Article by Commander Sandeep Dhawan
History is full of situations in which smaller forces have won against larger numbers–Hitler defeated France in World War II. There were many factors, but superior weaponry was one major factor. So who would dominate the future wars? The question is fascinating. There are many trends emerging, however, technology would rule the roost. The future is scary. We are kind of heading towards dark ages, where the difference between the countries who know and the countries who don’t, would be vast and worrisome.
Not only the new weapons would change themselves, but along with that the associated tactics and operational plans would also change for good. Till some time back it was assumed that the most and highest technological progress & changes would be seen only in biological, chemical, and laser weapons. However, with fast-evolving machine learning(ML) and artificial intelligence(AI), the whole thinking has undergone a sea change. Today ground combat vehicles, aircraft, ships, rockets, etc are evolving at a very fast pace.
The topic is very vast, therefore we would have a peek into mostly the futuristic weapons of conventional nature.
IMPACT OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, MACHINE LEARNING AND 3D TECH
The change in the futuristic weaponry is being driven by three aspects Artificial Intelligence(AI), Machine Learning(ML), and 3D technology. India has one of the largest pool of AI-ready talent in the world. India ranks third among the countries with the highest penetration of AI skills, among its workforce, after the US and China. Israel and Germany are two other notable nations. Despite a huge talent pool till now India has been lagging behind other nations in AI PhDs and AI research. The push from GoI has generated a resurgence in the sector. Its effects can already be seen in Indian defence manufacturing and production. 3D technology will also play a major role in how weapons of the future are manufactured and utilized.
INDIAN FUTURISTIC WEAPONS UNDER DEVELOPMENT
The following are some of the futuristic weapon systems which are under development by various Indian agencies and should be available to Indian armed forces soon:
HAL AMCA – HAL’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft(AMCA) is a super-maneuverable multirole combat stealth fifth-generation aircraft designed for the air superiority, ground attack, bombing, intercepting, strike, and other types of roles. Top speed Mach 2.5 and service ceiling of 60,000 feet.
DRDO Agni-VI – A four-stage ICBM. Massive three-tonne warhead(10 MIRV nuclear warheads), Vis-a-vis the one-tonne warhead that Agni missiles have carried so far. Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Warheads (MIRVs) – with each warhead striking a different target and capability of Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARV) – performs evasive maneuvers confusing enemy air defence systems. A range of 8,000 km to 12,000 km.
DRDO BrahMos-II – The hypersonic BrahMos-II is under joint development with Russia. Expected speed of Mach 7 and a range of 180 miles. The missile can be launched from multiple platforms – ships, submarines, aircraft, and land. An object striking a target at Mach 6 will generate 36 times the force of an object of the same mass striking the target at Mach 1. The hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle(HSTDV) has been successfully tested in the month of Sep 2020.
DRDO Aura UCAV – The unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), is an “autonomous, self-defending high-speed reconnaissance UAV”. It has weapon firing capability”. It is expected to carry a pair of laser-guided bombs and would be utilized by the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.
DRDO The Electromagnetic Railgun – Electromagnetic gun will be supported with a laser-based close-in weapon system(CIWS). The 300 kW laser system deployed on the warship is capable of shooting down the aerial threats. In addition, the Indian Army may also get its version of laser-based systems on its combat vehicles.
THE DEVELOPMENTS ACROSS THE GLOBE
Kamikaze Drones – These hypersonic “suicide drones” tested by Pentagon would explode on reaching the target, just like a suicide bomber. They are known as the “Vintage Racer”, they are a low-cost alternative to other weapons. It would have the capability to stay close to the target for 60–90 minutes. Due to the small size, it will have a low radar signature making it more lethal.
Long Range Taser Projectile – A long-range electrocution projectile has been developed for the US marines. Standard Taser has a range of 26 ft but this one will be able to hit the target up to 100 feet away.
Thunder Generators – It is mainly designed for crowd control. An explosion is funneled into the huge resonant barrel which in turn releases a high-velocity shockwave. The powerful shockwaves are able to knock back targets up to 100 feet away. The weapon could be fatal at extremely close range.
Super Cannon – The US Army is developing a predominant super cannon that will fire rounds more than 1,150 miles. This distance is approximately the same that is between Mumbai and Jaipur. The super cannons will complement coastal and other artillery defensive systems. It utilizes low-cost ammunitions when compared with the existing defense systems.
Quantum Stealth – In the movie Predator, the entity was able to use invisible stealth technology to blend into the jungle environment around him, and when it moved it looked like the jungle itself was moving? That technology would be a reality shortly. It is called Quantum Stealth. It would bend light around the object. The result would be that the people and objects literally turn invisible to the naked eye. Soldiers would use this technology to infiltrate enemy territory undetected.
Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit(TALOS) – The U.S. Special Operations Command has developed a combat suit for soldiers, called Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). It is almost similar to the Ironman suit, an exoskeleton. It has fantastic night vision capabilities. Using this, soldiers can take on bullets & fire, and monitor the body vital statistics. The next-generation suite may come with impenetrable liquid metal.
Whale Shark-Styled Submarine – Project Nautilus 100. It is a whale shark-styled mouth and manta ray body. A combination of speed and stealth. Operate up to the depths of 1000m or more. The crew strength would be around 20 and the command the system would be based on something called – brain-computer. It would have two propulsion systems. One would be the long-range at 30Kts(pretty fast for a submarine) and another high-speed short burst for combat.
