The Future of War

Note: I wrote this article in 2004, so many of the developments have already come about, such as Stryker system and the the massive increase in the use of unmanned Drones. However, I’ve kept the original text we had on the old site rather than update it, both out of historical interest and me being lazy. However have added some videos to spice things up and may do a follow up article at a later date.

At the dawn of the 20th century, few could have envisioned how warfare would evolve in the next hundred years. In the early 1900′s wars were still being fought on horseback, with innovations such as the tank, chemical weapons and fighter aircraft still many years off. A device capable of destroying an entire city like an atomic bomb, was so unbelievable that it was consigned to the more fanciful fringes of science fiction. Now at the dawn of the 21st century, governments are hard at work developing new generations of military technology, which in time, will make modern hardware seem as antiquated and obsolete as the cavalry.

One thing unlikely to change in the battlefield of the future is the use of the soldier, who despite any advances in technology will probably always be a vital component of any future conflict. However infantry of the early to mid 21st century will be vastly different from those in operation today, equipped with weapons and abilities that are at present regarded as comic-book fantasy. In the US there are a number of projects which are currently developing equipment for the soldier of the future.

One such project is ‘Objective Force Warrior’, led by Ex Army Ranger Jean-Louis “Dutch” De Gay. De Gay explains that at present one of the main considerations of his team is reducing the weight carried by the soldier, who at present lugs around about 47 kilos (105 pounds) of gear, much of it comprising of environmental defences. Using technology developed by NASA that allows astronaut to regulate their own temperature in space, the suit will have small tubes woven through the clothing which circulate warm or cold air as needed, while the exterior will have the chemical, biological and nuclear protection integrated into a single protective barrier.

Objective Force Warrior will also have a range of sensors built into the suit to monitor the soldiers health, which will relay to central command the troops heart rate and body temperature. It will even have caloric monitors so they will know if the soldier is dehydrated or in need of food, which will be administered via a small patch on the soldier’s skin that releases micro-nutrients into the body. The helmet for this suit, research for which is already completed, is built of reinforced Kevlar material and has built in night vision goggles, cameras, infra red targeting, biological and chemical alarms, as well as global positioning and radio communications systems.

De Gay’s team are also planning to construct 250 kilo (550 pound) robotic ‘mules’ for the soldiers to get about on. These wheeled machines will travel up to 50mph, and are capable of following the soldier at distance carrying heavy equipment. The Mule will also run on a silent hybrid electric/fuel engine, and will also serve as a power generator, and water purifier. In addition to this, there are plans to equip it with a cannon or phosphorous smoke launcher. Top line Mules will even be equipped with a mini-drone, a small pilot-less plane that will allow the soldier to view his surrounding environment from the sky.

However, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also has its own ideas about the soldiers of the future, and at the newly opened $50m Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), scientists and engineers are hard at work developing an exoskeleton that would give the wearer nothing short of superpowers. This exoskeleton would provide protection from bullets, give them super-human strength and agility, and even allow them to become invisible. Futuristic chain mail made of molecular material would provide a lightweight armour, while built-in power packs would release bursts of energy which would greatly multiply the soldiers strength, and allow him to perform feats such as jumping over 20 foot walls. In the event that the soldier is injured, the suit would act as a rigid cast, while new devices, also being developed at ISN, would actually speed the soldiers healing process.

These super-troops will also be equipped with state of the art munitions, the one currently nearest completion being the OICW, or Objective Individual Combat Weapon. This modular weapon will integrate a number of existing arms, such as a sniper rifle, machine gun and grenade launcher into what may well be the standard issue munitions of the early 21st century. The invisible laser of the OICW works as a range finder to ascertain the distance of the enemy combatant, and as each bullet has an onboard computer, the user will be able to tell the ammunition exactly when to explode, effectively allowing the enemy to be hit even when they are behind cover. It is expected to be fully developed between 2006 and 2008.

Desipte its contemporary look and advanced features, the ammunition in the OICW essentially uses the same propulsion method that has been used for hundreds of years; gunpowder. Hoping to supersede this is Science Applications International Corp’s ‘Electrothermal-Chemical Direct- Fire Gun’. The ammunition in this Electrothermal weapon would replace gunpowder with a high capacitance superconductive gel. When the trigger is pulled the weapon would not strike the bullet with a hammer mechanism, but instead complete an electric circuit which would send an electric charge into the bullet. Once hit, the gel turns into ionised plasma which propels the bullet at a tremendous speed. As it doesn’t require oxygen to work like tradition arms, Electrothermal weapons could also theoretically be fired in space.

