2020/02/15

Disruptive technologies

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Just a couple musings of mine in no particular order:

Hypersonic missiles (SRBM to IRBM equivalents)
I don't think that these are really an indispensable technology to an advanced military. Hypersonic missiles do roughly what can be done with (quasi)ballistic missiles as well, and cruise missiles are another substitute.
Rating: 0

Hypersonic missiles (anti-tank HVM)
I still regard missiles that mimic APFSDS as a thing to pursue instead of putting faith on imaging infrared seeker ATGMs such as Spike & Javelin. Likewise, I don't think that the delayed but apparently revived push for (long) tank guns bigger than 120/125 mm calibre makes much sense. Their advantage is almost entirely limited to greater APFSDS performance, which can be had through a few HVMs. I still prefer a battery of six protected HVMs in combination with a high elevation rapid fire gun in the 75...90 mm range for a succession of the MBT concept. There's still the question about the long-term viability of AFVs, of course.
Rating: +1

Offensive "cyber" warfare
I don't think this is really an indispensable technology, either. It strikes me as something that seems most usable in a kind of cold war, and much less useful in times of hot/actual war. The biggest problem with the pursuit of offensive 'cyber' abilities is that governments will complement such efforts with efforts to weaken the security of electronics products with hidden vulnerabilities. It's the same as with domestic surveillance efforts. The pursuit of offensive ability will likely make us more vulnerable to the same. The net gain (if positive at all) doesn't seem indispensable to me at all. The adverse effect of offensive cyber on defensive cyber goes against the very notion of armed forces securing the nation.
It's trickier if one looks at a small power that doesn't produce much software or hardware, but could do harm through 'offensive cyberwarfare'. The question remains what's the utility in there, though.
Rating: 0

"Stealth" combat aircraft
Radar stealth is but one of many survivability-enhancing technologies and it largely prohibits the exploitation of several other approaches. This can be observed with the relatively limited EW suite of the F-22 and even the F-35 (which has no rearward-facing radar and little jamming capability).
A full appraisal of the benefits of radar stealth requires knowledge beyond publicly available information, but to me it seems as if very low observable characteristics make sense for cruise missiles, but for combat aircraft low observable characteristics (which require much less design restrictions) make the most sense.
Rating: +1 (though whatever 'disruption' potential it had was likely already realised)

Autonomous drones
Autonomous drones appear to me to be the most critical capability, though it might be very preferable to keep this Pandora's Box closed somehow. Small (down to bird-like) autonomous and smart decision-making drones capable of attack and support tasks might revolutionise land and air war in ways that exceed the impact of firearms in their significance.
I don't think that AFV-like autonomous drones will be relevant, though. To slap autonomy onto the nearly unchanged AFV recipe won't be much of a game changer, unlike swarms of millions of small autonomous drones. 
Likewise, countermeasures to autonomous drones will become important and probably the most important feature of battlefield air defences.
Rating: +3

Networks of hundreds of small satellites
The shootdown of a satellite requires an expensive munition or very, very powerful lasers. A network of hundreds of satellites priced at 250,000 € or less (as expected for the StarLink network) could prove very important in a cold war of ideas (in which we really should be superior if we don't fail badly) and still very useful in a hot (actual) war. Such networks could give uncensored internet access to oppressed countries (particularly if we can add a comm laser uplink option that would be hard to detect for oppressive regime forces). This could drastically change the future of mankind and hugely increase Europe's 'soft power' where it matters the most.
The Americans are leading in regard to networks of small satellites, but Europe might catch up, hopefully with less delay than with GPS-Galileo.
Rating: +1

Human body enhancements
Enhancements of physiology and 'cyborg'-ish technology like exoskeletons could improve the performance of troops, and this would not be limited to infantry and dismounted scouts. Enhanced motivation and reduced need for sleep could have huge advantages in support tasks as well. The benefits of human body enhancements for combat and scout troops would be diminished with the arrival of small autonomous drones anyway.
Rating: +1

Blockchain
LOL, no.
Rating: -3

Destructive Lasers
I suspect they may become a complement to missiles and maybe guns, but their diminished performance in adverse weather makes them unreliable. The resulting duplicity of spending on both lasers and missiles will likely turn out to be inferior to an all-missiles approach. Anti-satellite lasers might be an exception.
We might add a couple destructive lasers to our arsenal to burden threat forces with destructive laser countermeasures, though.
Rating: 0

