A-INFOS NEWS SERVICE
From space platforms to electronic warfare
By Maurice Najman, Le Monde diplomatique, February 1998
Arms and munitions are now no more than part of a larger complex whose elements are continually interlinked, programmed to communicate automatically. The aim, according to Admiral William Owen, is to transform the American armed forces into a "system of systems". Each combatant, each weapon system, each information system will be connected to a kind of gigantic Intranet (1) which will make processes available in real time (multimedia messaging, automatic warning systems, aids to the user, for analysis and for decision-making).
These developments are the fruit of the tremendous progress already made and foreseeable in the technologies of information, materials and structures, energy and propulsion, and life itself (2). To take just one example, by the 2020s the leap forward in microelectronics is expected to allow number-crunching power to be increased 100,000 fold and digital information storage capacity by 1,000 to 10,000 fold.
Global battlefield surveillance
Global surveillance of the battlefield is a decisive strategic prerequisite for using the information obtained in several dimensions to simulate, prepare for and engage in combat. The increasingly accurate digitisation of world topography, and of the battlefield in particular (what the Americans call the digital battlefield) has become a priority. Advances in microtechnology will enable swarms of eavesdropping and observational micro-satellites to be deployed, as well as large numbers of ground systems (it will be possible to activate thousands of mini-sensors and self-powered detectors - acoustic, magnetometric, infrared, thermal - from specially programmed satellites passing overhead).
Remote-controlled devices capable of performing the same kinds of tasks are on the drawing board, but piloted spy planes of the J-Stars type are still extremely effective. They are capable of monitoring movements over an area of nearly 250,000 sq. km. They sometimes make use of drones (small, remote-controlled aircraft, used in Bosnia, for example). France is close behind the United States in this essential field: the futuristic drone Mars HAGV resembles a cruise missile designed to discover the full extent of the enemy's capabilities; flying at three times the speed of sound. It will be launched from a Rafale type fighter and will navigate using an inertial unit; it will carry radar systems and/or signals intelligence (Sigint) payloads and will be capable of operating day or night regardless of the weather, to supplement other systems: spy planes, satellites, etc.
Three hours to respond
It is the American strategists' ambition to make the first strike anywhere in the world under all circumstances (and therefore to know before the enemy). They dream of doing so at any point on the globe from their own territory within a maximum of three hours. To achieve this, they will use hypersonic carriers to convey missiles and offensive drones, piloted parachute craft, and energy beam (laser, electromagnetic, etc.) weapons of neutralisation and destruction.
Defence chiefs hope that by the year 2020 remote-controlled carrier drones will allow strikes to be organised with even greater accuracy, delivering guided munitions.
Some ten years before that, the American air force will have developed a new type of combat drone capable of engaging in manoeuvres beyond what the human body can withstand. More stealthy (no cockpit) and "hypermanoeuvrable", an Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UNCAV) will be able to escape from missiles launched in its pursuit.
In the longer term, the US space agency (NASA) in September 1994 launched a programme (Erast) with the purpose of designing a drone capable of remaining airborne for several days at an altitude of 30 kilometres.
This is the fourth dimension of warfare, and its strategic and tactical roles are becoming increasingly important. Thanks to satellites, it is already possible to "communicate, see and listen" and soon will be to defend oneself and attack.
The Air Force 2025 Program's designers say that by the year 2025 the air force's missions will include a space dimension with the establishment of a multi-purpose space platform (the S3) comprising a drone for launching weapons systems, a piloted hypersonic attack aircraft, a set of hypersonic cruise missiles and trans-atmospheric vehicles for launching and repairing orbiting satellites and for attacking enemy bases in space.
For the strategic year of 2025, the Pentagon envisages a world where war is waged by means of "exterminator" "ants" and "wasps", ultra-miniature nanorobots, tiny sensors (some of them mobile and driven by micromotors) capable of entering or overflying (like microdrones) any building, command post, data communications node, etc. in order to paralyse or jam them.
In order to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of "strikes", American laboratories are working on a generation of piloted munitions. By combining digital maps, positioning of the Global Positioning System (GPS) type, and the deployment of hidden ground beacons along the path of the final stage of the multi-sensor fusion devices on board, it will, by the year 2020, be possible to deliver military payloads with an accuracy of effect 10 to 100 times better than today.
Micro-machining technologies will also soon make it possible to produce low-cost miniature electronic components for direct incorporation into systems. The combination of sensors and actuators (to gather information, survey the environment, warn and act directly) and new forms of energy suggest it will ultimately be possible to manufacture guided bullets.
