firing each propellant package behind stacked projectiles have been proposed which would allow a “single shot” capability more suitable to .
What is unique about the Metal Storm is that it has no ammo magazine. Even more weird is that it has almost none of the parts we traditionally associate with a gun. The magazine and the barrel are basically the same thing. It also fires using magnetically charged rounds. Because they cut out almost everything that we believe makes a gun a gun, they were able to do something remarkable. While the average infantrymen armed with an M-4 could maybe pull off 100 rounds a minute accurately, and the most advanced machine gun in the US arsenal is capable of 6,000 rounds a minute… the Metal Storm system is capable of firing at a speed of over 1 million rounds a minute. That’s ludicrous.
Now, I want to be clear, the Metal Storm isn’t 3D printed, and the company behind it had flaws, along with the practicality behind the idea of who really needs to fire 1 million rounds a minute to the point that the company had to shut down. The Metal Storm as a case study, however, shows us one remarkable thing. Guns aren’t what we think they are. By eliminating everything but the bullet and the barrel, Metal Storm created a remarkably lethal weapon system that made people ask, “Is that even a gun?” The damage the system inflicted on practice targets made it clear that it was. 3D printers will do the same, or to be more precise, the revolutionary new ways in which 3D printers will allow people to create materials, will change the way we see everything about the gun, including the ammunition it fires.
3D printers are the future of small arms. They will be something that will empower people that currently have none. Many of these people shouldn’t have it. Of course there will be people who will use these weapons for harming other people who are good. Eventually though, this just simply won’t be something we can control.
I think that many people have a problem with idea of guns becoming so universal. They fear their country may become the Wild West that they believe the United States to be. One commentator even offered the opinion that:
For every smart, good person, good citizen that gets a gun to do good, there are hundreds of crazy, unbalanced, criminal and ill intentionned [sic.] people that will get their hands on guns. Having guns being so available will only make situations more dangerous.
While I’m not making a moral judgement here, I respond that this thinking is fundamentally, and absolutely wrong. There are over 300,000,000 guns in the United States. Assuming that a gun owner owns three, that’s still one hundred million gun owners. This means that if this idea were true (hundreds of crazy, unbalanced, criminal and ill intentioned) there would be hundreds of millions if not tens of billions of people running amok on killing sprees and committing violence. This math, and this assumption, simply do not add in the real world.
In fact, the opposite is true. For every one person who does something wrong, there are thousands who use guns responsibly. This response seems to be implying, that banning guns is the only rational way to solve the problem, but this only punishes the good while the bad won’t follow the law anyway.
Having said that, I want to talk about tyrants and oppressive regimes. Another person made the comment that a modern military, such as China, could never be threatened by plastic small arms distribution among the general populace. In fact, they said it was absurd.
“If anything, technology has swung the balance of power toward the tyrants. Consider this; What is the larger potential factor, 3D printers, or drones?”
This imbalance of power is the reason for the American 2nd Amendment. It is an attempt to create a large and reasonably well armed populace to ensure that a nation’s government respects its citizens enough to remember that the government is in service to, not in ownership of, its people. This is the reasoning for the statement of the democratizing power of the 3D printed gun. To echo others, “God did not make men equal. Sam Colt did.” To this last point, asking which is the more important, Drones, or 3D guns, I’d like to remind readers that throughout the Iraq War, the Americans were armed with the world’s greatest technology, including drones and more powerful guns than any others in the world. The Americans were repeatedly put against the ropes not by a force equal to us in either size or armament, but by unconventional means, like a well armed populace, unconventional uses for conventional weapons, and media interference. One needs to consider what kind of force held a collation of the most modern militaries in the world at bay in Iraq (remember that I was there) and ask again what people with limited means can do against superpowers. Tech does not, as it never has, guarantee victory.
This isn’t really relevant here, though, since we aren’t arguing about the strength of 3D guns versus the power of drone warfare. The question is what is the next leap in small arms technology. Drones aren’t the future of warfare, they are happening now. They are here already. The next generation of them will be amazing to witness, but we are already aware that. That’s why I said that 3D printing was the next leap forward. However, 3D printing could open the door towards new people getting access to drones, but I digress.
Now consider the statement about a drone empowering a tyrant. Consider a tyrant who bans the use of guns and sits behind a wall of automated soldiers. Their defenses are impossibly strong against any uprising that has ever happened. They have firm control over all imports and know exactly what is coming in and going out of the country. This makes their regime feel very comfortable in their seat of power, perhaps too comfortable. Security lapses and then something terrible happens.
