multimedia-frontend Portlet

3 June 2009

Technologies of exception. Urban warfare and US military technoscience

Conference lectured at the Symposium "Arxipelago of Exceptions. Sovereignties of Extraterritoriality" CCCB 10-11 November 2005


«For Western military forces, asymmetric warfare in urban areas will be the greatest challenge of this century ... The city will be the strategic high ground – whoever controls it will dictate the course of future events in the world.»2

Western military theorists and researchers are increasingly preoccupied with how the geographies of cities and processes of global south urbanisation influence both the geopolitics and the technoscience of post-Cold War political violence. Indeed, almost unnoticed within «civil» urban geography and social science, a vast «shadow» system of military urban research is quickly being established. Funded by Western military research budgets, this is quickly elaborating how such effects are allegedly already becoming manifest, and how the global intensification of processes of urbanisation will deepen them in the future.
Fuelled by the growing realisation that the scale and significance of contemporary processes of urbanisation across the world might significantly reshape the geopolitics, doctrine and realities of post-Cold War Western military strategy, such research fuels a crucial set of technomilitary discourses. Within and through these, attempts are currently being made to reconstitute dramatically the structure, orientation and technoscience of Western military power to directly reflect the alleged implications of such urbanisation.
The widening adoption of such «urban warfare» doctrine follows centuries when Western military planners preached Sun Tzu’s mantra from 1500 BC that the «worst policy is to attack cities». It follows a post-World War II Cold War period marked by an obsession with mass, superpower-led «Air-Land» engagements within and above the spaces between bypassed city-regions. When cities were addressed through such Cold War doctrine, United States’ forces, in the euphemistic language so typical of military forces, «approached the urban area by rubbling or isolating the city».3 That is, they either ignored, or sought to systematically annihilate, urban places.
As the global military hegemon, the military forces of the United States provide the most interesting and important example of how, after three decades concentrating on global surveillance and power projection, discursive constructions of «urban terrain» in global south cities are now being used to justify the «transformation» of the technologies, tactics and strategies of national military intervention more broadly.
In such a context, this chapter seeks to analyse critically the ways in which processes of urbanisation are currently being imagined and represented by US military theorists to significantly undermine the military and technoscientific hegemony of the US military in a rapidly urbanising world. The chapter is motivated by the argument that the processes through which US military planners imagine, and discursively construct, global south cities as their predominant «battlespace» for the early 21st century, demands critical social scientific and geographical scrutiny.
The chapter falls in to three parts. The first describes the ways in which global south cities are perceived to interrupt and frustrate wider military strategies of transglobal surveillance and power projection surrounding the so-called «Revolution in Military Affairs» (or «RMA»). The second goes on to analyse the way in which key actors within the US military-industrial complex are suggesting deeply technophiliac «solutions» to this purported erosion of US geostrategic power through global south urbanisation. The final part of the paper attempts to draw theoretical and research conclusions for understandings of surveillance from the preceding discussions.

Fantasies frustrated: Urbanisation and the US «Revolution in Military Affairs» (RMA)

