Integrated Battlefield Communications and Information Systems of Tomorrow

I wrote this some time ago and in thought it might be worth revisiting-

The secret of successful military operations has always been communications, commanders at all levels need to know what their troops are up to in order to effectively direct them- the more information, the better the decisions that can be made. In the twenty fourth century every soldier, vehicle and aircraft is networked together, from the electronic sights on an infantryman’s weapon to the sensors from remote drones, all this information can be accessed by a battle field commander at any time. A few key items of equipment have changed the way soldiers operate in the field-

The Live Map

Flexible display technology has changed the humble paper map to a foldable screen capable of streaming live data from all battle field sources, friendly units are displayed using the standard IFF system in real time with the traditional map data overlaid by satellite imagery and at any time the user can zoom out to a world view or in for a grunts eye look at the terrain, think Google maps on steroids. All operations are done via touch screen and a commander with the relevant permissions can do everything from request artillery to ask an individual soldier to scope a target using his battle sight. The map itself can be folded down to pocket size and out to about 1m by 1m.

Helmet Targeting Systems

Hitting a target with an infantry weapon of any type has always been difficult, optical sights have helped but in the end it comes down to practice and training that determines the amount of damage a soldier can do with his personal weapon. Technology has tried to improve this accuracy by bringing similar heads up technology found in aircraft to the individual grunt. All weapons’ in the modern arsenal have electronic sights that have their targeting slaved to a moving cross hair that is displayed on the visor of the helmet. Additional information is also available on the helmet visor; direction, objectives, threat queues, waypoints, ammo supply and IFF designations. Night fighting capability has also been enhanced by the improved low light vision capabilities which further increase the soldier’s ability to fight in all kinds of light. Unit commanders can designate targets and hand them off to selected units/soldiers for them to engage. If you think of a current day fighter pilot and their heads up technology being integrated into an infantryman’s helmet.

Identification Friend or Foe

Getting smoked by your own team was always an issue, as the weapons got more powerful and the battlefield more chaotic the chance of mistaking your guys for their guys became more and more likely. Modern weapons are integrated into the overall command network and their electronic targeting systems can identify if the target is friendly or not and then disable the ability to fire. Commanders can also set weapon states centrally, a cease fire order can be implemented immediately by locking all weapons’ on a battlefield, civilian casualties can be avoided by proper designation of targets using multiple sensors and assaulting across friendly fields of fire is less dangerous (although should still be avoided). IFF has proved invaluable in urban and close combat situations where sorting out the enemy from the civilians and the friendlies is always difficult.

Integrated Command and Control

To bring this all together and sort through the massive amounts of data generated requires a command team that has access to some very advanced technology. To illustrate a battalion task force command team will have dedicated data analysts for each platoon, their job is to manage the flow to and from the platoons and ensure they are on track and on mission. The data team report into the battalion comms officer (SO6) and ensure the battalion command team are receiving relevant and timely data. The intelligence officer (SO2) is also feeding information into the network by tasking assets such as recon and battlefield RPV. Logistics is using the supply usage data to plan and execute resupply while the operations officer and his planning team are ensuring the battle plan is running smoothly. In the middle of all this, the Battalion Commander is directing the course of the operation and making decision based on the information being delivered to him by the team. The whole command team can number up to forty people, some cases these can be located in orbit or split amongst several command posts or vehicles depending on the unit or operation. HMAS Kapyong, one of Australia’s orbital landing craft, has a battalion command centre capable of running a complete command team from orbit.

– John Wallace

Tomorrows Infantryman

What will be the main advances for the infantryman of the near future? Given that whatever whizbangery the boffins come up up with it will still be the job of the average grunt to head off into harms way an weed out the bad guys. Current conflicts have shown that you can drop as many smart bombs as you like but it still requires a pair of boots to finish the job. The main concern for most infantry is how much gear they need to carry, instead of lightening the load most are now carrying more than their cold war cousins if the 70s and 80s. To fight effectively a soldier needs to be as light and agile as possible while still carrying the basics of ammo,water and weaponry. One thing is certain, we need to help the poor fellow below lighten his load.

Here are a few guesses that could become part of the standard kit in the future-

1. IFF- Each soldier would carry an IFF transponder which would identify him as friendly to all his comrades, his name, weapon load out and perhaps health status would be shown on hemet mounted HUD systems and Blue Force Trackers. IFF transponders would be “locked” to the one soldier and if removed become inactive. Eventually they would be inserted under the skin a little like we do for pets.

