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Saab Global

Digitalisation is changing the battlefield

3 min read

The battlefield is changing rapidly and there is a high demand for new tech in defence, not least in Ukraine. We asked Jonatan Olofsson, specialist in autonomous functions at Saab, how the battlefield has changed lately.

“We can see that civilian products are being used in completely new ways, and the development of the products is taking place at a speed that the military domain is not used to. Civilian products are being used to avoid slow development of military equipment, the need for products that can be in service quickly has been the priority. Ukraine had a vibrant, agile, tech-sector even before the invasion, and it is now expanding and supporting both the economy and operations through the war.”

Jonatan Olofsson, specialist in autonomous functions

What sort of products are being used?

“It’s clear that products that exist are preferred to products that don’t. This means that, for example, civilian drones that can be used today at scale are being widely put to new uses. We see many remote-controlled systems, which are not necessarily super intelligent but they contribute with camera feeds, ‘eye in the sky’, anywhere at any time or used to deliver explosives or even carry speakers to guide surrendering enemy soldiers.​

"I think there will be a switch to simpler systems in bigger amounts. Swarms can overload the defence systems."
Jonatan Olofsson, specialist in autonomous functions

Open-source end-to-end encrypted chat-apps have soared in use and are easily distributed through standard app-stores. Internet use has shifted to mobile devices, indicating reliance on mobile apps for communication and information, including official information and civil defence alerts. Thanks to everyday technology, we can follow a soldier’s everyday life in the ‘battlefield’ of social media, but we need to keep in mind that they each have their own agenda and reasons to share what they are sharing.”

What are the consequences of this rapid development?

”Not least, it creates a dynamic environment which is even less predictable than during other wars. The psychological warfare online is affecting people on the home front that are in no way prepared for the propaganda to appear in their Facebook or X feeds. On the front lines, systems appear that weren’t in any war plans or games. Generally, safety and security in development might be secondary to ‘getting stuff done’.”

How is AI being used?

”The internet and cyberspace is a battlefield where AI is being used to some extent, but software in general is used through social media to interfere with the national and individual attitudes to war. The psychological aspect is becoming more and more important. Even with limited resources you can now reach and affect millions of people.”

What do you think the future battlefield will look like?

“I think there will be a switch to simpler systems in bigger amounts. Swarms can overload the defence systems, just imagine 30 small fast boats versus a frigate – it’s impossible for the frigate to destroy them all. This will introduce an asymmetry of cost as well – when one operator will be able to manage many systems, it will be a new paradigm for both attack and defence. As a consequence of their numbers, the systems need to become ‘smarter’ to act autonomously while aligning to the intent of the responsible human.”