Wars of the future: Soldier turning Rambo

These days, new types of armaments keep emerging. Such armaments can change traditional perceptions of warring. Voices are heard more and more often that the world is on a threshold of a global war. What that hypothetic war of the future be like? How will the military campaign in Syria advance? What are the most probable geostrategic scenarios of military conflicts? Invest Foresight discussed the subjects with Dmitry Gordevsky and Yana Botsman, authors who under the pen-name of Alexander Zorich have released 32 sci-fi technothrillers. Alexander Zorich is also a most demanded national scriptwriter and military consultant and has taken part in writing scenarios for computer games, including military strategies and shooters.

– There is an opinion that current traditional military strategies have to be reviewed, especially since new types of weapons appear. Is that true? How much will wars of the future differ from wars of the past?

Dmitry Gordevsky: As a matter of fact, strategic principles of the warcraft are the most general and fundamental formula which in a way is similar to geometry axioms. Here are some of those principles:

  • forces are to be concentrated at the points of main efforts;
  • enemy groupings are to be trapped and dispersed;
  • forces are to be commanded firmly, securely and continuously;
  • enemy should not be allowed to disrupt supply lines;
  • enemy is to be mislead regarding one’s true intentions.

Yana Botsman: In the 1950s, after the nuclear weapons appeared, some armchair strategists claimed that an A-bomb will totally override the classic strategy. Nevertheless, the declassified documents of NATO and Warsaw Pact dating back to the 1960s-1980-s illustrate that at the strategic level military planning of those days very much resembled the planning on the eve of the World War I. The difference was, cavalry was replaced by great armies of tanks while enemy defenses were to be smashed by nuclear warheads instead of artillery. Generally speaking, I do not think that in a foreseeable future we may witness any revolution in military strategies. Still, warfare technology which both in Russia and the US is called operational art, is certainly evolving and this evolution is visible.

– How would those technology advancements affect regular soldiers? Will their role in military operations and combat actions change compared to the infantry of the past?

Dmitry Gordevsky: Two trends are currently apparent. On the one hand, all modern armies strive to wage non-contact warfare. That means that target detection is to be accomplished by robots while target destruction by long range firepower such as artillery, missiles, aircraft and, again, robots (drones, etc.). Non-contact warfare turns a classic warrior into a sophisticated technology operator who is located miles – or even thousand miles – away from military contact lines. That, for example, is the case of US MQ-9 Reaper heavy drones’ operators. We therefore – instead of a hip firing his machine gun Rambo – get an ordinary office IT specialist in a uniform.

On the other hand, the US, Russia and some other militarily advanced countries have launched very cost intensive programs of turning each frontline fighter (combatant) into such Rambo. Every combat-related element is now being upgraded. Assault rifles musts ensure closely grouped fire, shot guns must be more accurate and have a greater firing range, antitank guided missiles will eventually become so small-sized that would be carried by a single individual and launched off-shoulder, body armor is to withstand a machine gun bullet shot from a very close distance, while night vision systems and ultrasensitive microphones allow waging combat round the clock in any weather conditions. Exoskeleton systems save a combatant from being overwhelmed by the weight of all that magnificent war outfit.

Within the next 20 to 30 years we may see a classic combat exoskeleton with an independent power supply from fuel cells, much resembling the one shown in Avatar movie. This technology is an absolute contrast to non-contact warfare since an exoskeleton is a sound platform for launching gunfire and mounting sensing systems as well as for carrying armored protection. All of the above will be in demand in close combat engagements, in city streets, for example.

A broad scale implementation of exoskeletons will produce a specific side effect: efficiency of traditional munitions use against infantry will drop dramatically. Currently, an explosion of a howitzer projectile or a UAV mounted light airbomb disables enemy soldiers (barotrauma and projectile/bomb fragments) within 30 meters. Still, both a blast wave and a fragment injury can be effectively nullified by an advanced exoskeleton, whereas the entire non-contact warfare concept is based on the idea that armament must efficiently cause casualties to vehicles, materiel and manpower.

That allows to conclude that in 30 to 50 years the importance of a combatant may either nosedive to almost zero (in case no exoskeletons of an adequate efficiency are produced) or remarkably escalate, while exoskeletons can also replace a fair share of light armored elements.

– Will outer space become a battlefield? How far has the space militarization gone by now?

Dmitry Gordevsky: The physics of a spaceflight itself encourages outer space militarization. The higher we fly, the greater is the speed. The faster we fly, the harder it is to shoot us down, and the easier it is for us to drop on the enemy a lethal load. All ballistic missiles use space to accelerate while in the upper segment of their trajectory. In this respect, space militarization started back in the 1940s when German V-2 rockets were fired at London, whereas the initial advances to space were made even earlier, when in 1918 Germans used their Kolossal cannon to shell Paris. Kolossal sent its projectiles to the stratosphere reaching the height of 45 kilometers which is four times higher than modern airplanes can make. In the 1950s, long before Yuri Gagarin made the first manned orbital flight, designing orbital bombers and bases of missile launchers on the Moon was well underway.