2. Caseless Ammunition- The Germans perfected this in the 80s but due to the cost and the unwillingness of NATO to tie itself to one manufacturer it never took off. The advantages in weight and the ability to keep a weapon sealed from the outside are pretty obvious.

3. Rail Guns- The whole question of chemical propellants could become irrelevant with the adoption of rail gun technology. Rounds are delivered downrange by the use of magnets which drive the projectile at high velocity along a series of rails that take the place of a traditional barrel. The beauty of this system is that it is scaleable from pistol to tank gun requiring only more power to propel the bigger rounds. To run a rail gun in a tank is possible now, the power can come off the engine small arms will need some advances in portable power cells to enable their deployment.

4. Full Body Amour- There will come a time where technology will allow us to outfit our infantry in full suits of bullet resistant material. This in itself may pose some issues which may need to include some sort of active cooling, something that may have a side benefit of reducing a soldiers heat signature. The next advance on this would be the fully powered suit, a whole new ball game as this would allow for larger weapons and more equipment to be carried. Initially powered suits would be large and cumbersome, used only in a support role at platoon or squad level.

5. Networked Warfare- Every element on the battlefield from the helmet/sight cam of the grunt to the RPV flying autonomously over the battle. From the orbital operations centre to the sight picture from the sniper team hidden in an overwatch position. The huge amounts of data will require both human and machine to manage an give commanders the most useful information to enable them to make decisions quickly, the side with the best information management will be the side that wins. At section level there would be a data analyst who would operate remotely either in a mobile command vehicle, from orbit or maybe even a continent away in a regional command centre. These guys would feed mission data, manage resupply and medical, ensure mission objectives are clear, handle request for artillery and air support plus generally work with the section commander to give them the best possible chance to succeed, ultimately the goal of the analyst is to cut through the clutter and enable the field commanders to make the best decisions possible. I see the role as similar to mission control at NASA, every aspect of the section is monitored, health, ammo, food and morale.

6. Active Camouflage- Technology is advancing to the point where the future soldier will have uniforms that change colour to match the surrounding environment, not only blending the visible but masking the infrared as well, although probably not the invisibility cloak as seen in the terminator films, it will come close to making a soldier difficult to detect especially when not moving and gone to ground. Vehicles will be given a similar treatment using chameleon paints and coatings teamed with active camouflage nets and heat dampening to make them harder to lock onto. Ground warfare will have similar tactics to air warfare with heat and stealth becoming very important, avoiding a lock on by the other side will become a primary goal. As part of the active camouflage suite will be sensors that warn the soldier when they are being hit by enemy active sensors very similar to a fighter jets radar warning system.

7. Programmable Ammunition- Rather than multiple rounds to do different jobs the soldier of the future will be able to program a grenade from a grenade launcher or a shoulder fired rocket to act as either a high explosive or armor piercing round, he will also be able to designate air burst or direct attack. This ability will be teamed with a fire and forget ability, designate the target, define the type of effect you want and pull the trigger. Weapons will be able to determine vehicle or personnel targets and automatically configure themselves for the best results. With the introduction of rail gun technology weapons down to heavy sniper rifles will have the ability to use fin stabilized smart rounds to improve their lethality and accuracy. Currently the Javelin missile is a good example of what this capability can deliver, as technology advances this kind of guidance will get smaller and more accurate.

8. Robots- Already we are seeing more and more remote vehicles operating on the battlefield. Tomorrows wars will have more and more robotic and remote operated equipment entering service even at squad or section level. Each squad may have a number of small robotic flyers that they can deploy to give information on surrounding terrain, a birds eye view of the battlefield. They would be able to operate un guided or be tasked to investigate specific locations. Robotic scouts wheeled, tracked or even walking may be sent forward to scout the battlefield. This increased use of robots would lead to the need to give the ability to conduct a counter robot mission, the first contacts of a modern battle may be between remotes and robots rather that human soldiers. The ultimate goal of using these unmanned and robotic gadgets is to provide the best information possible and to save humans from entering into harms way for as long as possible, if a robot can scout an enemy position, why risk a human? Robots would also make an appearance in the form of “mules” carrying gear and heavy weapons, following the troops onto the battlefield and operating as med evac vehicles as needed.