The military strategies to project, sustain and deepen the US military hegemony in the post-Cold War period rest on the exploitation of a «transformation» of US military power through what has been termed a «Revolution in Military Affairs».4 Centring on the technologies of «stealth», «precision» targeting, and satellite geopositioning, the RMA has widely been hailed amongst US military planners as the means to sustain US dominance in the post-Cold War world.5
Central to the RMA is the notion that «military operations are now aimed at defined effects rather than attrition of enemy forces or occupation of ground».6 Through the inter-linkage of the «system of systems» of US military technologies, RMA theorists argue that a truly «network-centric warfare» is now possible through which US forces can continually dominate societies deemed to be their adversaries through their increasingly omnipotent surveillance and «situational awareness», devastating and precisely-targeted aerial firepower, and the suppression and degradation of the communications and fighting ability of any opposing forces.7 Thus, RMA theorists imagine US military operations to be a giant, integrated, «network enterprise» – a «just-in-time» system of post-human, cyborganised warriors which utilises many of the principles of logistics chain management and new-technology-based tracking that are so dominant within contemporary management models.8
Importantly, however, such technophiliac discourses depicting an RMA ushering new relatively reduced-risk, «clean» and painless strategy of US military dominance assumed that the vast networks of sensors and weapons that needed to be integrated and connected to project US power would work uninterruptedly. Global scales of flow and connection have thus dominated RMA discourses; technological mastery, omnipotent surveillance, real-time «situational awareness», and speed-of-light digital interactions, have been widely portrayed as processes which, intrinsically, would usher in US military «Full Spectrum Dominance», on a planetary scale, irrespective of the geographical terrain that was to be dominated.
RMA discourses have, in this sense, been notably ageographical. Crucially, from the point of view of the current paper, little account was taken of the geographical specificities of the spaces or geographical terrains inhabited by the purported adversaries of the US in the post-Cold War period (or how they are changing through processes of urbanisation and globalisation). A key axiom of RMA rhetoric has been the idea that the US was now able to prosecute its global strategies for geopolitical dominance through a «radical non-territoriality».9
RMA discourses have also been obsessively inward-looking; they have centred almost exclusively on how the Cold War strategies and military systems of the US military can be «transformed» using new technology. «The enemy never really figured very much in the RMA debate», writes Eliot Cohen.10 While «American theorists and foreign imitators spoke in abstract terms of 200-mile by 200-mile boxes, sensor-to-shooter links and dominant battlefield awareness», they completely ignored the complex processes of urbanisation that were substantially undermining the possibility of realising their dreams of dominance.
In an attempt to address these weaknesses, and driven by the on-going horrors of the urban insurgency which has followed the US invasion of Iraq, RMA theorists and military R and D establishments have recently tried to «urbanise» the RMA. That is, they have sought to change the focus of theory, research and weapons development so that the RMA transforms the US military into a fighting force whose primary mission is to control and destroy urban insurgencies in global south cities. Two key emphases have emerged here.
First, emphasis is placed on the ways in which the sheer three-dimensional complexity and scale of global south cities allegedly undermine the United States’ expensively assembled and hegemonic advantages in surveillance, targeting and killing through «precise» air and space-based weapons systems.11 Many US military theorists now argue that the urban terrain in poor, global south countries is a great leveller between high-tech US forces and their low-tech and usually informally organised and poorly equipped adversaries.12 Such perceptions have been strengthened dramatically by the horrors of the Iraqi occupation and urban insurgency. The complex and congested terrain below, within, and above cities is thus widely viewed by US military commanders and theorists as a set of physical spaces which limit the effectiveness of high-tech space-targeted bombs, surveillance systems, and automated, «network-centric» and «precision» weapons. The US defense research agency, DIRC, for example, argues that «the urban environment negates the abilities of present US military communications equipment resulting in dead spots, noise, signal absorption, propagation problems which severely undermine the principles and technologies of “network-centric warfare”».13
Second, it has been widely assumed that the purported effects of urban landscapes on US military systems will directly and causally lead to an increasing tendency amongst the United States’ political adversaries to take refuge within urban areas.

«The long term trend in open-area combat», writes the leading US «urban warfare» commentator, Ralph Peters, «is toward overhead dominance by US forces». As a result, he predicts that «Battlefield awareness [for US forces] may prove so complete, and “precision” weapons so widely available and effective, that enemy groundbased combat systems will not be able to survive in the deserts, plains, and fields that have seen so many of history’s main battles».14

Fantasies reclaimed?
From preemptive war to «persistent area dominance»

«The time has come to change the perception that the high-tech US war machine fights at a disadvantage in urban areas.»15

With the widespread perception that the intensifying urbanisation of the parts of the global south that the US military envisage being their dominant areas of operation is radically undermining their broader efforts at technoscientific transformation, the «RMA» is being fundamentally reworked. With the urban insurgency in Iraq as an ongoing fulcrum war, a «transformation» based on the technophiliac celebrations of the death of geography through new technologies is, ironically, being transformed into a major technoscientific effort to develop and experiment with surveillance, communications and targeting systems that are specifically tailored to the fine-grain physical and human geographies of global south cities.
It is now widely argued within US military strategic organisations and think-tanks that the RMA needs to be reconfigured to address the challenges of tightly built global south cities; that new bodies of «urban» research need to be built up to understand how to use military violence to deliver precise «effects» in such cities; and that the doctrine, weaponry, training and equipment of US forces need to be comprehensively redesigned so that urban military operations are their de facto function. Major Lee Grubbs16 of the US Army argues that US forces need to be redefined so that their main purpose is to:

«create operational shock in the urban environment. Operational shock as an urban operational concept depends on selective influence … The utility to selectively influence depends on a deep understanding of the battlespace to identify causality between critical point, action, and effect achieved. The level of situational understanding within the infinite relationships of any enemy system and the urban area requires a variation on the doctrinal development of an understanding of the city and operational design … Operational design and a process for understanding the city become critical for the selection of critical points to destroy, control and influence ... The challenge is the development of an executable operational concept for achieving systematic, across the entire system, effects within the urban environment through the selective use of force.»

A vast output of conceptual, technoscientific and Research and Development material has been created by the «urban turn» of the RMA, especially since the Iraq invasion.17 The overwhelming rhetoric in such efforts emphasises that new military technoscience, specifically developed to address cities, will turn global south urban environments into areas that US forces can completely dominate, using their technological advantages, with minimum casualties to themselves. The widespread effort to tailor RMA to support US forces’ goal of dominating global south cities falls into two complementary areas of work.