I stumbled on this a while back and it has always helped to give me perspective on just how fragile our security can be.
Frankly, two small bullets killed over 100,000,000 million people because tensions became too great, regimes became too oppressive and a very few people had the means to act where very powerful people became careless and too comfortable. This event changed the world in ways so profound we can’t picture what it would be like without having him killed. My concern is that a world that has framed themselves around the belief that there is one and only one right answer being that all guns should be removed from all people, will not be prepared for a time when they can’t control a time where they are universal.
This is why I say the United States needs to lead the world in how we solve gun rights issues. As I have said, we are a population that already has as many guns as people, and we aren’t a small nation. We are extremely large, but also extremely diverse. Diversity spawns new ideas, but it also causes great tension. Given this dynamic and the freedoms we do still enjoy, we are the only metric with which the world will be able to gauge themselves once firearms become universal. I’m not saying that the United States is morally superior to places like Europe. They have had a history that allowed them to live without guns for a while, but the United States is the only country that sought to find a solution that involved their existence. For that reason, we will be who the world looks to in how they will deal with that future reality, as well. This is why we need to come to work to solve it here and now, as the American solution will echo throughout the 21st century.
To be honest, I’m not saying whether this future is ethically right or wrong. I’m just saying it is going to happen, and that we need to deal with its implications, or learn at least, how to cope with them.
Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?
I was doing research for a book I am writing on, and I explored this topic. Since using drones to commit terrorist actions hasn’t really been a thing yet, ( I decided my best place to research would be to drive down to a local remote controlled hobby shop near where I used to live and just ask a few questions. I had to introduce myself as an old Marine and Sci-Fiction writer before asking any of my other questions, because leading off with, “I’m interested in knowing how I could make a flying bomb.” would have probably not gone over so well. What the guy said amazed and terrified me, more so, his assistant who quickly developed a new respect for his nerdy boss.
What the conversation left me with was a firm understanding that terror drones will be a part of the future of warfare that the military is, unfortunately, going to have just as many problems with as we give to the bad guys. Here are a few of the key take aways that I have developed from the conversation with my friend at the hobby shop and my own experiences in Iraq fighting a counter-insurgency war.
We are taking about VBIEDs – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices which, during my day, meant car bombs that were either parked or driven to places where they were used. In the future, we might start seeing these things in the air. A few things need to be kept in mind though when thinking about VBIEDs or IEDs of any kind.
The most important element for a terrorist weapon is the devastation it can inflict. During the Iraq War, that devastation was massive. That’s because the terrorists had access for much of the war to unused artillery rounds taken from Saddam’s Iraqi Army after the fall of his regime.
I’ve seen more Humvees leveled by these things than I care to remember. They are seriously massive communicators of destruction, but also, serious limiters of capabilities if we are talking about drones. Those things weigh around 40 to 80 lbs. Yes, it would be terrifying if one of those dropped from the sky (they are artillery shells after all), but there is no practical way for most drones available today that are terrorists (I’ll get to that in a minute) to carry something like that. Take Amazon’s plan to start droning things all over major cities. They are limited by weight because those adorable little propellers are not going to be able to carry something as massive as an IKEA bookshelf (between 40 to 80 lbs).
That means that the weapons are going to have to evolve, or at least become more potent. They aren’t going to be able to carry massive bombs capable of doling out huge earth shattering explosions. They are going to need to carry smaller explosives. That doesn’t mean they will be less deadly. No, in the future it might be possible to load up pipe bombs, smaller IEDs, loaded with shrapnel in the form of screws, bolts, nails. This weapon doesn’t level buildings or destroy armored vehicles like the above option did, but it has the ability to brutally maim people who are close enough to the blast, making them visual advocates and symbols for the depravity of the terrorists for years to come. Drones carrying these could fly it directly into a crowded restaurant, through the window of a politician’s office, or even over the stands of a crowd at a sports stadium.
Cost is king for weapons manufacturing, as with anything. Terrorists aren’t going to have the multimillion funds that first world nations do to produce highly sophisticated weapons like the Reaper or Global Hawk drones used by the Americans, nor will they have their $80,000 Hellfire missile. Terrorists run on shoestring budgets and they’ve done quite well at it.
