The advancements in warfare and weaponry over the past 100 years have been astronomical. From the invention of the machine gun and the tank in World War One, to the modern air force and of course nuclear weapons in World War Two, military advancements have only continued to develop at a rapid pace in the later half of the 20thcentury and the beginning of the 21st century. These rapid changes seem to have altered the face of warfare every decade. While much of the weaponry utilized today could still be called ‘traditional,’ as global tensions remain high, nations are taking extreme measures to maintain their military supremacy by developing new technologies that give them an edge over perceived threats and enemies. With the ten new technologies on this list, all of which have been tested, or are at least in medium to advanced stages of development, the face of warfare is set to change again, and in some ways, much more dramatically and shockingly than ever thought possible.
1. Hybrid Insects
The brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is a division of the United States Department of Defense, the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems program is something truly astounding. The aim is to create almost cyborg-like insects, by implanting the bugs with mechanical devices during the early stages of the insects’ metamorphosis. From there, the insects would essentially be remote controlled and could then be planted wherever the military chooses, with the ultimate goal being surveillance on difficult to locate targets, or also as a means to enter heavily controlled spaces traditional surveillance methods would be unable to access. The thought of mechanical surveillance bugs is actually quite chilling, and could have much further implications than merely military.
2. Autonomous weapons
These are robotic vehicles, under development, that search and destroy enemy troops and equipment on the ground or in the air, without risk to friendly troops – theoretically.
How they work: On board computers interpret sensor data to identify and target hostile forces with built-in weapons. Robots may query human controllers at remote sites for the go-ahead to fire, and friendly forces may carry transponders that identify them as “friends”.
Limitations: Difficulty of quickly and reliably discriminating between hostile forces and neutral or friendly parties or objects, such as civilians, cows, trees, and tractors. Systems that check with human controllers are vulnerable to communication failures. Malfunctioning robots could fire wildly at anything.
3. Aurora Excalibur
An unmanned aerial fighter craft, the Excalibur, developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, is capable of both a vertical takeoff and a vertical landing. With the ability to reach speeds of nearly 500 miles per hour, the Excalibur can also carry numerous weapons, with plans for the full-scale model to come equipped with up to four Hellfire missiles. The first version of the Excalibur was successfully tested as far back as 2009, which prompted development of the full-scale model, a weapon that when deployed will be instrumental in very fast and discreet drone strikes and elimination of targets. Meant to fill a void between the unmanned Predator drone and the more traditional strike vehicles like the Apache helicopter, the Excalibur is expected to be fully deployed in the next five to ten years.
4. High-energy lasers
These are powerful energy beams that travel through air or space in straight lines. They travel at the speed of light and can strike over distances of thousands of kilometres.
How they work: Large mirrors focus powerful laser beams onto a small spot on the target. The heat produced burns through the surface of the target, disrupting flight, disabling warheads, or igniting fuels or explosives.
Limitations: It needs much more energy to do damage than bullets, which destroy targets with their momentum. Powerful lasers need fuel or electrical power and are also very bulky (the US Airborne Laser fills a Boeing 747). Travelling through air and turbulence can disperse the energy of the beam.
5. XM25 Grenade Launcher
The XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System is a semiautomatic grenade launcher utilized by the American Military that has the distinction of being nicknamed the Punisher. The Punisher was developed to better destroy targets that were either hidden behind cover or even dug into trenches, below ground. The XM25 also fires grenades that are programmed to explode either mid launch on their way to the target, or within the proximity of the target. Because the grenades also explode in an airburst, they will detonate, and then track the distance travelled towards the target and detonate again. The XM25 was tested in Afghanistan and is expected to be fully employed by the military late this year.
6. Space-based weapons
Space is the ultimate high ground, so weapons in orbit would have the ability to see and zap anything on the ground, in the air, or nearby in space.
How they work: The main mission of space-based weapons would be to defend against ballistic missiles fired at targets on Earth. Fleets of interceptors or battle stations would be stationed in orbit, poised to fire at any attacking missiles. The leading approach now is solid projectiles – such as tungsten rods – that would impact missiles. But laser battle stations are also under consideration.
Limitations: The technology is immature. Reaction times must be very fast. Interceptors must hit warheads to destroy them, which is difficult. Lasers also need chemical fuel or electrical power which is not readily available in space.
7. Hypersonic aircraft
Launched from a standard runway, a hypersonic aircraft could fly faster than Mach 5 to strike anywhere in the world within two hours. It would also have enough thrust to deliver a satellite to low-Earth orbit.
How they work: To get off the ground from a runway, a hypersonic plane would either hitch a ride on a conventional plane, or have its own conventional jet engine. That engine would carry the hypersonic craft to an altitude where air density and resistance are less. Here it would reach supersonic speeds and then shift to its scramjet engine. The scramjet scoops up air and mixes it with fuel so it burns as the mixture flows through the engine at supersonic speeds. This means scramjets can achieve some of the speed of a rocket without having to carry heavy oxidiser (to mix with fuel), as rockets do.
Limitations: The technology is immature, with many engineering issues unresolved. Scramjets engines can not start until the plane flies faster than the speed of sound. Plus, hypersonic flight has so far only been demonstrated for small unpiloted craft carried to high speed by other vehicles – and other planned experimental craft are too small to carry a pilot.
8. Active Denial System
Millimetre-wave or microwave beams supposedly make people flee injuring without them. They might typically be powered by a generator fitted to a Humvee, in crowd control situations.
How it works:A 2-metre antenna and mobile generator produce and aim a beam of 95-gigahertz (3-millimetre) radiation. The top 0.3 mm of skin absorbs millimetre waves, causing intense pain within five seconds, so people flee quickly, if they can.
Limitations: Serious injury is possible if people cannot escape from the beam; skin burns within minutes. The beam also superheats metal objects like coins, earrings, or spectacle frames, which can then burn skin.
9. The Railgun
An electrically charged and powered massive projectile launcher, the Railgun’s technology can theoretically aid in launching aircraft into space. As a weapon, the Railgun has been built and tested to fire non-explosive ordinance at extremely high speeds, faster than the speed of sound in fact, in order to be used as anti-aircraft and anti-missile weaponry. The technology to fully support the Railgun is still being developed by the U.S. Navy, in particular, the need to equip naval vessels with battery power that can support the weapon, as well as the necessity of developing Railgun technology itself to slow down the speed at which the weapon erodes. This weapon of the future is firmly in the sights of the military, and there are hopes to fully equip ships by 2025.