Directing attacks with these troops is most likely to be Stryker, the mobile command centre/troop carrier which has seen int first outing during the Iraq war. Stryker, displays all the sophisticated intelligence of the command centre with a highly armoured (and armed) troop carrier. This 18 ton vehicle will be equipped with the Digital Topographic Support System (DTSS), and by using data collected from maps, satellite images, and other sources, it synthesizes an incredibly detailed 3D view of the battlefield. This will allow the Commander to take a virtual tour of the battlefield before making decisions on how best to handle the terrain situation. Stryker will also be well defended with its own built in arsenal, its powerful cameras, including both daytime and night time night-vision lenses allow detailed views of the surrounding environment, allowing the battle commander to easily target enemy units with the remote 105mm cannons, 40mm guns, and even guided-missiles installed on the roof of the vehicle.

Super-troops will not be the only tool at the disposal of tomorrows battle commander. Innovations and breakthroughs in a number of scientific fields will allow the commander hitherto unknown tactical options. For example at Sandina National Laboratories at Kirtland Air Force Base they are developing robots so small that they can be disguised as insects and used to spy on enemy forces, they will even have built in sensors that can detect chemical and biological agents in the atmosphere. They are also developing robotic crabs are designed to scuttle onto beaches and disarm mines to make way for an invasion force.

Before troops are sent into urban warfare, it is likely they will be preceded by air attacks by E-Bombs, which uses a high power electromagnetic pulse to neautralise all circuitry within the target area. With all computers, communications and transport systems essentially useless, the enemy would be thrown into chaos and left an easy target. More locally, a smaller device could be used to give cover for covert operations, and as nothing would be recorded, would also offer total deniability that an event ever took place. These devices were also first deployed in the recent Persian Gulf conflict.

There are even reports that small E-bombs have been used in heists in Russia and London, detonated to disrupt bank security systems and disrupt police communications. The magazine Popular Mechanics has even argued that a ‘poor mans’ E-Bomb, the Flux Compression Generator (FCG), could be made in the home for around $400, and if enough of them were detonated simultaneously, could set back civilisation by 200 years. A devastating weapon in the hands of a terrorist orgianisation.

The E-Bomb is not the only military application of electromagnetic technology, it has long been known that electronic stimulation of the brain can induce extreme emotions such as rage, lust and fatigue. The pioneer of this research, Dr Jose Delgado, predicted it was not long before a computer would be able to establish a two way link with the brain. Experiments were also carried out in the early 80′s by Eldon Byrd to develop electromagnetic devices for riot control and clandestine operations, and in 1996, the right wing newspaper Spotlight reported that the Pentagon commissioned the construction of a “high-power electomagnetic generators that interfere with human brain waves”. Dr Emery Horvath, professor of physics at Harvard University, stated that the generators “are designed to invade the mind and short circuit its synapses… In the hands of government technicians, it may be used disorientate entire crowds, or to manipulate individuals into self destructive acts. Its a terrifying weapon”.

If interfering with human brainwaves to influence behavior sound weirds, it gets stranger. During the 1980′s US military scientists discovered that by intersecting beams of infrared or microwave frequency, they could create a glowing sphere which could be moved about by changing the location of the beams. Repeating the laser pulses produced a continuous crackling and hissing sound, and scientists soon discovered that by changing and refining the laser pulse they could make it of a high enough fidelity to carry the human voice. They even proposed debuting this talking fireball during the 1991 Gulf War, appearing as the Voice of Allah it was to call on the Iraqi troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This plan was never executed, but the technology still exists, and quite possibly in a much more advanced state.

Sound itself has been an instrument of war for thousands of years due to the intense psychological impact it can have on the enemy, from Joshua’s supposed use of Rams horns during the siege of Jericho, through Highlanders using Bagpipes, right up to blasting Colonel Gaddafi’s mansion with rock music. However it is only now have we discovered the true potential of sound as an actual weapon. The human auditory range is between 20Hz to 20,000Hz, frequencies higher than this, ultrasound, are inaudible, as are those below 20Hz, infrasound. However, infrasound can on occasion be felt within the body, it can disrupt the middle ear and effect balance, and vibrate your internal organs to induce nausea and diarrhoea. In California, acoustic stun devices operating on this principal are being developed, prototypes of which are already in use defending military installations.

Sonic weapons can also theoretically be used to much more devastating effect. ‘The Working Paper on Infrasound Weapons’, written by Hungary for the UN, concluded that the most dangerous frequently to humans is 7-8Hz, the resonant frequency if flesh. In theory sonic weapons at this frequency, if loud enough, could rupture internal organs. Indeed, sometime ‘between the late 50′s and the early 70′s’, the French robotics researcher Dr Gavreau constructed a giant infrasound ‘organ’, nearly 2 metres in diameter and 23 metres long. On activating the machine, the entire building was virtually destroyed and Gavreau and the entire team almost killed by the deadly vibrations. One of the team said to have been killed during the experiment, supposedly had “his internal organs… were mashed into an amorphous jelly by the vibrations”.