Part of my conversation with the hobby shop guy dealt with cost. I had a design for a terror drone and he made me realize just how bad an idea it might be. For example, for the situation above that required a pipe bomb in a stadium, you would need at least a few thousand dollars to make such a weapon. That sounds like nothing compared to the costs of creating the F-35 Strike Fighter, but when you think about the volume that terrorists need to create the terror effect they desire, those costs are extremely prohibitive. Take the below for example. These are estimates on the number of rocket attacks which were delivered from the Hamas terrorist organization.
It can be a lot. Below is Iraq. Terrorists are featured in red.
As I said, when you deal with high volume operations, unit costs can be prohibitive. In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.
But to produce a drone, like what we think of as drones that can carry the kinds of warheads we are talking about will be much more. Some tech analysts have stated that the Prime Air drone (Amazon) could run as much as $50,000 a piece to deliver a 5 lbs “package” to anywhere within 10 miles (in under 30 minutes though!). That is way too much for a sensible terrorist to ever consider paying, especially when you consider that if those things are near enough to the ground, they are getting shot down by everything from surface to air missiles to slingshots.
What my colleague instead suggested would be something akin to balsa wood gliders. Balsa wood is an incredibly light and cheap material used for toy planes and RC hobbyists. Taken from the hands of children and old men, though, these tools could be used to some devastating effect. They are made of cheap materials which are widely available. You can even buy them in kits. Once they reach altitude, they don’t have to use the engine for guidance and can glide silently to their terminal destination. And lastly, they are small, made of light materials, and slow moving. I am not an expert on radar, but that scary. It sort of sounds like a large bird.
I’ll provide this as a proof of concept. Note that the vast majority of the cost of this plane goes into its aesthetics and ensuring it can be recovered, both unnecessary for a suicide drone. It’s also important to know that the RC – Remote Controlled – element isn’t necessary. All flight paths can be programmed into modern systems.
One of the things that has prevented more people from suffering the threat of terrorism is the complexity involved in various systems. Bombs are pretty complicated to build and not just anyone can make one. Since, historically, terrorists have had two main pools of recruiting to choose from, fanatics and the unemployed, rocket scientists have not been easy for the average terrorist leader to come by. Most of the time, a few key bomb masters, such as an Algerian chemistry student who joined against the French forces in the Algerian War, are the leaders of the munitions manufacturing process. When they are killed, they take with them large amounts of the enemy’s capability to do harm. If they don’t leave quality apprentices, then the movement may have been ended with the death of only one man. Usually, those individuals who carry on in the master’s footsteps are less capable in most regards.
Take colloquially, the example of Jesse Pinkman.
In the show Breaking Bad, a brilliant chemist, Walter White teams up with scumbag degenerate methhead Jessie Pinkman in a scheme to cook meth. In the early part of the show, it is comical to see how inept Jessie actually is at the science of cooking. Walter bestows his knowledge and by the time that the series ends, Jessie is an expert of cooking meth as good as Walter is.
There is a point to be made here, though. Even at the end of the show, Jessie isn’t as good at cooking than his teacher Walter. Even after a year of intensive training, he is only an expert of cooking Walter’s way. He will forever lack Walter’s expertise in the science of chemistry, which would allow Walter to produce many, many other kinds of recipes, most completely harmless or beneficial to humanity, if he chose. Jessie may know the way he was taught, but could never produce alternative products or where he wasn’t allowed to use quality materials and processes similar to his teacher’s. He can’t improvise like Walter could.
Wow, that was tangential example, but it serves the point that complexity in operations is an extremely limiting factor. You take the few evil geniuses out, then their apprentices are left without the ability to improvise on parts, resources, implementation, or usage because they came into the act of making bombs as a terrorist who only cares about killing and not as a lifelong scientist who then joined a terrorist operation.
Now let’s take that bomb and stick it in a drone. The first obvious problem is that you are going to need people who can build and service drones, something very few people know how to do yet. The information is out there and growing in the RC communities, but it still isn’t a respected art form in the terrorist world. So let’s say we take out a few of the engineers who know how to make the birds fly. That will be a setback for them. Let’s say instead, we take out the guy who knows how to program them on their automated missions. That’s a major setback. Let’s say we take out the guy who knows how to build the warheads. That’s a huge setback because now the other two are demoted down to nerdy RC enthusiasts. Now, let’s say that they have all these geniuses rolled up into one. How replaceable is that guy? How long before he can pass off what he knows? How hard would it be to disrupt the communication networks he possesses? How devastating would killing that one guy be? Would his people be able to adapt?
