The Future of Warfare

From disruptive capability to increased survivability, the Indian Army seeks new technologies for a military edge

Issue: 1 / 2020By Vishal ThaparPhoto(s): By Boeing
Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project

Amidst a General view that it may have missed the bus on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), the Indian Army has listed some of its modernisation priorities to India’s evolving Defence Industrial eco system in terms of key capabilities it needs to face future challenges. There is a realisation that superior technology will win future wars, and capability delivered by a balanced Defence ecosystem will determine India’s military options.

LIQUID ARMOUR

Ceramic-based armour plates used in contemporary body armour are heavy and bulky, restricting troop movement and causing fatigue. Liquid Armour - or Smart Fluids, when integrated with standard Kevlar body armour, reduces overall thickness by almost 50 per cent, offering troops increased protection with reduced mass, wider coverage area and greater ease of movement.

Liquid Armour with unique properties of shear thickening or dilatant fluids that ‘lock’ together when subjected to ballistic force, enhances energy absorbing capacity of materials like Kevlar. When integrated with Kevlar-like materials, the Liquid Armour restricts the motion of the fabric yarn in relation to each other, resulting in an increase in the area over which the impact energy is dispersed. Consequently, this is far less likely to distort than conventional body armour, which generally bends inwards when a bullet strikes, which prevents fatality but causes great pain.

The Smart Fluids used as Liquid Armour – Shear Thickening Fluids and Magnetorheological Fluids – are non-Newtonian.

STEALTH CAMOUFLAGE

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on visual deception for long. It is reported to have made a breakthrough with ‘Invisibility Suits’. China and some other countries, too, are working on stealth camouflage.

Active or adaptive camouflage provides concealment from visual detection by adapting to the surroundings in order to achieve near invisibility for the personnel or objects to be concealed. This optical technology works by placing a thin screen between the observer and the concealed objects. Research in this field has reportedly been validated in concealment of tanks, aircraft and ships.

Tactical adaptive camouflage suits have reportedly been in use by US special forces. Current capability is reported to hide objects from microwaves or infrared waves. Cloaking devices or Invisibility Suits are capabilities of the future.

CASED TELESCOPE AMMUNITION

The ideal load an individual soldier should carry is one-third of his body weight. On a mean case basis, it should not exceed 25 kg. The actual battle load lugged by an Indian soldier today is about 35 kg, including that of the personal weapon and Bullet Proof Jacket.

The Indian Army believes that current small arms technologies have plateaued, and no game changing technologies have been introduced over the past 50 years.

But a new small arms concept based on Cased Telescope Ammunition is set to provide a breakthrough in reducing Infantry combat loads up to 40 per cent and increasing lethality. Unlike traditional brass casing, the new technology places a bullet inside a light weight polymer casing and fully encloses it in plastic. Also, the length of the polymer encased round is 30 per cent shorter than the brass-encased bullet.

But this new age ammunition is not useable in weapons that use brass shell casings. Prototype rifles and machine guns have been developed by the American company Textron to showcase the new technology. Publicly available accounts of the testing of these prototypes at the Kvarn Land Warfare Centre in Sweden suggest a 20 per cent tighter shot grouping and 30 per cent less ammunition to accomplish fire missions compared to the existing Swedish light machine gun. The prototypes were also rated higher in burst control fire, recoil reduction, trigger operation and ease of maintenance.

EXTREME ACCURACY TASKED ORDINANCE

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed selfguiding maneuverable sniper bullets with real time guidance that can change course in flight while tracking a moving or accelerating target. This promises to revolutionise rifle accuracy and range with the objective of improving sniper effectiveness. The Indian Army is looking at acquiring this capability. Accuracy is vital for sniper firing because if a target is missed, the sniper risks giving away his position, thus endangering his own life and that of his fellow troops.

The new ‘Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance’ (EXACTO) appear to function in a similar manner to laser-guided bombs. A real time guidance system for .50 calibre manoeuvreable bullets allows the bullet to change course during flight as a corrective to any factor that may lead to missing the target.

EXACTO bullets are fitted with optical sensors positioned on the nose, which can guide mid-course correction for the projectile in flight through a series of external fins. These are intended to "greatly extend the day and night time range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems" and dramatically reduce misses.