In the 1960s, due to impressive space advances of the USSR, the US concluded that deployment of nuclear weapons on the orbit of the Earth will not give it any decisive advantages while may cost trillions of dollars. Hence in 1967 a treaty was signed by the USSR, USA and UK on non-deployment of nuclear weapons in outer space. The treaty froze all large-scale space militarization programs. Until late 20th century, superpowers limited their military activities by merely launching spy, communication and navigation satellites. There were also various interesting experiments. Military technology enthusiasts are aware of Skif Soviet space battle station development, and of all US’ Space Shuttles and USSR’s Buran being intended to service, if a need arises, orbital nuclear warheads. But whatever it was, none of essential military systems was ever deployed in the outer space.

Even though the 2000s witnessed a de-facto renunciation of most of peace agreements between the USA and USSR, the Death Star station is not yet flying high above our heads. Space militarization is time and resources consuming. Meanwhile China could challenge the traditional leaders of the space exploration. Nowadays, China is expanding its presence in space at a much higher rate than other countries. It may well be that it will become the first to launch a holistic orbital battle station.

– What are the most promising developments in military technologies nowadays?

Dmitry Gordevsky: If referring to long-run developments in exclusive hi-tech sector (which is potentially available to just a couple of countries of the world), I would name the following:

  • hypersonic cruise missiles;
  • hypersonic stratoplanes;
  • kinetic interception anti-missiles;
  • long-range nuclear torpedoes;
  • railguns;
  • laser cannons.

A brief description of each is below.

Hypersonic cruise missiles. These are missiles which fly in the atmosphere along a flat trajectory at a distance of thousands of kilometers from the Earth at a cruise speed of about 1,500 or more meters per second. They – unlike relatively slow-flying subsonic Tomahawk and Kalibr cruise missiles – can hardly be intercepted and shot down. Hypersonic cruise missiles can not be produced without reliable new generation jet engines. The US has since 2010 been testing its trial X-51A Waverider whereas Russia has been keeping all its developments secret.

Hypersonic planes. Those are planes flying at over 30 kilometers above the Earth at speed of 1,500 or more meters per second. They are sometimes called stratoplanes or suborbital planes. Production of stratoplanes faces even more hardships than building hypersonic missiles, but potentially they can offer tremendous advantages in effecting swift transcontinental strikes employing conventional non-nuclear weapons.

Kinetic interception anti-missiles. The first anti-missiles capable of intercepting enemy nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles, first appeared in the 1950s. But due to their insufficient interception accuracy (expected mishit could be dozens or even hundreds of meters) they had to be fitted with nuclear warheads to compensate a missile deviation with an immense explosion yield. It was over the last decades only that interception accuracy improved to make it possible for an anti-missile to be able to hit the target itself with a kinetic strike. Non-use of warheads significantly reduces threats to environment and one’s own population. That results in psychological easiness to put such anti-missiles on combat duty on a large scale. In fact, that to a significant degree was the cause for the US to eventually denounce the 1972 ABM Treaty.

Long-range nuclear torpedoes. Torpedoes with nuclear warheads appeared back in the 1960s, could cover a distance of 10 to 20 kilometers and were intended to destroy enemy submarines and naval surface ships. Nowadays though, it is not a tactical, but a strategic weapon. Trying to find asymmetric response to strengthening US’ antimissile defenses, Russia develops – or possibly imitates such a development of – large autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) which will probably have nuclear reactor as their powerplant and be capable to travel thousands of kilometers underwater to deliver heavy megaton hydrogen bombs to the enemy coastal targets. The program is presumably named Status-6.

Railgun. It is a gun that launches a projectile which is accelerated by electromagnetic force. This again is about hypersonic speeds. A projectile of an ordinary cannon can not in fact exceed speed of 1,200 meters per second, while a railgun can ensure a projectile speed of up to 2,500 meters per second, i.e. twice as high, which eventually ensures a pro rata increase in hitting range. Such guns have good prospects in the navy where nobody would be surprised with a 100 tons launcher and where ship powerplants may ensure multi-MW power supply. Until now, video recordings of a US navy railgun tests and photos of a similar Chinese products have been published. Two years ago, Russia claimed developing a railgun of its own, but no photos have been disclosed so far.

Laser cannons. This device has a long history. Beam guns and death beams were mentioned in sci-fi decades before the first optical quantum generator (a laser as such) was assembled. Nevertheless, devices of any reasonable potential and capable of delivering some energy of 1-5 MJs (equivalent of some 200 to 1000 grams of TNT) to the target, only started to appear recently. I believe by 2025 we will hear about tactical laser anti-aircraft devices being used in local conflicts, and by 2035, about first anti-missile lasers being put on duty on orbital space stations.