Technophiliac unveilings of global south cities:
Dreams of «real-time situational awareness»

The first involves programmes designed to saturate such cities with myriads of networked surveillance systems. The dream of US military theorists is that this can be done to such an extent that any identified target can be automatically identified at any time and so exposed to high-technology tracking and killing powers of «network-centric» weapons. Such visions imagine pervasive and interlined arrays of «loitering» and «embedded» sensors as overcoming all the limits and interruptions that megacity environments place in the way of successfully implementing networkscentric warfare. Ackerman,18 for example, suggests that such sensor suites will be designed to automatically trace dynamic change rather than constantly soaking up data from unchanging environments: observing «change» rather than observing «scenery», as he puts it. In other words, algorithms will be designed to only function when definable changes occur. They will thus identify purported notions of «normality» against the «abnormal» behaviours and patterns that can then be assessed as targets.
One major example of such a development is the tellingly titled «Combat Zones That See» project led by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Launched at the start of the Iraq insurgency in 2003, CTS «explores concepts, develops algorithms, and delivers systems for utilising large numbers (thousands) of algorithmic video cameras to provide the close-in sensing demanded for military operations in urban terrain».19 Through installing computerised CCTV across whole occupied cities, the project organizers envisage that, when deployed, CTS will sustain «motion-pattern analysis across whole city scales», linked to the tracking of massive populations of individualised cars and people through intelligent computer algorithms linked to the recognition of number plates and scanned-in human facial photos. The launch report suggests that:

«“Combat Zones that See” will produce video understanding algorithms embedded in surveillance systems for automatically monitoring video feeds to generate, for the first time, the reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting information needed to provide close-in, continuous, always-on support for military operations in urban terrain.»20

A direct response to the interruptive effects of city environments on older notions of air and space-based network centric warfare, it is envisaged that, once it has been developed by 2007, CTS «will generate, for the first time, the reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting information needed to provide close-in, continuous, always-on support for military operations in urban terrain».21 It will be designed to specifically address the «inherently three-dimensional nature of urban centres, with large buildings, extensive underground passageways, and concealment from above».22
The central challenge of CTS, according to DARPA, will be to build up fully representative data profiles on the «normal» time-space movement patterns of entire subject cities so that algorithms could then use statistical modelling to «determine what is normal and what is not» (quoted in Sniffen).23 This will be a purported aid to identifying insurgents’ activities and real or potential attacks, as well as warning of the presence or movement of target or suspect vehicles or individuals. The report states that the CTS project will:

«include ... analysis of changes in normalcy modes; detection of variances in activity; anomaly detection based on statistical analyses; discovery of links between places, subjects and times of activities; and direct comparison and correlation of track data to other information available to operators. Predictive modelling, plan recognition, and behavior modeling should alert operators to potential force protection risks and hostile situations. Forensic information (where did a vehicle come from, how did it get here?) should be combined and contrasted to more powerful “forward-tracking” capabilities (where could the vehicle go?, where is the vehicle going?) to allow operators to provide real-time capabilities to assess potential force threats.»24

After a stream of protests from US civil liberties groups, DARPA stressed that, whilst the initial test of mass, urban tracking will take place at a US Army base within the United States (Fort Belvoir, Virginia), the deployment of CTS will only take place in «foreign urban battlefields».25
Saturating occupied or target cities with microscale and even nanoscale sensors and cameras is also being investigated by the CTS Programme and an associated programme labelled HURT. This programme centres on the development of a wide range of «persistent» and unmanned surveillance and weapons platforms tailored to the demands of global south urban environments. DARPA’s HURT and CTS programmes are, in turn, being backed up by major virtual simulations of wide-scale future urban wars in cities like Jakarta (an exercise known as «Urban Resolve»). In these, future suites of surveillance systems, like those under development in HURT, are inputted into the simulations to assess their likely effectiveness.26
Increasingly, the wide-scale, automated Closed Circuit TV systems being developed through CTS and HURT are being merged with the geospatial simulation systems discussed above, to provide simulations of global south cities which also include real-time surveillance of the tracks and locations of purported «targets». One system, for example, labelled «video flashlight», uses software to «paint» in simulations of the details of occupied cities based on data fed in by CTS-like CCTV systems and other radars and sensors. 3D virtual models of subject cities can thus be created, allowing viewers to «fly» through them exploring the real-time tracks of known or suspected «targets». «Our goal is to get to where I can model a small town in six hours», reports Steve Hsu, an employee of RCA Labs who work on the project. «Such speed is critical for jobs like rapidly installing video surveillance on an urban battlefield.»27