Additional electronics to AFVs
I suspect that combat AFVs have become so horribly expensive that (just as attack helicopters) they'll sooner or later fall from favour. See small autonomous drones.
We will likely preserve some means of passive protection for vehicles, but I don't think we'll see cost-efficient line-of-sight combat AFVs (duel situation AFVs) in the 2040's. A new MBT or MBT successor would IMO be a design for the 2030's at best.
Rating: 0

Cloud computing
LOL, no.
Rating: -3

Low support requirements
A hugely disruptive development would be a force design that greatly increases the share of combatants and greatly reduces their appetite for supplies. This is conditional on a delay of autonomous small drones, of course.
Today's armed forces consist of few teeth and many, many support efforts. Less than a thousand personnel of a 4,000 personnel brigade are meant to face hostiles in line of sight, and that's supposed to be the combat formation. Combat formations have but a small share of an army's personnel.
An approach to land warfare in which 70% of the personnel are scouts or combat troops could likely overrun a modern, more 'sophisticated' force of the same personnel strength but much greater budget. This would only work till the latter has added such a presumably 'low tech' component to itself, of course.
There was widespread interest in such low support requirements concepts in the 70's and 80's, but nowadays it appears that Western army establishments have a consensus that only other, irregular, forces can operate in this way. We haven't faced a truly effective force of that kind (unlike the Russians in the First Chechen War), so there's little respect for it and little interest in adopting this as a capability.
The time window for the approach may soon close due to -again- small autonomous drones anyway.
Rating: +1

New, supposedly more "usable" nukes
I don't think they'll even only be cost-efficient compared to using a larger quantity of conventional munitions and the idea of making nukes "usable" seems like a terrible slippery slope risk to me anyway.
Rating: -2

Further top-down delegation of decision-making (not quite a technology)
Autonomous drones are an extreme case of delegating decision-making to lower levels. There are other opportunities for this, and all of them run against an officers-led army bureaucracy's self-interest. We could largely dispense with the work of (corps/division/brigade) staffs and empower junior leaders further. This might in turn lead to junior leaders not being so young and inexperienced any more, as their role would be elevated by much. 
A preferred approach of mine is to hand down merely vague, area-related orders to manoeuvre forces commanders and let them figure out (in cooperation with adjacent leaders if needed) how to accomplish their mission (and when to give up on it and report that). Two manoeuvre elements could even temporarily unite for an action and split up again without any superior HQ ordering any such thing.
Such further decentralised decision-making could also carry over to the age of autonomous drones, when superior HQs merely allocate hardware to areas and set ambition levels or other missions to the forces in ad hoc designated areas.
Drone micromanagement - with superior HQ desiring to "look" through the "eyes" of individual drones and intervene in their actions - will be a non-starter in the autonomous drone age anyway. The reliable and secure communication bandwidth requirements would be an unacceptable burden. It would sabotage the benefits of autonomy.
Rating: +3


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6 comments:

  1. How about ATGMs as the infantry's pocket, direct-fire artillery.

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    Replies
    1. That's an old concept, a longer-ranged continuation of the misappropriation of WW2 Bazooka to RPG-7 as portable infantry guns.
      We saw the use of ATGMs as anti-inantry munitions in the Falklands War and in the latest Lebanon War. I don't think it's going to be disruptive anything because such munitions are too heavy to be employed in important quantities relative to what teh arty delivers, for example.

      Tiny infantry missiles and infantry drones with warheads don't seem to take off as segments, and I don't expect much change before the rise of autonomous warhead drones in the 2030's.

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    2. Yes it has been done before, but what's
      different is how widespread they're being used by even relatively low tech rebel forces. Syrian rebels shot over a hundred a month in certain months. They're almost the new RPG.

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    3. Well, 1200 Milan were delivered to Peshmerga by Germany alone. Rebels are using what weapons and munitions they get.

      It's still not substantially different from the use of some large calibre recoilless gun, though. It's not going to force the adoption of different tactics or equipment by opposing forces.
      Careless people get killed, that's been a constant in war. Not careless infantry is largely safe from ATGMs.

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  2. How would you rate artificial intelligence in this context?

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    Replies
    1. As analysis tool nothing extraordinary, but "autonomous" drones can be considered as using "AI".

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