Engineering the Soldiers of Tomorrow
Kyle Maxey posted on June 13, 2017 |
Lance Corporal Jorge Brito uses the Marine's Augmented Immersive Team Trainer to locate virtual enemy tanks at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado.)
Lance Corporal Jorge Brito uses the Marine's Augmented Immersive Team Trainer to locate virtual enemy tanks at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado.)
Throughout history, technological supremacy has been key to military victory. The Battle of Agincourt was won by the English longbow. The rise of the tank effectively put an end to trench warfare.

Today, a host of new technologies are accelerating how effective a soldier can be on the battlefield, with the most advanced concepts challenging long-held notions of what it means to be a soldier.

So, what does the soldier of the future look like?


The Talos System

A soldier testing out some of the earliest enhancements to the TALOS system.

A soldier testing out some of the earliest enhancements to the TALOS system.

One of the most disruptive changes to future soldiers’ gear comes in the form of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). TALOS is essentially a seedbed for attaching advanced technologies to a warrior.

At its core, the TALOS will contain a lightweight, computerized exo-skeleton lending soldiers augmented strength and enhanced agility. Moving up a layer, the suit will ideally be outfitted with scale-like armor that will deflect incoming rounds and protect wearers from shrapnel and other projectiles.

On its surface, TALOS will be stitched together with enhanced communication systems like antennae that will make it easier for central command to send orders to soldiers spread across an operation, improving coordinated actions between platoons.

Moving away from the legs and torso, future infantry members will undoubtedly be outfitted with advanced augmented reality (AR) headsets that can deliver rich information to central command as well as providing navigation, mission and intelligence information to those in the field.

At the moment, these type of systems exist for F-35 pilots and if they’re miniaturized they’ll provided great advantages to infantrymen.

Going on out on a limb, the TALOS could be the perfect wearable system for a mobile command center. From this platform, soldiers or their commanders could be capable of dictating commands to robotic partners, or remote autonomous systems fighting alongside them.

These kind of disassociated, multi-engagement combat tactics could change the battlefield in ways that haven’t been seen since Saddam Hussein’s forces were met with the overwhelming technological superiority and operational dexterity of the US Armed Forces the First Gulf War. 


Miniature Drones for Surveillance

The PD-100 being used in the field. (Image courtesy of MoD.)
The PD-100 being used in the field. (Image courtesy of MoD.)
Currently, armies across the world are experimenting with hand held, single-operator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). One of the more intriguing bots being tested is the PD-100 Black Hornet.

Weighing 16-grams and measuring 4in wide and 1in tall, the tiny single-prop drone carries a full motion video camera that can spot enemies from a distance and relay that information to soldiers waiting up to 1,000 feet away.

In fact, British Troops operating in Afghanistan have been using the $195,000-USD drone for years and have seen it aid operational success and given soldiers the peace of mind that comes with knowing the lay of the land.

While miniature UAVs seem to be the contemporary approach to integrating drones into the ranks of the infantry, the future might look a bit different.

Boston Robotics, one of the foremost developers of robotic technology has been creating some of the most terrifying, bots (read war machines) around. Most of the power four-legged beasts already appear as though they’re nearly ready for battle, and it might not be long before they’re aiding soldiers in suppressing fire, entering secluded alcoves to draw out an enemy’s position, or patrolling dangerous streets in lieu of night patrols.

This raises a rather terrifying question: Will the soldiers of the tomorrow even be human?

 

Maneuverable Bullets for Sure Shooting

A sniper’s job has always been difficult, requiring years of training to learn how to adjust a shot based on environmental conditions that can change at a moment’s notice. Add the multiplying effects of distance and you have one of the most challenging roles on the battlefield.

However, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) wants to reduce this challenge with a self-guiding bullet.

Called the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO), the project has created a maneuverable 50-caliber round accompanied by a guidance system that tracks and repositions the projectile in real-time. With EXACTO, soldiers can change the path of a bullet to compensate for any unseen factors, like a target’s unexpected movement or shifting wind conditions.


Cyborg Soldiers

 (Image courtesy of DARPA.)

(Image courtesy of DARPA.)

Finally, one of the uncanny, if not dystopian, visions that military futurists are entertaining is transforming soldiers into “wet-machines” by embedding sensors into their bodies.

As part of DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program, the military is looking into the possibility of “an implantable neural interface able to provide advanced signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the brain and electronics.”

The conceit there being that not only will the brain be hardwired for warfare, but it’s possible that the entire body would be littered with sensors to extend a soldier’s capabilities. Although this may seem like a far off prospect, research into brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) has seen considerable growth in recent years.

Of the many potential drawbacks that embedded electronics have is the fact that humans will be inviting proprietary technology into their bodies. While that notion might be frightening enough when you think of Uber, Apple or another version of Evil Corp potentially having their hardware inside you (let alone any biometric data collection they might be doing) think about what it would mean to be outfitted with state-of-the-art military tech.

What would it mean for soldiers whose contracts are up? What if they were captured, or court-martialed? Would the technology embedded in the soldier’s body be removed or simply shut off? Under either condition, what are the risks?

Embedded technology might be the future of extra-sensory perception, but the ethics and cost of its implementation need to be thoroughly reviewed before putting it on the front lines.

 

The Future of Warfare

Pfc. Shante Sapp, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, Missouri National Guard, moves her head to see the landscape in a simulated virtual training environment using the Dismounted Soldier Training System at Fort Leonard Wood. The system uses motion tracking to allow soldiers to train in a simulated deployed environment. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha J. Whitehead.)
Pfc. Shante Sapp, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, Missouri National Guard, moves her head to see the landscape in a simulated virtual training environment using the Dismounted Soldier Training System at Fort Leonard Wood. The system uses motion tracking to allow soldiers to train in a simulated deployed environment. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha J. Whitehead.)
Regardless of your stance on technological evolution in the military, the march toward a world of intelligent machines and advanced soldiers will continue.

The list of military technologies that are being developed to enhance the future of infantry is vast and implicitly frightening, but if technological progress on the battlefield has to be made then its focus should be squarely directed at reducing causalities and limiting conflicts. If war is going to be a constant for humanity near future, then creating soldiers that can end conflicts quickly and avoid situations like those in present-day Syria should be the end game.

Anything else might just be too dangerous to handle.

Share your thoughts on the future of warfare in the comments below.

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