This is the only really new technology on the battlefield. On the ground, the so-called "cat's eye" effect allows electro-optical systems that have not hitherto shown up on radar to be detected by lasers sweeping the terrain. Snipers can thus no longer watch and fire without being seen. Some guns are already fitted with lasers connected to a computer that calculates the trajectory the bullet must take to hit a hidden marksman, even behind a window.
The famous "death rays" are no longer science fiction. They will increasingly be used against men (to "blind" them, even though blinding weapons are banned by the Geneva Convention, or "dazzle" them) and especially against enemy materials and weapons systems. The United States are currently developing a laser mounted on a 747 to shoot down Scud missiles. And Miracle, the satellite-killing laser, has just been spectacularly tested, giving the United States mastery of space. In the longer term, American aviation researchers expect to see the development of high energy laser systems (HEL), a constellation of chemical lasers based in space and capable of being used as offensive or defensive weapons against targets on the earth, in the air or in space. At lower power, they will have a surveillance function: twenty would be enough to cover the entire planet.
To counter the considerable growth in effectiveness of detection systems (radar, sonar), new ways will be found to attenuate refraction waves: machine architecture (long-range missiles, aircraft, ships, tanks), greater discretion (less noise, less heat) and new materials that absorb radar waves.
New combat devices
The Pentagon's medium and long-term programmes - futuristic is what the French call them - include the development of combat devices capable of moving in three dimensions, protected electronically and fitted with beam weapons and a variety of sensors.
In peace time or in war, computer warfare allows the computerised systems of strategic infrastructures (civilian and military) to be sabotaged and espionage (for military and economic purposes) to be conducted by intrusion into those systems.
Its main weapons are viruses (small programs that contaminate the operation of networks), worms (viruses that reproduce and circulate in the network, gradually contaminating other computers and programs until they completely fill the memory and paralyse it), trap doors (systems installed secretly by the designer, allowing him to bypass all protections and enter), Trojan horses (programs hidden in another program and capable of destroying the content of a computer), logic bombs (programs that inject viruses and worms into a system and that are remotely activated or else are triggered by certain programs or commands acting as detonators), hyperfrequency guns (radio pulses that upset electronic components), electromagnetic waves - "microwave" guns installed on a device (or, in the near future, carried on the battlefield by a foot soldier) that generate a very short, but extremely powerful pulse capable of paralysing all or part of an electronic system, be it the controls of an aircraft, tank or ship, or the firing devices of missiles or other weapon systems.
The information revolution is also greatly transforming the weapons of "psychological warfare". When preparing for their intervention in Haiti in 1994, the Special Forces made an audio tape designed to get those who believed in voodoo on their side: they used digitised recordings of the voice of Papa Doc to construct a speech by the late dictator from the "other side", asking his subjects to welcome the American troops as benefactors. Again in Haiti, several GI units were equipped with digital mini-cameras on their helmets to film their surroundings direct, the pictures being transmitted to headquarters in Washington. On the basis of this experiment, the Pentagon is trying to form the basis of an "image tap" to rival CNN and, of course, much easier to control.
The American armed forces' laboratories are also working on the use of holographic images to play on the fears and superstitions of certain peoples. Similarly, they have tested the possibility, using a process derived from morphing (the fusing of two images), of breaking into an enemy's television networks in real time, adding pictures, inventing situations, changing faces, etc.
According to a Pentagon study, the Internet could be an excellent "counter-information" and disinformation weapon.
During the American civil war (1865), the telegram was capable of sending 30 words a minute and 38,830 soldiers were needed to cover a 10 sq. km. battlefield. In 1915, during the first world war, the telegraph was still transmitting at 30 words a minute, but only 4,040 soldiers were needed to hold 10 sq. km. of ground. During the second world war, teletype managed to transmit 66 words a minute and 360 soldiers were needed to occupy the same 10 sq. km. In 1991, during the Gulf war, the computer transmitted 192,000 words a minute and 23.4 soldiers were enough to hold a "front" of 10 sq. km. In 2010, the "pipes" of electronic data systems and networks will transmit 1.5 trillion words a minute and a division will be divided into small groups covering at least 10,000 sq. km.
(1) Internal communications network belonging to a company or group of companies.
(2) For an overall picture of this technological revolution, see Henry Martre and Nicolas Chamussy, "Technologies et armes futures", Les Cahiers de la Fondation pour les etudes de defense, Paris, special issue No. 1, December 1997.
Translated by Malcolm Greenwood
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