H G Wells who gave us The War of the Worlds, the first science fiction novel about Martians landing on earth, 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 created 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 always been challenges and opportunities to try out new weapons, assess their efficacy, which is usually measured in lethality with minimal loss to the user. Reagan's Afghan jihad proved the efficacy of the Stinger missile that brought down Soviet aircrafts and helicopter gunships and was the one 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 destruction of targets and victory with minimal loss of American lives.
Futuristic warfare: US Army is researching towards deploying
Brigade Combat Teams of about 2,500 soldiers, unmanned autonomous
remotely guided robotic systems and equipment meant for Future
Combat Systems by 2025.
George Bush, the Second, 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 which was first used in Vietnam (more popularly known as daisy cutters that was a 6800 kg conventional bomb that could clear enough forest space for helicopter landings) and eventually, in a variation of surveillance UAVs, Predator UAVs (drones) that killed with precision by remote control were 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 Defence is expected to spend US $ 77.8 billion on R & D. The effort has been a trend towards high intelligent warfare and precision and miniaturised weapons. The idea is to move towards a leaner military machine. For instance, even today an average US infantryman is probably equipped with the lethality and staying power of a company; apart from high quality body armour, he is equipped with GPS, night vision devices, and thermal imaging, communications systems that enable real time intelligence with which he can call in close air or artillery support against targets in all weather. It is estimated that seven such infantrymen have enough weaponry, munitions and staying power to battle off a battalion.
The trend now is towards intelligence weapons systems with precise missions that are network centric, capable of swift decision and superior performance in all echelons with fewer casualties. US Army research is towards deploying Brigade Combat Teams of about 2,500 soldiers, unmanned autonomous remotely guided robotic systems and equipment meant for Future Combat Systems by 2025. The US Navy similarly predicts unmanned, autonomous robots in the water, on the ground and in the air.
The UAV of tomorrow will be the size of bumblebees; there is current research in the US to develop devices that are smaller than birds and called 'smart dust' which are complex sensor systems not much bigger than a pinhead. Millions of such devices could be dropped in enemy territory to provide detailed surveillance and ultimately support offensive war missions. Nano weapons are the other new research weapons along with smart weapons. The American plan of reducing troop strengths abroad would be counter balanced by these new kinds of deployments.
Also by the end of 2030 or 2040, cyber warfare will move centre stage where information control of one's own communication systems and disrupting the enemy's communication, command and control will be the first determinant of military success. The Chinese have been watching these US military developments very closely to see how wars of the future will be conducted. We 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.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)