Vision 2025 Weapons of the Future
As computing power and speed increases, new weapons and technologies are being developed that employ artificial intelligence (A/I). Within the next ten years, the advance of “smart” technology will change the course of human conflict and mankind’s interaction on a quantum scale. The following subjects discussed in this article are a small sample of the emerging technologies that will likely be fielded within the next ten years.
Cyber-attack. Strategic penetration of an opponent’s government, financial and military systems can be used to confuse, slow or stop an enemy. Cyber-attack targets might include public utility systems and everything else from power generation, to water purification and management, to fuel refinement and distribution throughout the country.
Hacking into intelligence, industrial, financial and utility infrastructure networks, emplacing malware, and conducting cyber espionage is commonplace today and is on the rise. Formidable hacking attacks against opponent’s and potential opponent’s military and industrial complexes, financial system, power grid, diplomatic and political bureaucracy are discovered on a near weekly basis. Attribution of these attacks is even more difficult to ascertain than the attacks themselves.
On November 20, 2014, Admiral Michael Rodgers, who heads the National Security Agency (NSA) and collaterally serves as head of U.S. Cyber Command, told a Congressional panel, “The United States has detected malware on U.S. computer systems from China, Russia and elsewhere that affect the daily lives of every American.” In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Rogers warned, “It enables you to shut down very segmented, very tailored parts of our infrastructure that forestall the ability to provide that service to us as citizens.” He also stated that nation-states and other actors are conducting “cyber reconnaissance” to seek out and identify U.S. vulnerabilities, thus providing them a means to catalog vulnerabilities and prioritize attacks. “We see them attempting to steal information on how our systems are configured, the very schematics of most of our control systems, down to engineering level of detail so they can look at where are the vulnerabilities, how are they constructed, how could I get in and defeat them. We’re seeing multiple nation-states invest in those kinds of capabilities,” he noted.
In related testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller recently stated, “The cyber threat will equal or surpass the threat from (radical) terrorism in the foreseeable future.” Both government and industry cyber experts predict a devastating cyber-attack resulting in significant loss of life and financial damage will occur against the U.S. by 2025 and it will be done through keystrokes and computers. Powerful firewalls, encryption and light-speed counter-attacks are the only countermeasures on the horizon.
Automatous artificial intelligence will navigate, interact and operate side-by-side with humans in all manners imaginable. This will be coupled with various robots that can rapidly assemble-reassemble themselves into a variety of configurations by teaming with other robot specialists to meet specific operational requirements. The potential for warfighting applications are as infinite as are the applications to improve the human condition. As artificial intelligence advances exponentially, Japan is preparing for the mass commercialization of hyper-real robots (androids) that will, for example, replace TV news readers, receptionists, fast food order takers, restaurant servers, teachers and some categories of skilled workers. It is anticipated that, within the next ten years, androids will become so real, that humans will take them as sex partners and live-ins as these fully independent “humanoids” become nearly indistinguishable from humans in looks and behavior.
TALOS. Before realizing mature hands-off artificial intelligence, TALOS will be fielded. TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) is a robotic exoskeleton that the U.S. Special Operations Command is currently working to field as soon as technically possible. Stated TALOS requirements are that it must be bulletproof, weaponized, have the ability to monitor vitals and give the wearer superhuman strength and perception. The 1st generation suits currently being tested comprise interactive layers of smart material coupled with sensors that are
Development of the TALOS suit is a remarkably collaborative effort shared between the national laboratory complex, a variety of U.S. government agencies, numerous universities and industry. They are working to develop a climate controlled, powered exoskeleton that provides the wearer super-human strength, full-body armor that can be scaled to defeat a
particular threat level, and interactive situational-awareness displays. SOCOM plans to field a TALOS independently operational (internally powered) combat suit prototype system by 2018.
