Truth is Stranger than Science Fiction

The changing concept of security influences the development of new weapons and security measures.

H.G. Wells gave us The War of the Worlds, the first science fiction novel about Martians landing on earth, and is sometimes credited with thinking up the tank in his 1903 short story The Land Ironclads. Jules Verne, after whom the French have named their elegant restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, was more famous for his science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which spoke of the first fictional submarine, the Nautilus. The Bruce Willis-starrer Armageddon was probably as real as John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Real wars have provided opportunities to try out new weapons and assess their efficacy. Reagan's Afghan jihad proved the efficacy of the Stinger missile that brought down Soviet aircrafts and helicopter gunships; it was the weapon that hurt the Soviet Army the most. The Iraq war in the time of George Bush Sr. was marked by the use of precision guided missiles (smart bombs). Nintendo Wars had arrived and the primary and reasonable aim was to achieve the destruction of targets and achieve victory with minimal loss of American lives.

George W. Bush fought more than one war, more or less simultaneously, in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the era of cluster bombs and the BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system that was first used in Vietnam. More popularly known as daisy cutters, the 6,800 kg conventional bombs could clear enough forest space for helicopter landings. Eventually, a variation of the surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) —Predator UAVs (drones) that killed with precision by remote control—was introduced in the Afghan war. Another variation of the drone, now making its debut in Afghanistan, is a pilotless helicopter intended to fly cargo missions to remote areas rendered dangerous and inaccessible to motor convoys because of road mines and bombs.

This year the US Department of Defense is expected to spend about $77.8bn on research and development. The effort is part of a trend towards high intelligence warfare, and precision and miniaturized weapons. The idea is to move towards a leaner but more effective military machine. For instance, even today, an average US infantryman is probably so well equipped that he equals the lethality and staying power of a company. Apart from high quality body armor, he is equipped with GPS, night vision and thermal imaging devices, and communications systems that enable real-time intelligence with which he can summon air or artillery support against targets in all weather. It is estimated that seven such infantrymen have enough weaponry, munitions and staying power, to fight off a battalion.

The trend now is towards intelligent weapons systems with precise missions that are network-centric, capable of swift decision, and which deliver superior performance with fewer casualties. The US Army’s current research is focused on the following goals: Deploying Brigade Combat Teams of about 2,500 soldiers, and developing unmanned remotely-guided robotic systems and equipment meant for Future Combat Systems, by 2025. The US Navy similarly predicts the creation of unmanned, autonomous robots for water, ground, and air.

The UAV of tomorrow will be the size of a bumblebee. There is current research in the US for developing devices that are smaller than birds and called 'smart dust'. These complex sensor systems are not much bigger than pinheads. Millions of such devices could be dropped into enemy territory to provide detailed surveillance and ultimately support offensive war missions. Along with smart weapons, Nano weapons are the latest being researched and built. These new weapon deployments would support the effort to reduce troop strengths abroad.

Additionally, by the end of 2030 or 2040, cyber warfare will move to center stage. The ability to effectively control one's own communications systems and to disrupt the enemy's communication and control, will become the first determinant of military success. The Chinese have been watching these US military developments very closely to predict how wars of the future will be conducted. We (the Indians) are still trundling along, unable to decide which artillery gun to buy, leave alone manufacturing one ourselves. We need to pay attention to high-tech research before our Armed forces become military dinosaurs—quaint but ineffective. This is what will separate the men from the boys in the future.

*[This article originally appeared on Mr. Sood's blog.]
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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