However one of the most awesome and technologically advanced new weapons currently being proposed is the Impulse Gravity Generator, which has emerged as an offshoot of Boeings until recently secret experiments into anti-gravity (more on this later). This weapon itself would essentially fire a beam of ‘gravity like’ energy that can exert an instantaneous force of 1,000g on any object, enough to vaporise it, especially if travelling at high speeds.

Conventional tanks, like the ones used in the latter half of the 20th century, are likely to have their production scaled down or even phased out. There are now far more cost effective means of disposing with the enemy that do not risk an expensive tank and its crew. One is new ‘Tank Killer’ system codenamed BAT. BAT is essentially a metre long missile that roams the battlefield looking for enemy vehicles to destroy. BATs are equipped with acoustic sensors and an infrared device to detect moving tanks, and on finding them, flies into the top of the armoured vehicle (traditionally the weakest part) and destroys them. This system was scheduled to be active by 2002.

For the most part the most effective means of disposing with enemy forces, and also one of the main reasons behind the decline in tank use, is the combined firepower of the Navy and Air Force. As recent wars in the Persian Gulf and Yugoslavia have aptly demonstrated, the combined power of these two forces are virtually unstoppable.

The Navy is a vital component of the modern military machine, not just for the ability to launch cruise missile attacks at an enemy thousands of miles inland, but for their ability to launch devastating air strikes from aircraft carriers. However, at present these hulking dreadnoughts take many weeks to reach their destination, giving the enemy plenty of time to take necessary precautions. To negate this, military scientists are hard at work planning a new generation of submersible aircraft carriers, which once fully developed, will be able to launch massive air strikes in any point in the world without warning, before disappearing back into the abyss before the enemy knows what’s hit them.

The fighter aircraft launched from these next generation carriers will also come with an exotic array of new weapons. The USAF’s MARAUDER (Magnetically Accelerated Ring to Achieve Ultra-high Directed Energy and Radiation) project had in around 1993 developed a prototype weapon which could fire bolts of hot ionised plasma, which on hitting their target would cause ‘extreme mechanical and thermal shock’ as well as a pulse of electromagnetic radiation. Despite fruitful research, information available on the progress these ‘Ion Torpedos’ has suddenly become non-existent, either meaning the project has been dropped entirely, or is now important enough to be classified top secret, much like what happened to Stealth in the 1970′s.

Also planned are variations on that old favourite, the atomic bomb. Described as ‘Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons’, these small (5 kiloton) atomic bombs are being designed to plough beneath the earths surface and explode underground, much like the recently developed ‘bunker buster’. These weapons work by gliding to the desired target, before activating a rocket which sends the uranium tipped explosive nuke deep into the ground. The theory behind this device is in the words of one anonymous Pentagon source, is “something that can threaten a bunker tunnelled under 300 meters of granite without killing the surrounding civilian population.” Unfortunately however an underground explosion of this magnitude would blow thousands of tons of radioactive dirt into the atmosphere, which would then rain down onto the surrounding area, resulting in larger and even more lethal levels if fallout. Top military anylists claim that the drive to develop these weapons is behind the Whitehouses willingness to withdraw from the comprehensive test-ban treaty.

Of course military aircraft in the future wouldn’t be complete without lasers. Lasers as practical weapons have been a long time coming (although Japan announced they were deveoping a ‘death ray’ back in the 1940′s) but now they finally seem ready to be rolled out. The Air Force’s Airborne Laser (ABL) team have now sucessfully completed their first test fire of Laser Module 1 (LM-1) in March 2002. The final ABL system will use six of these laser modules to create a megawatt-class chemical laser flying in a specially built Boeing 747-400F to shoot down missiles in the boost phase. The system, when completed, will be able to burn a football sized hole through missiles or any incoming object while they are still hundreds of miles away.

The war in Afghanistan seen the debut of one of the United States most impressive air units to date, the RQ-4A Global Hawk. This relatively small (27 foot) weaponless spy plane represents the first generation of pilotless aircraft, controlled at safe distance by a crew inside a camouflaged trailer known ‘Mission Control Element’. Although don’t be mistaken, the crew here don’t fly the plane, they merely tell it what to do, the sophisticated hardware onboard the Global Hawk enables it to fly itself and alter its flight plan to account for unexpected events. Its testers claim it actually takes off, flies and lands better than most humans, especially in the field of emergency landings.