Depending on the complexity, not often, but in some cases, yeah. In the case of the Amazon Death Drone, no. What happens if the terrorists are cut off from making the engines that powers the propellers? What happens if the application they use to pilot the drone is brought down? What if the chemical they use to either fuel the thing or build the bombs gets internationally outlawed or embargoed? As I said, will they be able to adapt, or a better question, how many compromises will these people be able to make before the weapon is no longer lethal?
The fact is, terrorists have to keep weapons system as simple as possible or they can’t replicate their processes. For a terrorist organization to work, it can’t revolve around the genius of a few masterminds. It needs to be weapons that can be produced by many people, even those with very little education. Pinkman could keep a drone program up for a while, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to circumstances and changes in the environment in the way that Walter White would.
Sorry, I spent way too long making that point. There are, however, alternatives that are simpler than what we normally think of as drones. These methods already have abundant supplies and designs in existence for the would be terrorist to experiment with and provide the flexibility he needs to do terrible things. The hobby shop guy I talked to was really adamant about the balsa wood, enough I realized he’s thought of this before.
What do I see happening?
I hypothesize for my story that weapons like the one pictured above, (yep) may be loaded with apps created with the purpose of using GPS enabled phones to autonomously steer planes like this. Being that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is, this feat might actually not be as complex as think. Thanks DARPA. Once in flight these planes, perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece up to the point, might be capable of being loaded with small pipe bombs or, more practically, napalm. Napalm is any chemical that has two qualities, it is very sticky and it will burn a long time. Napalm is also extremely cheap, made from readily available materials anywhere, and easy to use. There are even recipes all over the internet that will make you sad about humanity. Being that the plane itself becomes part of the warhead using napalm, it will literally be a weapon raining fire from the sky. En masse, that can be a weapon that is devastating, cheap, and easy to use.
Oh, and if you were keeping track, the military definition for this is a cruise missile, but thanks to the advances in modern military technology, available to just about anyone for only $500. Enjoy the future.
As mentioned before, the vast majority of contractors trace their roots to service with the US military, or the militaries where their company operates. The cream rises to the top, so the best contracts are awarded to those with proven success and training, namely to services like the Navy SEALs, Army Delta Forces, Rangers, or the United States Marine Corps infantry, particularly any of these with experience in combat. Less prestige and pay may be warranted to someone of non-combat military jobs, police officers, and security specialists, and the lowest level bids will likely go to local militia and hired gunman. It must always be remembered, though, that the demand will always come for those elite operators, the Special Forces team members of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Like any industry built on recruiting the best of a different industry, the first, which expends all the resources to make those operators so valuable, suffers the long term effects of the brain drain. It will be the US military that foots the bill, paying for years, sometimes decades, of training into making civilians into the most lethal warriors on the planet. During their times in, they will amount to the tip of the spear, deploying with units like the SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Army Rangers, to conduct missions in the service of the United States. They will face dangers no one else in the world could handle, able to push through with only the value of the extensive training hours they have logged, the teams they learned to be a part of, and the massive logistical behemoth at their back. As a friend of mine would say, “They are the Dudes of Dudes.”
At some point though, many just get done with all that. Perhaps they just want to do something else with their life. Underwater basic weaving, maybe. Or crochet. These dudes have enough man cards racked up from 12 years in the SEALs to become professional crochet artists if they want. Many want to retire to their families, while some see the reality that, if they take the PMC jobs, they will experience a better lifestyle with far better pay than the military could ever provide, easier missions, and less chance of death or maiming. It needs to be understood that Benghazi was a freak event. From 2009 to 2012 only 5 members of the Global Response Staff were killed . During the same time 1,808 Americans troops lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan . This includes events like Operation Red Wings, the largest single loss to the US Navy SEALs in its history, when four SEALs on advanced recon were attacked, killing three and a quick reaction force helicopter sent to in to rescue them id was shot down with a rocket propelled grenade, killing all eight Navy SEALs and all eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame anyone for hanging up the uniform at that point, and it is a wonder why so many of them still don’t. But many do, for all the reasons listed before.
Now it’s important to think about what this means to the military as a whole. The military’s job, be it Marines, Army, Navy, or Air Force, are to be the strong arm of American diplomacy and the backbone of defense in NATO. Over the last fifty years, however, we have seen the military reduce in strength, rather drastically, to the point that today we have fewer active duty military than we did prior to the start of World War II. 
