Battlefield Science: Laser-Guided “Smart” Rifles

Endgadget’s write-up of the laser-guided rifle raises harrowing questions for the future of combat and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Guided or assisted targeting is not new in videogames, but it is a gamechanger in real life. In the face of computer-assisted targeting, the imperative to fire and move will likely become even more pronounced; any delay at all may allow opponents to lock on from even long distances. And even then, this target assistance module can potentially track an object moving 30 mph at a mile’s distance, so movement alone will be no protection from unseen, unerring death from afar.

While history suggests there is no end to war, and that armies in conflict will adapt to this technology, it seems hard to imagine that armies without “smart” rifles will fare very well in the interim against those armies that do. At least, until a neutralizing technology is discovered.

Modern Combat: Choppers, ATVs and hit-and-runs

Somewhat questionable source and tone notwithstanding, here’s a fascinating, almost sci-fi like description of evolving combat methods as the SAS takes on ISIS via choppers, ATVs, and guerrilla tactics.

While no one part of these tactics is strikingly new, it’s still interesting to see reports of combat forces evolving and incorporating a variety of tools and methods for the modern battlefield (and for specific tactical needs). Further, it’s a striking counterpoint to the idea that drones and robots will take over warfare in future – clearly, there is still room and demand for literal “boots on the ground.”

Finally, it is interesting to compare the combat styles and reports in the Near East as relates to ISIS with the reporting on eastern Ukraine – in one (the latter), the older notion of battlefronts, territory under control, and linear offensives appears still to hold, but in the latter (ISIS/Near East), these are much more fluid concepts, with debatable relevance.

Battlefield Science?: Internet-linked telepathy

In an absurdly sci-fi development, researchers at the University of Washington have managed – in very limited fashion, with somewhat modest results – to send a brain signal from one person to another, using the internet to convey the sender’s thoughts.

While it is obviously early days with this technology – a 25%-83% accuracy rate is hardly conclusive per se – this is still very exciting, because it suggests that the realm of telepathy (albeit internet-delivered telepathy) may not be quite so far-fetched. That having been said, the current result is very much like the first word of a language yet to be developed – before this can become useful, an entirely new lexicon of brain usage and translation signals will need to developed.

At the same time, the battlefield implications of a thoroughly useful, consistent, soundless link can probably not be overstated – a unit, reacting in real time as a single, coherent, flexible entity could be a very powerful thing, and would be much harder to ambush.

Unless, of course, they lost reception mid-firefight.

Battlefield Science: 3D-printed supplies

Word is that the US military is walking on 3D printing technologies for use on the battlefield…to print food for its soldiers.

It sounds like the technology in question has already been tested and proven in the civilian context, but that the military is working on adapting and customizing the same technology for battlefield use.

While 3D printing food has implications for all kinds of innovation, not least down the road as a survival technology, e.g. enabling distressed soldiers or civilians to harvest edible supplies in their environment and have the machine produce complex foodstuffs from them (once sufficient miniaturization advancements have been performed), the current applications are most interesting for supply chain innovations and cost savings here and now. After all, if it’s possible to provide a group of soldiers in the field the same basic ingredients in bulk and rely on their machine to churn out the necessary supplies (with water added, presumably), it saves all the effort and cost of shipping processed, individualized food halfway around the world to sustain an army.

Following the old adage that an army marches on its stomach, this is nothing short of revolutionary. If portable, sturdy 3D printing of food is achieved, it allows units to become fully self-sustaining, packs potentially lighter (as water makes up most of the weight in food), supply chains shorter, and costs exponentially lower. It adds new meaning to the concept of lightweight, high-speed, sustainable warfare.

And the craziest thing? The technology is (almost) already here.