Impressive as this is, the next generation of pilotless aircraft may soon make the Global Hawk look like a Sopwith Camel. The mysterious X-45A, also known as the Air Force UCAV, (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) will “go way beyond the Global Hawk”, according to its program manager Col Michael Leahy. They will be so advanced that it will only take one operator to oversee four of them, they will “hunt in packs”, fly in formation, and adjust battle plans as they fight. If for example one fighter is damaged, and loses its sensors, the four computers will confer about tactics and how to best utilise the remaining munitions on the damaged plane. This generation of UCAV’s will be ready for combat as early as 2008, but subsequent models may be deadlier still. Removing humans from fighters will not only limit pilot casualties, but allow hitherto unknown scope for manoeuvrability. Upcoming versions of the UCAV will be equipped to dogfight at up to 20 G’s, whereas human pilots can barely handle 9. Therefore these drone fighters will therefore have a massive advantage when engaging human pilots.

Watch Lockheed’s Promotional Video of the UCAV Sure Shot 2, complete with creepy 80s synth music.

Indeed, there are predicted to be so many unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV’s) on the battlefield of the future, that UCLA researchers are designing a portable, rapidly deployable computer network that will allow these robotic agents to communicate with one another. This “internet in the sky”, or (I kid you not) “Skynet” will according to Mario Gerla, UCLA professor of computer science, “enable the Navy to bring fully networked force to the battlefield… This will be the ‘glue’ that holds together supporting technologies such as mission planning, path planning, reasoning, decision making and distributed real-time computing and control.”

Still requiring the ‘human element’ is The Pentagons futuristic “space bomber”, which when completed will be able to destroy targets on the other side of the world in around 30 minutes. Donald Rumsfeld, who has published a number of papers on the militarization of space, is keen to develop these sub-orbital space vehicles, which would travel at 15 times the speed and 10 times the altitude of current heavy bombers, and be capable of dropping bombs from up to 60 miles above the Earths surface. A bomb being dropped from this altitude would be so devastating that it would not even need an explosive warhead.

The US led militarization of space is at present a much discussed topic, and their much hyped ‘Star Wars’ project represents only the start of such ambitions, their ultimate and unashamed goal is Full Spectrum Dominance, land, sea, air and space. Think tank experts at RAND have recently published a report entitled Space Weapons – Earth Wars for the US Air Force. Their general thesis is that, in the near future at least, war not fought in space, but from space, and gave a number of recommendations for development.

These included directed energy weapons – space lasers which use millions of watts of energy that if fired at a certain wavelength can easily destroy targets on Earth. More powerful still is the ‘thunder rod’ or ‘orbital railgun’. This is long, slender kinetic energy weapon contains an electromagnetic rod, which is propelled at hypersonic speeds when the electromagnetic coils surrounding it reverse polarity. These ‘rails’, when fired at near vertical trajectories, would have an effect similar to hitting the earth with a meteor.

Bruce Gagnon head of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, has grave concerns about these developments; “While we accept some aspects of militarization of space for treaty verification, confidence building measures etc, we are firmly against military space technologies that are used for conventional war fighting” and stresses “No nuclear power in space for any reason”. Gagnons concerns about orbital nuclear reactors are certainly justified, if a reactor similar to the one in NASA’s Cassini space probe (which contained 72lb of plutonium), exploded in the upper atmosphere, it would spread enough radiation around the world to cause fatal cancer in up to 5 billion people.

Within the last few years, China has expressed the desire to establish a military base on the Moon, supposedly to exploit its mineral resources. Within the last month, President Bush pledged $447 Billion to establish a Base on the Moon and send and American to Mars. Against US wishes, Europe plans to launch its rival to the GPS satellite system, Galileo, while India increases funding to its own space program to send up its own spy satellites. Once one nation decides to militarise space, it only stands to reason that others will follow.

Some experts foresee extra-terrestrial military developments such as anti-satellite weapons and space mines, but could warfare on Earth actually spill out into space? As mentioned earlier, Boeing are currently researching a means to create anti-gravity, a discovery which may well revolutionise the world of transport and space exploration. As Boeing is also a leading arms manufacturer, we can also assume that this technology will have definite military applications; once the technology matures it could be used to create artificial gravity on spacecraft and space stations, which would in turn allow space launch systems for smaller crafts. The rest as they say, is anyone’s guess.

Much of the technology discussed here will be matured and fully functional within our lifetimes, most of it within the next 25 years. Beyond this we enter the realms of pure conjecture, and like our great grandfathers at the turn of the 20th century, can only speculate about how wars will be fought by the time this one draws to a close.