Moreover, the prevailing strategy over the last thirty years has been to obliterate the enemy using advanced weaponry and devastatingly superior technology. The problem we’ve seen, however, is that the military is proving more and more often to be under equipped to handle the manpower requirements necessary to successfully pacify an occupied territory such as Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone both. Regardless of the number of drones we have in the air, without boots on the ground, we simply don’t have enough men to keep the peace. This is particularly true when we consider expending and $80,000 missile on a $200,000 bombing run to kill two insurgents in a tent a sustainable wartime strategy. 
Instead, the United States has centered its focus on Special Warfare, creating units whose primary focus is in black ops intervention and direct action operations. These forces are truly lethal, the creme of the crop in every sense of the word. They are, as they say, the point of the spear. The problem is, they are only one small point, and not capable of being everywhere at once. For an example, the SEALs are who everyone talks about. For as much as they are mentioned the US Navy SEAL community only has about 2,500 active duty members . There is a reason they are special. Of the three hundred million Americans, almost none of them have what it takes, including the physical desire just to do it, that is required to be a part of these elite teams. This is also why we can’t just train to be like them . Of those who try, more than 80% will fail, and according to Marcus Luttrell, the subject of the book Lone Survivor, more candidates die in training than do active duty SEALs in combat. It takes a very special person to even consider joining up with the SEALs, but the problem is, there just simply don’t seem to be enough special people to accomplish the missions which are placed on the nation’s special warfare community. There is a real need for a larger presence on the ground, which given the direction of the American military back towards an isolationist point, doesn’t exist in the numbers needed either.
Considering this, if the military is getting smaller and smaller, focusing more of its efforts into the actions of very small, very elite units, and those units are the primary source for private military contractors, it lends one to really consider the threat the PMCs have on the standing military. For the last 7o years, the US military has been the go-to force for international peacekeeping and creating security, protecting international sea lanes, and ensuring that diplomatic efforts stay open. In that time, and despite the constant “If it Bleeds, It Leads” sensationalist news to the contrary, the world has become a pretty awesome place. There are fewer violent deaths, fewer deaths from disease, fewer wars, and increased wealth across the globe. Look at this graph. It’s a nice graph. Do yourself a solid and realize that Coca-cola and the Kardashians didn’t cause this. Globalization did, and globalization doesn’t happen without someone ensuring everyone playing the game is playing by a minimum acceptable set of behaviors.
That job of “globo-cop”, in the words of Ian Morris in his book War – What is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots, has traditionally fallen on the Americans. Now considering that the world’s current state of relative peace is reliant on a strong force to serve as its backbone , what happens when the backbone of world order is weakened, or removed altogether?
When that backbone, in this case the US military, is suffering from attrition both in the form of budgetary cutbacks in a belief that it can get by with replacing thinking soldiers with more advanced, but ultimately fewer remote controlled or autonomous systems , as it continues to pull back it’s overseas holdings  and is constantly being cannibalized by the United States’ own State Department, CIA, and numerous multinational corporations to provide for their own security needs, where does that put the rest of the world?
Focusing on the PMCs, when the highest order performers, in this case the Special Forces operators, no longer provide the kind of support often needed of people with their skillsets, but instead act as a force of protection for VIPs, they are not fulfilling their true potential or carrying the burden the world needs of them. They babysit high value targets rather than killing terrorists and dethroning evil regimes. Instead of getting things done and making peace, they simply serve as a force ensuring peace for those they work for. I want to be clear, I have nothing but respect for these men, and everyone should feel free to enjoy life and pursue happiness, but one has to ask if this path the United States is setting itself on will make for a very, very ugly world twenty years down the line when the best of the best simply aren’t where the world needs them anymore.
Quite frankly, this story is already starting to play itself out. Military .com posted a review of the United States Army where an industry think tank warned the service was “weak” and incapable of performing the necessary role of sustained conflict in two theaters. Add to this a recent Gallop Poll asking asking if Americans still had faith in their military. The results weren’t good. 
The answer is increasingly ‘no,’ according to a new. Last year the number of Americans who thought they were protected by the world’s strongest military was 59 percent, but this year that number has dropped to 49 percent – the lowest figure in the 23 years Gallup has recorded the trend.