Beyond unanticipated developmental costs, there are a number of scientific and technical development issues that may slow TALOS’s realization. Because some of the TALOS technologies simply don’t exist today, a number of scientists and engineers close to the project believe that TALOS, as envisioned, probably can’t be achieved before 2025. TALOS technologies needing development include next-generation full-body ballistic armor materials, powered exoskeletons for mobility and agility, conformable and wearable power generation, suit thermal management, computers, communications, antennae, and real-time combat-ready displays with non-traditional information presentation, as well as embedded medical monitoring and biomechanical modeling. Much of this technology must be invented and that is being achieved by a number of different developers. Interoperability of these newly developed components is also a challenge rivaling the modules composing the International Space Station. Power generation is perhaps the biggest problem, because there is currently no self-contained, lightweight, low-bulk, wearable, power generation system adaptable to TALOS’s anticipated power demands that keeps the suit light enough to remain agile. That said, we are optimistic that TALOS will become a reality, and in doing so advance the potential of cyborg and android warfighting robot specialists.
Soldier-carried laser weapons. The future warfare environment demands the addition of effective non-kinetic weapons. That translated means a soldier-carried (non-kinetic) directed energy weapon. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded national weapon laboratories like Los Alamos, Sandia, and Laurence Livermore, university applied physics laboratories, as well as private industry, to develop and weaponize directed energy technologies for battlefield use.
Directed energy technology increases exponentially as does today’s computing power, its close relative. Many think of directed energy in terms of microwave beams or visible light spectrum lasers, but the directed energy weapons of tomorrow may consist of a mix of many, giving them effectiveness requiring countermeasures so sophisticated and/or expensive the enemy won’t attempt them.
There are a multitude of directed energy possibilities that are being considered for use as a soldier-carried battlefield anti-personnel weapon (See www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ADA476320.pdf). Developing an affordable battlefield laser weapon small enough and light enough for individual soldiers to carry, challenges the Law of Physics that universally dictate what is and is not possible. These emerging technologies all have pros and cons with respect to capability, reliability, lethality, legality, portability, power requirements, sustainability, maintainability, produceability and cost.
Electromagnetic rail gun technology. Unlike a coilgun, which employs a series electromagnetic coils wrapped around the gun barrel that are sequentially energized at precise times to move the projectile down the bore, a railgun uses two bus bars (rails) to conduct the current lineally along the barrel (not bore) through a cross-connector (armature) that turns the current from one rail and back down the other. The force generated is analogous to that of the hydraulic force that straightens a curved fire hose. Railgun-fired projectiles ride the inside of the launch barrel in a sabot – the projectile itself is not in contact with the barrel. As the projectile exits the barrel, the sabot is stripped away from the projectile by aerodynamic lift, and the 60 to 80 pound hyper-velocity projectile is on its way to the target at speeds exceeding Mach 10. A typical target can be a missile, a floating platform or something land based. The importance of this emerging railgun technology to the future battle-space is that it provides a single weapon with a multi-role capability. Its elimination of propellant, high capacity (deep magazine), and low engagement cost, along with its minimum requirement for kinetic kill energetics, significantly reduces it logistics tail. Its precision accuracy in air and missile defense, counterbattery fire and surgical strike, additionally offer a low potential for collateral damage.
Current railguns are large systems that require large power generators and capacitor storage banks. Using current technology, a land based system would require two mammoth M1070 tractor-trailer units that each carry generators, thermal management apparatus, a battery unit and pulse power unit. These two trailers plug into a third tractor-trailer unit that carries the railgun, ammunition magazine and fire control system. This railgun system is based on shipboard installation requirements, where volume is less precious. General Atomics is working to reduce the size of land-based mobile systems (Navy funded a shipboard application), but for now, it’s big, but it’s also “bad!” The Railgun can shoot a multipurpose projectile over a hundred miles with pinpoint accuracy several times a minute. Future versions can even shoot ballistic missiles out of their in-bound trajectory prior to reentry. The railgun’s long-range projectiles have a guided capability that gives them their pinpoint accuracy and allows them to adjust their path in flight. There are even special projectiles used for space targets that contain small maneuver-thrusters for steering/course correction in a non-air environment.
