Weapons for 2025
|Futuristic weapons are always tantalizing for military buffs, and for decades a peek into the future has always brought awe and envy for those future forces. At the beginning of the 21st century, that process is particularly interesting. Especially now that some of the cloaks of secrecy have come off brainstorming sessions that occurred between 1996 through 1997 (and most likely continues today).
While not all services have made their plans public, a meeting of minds at the Air Force University has created something called Vision 2025, a look at what warfare would look like in the year 2025. MILNET reported on this data at the time -- what was available at least.
At that time general references to UAV programs and so called "improved sensors" were about the most tantalizing in several papers written by officers ranging from young Cadets to young Lt. Colonels, reflecting the bright Air Force minds attending the Air Force's in-service think tank. For instance one such article proposed the SCREMR, part of the Hyper Velocity vehicle concept. Both technological and philosophical advances were proposed. In fact, due to technology's movement forward, some are once again looking quite relevant.
MILNET is constantly answering emails on the topic of future weapons systems and usually our answers focus generally on a particular system, not wanting to become a source for information that could be used by America's enemies in even a small part.
Given that nearly a decade has passed and that many programs are well underway or have been rejected due to budget constraints, there is little danger today in looking at certain areas within the "over-the-horizon" thinking of those fine officers. Besides, we are reminded, much of the thinking has slowly been released as documents have been declassified.
Prompted by our own public survey of issues surrounding nuclear terror and sensors, we've found that our notes have led us back to look at Vision 2025 again (the reference to several documents of interest are in our Sources section below).
This brief will look at a particular set of areas all related to overhead systems related to space-based or even space-borne attack capabilities. However, it should be noted that a number of the technologies included could be; nay should be adapted to use within the atmosphere or perhaps actually function quite well in low altitude if not zero altitude environments.
The brief will cover in some detail the envisioned systems proposed by two white papers at Air University, "Hit 'em Where It Hurts: Strategic Attack in 2025 " and " Through the Looking Glass, Global Area Strike System." The first paper actually builds upon technology concepts contained in the second, citing weapons systems and "global information systems" which appear to be central to the vision of warfare in 2025.
To be discussed in this briefing are:
DL or Directed Light (Incoherent)
The use of space based optical collectors and mirrors to focus solar produced light down on the earth for battlefield illumination, temperature changes in a small area, or even burning or melting of enemy gear.
SBL or Space Based Laser
A space-based system which aims an extremely high power laser on ground or atmospheric targets from various orbit altitudes. This technology can illuminate the battlefield with visible or near infrared light (picking a wavelength only our soldiers know and in which they can don special vision gear to allow only them to see the illuminated battlefield), alter temperatures in a small area, or also melt or burn an enemy's gear. This category includes space-based (parked in space, also known as space-earth geometry), space-borne (carried into space) or ground-based (laser emanates from a ground station and is reflected by mirrors to its target back on the ground, also known as earth-space-earth geometry).
HPM or High Power Microwave
Also known as HPMW, the use of multi-megawatt or gigwatt class microwaves to raise temperatures in small areas or to deliver a focused and directed equivalent of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) using non-nuclear weapons means.
EMP or ElectroMagnetic Pulse
Discovered in early atmospheric testing, the EMP effect can be created by using a nuclear blast high in the atmosphere (60 miles up will create an EMP effect on the ground covering an area about half the size of the United States!). A conventional version using semi-directional methodologies is much more likely and work progresses in that area.
KEW or Kinetic Energy Weapon
KEWs are also found in artillery rounds or small missiles of various types such as tank killer shoulder fire or tank fired rockets, however a space-based or space-borne weapon has the unique advantage of Mach 25 entry into the atmosphere where slowing down is a consideration instead of trying to speed up to Mach 6 or more to effect high energy displacement (armor and the warhead both react on impact like liquids at those velocities). This category of weapon also includes a rather novel approach of simply throwing large items down at your enemy, assuming you can steer and control them well enough to prevent fratricide -- think of big rocks the size of large house or a series of container ship containers being dropped onto a convoy of tanks.
BM or Ballistic Missile
An older idea, the ballistic missile is still king in terms of deliverable "throw weight" and accuracies achievable in 2025 continue to make this technology extremely useful.
NPB or Neutral Particle Beam
Much different than lasers, this beam is produced by ion stripping and is neutrally charged, making it less susceptible to atmospheric conditions, the earth's magnetic field, and penetrates deep into enemy equipment or personnel. It has the disadvantage of being required to loiter over the target as it cannot be reflected around like lasers.
ILL or Illusion
Don't laugh, there will come a time when holographs might be used to decoy or distract enemies on the battlefield, projected from space-based or space-borne projectors. An adjunct to this area is conformal camouflage that alters the reflective properties of aircraft or ground equipment to 100% mimic that which lies under or over the equipment rendering it invisible to the naked eye.
Also, the quote at the beginning of the brief makes it clear that a revolution in how we identify targets from a philosophical viewpoint must change as well. And moreover, we may need to rapidly modify those choices based upon political or tactical opportunity. Much like U.S. DoD officials saw a chance to take out Saddam Hussein and vectored bunker buster attacks at a perceived location for the leader who was deemed more important than structures or weapons systems (the attack failed unfortunately), real time considerations in future warfare may take place at the speeds of computation, requiring huge and speedy databases feeding Artificially Intelligent systems that make recommendations or are allowed to take action with only human observation taking place.