Technological advancements driving new military weapons has a long history. Over thousands of years we have slowly gone from slings and bows and arrows to lasers and miniature nuclear warheads. With the information technology revolution the pace of change has only increased. The profound advances in information technology that brought us the laptop and the smart phone has also spawned a whole new style of warfare. These weapons and tactics are commonly referred to as cyber and electromagnetic operations and are a growing part of war. Drones and robots are the other burgeoning technologies that promise to transform militaries and warfare in the 21st century and beyond. The use of “standoff” and unmanned weapon systems will continue to grow and this will reduce the need for large numbers of human soldiers. The future battlefields will be increasingly empty, but highly lethal places where rapid, overwhelming strikes will come with little or no warning.
10. Hunter – Killer
The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) built by QinetiQ North America is likely just the beginning of an age of combat robots. Robots can engage enemy forces without putting humans at risk of injury and death. However, there is another important reason the Pentagon is aggressively pursuing robots: money. Human soldiers are expensive to train, equip and care for. Fully 1/4 of the Department of Defense’s 2o12 budget request addressed benefits for serving and retired soldiers. Military planners hope to rely on a whole range of robots to reduce the number of soldiers by at least 1/4 within a few decades. The MAARS, armed with a variety of weapons including machine guns and rocket propelled grenades will help them achieve their goal. However, it won’t be to long before MAARS will be seen as a quaint antique as much deadlier robot warriors stalk future battlefields.
9. Ray Gun
Drones are becoming ubiquitous on today’s battlefields. For a time the U.S. military had a near monopoly over these technologies in the Global War on Terror, but this has changed. American forces and their allies in Iraq and Syria have encountered drones fielded by The Islamic State. The terrorist group does not have sophisticated, stealthy drones like Predators and Reapers flown by the United States, but even off the shelf models rigged with hand grenades can be deadly weapons. A new counter measure called the DroneDefender has been developed by a nonprofit organization called Battelle. This “rifle” uses a technique called “radio control frequency disruption” to bring down enemy drones. It sends a signal to the drone that damages its electronic components. It seems clear that drones will only become more common on the battlefield of the future. With weapons like the DroneDefender individual squads of soldiers will have the ability to defend themselves against this threat.
8. Starship Trooper
Science fiction movies and TV shows, books and a multitude of video games have thrilled audiences with soldiers sporting high-tech armored suits. The U.S. military has their own soldier suits on the drawing board and expects to field test an elementary version. There appears to be a dual track program with one track focusing on armor and sensors and the other track focusing on load-bearing mechanics like the prototype pictured above. At some point when both technologies have matured they will likely be merged into the ultimate combat suit. If these suits can live up to expectations we could someday see 100 man companies or even 500 man battalions replaced by a single soldier. A weapon system that could allow one soldier to deploy in place of entire units is still a dream right now, but such a suit is on the drawing board.
7. Riding a Rail
This weapons looks like something out of Halo or Battlestar Galactica, but it actually is very much grounded in basic scientific principles. Rail guns, unlike conventional firearms, do not use a gunpowder fueled chemical reaction to propel a projectile. Instead these cutting edge weapons use electrical fields to produce 20-30 megajoules of energy. The tremendous amount of energy can propel a projectile five to seven times the speed of sound up to a hundred miles. Rail guns are more cost effective and safer than conventional guns because they do not require the use of gun powder and high explosives. The military is hopeful that these weapons will turn out to be a real tactical revolution that can effectively engage missiles, aircraft and ships. With breakthroughs in miniaturization, soldiers could someday be equipped with hand-held rail guns.
6. Raptor – Fifth Generation Killer
The U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor is only one of three fifth generation fighters in active service around the world. One is the U.S. F-35 Lightening and the other is the Chinese Chengdu J-20. The Raptor is widely considered the best fighter ever built and perhaps ever will be built because some military analysts believe manned fighters will soon be replaced by drones and fully autonomous robots. The “fifth generation” label is a bit subjective, but is generally understood to mean a fighter with the following characteristics: full stealth, cutting edge radar, advanced avionics and networked data fusion for situational awareness. The F-22 will likely be the dominant air superiority fighter in the world for the foreseeable future. Periodic upgrades are intended keep the Raptor cutting edge even as strategic competitors like Russia and China continue to develop their own fighter capabilities.