As this technology is perfected, we will undoubtedly see it shrink in size, but will it ever become man-portable? The scientific answer is that this technology will be refined, and at some point, it will become smaller, lighter and modular. It will reach a point where the Law of Physics will limit the reduction of its size and it can go no smaller. Man portability may never be attained, but robot modular portability potentially could, if such a capability was seen as operationally justifiable and cost effective. More exciting however, is the likely refinement in its accuracy and capability through the use of super sophisticated fire control computers that are interoperable with other powerful target detection and direction systems. While General Atomics flatly refuses to discuss the potential (and understandably so), there is no reason why this gun couldn’t be used to shoot hostile satellites out of space orbit (with little to no attack signature). There is also probably no reason why, if fired from a sea based, or friendly country’s mobile platforms, it couldn’t be used to shoot down hostile ICBMs during the boost stage, or the orbital phase, or take out the launch facility all together. Again, the imagination is the limit for this technology.
Rods from God. So you ask, what is a “Rod from God?” Quite simply, the rods are inert (containing no explosive) 20 feet long one foot diameter finned pole-like tungsten rods, launched from a space-based orbital platform (God), that re-enter Earth’s gravity with tremendous velocity. They are guided by the launch satellite through re-entry and are capable of striking practically any surface or sub-surface target (land or sea) anywhere on the face of the earth. Their destructive force comes from the high velocity kinetic energy they deliver on target, comparable to that of a small nuclear detonation minus the radiation. Rods from God can easily penetrate hundreds of feet into solid rock and deliver a high-energy blast, along with hyper-velocity shock wave pressures, that effectively shatters surrounding rock or reinforced concrete for thousands of feet within the shock radius. Deep underground structures (DUGS) within the blast radius cannot survive no matter how reinforced they may have been designed.
The satellite carrying multiple rods can change orbits and altitudes as necessary bringing the rods to bear above the targets selected for kinetic bombardment. It otherwise remains passively in orbit, waiting for the launch code. Once the rods are released, the time between re-entry and impact would only take a few minutes. Additionally, because the rods present a very small re-entry signature and they re-enter at hyper-velocity speeds exceeding Mach 10 at very high angles, they are virtually impossible to defend against. Countermeasures for the rods once launched have yet to be developed. The only countermeasure is to destroy the orbital launch platform prior to its launch of the rods.
While the 1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led to mutual agreement to prohibit the deployment of third generation orbital weapons of mass destruction (nukes) containing Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), it did not prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons. Neither is the Rods from God system prohibited by either the Outer Space Treaty that provides the basic legal framework of international space law specifically barring party states from placing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or to otherwise station them in outer space.
Electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weaponry. Within the grasp of most nuclear-capable states and non-state actors, an EMP weapon is an undeniable threat to modern electronic-dependent infrastructure, but is it operationally feasible without attribution and retaliation? The short answer is no. Nukes are exceedingly expensive to build and deliver and all have a specific origin of manufacture fingerprint. But can a non-nuclear EMP be generated? The longer answer is yes – and here’s how. There are a number of natural phenomena that generate EMP. Sunspots, lightening; even major earthquakes are some examples of natural EMP generators. Manmade examples are nuclear and non-nuclear EMP generators. While we’re all somewhat familiar with EMPs resulting from nuclear detonation and power grid surges, there is another non-nuclear means to explosively generate a sizeable EMP and you don’t need to be a nuclear power to build them.
