Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Army Cyber Institute, Law, Mathematical Sciences

Publication Date

Spring 4-2-2022

Publication Title

Air & Space Operations Review (USAF)

Document Type



A future great power conflict could potentially involve large numbers of prisoners of war (POWs)—US, Allied, and partner nations—imprisoned by regimes that could seek to utilize and exploit these captives for propaganda gain. Deepfakes and digital manipulation technology provide an advantageous opportunity for a captor aiming to mitigate international humanitarian law concerns regarding the rules for POW treatment. Such an adversary could use manipulated audio and images of POWs to forward their cause, undermine the Alliance cohesion, attack the mutual will to fight, and reduce POWs’ will to resist. The risk of becoming a POW has steadily disappeared from the minds of US military members after two decades of counterinsurgency and antiterrorism operations. The memories of the Cold War and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe—and the general understanding of what captivity means—are diminishing. This prospect, however, should not be forgotten as the potential for the capture of sizeable numbers of POWs in a large-scale conflict is a distinct possibility. The general strategic direction has recently changed from counterterrorism and antiterrorism operations toward great power competition and potentially protracted conflicts involving near-peer nation-states. Since the Cold War, air mobility, standoff weaponry, capabilities for deep strikes into enemy territory, and faster decision cycles have created a new battlefield. The modern battlefield is ever changing. High-paced engagements and mobility cross multiple war-fighting domains create the potential for a fragmented, fluid fight. In this unpredictable, widespread, rapidly changing, and violent environment, the potential for large numbers of POWs is high.

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