Eel Shaped Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) – This would be the main sensors and secondary weapons carried by the above-mentioned submarine. They will act like actual marine lifeform, undertaking hundreds of miles of surveillance undetected. The main purpose of these UUVs would be to create a vast network of the underwater sensor pods. These AI pods would provide battle-winning automated assessment and decision-making to the mother submarine.
Polymer Micro Drones – The abovementioned UUVs would be accompanied by micro drones. Cold saltwater-soluble polymers would be used to create these micro drones. They communicate and exchange information with each other and the eels. The sensor pods deployed by UUVs would utilize biological material from the ocean and using 3D printers continue to produce sensors. These micro drones would be undiscoverable since are designed to dissolve on completion of deployed in enemy waters. This dissolving property can also be used to render enemy platforms inoperative by blocking their intakes and exhausts.
Space Weapons – In the absence of any law prohibiting, major countries continue to work on the weaponization of space. All experts agree that the next battleground would be outer space. Space-based orbiters have two weapon options, nuclear or non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Satellite-based EMP weapon can be launched at a high altitude against an enemy’s electrical grids, satellites, as well as the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture that are necessary to conduct military operations. The EMP weapons have the capability to cover an entire country or go after specific targets. Weapons of such intensity can end the war before it begins.
Space-Based Lazers – High-energy space-based lasers (SBL) are a great option targeting ballistic missiles in the boost phase (“boost-phase intercept,” or BPI). Space-based laser platforms operate at altitudes that are well beyond the ability of the targeted country to shoot down or deactivate prior to launch.
Space-Based Rods From God(Kinetic-Energy Weapons) – These are telephone pole sized tungsten rods dropped from satellites to strike hardened bunkers and underground nuclear complexes. There are no warheads, however, the strike at Mach10 creates an impact of a nuclear weapon, without affecting the surrounding environment.
Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors(PALS) – Marine animals react to sound, optical, electromagnetic, and chemical changes in the water around them. Existing surveillance technology has the capability to assimilate these behaviors however, they are largely rejected as background noise. AI will be applied to observe patterns in the marine environment to help classify targets.
Insect Cyborgs – The weaponization of insects is still some time away but making these living beings into machines is already underway. DARPA has made real moths and beetles into remote-controlled robo-bugs and soon these insects will be able to carry cameras or chemical sensors into the field.
Force Fields – An area in front of a shockwave is rapidly superheated using electricity, lasers, and microwave radiation. An interface plasma field is created that absorbs kinetic energy from explosions and keeps the target safe.
Drones With Human-Brain-Kind Chips – The neurotrophic chip equipped drones are being experimented. The chip imitates the human brain enabling drones to act independently. These drones learn how to fly, navigate, and identify their surroundings for future use.
Guided Bullets – These bullet shells incorporate a tiny computer guidance system. The computer system manipulates tiny fins on the bullet’s surface to change flight direction. This enables the bullet to track it’s moving target as well as adjust for the environmental conditions.
MY FAVORITES – MY OWN LINE OF THINKING
Underwater AI-Enabled Self-Propelled Nuclear Missile – These would be AI-based designs. These missiles would travel on their own and sit at the bottom of the sea, just outside Shanghai, Karachi, or any city. They would be silent killers sitting at the enemy doorstep, undetected till the last moment. Nuclear warheads have a long life, over 45 years, though the other parts may need earlier replacement. Still, they could be sitting there for years and travel back to their bases only for maintenance purposes or on completion of their lifecycle.
AI-Enabled Autonomous Aircraft Carrier With Drones – Today we have drones landing on regular aircraft carriers all the time, but if it is a fully autonomous operation it would be a game-changer. The cost reduction in construction would be huge and can be utilized in procuring better sensors and equipment. The operational cycle would be endless with devastating effects on the enemy.
Moon Based Weapons – There could be two scenarios
- Visible Side of the Moon: As per the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, it is prohibited to station weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the outer space. It further bars any weapon testing on celestial bodies. Therefore, the moon surface cannot be used for the purpose of stationing any weapons, legally.
- Dark Side of the Moon: The dark side of the moon is not monitored. This gives an opportunity to a semi-autonomous vehicle in the orbit to take advantage of that and launch back toward Earth on command, unannounced. This vehicle can target high-flying strategic satellites in geosynchronous orbit. These satellite systems include intelligence-gathering spacecraft, as well as weather, communications, navigational satellites, but the most important are early warning satellites.
From the article, it is evident that automation and autonomous operations are the future, and no country can ignore these obvious changes. The ultimate amalgamation of AI, ML, and 3D technology would be when the autonomous weapon would accurately foresee threats and eliminate them before they occur.
Presently lethal drone strikes are carried out based on a combination of human intelligence and data gathering to determine whether someone or some group of people might become a threat—that is, what they might do in the future. If a missile has already been launched then the threat is imminent. But if there are pre-launch activities that have been noticed at a missile site then the data points, that a missile launch is likely. Due to inaccurate data or data analysis, there have been errors in the past, wherein innocent lives have been lost. The AI-based analysis has to improve and integrate better with the weapon system. The weapon after launch should also continue to analyze, detect errors, modify commands, update targets and engage only if the accuracy is ensured.
Countries are inching towards these capabilities. In times to come the question would not be technological, but a moral or a strategic one. The interphase of humans with machines would be another such moral dilemma. Whether we like it or not, weapons are going to be changed forever and no country is backing out from these emerging trends. The time has come to draw out a charter, spelling out the rules and regulations of this fast-emerging aspect of war-making.
Article by Commander Sandeep Dhawan
Author is an Indian Naval veteran, a pilot.
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