«Persistent area dominance»:
Towards robotic kiling systems in srban warfare

Which leads neatly to our second main area of defence research and development to help assert the dominance of US forces over global south cities: a shift towards robotic air and ground weapons which, when linked to the persistent surveillance and target identification systems just discussed, will be deployed to continually and automatically destroy purported targets in potentially endless streams of state killing. Here, crucially, fantasies of military omniscience and omnipotence, which blur seamlessly into wider sci-fi and cyberpunk imaginations of future military technoscience, become indistinguishable from major US military Research and Development programmes. The fantasies of linking sentient, automated and omnipotent surveillance – which bring God-like levels of «situational awareness» to US forces attempting to control intrinsically devious global south megacities – to automated machines of killing, pervades the discourses of the urban turn in the RMA.
«We really do want an Orwellian future not in Manhattan, but in Kabul», argue Huber and Mills,28 two defence consultants who are leading advocates of the automation of counter insurgency and urban operations as part of the «war on terror». To them, the United States’ «longer-term objective must be to infiltrate their homelands electronically, to the point where we can listen to and track anything that moves».29 They predict that:

«Terrorist wars will continue, in one form or another, for as long as we live … We are destined to fight a never-ending succession of microscale battles, which will require us to spread military resources across vast expanses of empty land and penetrate deep into the shadows of lives lived at the margins of human existence. Their conscripts dwell in those expanses and shadows. Our soldiers don’t, and can’t for any extended period of time. What we have instead is microscale technology that is both smarter and more expendable than their fanatics, that is more easily concealed and more mobile, that requires no food and sleep, and that can endure even harsher conditions.»30
Huber and Mills go on to envisage a near-future scenario where target cities are so saturated by targeting sensors that US forces are then able to:

«project destructive power precisely, judiciously, and from a safe distance week after week, year after year, for as long as may be necessary … it will end up as their sons against our silicon. Our silicon will win.»31

A second telling example comes from the discussion of a model near-future US «urban operation», described by Defense Watch magazine during its discussions of DARPA’s CTS Programme.32 In their scenario, swarms of microscale, and nanoscale networked sensors pervade the target city, providing continuous streams of target information to arrays of automated weaponry. Together, these systems produce continuous killing and «target» destruction: a kind of robotised counter-insurgency operation with US commanders and soldiers doing little but overseeing the cyborganised, interlinked and increasingly automated killing systems from a safe distance.
Defense Watch33 thus fantasise about «a battlefield in the near future» that is wired up with the systems which result from the CTS programme and its followers. Here unbound technophiliac fantasies of omnipotent urban control blur into long-standing dreams of cyborganised and robotised warfare. Closely levered in are large dehumanising racism and the demonisation of whole cities through «terrorist» labelling. «Several large fans are stationed outside the city limits of an urban target that our [sic] guys need to take», they begin:

«Upon appropriate signal, what appears like a dust cloud emanates from each fan. The cloud is blown into town where it quickly dissipates. After a few minutes of processing by laptopsize processors, a squadron of small, disposable aircraft ascends over the city. The little drones dive into selected areas determined by the initial analysis of data transmitted by the fanpropelled swarm. Where they disperse their nano-payloads.»
«After this, the processors get even more busy», continues the scenario. «Within minutes the mobile tactical center have a detailed visual and audio picture of every street and building in the entire city. Every hostile [person] has been identified and located. From this point on, nobody in the city moves without the full and complete knowledge of the mobile tactical center. As blind spots are discovered, they can quickly be covered by additional dispersal of more nano-devices. Unmanned air and ground vehicles can now be vectored directly to selected targets to take them out, one by one. Those enemy combatants clever enough to evade actually being taken out by the unmanned units can then be captured or killed by human elements who are guided directly to their locations, with full and complete knowledge of their individual fortifications and defenses ... When the dust settles on competitive bidding for BAA 03-15 [the code number for the Combat Zones That See programme], and after the first prototypes are delivered several years from now, our guys are in for a mind-boggling treat at the expense of the bad guys.»34

Such omnipotence fantasies extend even further to the automated surveillance, through brain scanning, of people’s inner mental attitudes to any US invasion, so that «targets» deemed to be resistant can be automatically identified and destroyed:

«Robotic systems push deeper into the urban area … . Behind the fighters, military police and intelligence personnel process the inhabitants, electronically reading their attitudes toward the intervention and cataloguing them into a database immediately recoverable by every fire team in the city (even individual weapons might be able to read personal signatures, firing immediately upon cueing … Smart munitions track enemy systems and profiled individuals … Satellites monitor the city for any air defense fires, curing immediate responses from near-space orbiting “guns”. Drones track inhabitants who have been “read” as potentially hostile and “tagged”.»35
Disturbingly, such fantasies of continuous, automated, and robotised urban targeting and killing are far from the realms of sci-fi fantasy. Rather, as with the CTS and HURT programmes, they are fuelling very real multimillion dollar research and weapons development programmes aimed at developing ground and aerial vehicles which not only navigate and move robotically, but which select and destroy targets without «humans in the loop», based on algorithmically-driven «decisions».
Lawlor, for example, discusses the development of «autonomous mechanized combatant» air and ground vehicles or «tactical autonomous combatants» for the US Air Force.36 These are being designed, he notes, to use «pattern recognition» software for what he calls «time-critical targeting», i.e. linking sensors very quickly to automated weapons so that fleeting «targets» both within and outside cities can be continually destroyed. Such doctrine is widely termed «compressing the kill chain» or «sensor-toshooter warfare» in US military parlance.37 The «swarming of unmanned systems» project team at US forces JOINT Command Experimentation Directorate, based in Suffolk, Virginia, he states, are so advanced in such experimentation that «autonomous, networked and integrated robots may be the norm rather than the exception by 2025».
By that date, Lawlor predicts that «technologies could be developed … that would allow machines to sense a report of gunfire in an urban environment to within one meter, triangulating the position of the shooter and return fire within a fraction of a second», providing a completely automated weapon system devoid of human involvement. He quotes Gordon Johnson, the «Unmanned Effects» team leader for the US Army’s «Project Alpha», as saying of such a system that:

«If it can get within one meter, it’s killed the person who’s firing. So, essentially, what we’re saying is that anyone who would shoot at our forces would die. Before he can drop that weapon and run, he’s probably already dead. Well now, these cowards in Baghdad would have to play with blood and guts every time they shoot at one of our folks. The costs of poker went up significantly … The enemy, are they going to give up blood and guts to kill machines? I’m guessing not.»38

Tellingly, Lawlor predicts that such robo-war systems will «help save lives by taking humans out of harm’s way». Here, tellingly, only US forces are considered to fall within the category «human».39
In addition, unmanned aerial vehicles armed with «intelligent munitions» are already being designed which will, eventually, be programmed to fire on, and kill, «targets» detected by US Forces’ real-time surveillance grids, in a completely autonomous way. Such munitions will loiter over targets for days at a time, linked into the data links, until «targets» are detected for destruction.40 A programme called TUDLS – or «Total Urban Dominance Layered System – for example, is currently underway to provide what Plenge41 describes as:

«long hover and loiter propulsion systems, multidiscriminant sensors and seekers, mini- and micro-air vehicles, mini-lethal and non-lethal warheads, autonomous and man-in-the loop control algorithms, and a strong interface with the [urban] battlespace in formation network.»

Plenge stresses further that the loitering munitions developed through the TUDLS programme will «be capable of completing the entire kill chain … with minimal human involvement». They will be able to co-operate to maximise their autonomous destructive power or, where there are «more stringent rules of engagement», through referring back each time they strike to human-in-the-loop ways of working when they are «in close proximity to friendly forces».42
Crucially, such munitions will be equipped with algorithms designed to separate «targets» from «non-targets» automatically. The ultimate goals, according to Pinney, an engineer at Raytheon, is a «kill chain solution» based on «1st look, 1st feed, 1st kill», where each armed unmanned vehicle continuously «seeks out targets on its own».43 Tirpak,44 a US air force specialist, envisages that humans will be required to make the decisions to launch weapons at targets only «until UCAVs establish a track record of reliability in finding the right targets and employing weapons properly». Then the «machines will be trusted to do even that».
The munitions that will be tasked with such algorithmic killing weapons are already under development. One, termed LOCAAS (for «Low Cost Autonomous Attack Systems»), the USAF has already committed to buy. This loiters and searches over an area of 80 square miles, scanning the area and comparing signals received with «stored target templates» using the «advanced algorithms» of what is known as «automated target recognition» or ATR software.45 When the signature of a known target is detected, the missile homes in to destroy it. The software currently has «difficulty in discriminating real targets from look-alike targets, especially in cluttered terrain» like cities.46 Whilst having a human being to approve each weapon’s final attack would «keep the question of accountability solidly answered at all times», Marzolf, admits that the USAF has rejected this «mainly to limit the munition’s cost».

Concluding discussion

«The ultimate expression of sovereignty resides … in the power and capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.»47