5. Blaster Rifle
This cool looking weapon from Heckler and Koch is reminiscent of a Stormtrooper’s blaster, but it’s actually a weapon that could soon be used by U.S. soldiers. Designated the XM25, it is described as a smart grenade launcher that uses programmable 25mm ammunition. The delayed fuse technology allows a round to be customized before it is fired. When a round is sent down range to a target it will explode at the right time to inflict the maximum amount of damage. For example, instead of having to blast through a stone wall, the round can be fired over the wall and programmed to explode over the heads of the enemy hiding behind the wall. The XM25 has faced a lot of teething problems and cost overruns, but when it is deployed in combat it will make an immediate difference on the battlefield.
4. Fire Phasers!
Sadly Star Trek phasers still don’t exist, but the U.S. military is deadly serious about deploying lasers, also known as directed energy weapons. These futuristic weapons could be common in future battles with ships, planes and ground vehicles all sporting lasers. The U.S. Navy is testing a laser weapon system mounted on the USS Ponce. This version is a modest 30 Kilowatt system, but they have plans to test a much more impressive 150 Kilowatt weapon as soon as possible. According to U.S. Navy officials the laser weapon system, or LaWs, “has an extremely low-cost per engagement ratio,” which means it is cheaper to shoot than conventional guns and missiles. This efficiency makes lasers an attractive option for all the services. It will not be too long before increasingly powerful directed energy weapons start to replace rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and small caliber cannons.
3. Cloaking Device
A cloaking device that renders people and objects invisible has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades. Scientists have struggled with different technological solutions without a lot of success – until now. A Canadian company called HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. has developed a classified material it says creates “quantum stealth.” This unnamed material is said to bend light to achieve real invisibility and also shields the user’s infrared (night vision) and thermal signatures. It even has the ability to obscure an object’s shadow. This technology may sound too good to be true, but it is apparently being aggressively pursued by the military’s of Canada and the United States. True invisibility in the visual and electromagnetic spectrum would represent a true revolution in warfare and effect how soldiers will be trained, equipped and deployed.
2. Spreading Some Jam
Israel’s 2007 “Operation Orchard” demonstrated the value of what’s increasingly called Multifunctional Electronic Warfare (MFEW) or Cyber/Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA.) Before sending its jets to attack Syria’s secret nuclear weapons facility, Israel used American equipment to “blind” anti-aircraft radar systems. The radar screens remained blank even as the Israeli air force streaked overhead and destroyed the facility. The latest electronic jamming technology operates passively so the enemy being targeted doesn’t even know its being targeted until the attack is well underway. The early forms of this technology were focused on countering roadside bomb attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, but innovation has accelerated in recent years. The U.S. military is convinced that CEMA will arm its soldiers with unique tactical advantages against a range of enemies.
1. Rise of the CHAMPS
The Counter Electronics High Powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project might not be as sexy as a laser mounted on a ship or a fighter jet streaking through the sky, but the CHAMP program could quietly become one of the most effective weapons in the arsenal. This electronic warfare missile is launched from a bomber or fighter aircraft and targets an enemie’s radar and data systems. However, this missile doesn’t cause any physical damage to people or equipment. CHAMP works by assaulting a target with bursts of energy that render electronic systems inoperative and allows troops and vehicles to advance without being targeted by enemy defenses. Depending on the needs of the particular operation these weapons could be used to attack a single enemy unit such as a squadron of tanks or large swaths of the enemies’ forces. This kind of weapon illustrates the growing importance of using electronic warfare to shape the battlefield in ways that can decide the outcome before the first shot is fired.