An explosively-pumped flux compression generator (EPFCG) is a device used to generate a high-power electromagnetic pulse by compressing magnetic flux resulting from detonating a small conventional high explosive charge. The compression process resulting from the explosion, transforms the chemical energy of the explosives into the energy of an intense magnetic field that correspondingly produces a large electric current electromagnetic pulse. Because an EPFCG is physically destroyed by the explosive charge that is used to generate its pulse, it can be used only once. A very formidable EPFCG package small enough to be easily man-carried can produce a pulse in the range of millions of amperes and tens of terawatts, exceeding the power of a lightning strike by orders of magnitude. Most EPFCG designs require a starting current pulse to operate, usually supplied by a bank of high capacity capacitors. One or more of these EMP weapons detonated in the heart of any major city will result in massive EMP destruction and/or interruption of all systems that are electronically reliant.
Electro-muscular disabling technology. A potential less-than-lethal technology being pursued today by a small privately funded firm involves electro-muscular incapacitation. Their patented technology induces a very select waveform into the body’s spinal cord, shutting down the individual’s Sympathetic Nervous System’s “fight and flight” ability without affecting the higher portion of the Autonomic Nervous System’s (ANS) ability to keep a person’s heart beating or one’s respiration. Currently, physical contact is necessary to induce this waveform into the body but there is talk of using directed energy to induce this waveform. Obviously, if an attack on a particular part of the ANS is possible, they could likewise attack the part that controls the heart and breathing and like Star Trek, with a simple click of a switch, select a stun or kill mode. If this could be achieved using a directed energy beam, a weapon such as this could be as monumental to modern warfare as the atomic bomb was to WWII, especially if it could be adapted to wide area look down-shoot down UAV aerial delivery.
Man induced weather extremes as a weapon. California’s current drought is in its tenth year with no end in sight. Reservoirs and freshwater sources like rivers and wells are at their lowest levels in recorded history. Rationing of potable water has been imposed upon residents, and even sufficient quantities of non-potable water for farming irrigation is critically limited. Discounting the non-scientific climate change claims made by former vice-president Al Gore, these drought conditions are the result of weather patterns that man has no control over. But what if man could influence the weather, or, at least manipulate specific regional weather patterns to intentionally cause floods, drought and/or temperature extremes within an opponents’ home country or area of operation(s)? Perhaps, in the not too far distant future, man will be able to influence weather patterns by employing atmospheric chemical seeding and dynamic thermal energetic stimuli utilizing lasers and electromagnetic influence.
In 1994 the U.S. Air Force revealed a master plan they named Spacecast 2020. Among several stated objectives, the plan includes the stated unambiguous goal of weather control. The plan openly acknowledged, “Using environmental modification techniques to destroy, damage or injure another state are prohibited.” The Air Force justified its weather modification research based upon advances in (weather modification) technology that “compels a reexamination of this sensitive and potentially risky topic.” In 1997, while at a high-level conference on weapons of mass destruction, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen went on record with a revealing statement, “Others (nations) are engaging in an eco-type of terrorism,” he noted, “whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves. So, there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nation. It’s real, and that’s the reason why we have to intensify our own efforts.”
DARPA has considered a number of potential weather modification technologies over the last twenty years. Some of the open source reports point to manipulating lightening, hurricanes and earthquakes in projects code named respectively, Skyfire, Stormfurry and Prime Argus. DARPA also invested $30 million in a secret project (likely much more on the black side), code named HAARP. HAARP is short for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It works by beaming more than 1.7 gigawatts (1.7 billion watts) of radiated power into the electrically charged layer above Earth’s atmosphere known as the ionosphere. This literally boils the upper atmosphere and selectively displaces the surrounding ozone layer, allowing weather modification above a planned location. The weather extreme desired and the area targeted can be manipulated by the amount of energy used and the direction it is aimed. While HAARP’s official story characterizes it as an experimental antenna used for submarine communications (and it may well do that), but it has far more sinister applications the military isn’t revealing.
There are many more technologies that can be explored. The technologies chosen for this article show both game-changing promise and future direction. It is our sincere desire that you find this thought provoking, disturbing, or even somewhat comforting. Perhaps there is a big picture somewhere out there in the ether. If so, its boundaries need to be defined.