This chapter has sought to «open up» the connections between military technoscience, the military problematisation of global south cities, and the doctrines, discourses and fantasies that drive the elaboration of a globe-spanning and hegemonic US military presence in the post-Cold War period. With the bloody morass of the Iraqi insurgency continuing at the time of writing (July, 2005), such intersections could hardly be more politically charged, or more pregnant with significance. For this chapter has demonstrated very clearly that a large-scale military research and development programme is currently underway in the United States to, quite literally, «urbanise» the «Revolution in Military Affairs». Here the cutting-edge technoscientific efforts and priorities of the world’s military hegemon are being shifted from an emphasis on globe-spanning control, networking and vertical targeting, treating planet Earth as some unitary, ageographical «battlespace», to one aimed at bringing maximum control, surveillance and killing power to the detailed micro-geographies of global south cities.
Such dreams of omnipotence, of course, must be treated with caution. The US military, and its associated complex of R and D outfits, have, after all, long held fantasies of superweapons which would deterministically realise their dreams of mastery and omnipotence.48 As now, such technophiliac dreams of mastery have usually evolved closely with the wider discourses of speculative fiction and popular geopolitical domains and entertainment industries.49 The «technological fanaticism» of both has deep roots within US political, popular and military culture.50 Certainly, future research into the central role of surveillance within the RMA needs to do much more to theorise and address the ways in which popular cultural discourses and fantasies of future war cross-fertilise with military fantasies and real research and development programmes in agencies like DARPA.51
We must also remember that the «US military» is far from being some single, unitary actor. All of the discourses, projects and programmes analysed in this chapter remain extremely contested. Within the vast institutional complex that together constitutes the «US military», major political battles are underway – fuelled by the ongoing nightmare in Iraq – over the degree to which technophiliac fantasies of omnipotence, through some urbanised «RMA» or «network-centric warfare», are realistic, even in military terms.
Many in the US Army, for example, are deeply sceptical that the horrors and «fog of war» in bloody «urban operations» like the Iraqi insurgency, can ever really be technologised, mediated, and saturated with sentient surveillance and targeting systems, to anything like the degree that is common in the discursive imaginings driving the programmes discussed above. The relatively high casualty rates of US forces – forced to come down from 40,000 ft, or withdraw from ceramic armour, to attempt to control and «pacify» violent insurgencies within sprawling Iraqi cities – are a testament to the dangerous wishful thinking that pervades all military fantasies of «clean», «automated» or «cyborganised» urban «battlespace».52 It should also be remembered that, in Iraq, even rudimentary high-tech devisees have routinely failed due to technical malfunctions or extreme operating conditions.53
Such caveats about the inevitable gulf between fantasies and reality should not, then, distract from the stark messages that emerge from this paper. Whilst the urbanised RMA is, of course, being driven by often wild and fantastical discourses, its effects will be very material and profound. Massive technoscientific efforts to saturate global south cities with real-time surveillance, targeting and killing systems are undoubtedly underway as the latest military-industrial research drive focuses on using new algorithmic surveillance capabilities to try and overcome the ways in which the micro-geographies of global south cities interrupt wider fantasies of US military omnipotence.
Whether such systems will ever function as imagined, even in military terms, is, then, beside the point. For, as the death of 100,000 Iraqi civilians within the first 21 months of the US-UK invasion testifies,54 the very existence of an imperial project of launching the world’s military hegemon’s high-tech killing systems into global south cities will inevitably lead to mass civilian deaths. This seems especially so as new algorithmic systems seem likely to emerge which are the actual agents of continuous, autonomous killing as «kill chains» are «compressed», «sensors» are linked automatically to «shooters», and the fantasies of «persistent area dominance» achieve full expression through the favourable context of Bush’s huge defense spending increases and ideologies of preemptive war. To put it mildly, dreams of clinically identifying and surgically killing only «fighters» within sprawling megacities, through the agency of autonomous computer algorithms, are dangerously deluded. The results of such systems, inevitably, would be large numbers of civilians killed and injured with the added and deeply troubling development of software agency as the ultimate «intelligence» manufacturing such carnage and automatically stipulating who should die and who should live.
The gravity of the developments reported means that a major challenge for both theorists of surveillance, and the wider bodies of critical social and political researchers and activists, is to incorporate the intersections of urbanisation, US Empire, and military technoscience as a critical domain within their work. It is no longer adequate, for example, to solely consider the proliferation of algorithmic techniques, and the shift to ubiquitous surveillance, within the «civil» domains of cities – as the surveillance literature has overwhelmingly tended to do so far. Nor is it adequate to consider transnational, military surveillance, simulation, and the convergence of what Der Derian has called the «Military-Industrial-Entertainment Network»,55 in isolation from the military problematisation of global south urbanisation, the purported effects of «urbanising terrain» on digital military systems of surveillance, targeting, and killing, and the urban turn in the RMA reported here.56 If this chapter makes one thing clear, it is this: the intricate and intensifying connections between micro-geographies of control and power on urban streets, and wider geopolitical, military and political economic strategies backed up by technoscientific research, must be centrally addressed by all future theorists of urban, social, and military surveillance.
