There is a great chance that future wars will be waged from the comfort of an office chair. As of the present day, troops on the ground, in the air ,on and under the sea could be fighting alongside with autonomous machines. After the successful testings of X-47/B, Northrop Grumman developed semi-autonomous drone, that is part of the US Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System, capable of flying in an integrated mode with manned aircraft, this scenario sounds realistic enough.
Drones and robots can outperform humans in many ways, especially in combat. Incapable of sensing fatigue, emotions, or any form of psychological stress, these battle machines are a dream come true for every military leader. We are entering the age of techno-warfare in which machines can take over most of the tasks considered as high-risk, too sensitive, or out of reach for humans. Although bin Laden was after all killed by a team of Navy SEALs, drones proved themselves as an indispensable tool in ‘The War on Terror’, as well as against ISIS.
For the first time US Army used UAVs in 2004 against targets in South Waziristan, Pakistan.Latter, a special unit, known as “432 Wing”, was formed to carry on tasks requiring the use of famous UAVs. We have all been overwhelmed watching videos of MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, and MQ1-C Sky Warrior in action, knowing their operators ware almost 10,000 miles away.
The rise of this technology can be seen everywhere. Commercial battle in the sky is already in full swing. Amazon and Google are competing for the market of shipment services, involving self-flying vehicles that can deliver goods to their customers in no time. Chinese manufactures are starting to take over eastern markets. Drones are the favorite toy both for children and for adults. Drone racing is becoming a popular pastime. But, it all started with military, and let’s hope it doesn’t end there.
Today only a handful of armed forces in the world have weaponized drones in their arsenal, like the US, Great Brittain, China and Israel, but many other countries are developing their own programs (according to RAND’s report named “Armed and Dangerous?”, 23 countries around the world are working on the development of armed drones) and many more are trying to purchase them from elsewhere. There is an assumption that Iran has its own copy of the state-of-the-art UAV technology, the RQ 170 Sentinetal, stealth spy drone.
The rapid development of laser guns is probably imposed by the overgrown threat from drones. Boing’s HEL MD (High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator) is a perfect example of such a weapon. Recently, the Pentagon put an RFI (request for information) for a new technology that can counteract commercial drones, potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological). Today, every technophile can build a DIY drone, or transform an existing one into a UAV capable of transporting dangerous material.
Apart from UAVs, ground forces and navies of military powers have their own unmanned battle systems, like Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), even amphibians. Large land drones are the latest in a series of robotic systems that are being developed around the world. US companies like Lockheed Martin, HDT, and iRobot are competing for contracts with the U.S. Army for the delivery of combat robots. At the same time Protector, Warrior and MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) were introduced to the U.S. Army officials, they got their rivals in Russia – UGVs which are much larger specimens of their kind, capable of moving under water.
UUVs (Unmanned Undersea Vehicles) are the story for themselves. There are such a variety of these vehicles in various stages of the development that it is hard to categorize them. They come in shapes of fish, eel, jellyfish, sea snakes, and who knows what else. Larger specimens, like M18 Mod 2 Kingfish have been in service to the US Navy for some time now, but the new generation of UUVs will be much smaller, and much harder to detect. The Ghost Swimmer, that mimics the large fish, is capable of performing ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions autonomously, while Slocum Glider uses thermal energy found in layers of the ocean where surface and deep water meet to propel itself, instead of a traditional fuel.
Another type of robots are miniature, hard to detect, insect-like drones, known as MAVs (Micro Air Vehicles), that will mainly be used for ISR tasks. The U.S. Air Force disposes of prototypes of bird-like robots that can even sneak out behind enemy soldiers and kill them by firing a single precise shot, or by injecting the incapacitating chemical in their bodies.
Imagine the battlefield with swarms of micro drones buzzing around your head, with all those flying, rolling, crawling, autonomous weponized machines, coming from nowhere, attacking you from all directions. Doesn’t that sound like a scene from the Terminator? Yet, everything already exists. It’s only matter or numbers.