Future Weapons, Future Wars: Looking Beyond Conventional Prompt Global Strike

17 Oct, 2013    ·   4144

Onkar Marwah outlines the problems that remain unanswered in relation to the possible employment and manufacture of the new weapons

Onkar Marwah
Onkar Marwah
Distinguished Fellow

A host of new esoteric weapons are in various stages of development among the major powers. Cumulatively, the latter weapons systems are destined to completely change the face and techniques of future warfare on land, at sea, in the air, and when and if so deployed, from space. Their template can be discerned in the US national project known as the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS, or simply, PGS), combining the following: conventional precision-guided munitions; ‘unified-command’ structure for application; real-time computerised ‘concentric network and information-based’ command-and-control system; and robotic, kinetic, EMP, laser and hypersonic forms and means of delivery and destruction.

The overall ‘mission objective’ is formally proclaimed as the ability to inflict virtual pinpoint conventional-weapons-based physical devastation anywhere in the world within sixty minutes of a decision to that effect. As is entirely possible, some of these new-generation offensive platforms could also be adapted to deliver unconventional weapons – indeed, it would be impossible to assess before-hand whether a detected incoming hypersonic missile carries conventional or unconventional warheads. A significant number of these weapons systems are in early stages of development, some have been successfully tested in prototype configurations - and a few may be available for serial induction in advanced military forces by 2025.

Not only the US, but Russia, China, some European states, Israel, and unknown others are working on these new-age weapons-systems. Though there is little public information, India’s DRDO is reported to have embarked on experimental projects in similar areas - UAVs, hypersonic-speed systems, and in related research.
Barely a decade ago, unmanned offensive and spy ‘drones’ (famously or notoriously, the ‘Predator’, ‘Reaper’, ‘Global Hawk’ and ‘Phantom Eye’) were unknown stealthy-killer and eye-in-the-sky applications. Now the US has over 20,000 of them in its inventory – remotely controlled and spying on targets anywhere in the world.  Newer versions of UAVs the size of Boeing-747 airliners that can stay aloft 24x7 are in development and trial configurations. Further, a kinetically-fired ‘rail gun’ firing non-explosive projectiles that destroy with high-speed impact, airborne laser-weapons, and a Mach-7 hypersonic air-vehicle are in experimental prototype development – ‘Speed’, it is suggested, is the new form of ‘Stealth’. Additionally, there are plans afoot to develop and enable insect-sized robots to wreak havoc in battle fields with their ‘swarm’ numbers and invisibility. “We choose right, and we develop the 21st-century Blitzkrieg,” stresses Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative of the Brookings Institution. “We choose wrong and we create the 21st-century Maginot Line,” i.e., France’s failed defensive fortifications during World War II.
Moore’s law suggests that technology can multiply on itself in an accelerated manner and synergistically combine with other compatible but independent developments leading to exponential outcomes. The ‘Convergent Application’ of these seemingly disparate developments could then prove entirely ‘disruptive and game-changing’. In a series of war-gaming exercises in the NeXTech Project, commissioned by the Rapid Reaction Technology Office of the US Department of Defense, the following emerging technologies were identified as having the potential to affect the future global strategic environment. Based on the premise that technological dominance is a strategic choice, war-futurists are exploring the following areas for ‘Strategic Convergence’ in the military field:

• Additive Manufacturing, commonly known as ‘3D-Printing’
• Autonomous Systems
• Directed Energy
• Cyber Capabilities, and
• Human Performance Modification
The ‘traditional’ Strategic Triad consists of ICBMs + Bombers + SLBMs. The ‘new’ Strategic Triad would envelope the latter within:
• Non-nuclear long range ultra-high-speed-and-precision missiles, offensive information networks and special operations forces,
• Active defenses against enemy missiles and aircraft (eg, BMDs) and adversarial information operations; passive defenses such as hardening, concealment, civil defense and allied tactics,
• A responsive national infrastructure that provides for research, development, testing, evaluation and production encompassing industrial and human capital to enable the continuous maintenance and modernisation of the strategic enterprise.

Many unforeseen problems have arisen, and presently remain unresolved and unanswered in relation to the possible employment and manufacture of the new weapons. Some may be difficult if not impossible to realise at present levels of humanitarian concerns, scientific knowledge and engineering skills. Analysts and strategists are grappling with the attendant issues, some of which are:

• Cultural/humanitarian/legal, eg, how many would one, or the adversary, be prepared to kill – and in what circumstances?
• Situational, eg, autonomous systems/robots gone rogue?
• The astronomical costs involved in developing and deploying the new-weapons-systems.
• Many of the new technical applications are untried and appear to be beyond presently-available production skills.
• What if some of the less expensive but extraordinarily lethal new-weapons technologies became available to proficient, small non-state non-traceable dissident/fanatic groups?

Despite the insurmountable and the unknowns, a brave and terrible new world can be imagined where global, all-azimuth, swift, accurate and massive destruction capabilities become operationally possible in the next 10-to-15 years. In such an approaching strategic environment, differentiating between friend and foe, attack from defense, or defeat from victory – indeed, a state of peace from the imminent likelihood of war – may also be rendered impossible.

Skeptics could keep in mind the words of the philosopher Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the world, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”