LONG RANGE MUNITION TECHNOLOGY

The Extended Range Guided Munitions (ERGM) involves artillery rockets with independent motor propulsion for greater range, speed and accuracy. Guidance can be based on the Global Positioning System (GPS) or the Intertial Navigation System (INS) or could also use Radio Frequency (RF)-based sensors to home in on the targets.

Due to high costs of ERGMS, a desirable ammunition mix can involve dumb bombs fitted with a Course Correction Fuze. This adaptation can provide accuracies better than 50m using GPS or INS, representing a big leap over accuracy expectations from dumb bombs.

LONG ENDURANCE NEAR-SPACE RPAs

Long Endurance Near Space RPAs which can fly long-duration sorties at heights of above 65,000 feet have been termed ‘Quasi Satellites’. Meant to fly in the ‘Death Zone’ which is too high for fuel powered manned jets and too low for satellites, these are intended to be low-cost alternatives to satellites.

Prototypes are being developed by Google Titan Aerospace Solara (US), Zephyr (UK) and CH-T4 (China). It is meant to be powered by electric engines in combination with solar panels. With envisaged improvement in technology of solar panels, light weight materials and increased battery capacity, the endurance of the RPAs is likely to increase from weeks into months and even years. The coverage swathe for these Near Space RPAs would be about 7,00,000 sq km, which for the reader’s reference is more than the size of Myanmar.

These could be used as a communications hub and an instrument to keep persistent surveillance over high stakes areas like the Line of Control. Other likely uses are as an Electronic Warfare platform and real time monitoring of disasters.

SWARM INTELLIGENCE

With drone swarming set to define the future of warfare, the Indian Army is seeking Swarm Intelligence capability to overwhelm an enemy.

While the concept is in its nascent stage, the basic principles are woven around relatively homogenous individual systems which can operate in a coordinated swarm for a common objective without any centralised guidance and control.

The activity of the ‘swarm’ is characterised by self-organising group behaviour based on simple rules. Interaction between the systems or agents comprising the swarm is through exchange of information either directly or via the environment.

COUNTER-REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (CRPAS)

An asymmetric and indeed disruptive threat is posed by the rapid proliferation of small, slow and low-flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) which provide even poorly equipped combatants with aerial command of the battle space.

There are lessons from Syria and Iraq, where about half-a-dozen militias used RPAs to lethal effect, confounding battle hardened commanders. More recently, RPAs were used to deadly effect in Saudi Arabia to cripple a major crude refinery.

Traditional air defence systems which are geared to detecting fast moving manned aircraft or missiles are found to be ineffective against RPAs. That’s the critical void for the CPRAS to fill. CRPAS can be handheld, ground based and even mounted on UAVs. The last category is meant to interdict unmanned threats from the air from close proximity.

For CRPAS detection systems to be useful, these must trace all RPAs but not be so sensitive that they confuse even birds for a target. An overwhelming number of false positives can render the system unusable.

In future scenarios where legitimate UAV use is common and widespread, CRPAS detection systems would be required to differentiate between legit drones and potential threats.

DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS

Among the non-contact weapons which will define the future of warfare, Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) for non-kinetic destruction of targets will have a key place. DEWs comprising high power lasers, high power microwaves, charged particle beams look set to be used to destroy a wide spectrum of targets spanning the tactical, operational and strategic domains.

These weapons will generate electromagnetic energy that can be precisely directed over long distances to disable or destroy targets. These will enable lethal direction of force at the speed of light. Unconstrained by gravity or atmospheric drag, directed beams will be an extremely accurate weapon.

DEWs are expected to redefine futuristic Air Defence Systems to protect Vulnerable Areas & Vulnerable Points, with the use of static and mobile laser or high-power microwave weapons to intercept missiles and hostile aircraft.

These transformational weapons also have an application in sub-conventional warfare and counter-terrorist operations. The world’s leading military power is known to have used High Power Microwave to neutralise or disable communications and electronic systems and IEDs used by terrorists. The kill mechanism is Microwave energy rather than explosion as with conventional weapons. The footprint of Microwave munitions is said to be at least 100 times greater than conventional weapons.