An example of such research challenges comes from the deepening intersections between «algorithmic» and digitised CCTV on city streets and the products of the urbanised RMA. Such cross-overs are especially important given the growing privatisation of western militaries and law enforcement and security industries, and the efforts by a small number of military-security «prison industrial complex» conglomerates to colonise both «homeland» and «war zone battlespaces» equally. As the barriers separating the technoscience of «civil» law enforcement and military urban operations are progressively dismantled, so the algorithmic surveillance systems, embedded into the urbanising zones of preemptive, continuous war, will increasingly resemble those in the increasingly securitised cities policed by national security states (and associated private military corporations). Here we confront the latest stage in a long history where disciplinary devices are developed to assert control and dominance for colonising powers within colonised cities being later transmuted back into «homeland» cities by military and political elites. With the sorts of wide-area, algorithmic urban surveillance system being developed by DARPA and their ilk, so similar to systems envisaged as part of the «homeland security» drive to securitise cities in the capitalist heartlands of the global north, these cross-overs are already rapidly strengthening further.
As an initial exposé of the close links between the problematisation and demonisation of global south urban areas within US military rhetoric, and the efforts to customise surveillance, targeting and killing systems of the RMA to sustain «persistent dominance» of such cities, this paper inevitably raises as many questions as it answers. What implications, for example, does the urban «turn» in the RMA have for theorisations and analyses of globalisation, the geopolitics of neoliberal «Empire», the nature of the colonial present,57 the intensifying nexus between military technologies and entertainment and simulation industries, and the scope for nurturing progressive alternatives to aggressive US hegemony? What are the links between long-standing popular fantasies and imaginations of cyborg war58 and the emerging automated killing systems discussed in this paper? What are the implications of such emerging military systems and doctrines for analyses of global south urbanisation and the geopolitics of the Middle East? How might systems for continuous, low-level and automated killing alter the nature of warfare, state terrorism and organised political violence, and what are the implications of algorithmic state killing for the laws of war and notions of state criminality and illegality? How might they impact on imagined and real separations between securitised «homelands» and the «frontier zones» subjected to pre-emptive and increasingly continuous «wars on terror» by US strategy? Finally, how can discussions of «persistent area dominance» best be incorporated into wider debates and activism surrounding the broader challenges thrown down by ubiquitous ICTs, global mobilities, pervasive tracking, sentient environments, the changing links between corporeality, technology and urbanity, and the growing importance of systems of algorithmic surveillance which fuse seamlessly into electronic simulations?59
Addressing such questions entails profound interdisciplinary challenges. It demands that urban social scientists work closely with critical theorists of international relations and state power and violence. It lays down an imperative for multi-scale engagement to track the telescoping dynamics of the military technoscience being unleashed and imagined. It raises questions about the nature of sovereignty, or urban space, of globalisation, and of the technoscientific underpinnings to contemporary colonial power (and responses to it). And it necessitates specialists of the social construction of technoscientific and military systems engaging closely with political and urban theorists addressing the role of imagined geographies, and military surveillant-simulations, in constituting and reshaping US Empire in particular, and the political economies and geographies of post-Cold War globalisation more generally.
The final challenge – drawing on theorists as diverse as Foucault, Agamben, Deleuze, Gregory and Said – is to expose in detail the ways in which urbanised RMA weapons programmes – and the discourses which fuel them – embed stark biopolitical judgements about the varying worth of human subjects, according to their location, beneath the intensifying, transnational, gaze of militarised surveillance. Such a theme must be at the very core of any future re-theorizations of the links between corporeal, urban and transnational power in what Derek Gregory has called our «colonial present».60
Here, attention should fall in particular on the ways in which biopolitical stipulations of the worth – or lack of worth – of human subjects are, quite literally, cast into the software code that operates increasingly automated and multi-scale surveillance, targeting and killing systems. Thus, the new technoscience of the urbanised RMA concentrates on distinguishing «normal» urban space-times and ecologies in the global north, so that the apparatus of an increasingly militarised police state can be used to discipline those deemed «abnormal».
By contrast, those deemed to be «abnormal» within surveilled and simulated urban space-times and ecologies in global south cities will, as examples of what Agamben61 has called «bare life», be exposed to increasingly autonomous surveillance systems designed to sustain continuous, automated, and cyborganised state killing. Here the very technological architectures of such systems inscribe the cast-out, bare life of global south urbanites, whose bodies can pile up unnoticed and without political fallout under the rubric of «collateral damage», and who can be exposed to automated and cyborganised killing systems without hope of legal or ethical protection.
Crucially, of course, these stark biopolitical realities are endlessly veiled beneath the layers of technological fetishism and dominant political, military, technoscientific and popular-geopolitical discourses. Together, the infinite lexicon of military «geekspeak» acronyms and euphemisms work to veil even the very humanity of «target» people and places, whilst glorifying the cyborganised «warriors» who are piecing together these «persistent area dominance» systems.62 The task, then, is to launch a powerful effort to assert the essential humanity of global south cities, and to so undermine the dehumanising rhetoric of the urbanised RMA, in which cities become mere physical objects and people mere «targets» to be annihilated through automated weapons systems brought in to be animated by the deepest omnipotence fantasies of the United States military.