While polls are only polls, it does point to a very disturbing trend. People are losing respect for the United States military, and when the world’s most important enforcer of global security is no longer respected, one has to wonder what the next twenty years are going to look like. Quite frankly, the United States will be fine. We won’t see any existential threats to our way of life any time soon, but the rest of the world may not be so lucky without us. The Middle East, as I have made abundantly clear, is only getting worse as the United States continues to remove itself from the region. Their conflicts are spreading through North Africa and now into Europe and India. Russia is starting to pick up the slack, for better or worse, but their track record for making the world a better place within their shadow is abysmal at best. Perhaps China? Since they have shown little ever to provide security to any foreign counterparts in spite of their massive military, I don’t see security happening outside of the private sites they lease from host countries. Also considering their increasing internal struggles to balance unnatural growth expectations with a workforce growing more demanding every year, and older at the same rate, I doubt they will ever be able to truly challenge American hegemony in the next century. So if no one is capable of ensuring the kind of peace we have grown to expect up to today, what can we expect of tomorrow?
I’m not one to usually give into pessimistic fears, but if you want to start getting scared, I wouldn’t blame you. The next twenty years are going to get a lot more volatile, and in many places very dangerous. Those who will fare the best will be those who can accept the danger and create a plan to mitigate it.
High Value Body Guards and Military Contractors
Executive security is the industry of protection for VIP and High Value Individuals. While this includes those who specialize in shuttling primped up primadonna starlets like Justin Beiber from show to show, unharassed by throngs of fans, there is a much deeper need for experienced, battle ready security teams.
Due to the attention grabbing nature of these massive catastrophes, many other acts of overt criminal activities have grown in practice, but go relatively unnoticed by those not engaged in foreign policy news. First among these is the threat of kidnapping. While assassination or general acts of terror surely rank high on the list, kidnapping has a special role to play in the story of international chaos that exists today and which will continue in the future.
To understand why this is, one needs to understand how criminal empires and murder crazed caliphates primarily get funding. According to documents discovered following a raid of a prominent ISIS leader , the organization is funded massively through the use of kidnapping with the purpose of ransom. CNN and Business Insider investigate further to show the staggering amounts of money generated by these tactics  and the rationale for why the act of kidnapping is really such a good idea for such criminal and terrorist organizations. 
The kidnapping of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa rattled the international press for this reason. This time, however, it wasn’t for the sheer barbarity that their fellow news agents were experiencing, (those attempting to report the news in the region are a favorite flavor of victim for the Islamic State, along with female humanitarian aid workers ) but the magnitude of the ransom being demanded. The Islamic State demanded of the government of Japan $200 million for their safe return. Like so many others, this negotiation broke down and both were eventually beheaded in brutal fashion.
ISIS’ rationale seems similar to other terror groups: Kidnappings help raise money and, if ransoms aren’t paid, make a point, such as the groups are not to be messed with and even civilians are in danger.
$200 million is sizable demand and one which could drastically help fund the operations of the terrorist organization, which is currently already expanding its reach internationally as its borders shrink locally. While these two did not turn a profit, others did. The French have denied that they have paid ransoms , but according to a New York Times Report they succeeded in buying back the freedom of kidnapped Frenchman from the Islamic State from ISIS. A second group working for a french nuclear firm were also freed by an al Qaeda affiliate in return for money. In perhaps the greatest coup for the terrorist state, 49 captives of Turkish origin were returned, seemingly for no reason at all to Ankara. Those following the report, myself among them, strongly suspect a major payoff for their safe and uneventful return . There are other reports of three hundred Christians being charged more than $30 million for their release. One victim gave in an with New York Magazine that his captors forced him to call his family and a friend while he was being tortured, in hopes that his anguished screams would move them to pay the ransom money.  
“We were blindfolded and chained, and every day they would torture us,” he said. “They would come in, one at a time, and electrocute us or beat us with anything they could find.”
“But they didn’t kill me because they wanted to ransom me. One time, they made me speak to my family on the phone as they were electrocuting me. Then, they made me call a friend, who told them he would pay.”
However, the practice of criminal kidnapping for profit is not limited to the ISIS threat. Moving to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia in one last example, one only has to recount the story of Captain Phillips. There, Somali pirates attempted to take an American vessel hostage along with its crew. This practice has become common in the narrow straits between Iran and the Horn of Africa. Massive ships with massive shipments worth billions are capable of attracting huge payouts to the pirates and the warlords who control them from the mostly European companies who control them. In the case of Phillips, though, the problem wasn’t solved by a financial transaction so much so as the extremely potent delivery of precision fire from the muzzle of US Navy SEAL Snipers.
