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