– How great is the risk of nuclear weapons being used?

Yana Botsman: That is quite possible. In the 1970s and 1980s, the typical option of nuclear weapons’ use was expected to be an exchange of nuclear strikes between the USA and the USSR. Nowadays, there is a high probability that nuclear weapons will be used by one of the sides of a local military conflict. It may, for instance, be used against North Korea by the US who would justify such a step by the need to destroy underground nuclear missiles launchers.

– What are other regions of likely military conflicts in the future?

Yana Botsman: The main belt of instability is presently the Muslim world, the immense territories ranging from Western Sahara to Philippines. Since the status-quo is maintained there since the 1980s, the impression may be that the situation will last forever. But most probably, once the Middle and Near East is reformatted, the leading world powers will turn to other regions. Of those South-East Asia is certainly one of the most volatile, as it is on the crossroads of warm southern seas and sea routes used by endless convoys of oil tankers and container carriers, where interests of Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Japan and the US clash.

– Is there a probability of a large-scale military conflict among military alliances? Which geostrategic scenarios are most likely?

Dmitry Gordevsky: Nowadays, there is some problem relating to the said alliances. In fact, NATO is the only stable military alliance with a long experience of coalition cooperation. All other blocks and cooperation organizations look mediocre. Hence the lack of a large military block in the east that could counterbalance and contain the West with a comparable military force, is the main present-day global destabilization factor. Therefore, the likelihood of a major military conflict does exist now and is steadily growing. Still, the parties of such a conflict will not be some military blocks, but NATO, on the one hand, and a regional superpower, on the other, be it Russia, Iran, or North Korea.

– According to media reports, one of the outcomes of the military campaign in Syria was a hike in Russian weaponry sales. What were its military results, whether ultimate or provisional, and how may the situation evolve further?

Yana Botsman: The main de-facto result of the war in Syria is the fact that Bashar al-Assad and the political forces loyal to him have preserved their power over the most populated areas of the country, whereas in summer 2015, on the eve of Russia’s involvement, al-Assad’s regime was on the verge of collapse. Therefore, for the first time since 1991, Russia has demonstrated that its armed forces are capable of changing the course of wars even at distant overseas combat theaters. In a purely military context, Russia’s efforts ensured freeing Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, and Palmira, a major hub of many roads crossing the deserts. Besides, two-year-long siege of Deir ez-Zor, a large city on the shores of the Euphrates River, was ended. The US, regretfully, also militarily penetrated the territories of Syria and therefore its proxy, the so called Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by American special operations forces, now maintain control over the areas of the country east of Euphrates.

Dmitry Gordevsky: Henceforth we have a rather pessimistic forecast for the further situation development. The US will attempt to push Russia and Iran out of Syria by exerting political and military pressure, aiming to ensure free hand for the Syrian Democratic Forces and ultimately dismantle al-Assad regime. To be more specific, military strikes against Syrian army will be the Americans’ responsibility, while SDF will serve as a convenient cover for such operations. As a matter of fact, that is the only purpose of supporting those local armed proxy groups.

– Speaking of proxies, what is the correlation between the traditional military operations and the information war activities? Is the information war concept a true fact? Or is it a useful and most probably well funded vapor?

Yana Botsman: An idea of a media war may be described quite broadly, while the hard facts are plain. Within the US armed forces, there is the United States Cyber Command, USCYBERCOM, which is composed of several infowar units (Army Cyber Command, Fleet Cyber Command, Air Forces Cyber Command). Those are media war units in the truest sense of the word. They consist of military specialists under Pentagon’s command, who are engaged in intelligence, propaganda and dissemination of false information, in the broadest context and both at times of military conflicts and times of peace.

The US pays a great attention to PSYOPS, psychological operations, or, to put it simple, to propaganda among enemy servicemen and civilians. To wage PSYOPS, there are special units and departments within the US military. It is noteworthy that for performing PSYOPS, a special modification of Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, EC-130J Commando Solo, was purposefully designed to conduct information operations, psychological operations and civil affairs broadcasts in AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands. It is a flying radio and TV broadcasting station. The equipment mounted on EC-130J is capable of identifying frequencies of enemy radio and TV centers broadcasting to thereafter transmit its own broadcasts on such bands jamming or replacing the original signals.

Dmitry Gordevsky: Military journalists rate EC-130J’s efficiency high. I read some scathing claims that in Libya, a single flight of an EC-130J was more efficient that several B-2 strikes. Since I saw photos of the Libyan airfields which were with a surgeon’s precision devastated by B-2s, I can hardly imagine a US flying TV center could cause any greater damage. Russia’s military also have various units charged with cyberwar and military propaganda, but it is hard to assess their potential.

By Sergei Shikarev

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