9. Contractors- More and more of todays warfare is being outsourced, this would not change in tomorrows war either. As nations find themselves stretched both politically and logistically they will turn to the contractor to run their wars for them. This will become even more common as the human race expands into the stars, communication will be slow, colonies from multiple nations will share new worlds, a desire for independence from earth will eventually need a military response and corporate settlements will need their own military and security. How far we privatize the military will depend on how much control governments and corporates can wield on forces who have no allegiance to a nation or cause, there will always be a need for larger nations to maintain military forces but for smaller countries the option may be to outsource their whole defense force.

With the release of Tomorrows War the opens up a whole galaxy of opportunities for simulating the conflicts of the future, the speculation here are just my ramblings and crystal ball gazing, who knows, none of this may actually come to pass, the wars of the future may be conducted wholly by remote or we may fight them in cyberspace but for he war gamer the fun is fielding some great looking miniatures with some whiz bang weaponry and seeing who wins. The only limitation is your imagination and perhaps your budget.

– John Wallace

Cosmographer 3

I am a Traveller nut, back in the early eighties I purchased the original three book set and never looked back. Being a Traveller nut I love maps, after all it isn’t Traveller without some good maps which leads me to Pro Fantasies recent upgrade of their Cosmographer plugin. If you want to map out anything from a galaxy to a deck plan this software does it easily-

The sector map of the Spinward Marches took thirty seconds to generate and it looks fantastic, ahh Regina, jewel of the Marches.

Fractured States

Recently I have been thinking about some future war scenarios involving my wartime miniatures australians, Tomorrows War is on it’s way so getting some plausible and interesting match ups has become a bit of a work in progress.

Scenario One-
2027: After a disastrous war supporting US forces in Taiwan against the Chinese, factions of the Australian military stage a coup ousting the government of the day. The legitimate government reforms in Melbourne and builds a considerable military out of reserve and conscript forces. The military government consolidates it’s power in Sydney and begins to send forces south to deal with Federal Forces beginning to move up the Hume Highway in an effort to retake Canberra.

Several skirmishes follow with the older less well equipped Federals being taught some hard lessons by the better equipped and trained regular forces. During this time the Federal Government was formally recognized by the UN and a blockade of east coast ports was put in place by a multinational naval force comprising US, UK, French and Japanese ships. Eventually, after several months of bitter fighting, Military Government forces push across the Murray River an begin to plan the final battle for Melbourne.

At this time the UN passes resolution 675, the formation of a multinational force to contain the fighting and force a ceasefire. Immediately US carrier based aircraft begin to hit the Military Government forces causing them to fall back out of range of the carrier planes. Stalemate holds until multinational forces land in both Melbourne and on the south coast and attempt to push inland in an effort to cut supply lines to the Military forces.

Seeing their supply starting to dwindle plus having to face both UK and US forces the Military Government approached China for assistance. After beating off the US lead coalition and retaking Taiwan, China was more than happy to support with weapons, training and a support force of it’s own which it begun air landing into Sydney.

I figure there would be perhaps some changes in technology such as a replacement of chemical propellant with magnetic technology such as main tank rail guns and even personal weapons powered by magnetics. I would figure there would be at least caseless ammunition. Definitely we would see advanced comms and headsup displays as well as even more extensive use of remote and robot sensors. Some great opportunity to pit western style forces against each other with the added wildcard of the now advanced Chinese.

– John Wallace

A local revelation

I usually purchase direct from miniature manufacturers, especially my 20mm modern stuff. Recently I started dealing with Battlescape an Australian online retailer based in Cunungra in Queensland. Strangely enough that was also the location of the Australian army jungle training facility, but to the point; if you want good pricing on par with the overseas pricing plus reliable and friendly service go to-

– John Wallace

Sport and the over fortys

I love playing football. There comes a time in everyones sporting career when reality bites. Last week I was playing my traditional defenders role and clearing the ball from the goal area when I was tackled from the side by an opposition player, result- broken tibia and fibia plus a world of hurt. I was operated on and they inserted a metal plate in my leg plus some k-wires and some kind of “bone cement” which negated the need for a bone graft from my hip.
In short, seven weeks on crutches the first two or three spent on my back living on the lounge room couch as I can’t negotiate the stairs. This serves as a warning to those wishing to extend their glory days a little further than they should, exercise is great, team sport is a blast but playing against guys who are half your age is only going to end in tears.
The future is not a lot of painting for a while and a he’ll of a lot of laying around being useless.

– John Wallace