Regardless of the success of the Phillips case, piracy and kidnapping for ransom are not going away. In fact, seeing the financial and propaganda potential for such violations, the value of making such attacks has prompted many, many more. This, perhaps, has only been exacerbated by the American shift in policy that some would say encourages the practice by providing a means for private individuals to pay the ransoms of their friends and families, thus encouraging more like kind kidnappings.
Having said all of this, it is no longer safe for most Westerners to travel to the Middle East, and the growing troubles of the region are only spreading more and more throughout the Islamic world, as millions sympathetic to the ideals of the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State begin to copy their tactics and methods. Still, people still have business to do, so Westerners are still going to go there. This leads to the need for private military contractors (PMCs).
Mention of the practice of PMCs is one that elicits fear and suspicion in most people unfamiliar with how they are actually used. Often, they can’t be mentioned without imaginations of secret mercenary black helicopter events and Orwellian fears of off the books private armies. In all honesty, very few such companies are used for anything other than bodyguards for individuals of extremely high value in the region, rather than elite soldiers willing to kill for the highest dollar. The US State department often contracts with these companies to provide a greater level of security than they can do otherwise with the military for their foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, and the CIA for their foreign case officers. This is outlined well in the opening chapters of the new book 13 Hours – The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. The book begins by detailing the lives of the contractors involved, both professional and personal. All of those in the book possessed varied military experience, some US Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Marines. They may have in their experience sets Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice, stints as the local police chief, or run warrants as bail bondsmen, and PIs stateside. Other PMCs may come from more diverse backgrounds; internationals with the French Foreign Legion, British SAS, and any number of other places and backgrounds. When I was deployed to Iraq, one team which frequented our Entry Control Point in Al Anbar Province had team members that came from as far off as South Africa, Romania, and Singapore, lead by an English Special Air Service soldier.
For the CIA and State Department, the go to is the Global Response Staff, an open secret of an organization created after the attacks on September 11th, 2001. The GRS gathers together teams of the best and most experienced operators from within the United States military with the knowledge and experience to be able to covertly guard its most valuable assets anywhere on the globe. What distinguishes these individuals from the common military they appear to be is the benefits package. Some PMCs today take in over $150,000 annually for their work overseas, on average, around three to five times what they could have expected in any given military career doing much harder work. Why they are useful is their flexibility and potency. Small teams deployed to a city can easily intertwine with the area, and adapt to cover any target that needs their level of protection. They can do this, however, without the massive overhead of the slow moving US military and sticking out like a sore thumb in places where Americans already have a hard enough time blending in. While these men (and women) and their skills don’t come cheap, they come without the prohibitive costs of deploying an entire unit of Marines or Army soldiers, which could rank in the millions, assuming an entire base doesn’t need to built for the task.
As Benghazi itself showed, the need for these individuals does still exist, and the threat of kidnapping, assassination, extortion, and any number of nefarious concerns may confront high value individuals at any time. This is why operators, such as those working with the Global Response Staff or other private military contractors will be in extremely high demand by foreign dignitaries of all nations, local government leaders, spies, journalists, and corporate executives who travel abroad, all doing business in places where business has to be done. These are the types of people who don’t want to be recorded in orange jumpsuits, a propaganda tool for murder fiends across the world. What this also means is that over the next twenty years, PMC operators of every brand and color will be in such high demand that they pop up literally everywhere important people can be seen in places where bad things often happen. What’s more, many will be more than the sum of high paid former Special Forces operators. They will be homegrown and specialized to their tasks through courses like the various Executive Protection   courses that exist and under instruction by companies such as the American security services training company Academi or the European Security Academy . Both of these firms provide, alongside their training, mission support in the form of human resources, planning, and operational support. Remember that these people aren’t accountants, get creative and realize that that means more or less exactly what you think it does.
The big change we will see as a result of this will be rather undemocratic shift in politics across the world. As the means of terrorism continues to grow, the need for higher and higher priced body guards to handle the threat will make some very rich people very safe, while leaving many others with little more than a prayer. In the end, expect to never see another photo again of any person of worth in a critical conflict area of the world without a dedicated staff of very skilled warfighters at their sides and at the ready.
Of course, this causes us to ask a very important question, where are all these extremely well paid and well trained operators going to come from?