1. The author would like to thank the British Academy for the support of a Research Readership, without which this research would not have been possible.

2. Dickson, K., «The war on terror: Cities as the strategic high ground», In: Mimeo, 2002, p.I o.

3. Grubbs, Lee K., In Search of a Joint Urban Operational Concept, Fort Leavenworth (Ka): School of Advanced Military Studies, 2003, p. iii.

4. Pieterse, Jann N., «Neoliberal empire», In: Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 21, no. 3, 2004, p. 118-140; Duffield, Mark, «War as a network enterprise: The new security terrain and its implications», In: Cultural Values, vol. 6, 2002, p. 153-165.

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9. Duffield, Mark, op. cit., p.158.

10. Cohen, Eliot, op. cit., p. 397.

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12. Gregory, Derek, The Colonial Present, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004; Graham, Stephen (ed.), Cities, War and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geopolitics, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

13. Defense Intelligence Reference Document (DIRC), The Urban Century: Developing World Urban Trends and Possible Factors Affecting Military Operations, Quantico (VA): Marine Corps Intelligence Agency, 1997.

14. Peters, Ralph, «Our soldiers, their cities», In: Parameters, spring, 1996, p. 43-50.

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16. Grubbs, Lee K., op. cit., pp.iii-5.

17. Grubbs, Lee K., op. cit.; Houlgate, Kelly P., op.cit.

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19. DARPA, «Combat Zones That See», 2003, p. 6. Available at: <http://dtsn. /solicitations/CTS/file/BAA_03-15_CTS_PIP.pdf> [January 2007].

20. Ibid., p. 6.

21. Ibid., p. 6.

22. Ibid., p. 7.

23. Sniffen, M., «Pentagon project could keep a close eye on cities», In: Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 February 2003, p. A2.

24. DARPA, op. cit., 2003, p. 13.

25. Defense Watch, «Combat zones that “see” everything», 2004. Available at: <> [January 2007].

26. DARPA, HURT- Heterogeneous Urban RSTA Team, Briefing to Industry, Darpa, Washington DC 2004.

27. Perkins, R., «Security and surveillance solutions», In: RCA Labs brochure, Maritime Security Expo, 2004, p. 72.

28. Huber, Peter W. and Mills, Mark P., «How technology will defeat terrorism», In: City Journal, no. 12, 2002, pp. 24-34.

29. Ibid., p. 30.

30. Ibid., p. 29.

31. Ibid.,pp. 31-34.

32. Defense Watch, op. cit.

33. Ibid..

34. Ibid..

35. Ibid..

36. Lawlor, Maryann, «Robotic concepts take shape», In: Signal Magazine, 2004. Available at: <http://www. signal/articles/templates/SIGNAL_Article_Template.asp?articleid=64&zoneid=26> [January 2007].

37. Herbert, Adam J., «Compressing the kill chain», In: Air Force Magazine, March 2003, p. 34-42.

38. Herbert, Adam J., op. cit., p. 3.

39. Lawlor, Maryann, op. cit., p. 2.

40. Kenyon, H., «Connectivity, persistent surveillance model future combat», In: Signal Magazine, May 2004, p. 31-34.

41. Plenge, Benjamin T., «Area dominance: area dominance with air-delivered loitering munitions aids the warfighter», In: AFLR Briefs, 2004. Available at: <>

42. Ibid..

43. Pinney, C., UAV Weaponization, Raytheon, 2003. Available at: <> [January 2007].

44. Tirpak, John A., «Send in the UCAVs», In: Air Force Magazine, August 2001, p. 31-33.

45. Marzolf, Gregory S., Time-Critical Targeting: Predictive Versus Reactionary Methods: An Analysis for the Future, Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base (Al) 2004, p. 29.

46. Ibid.., p. 30.

47. Mbembe, Achille, «Necropolitics», In: Public Culture, vol. 15, no. 1, 2003, p. 11-40.

48. Franklin, H. Bruce, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

49. Gannon, Charles E., Rumors of War and Infernal Machines: Technomilitary Agenda-Setting in American and British Speculative Fiction, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003.

50. Sherry, Michael S., The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

51. Gannon, Charles E., op. cit.

52. Graham, Stephen, «Vertical geopolitics: Baghdad and after», In: Antipode, vol. 36, no. 1, 2004, p. 12-19.

53. Hills, Alice, Future Wars in Cities, London: Frank Cass, 2004.

54. Roberts, Les; Lafta, Riyadh; Garfield, Richard; Khudhairi, Jamal and Burnham, Gilbert, «Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: Cluster sample survey», In: The Lancet, no.16, 29 October 2004, p. 1-8.

55. Der Derian, James, Virtuous War : Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Complex, Boulder (Co): Westview, 2001.

56. Der Derian, James, «The (S)pace of international relations: Simulation, surveillance, and speed», In: International Studies Quarterly, no. 34, 1990, p. 295-310.

57. Gregory, Derek, op.cit.

58. Gannon, Charles E., op. cit.

59. Graham, Stephen, «Spaces of surveillant-simulation: New technologies, digital representations, and material geographies», In: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, no. 16, 1998, p. 483-504.

60. Gregory, Derek, op.cit.

61. Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford (Ca): Stanford University Press, 1998.

62. Davis, Mike, «Shock and awe», In: Socialist Review, March 2003. Available at: <http:// www.> [January 2007].

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