Above: A Tomahawk cruise missile conducts a controlled flight test over the Naval Air Systems Command western test range complex near China Lake in Southern California, 2002. Credit: Unattributed, US Navy.
A Tomahawk cruise-missile reaches a speed of 800 km/h and is largely autonomous once airborne making its own computer-controlled in-flight adjustments and decisions. Equally, anti-missile-defense-systems are automated--and actually beyond the realm of human intervention. If any such anti-missile system is to function effectively there can be no time available for human chain-of-command decisions: the response will be instant and in fact computer controlled. In this way warfare has become a scene of machine against machine--with human agency removed from "battlefield" decisions. This begs a scenario comparable to the program-trader's stock-market crash of 1987 ("Black Monday"). Once the "sell signal" was received many systems began to simultaneously sell-off stocks--setting off a chain-reaction of globalized panic selling. The general picture of the transformed battlefield can be defined as "the invasion of the instant [that] succeeds the invasion of the territory (SP: 154)."
The in the era of the invasion-of-the-instant, the crucial factor (in military terms) is loss of reaction time or time-for-response: where once fore-knowledge of an invasion or attack was measurable in days, or hours at least, this time-window has been now reduced to minutes or, unfortunately, seconds (SP: 154-55). This situation of automated response to attack--particularly nuclear attack--dehumanizes and demeans Earth's inhabitants: they are protected from nuclear annihilation only by a series of automated systems. Human will or agency has long ago been removed from scene of the final encounter (SP: 156). We have entered an era of the "automation of deterrence (SP: 164)." In the exponential decrease in weapon-missile airborne-time and overall response-to-attack time it is human agency that is truncated: the few moments that would be available do not allow for critical thinking, reflective considerations, or any human thought processes whatsoever. Virilio concurs with Andrew Stratton in his belief that in the technological era--rife as it is with automation of processes--human agency is generally transferred "from the action stage to the conception stage (SP: 156--quoting Stratton)."