The future isn’t always going to be about machine-based organisms, direct-energy weapons (LASERS!) and artificial intelligence. It can be anchored in the past with the future battlespace being shaped by competing tactical and strategic demands. War will continue to be more than combat and technology and the sensationalism of new weapons and munitions may blind us to the to their real impacts.
Looking beyond the hype of individual technologies enables a broader and more holistic view of the transformation that is on our doorstep. What will be the Maxim Gun of the 21st Century? How will these defining munitions technologies impact the geopolitical landscape; where some actors will have it and others won’t? This article will explore six munitions drivers which will define the munitions landscape of accelerated warfare. However, this article will also present three dividers which will cause friction into the future.
Future munitions will be impacted a range of new technologies which will ensure they reach further and hit harder will be employed in different systems and environments. Munitions will have an extended range with enhanced precision and accuracy. A projectile will reach further and be more accurate than current projectiles capitalising on hyper-velocity concepts which have the potential to defeat emerging active protection systems. Weapon lethality will continue to evolve with specific defeat mechanisms to affect the armour and protection mechanisms of the future. These protection mechanisms will include active protection systems which attempt to provide time and space to enhance survivability. This evolved lethality will capitalize on evolved fusing technologies which mean operators can program munitions before engagement maximizing the possibility of defeat.
Future munitions will also be required to integrate seamlessly. All components of the munition; energetics, propulsion, delivery and fuzing will be required to integrate into a range of weapons and platforms and more importantly, battlefield command and control systems. To enable this The munitions warfare will require new logistics and surveillance systems. These systems will assure that the right munition is delivered into the right place in the right condition in the right configuration. Finally, future munitions will be required to organically defend their operators. They will not present a hazard within the battlespace to operators and crews when in operation or too other forces or civilians after the battle. This has been a focus of insensitive munitions development and will be a continual effort for the future.
With the proliferation and miniaturisation of technologies, the munitions of the future will become more affordable and therefore more accessible to all States and actors.The democratisation of weaponisable technology empowers non-state actors and individuals to create havoc on a much larger scale. It also threatens stability by offering all actors more hybrid options, in particular the use of proxies to create plausible deniability and strategic ambiguity. When it is technically difficult to attribute an attack, for example Ukraine and MH17, and becoming an issue with autonomous drones – conflicts can become more prone to escalation and unintended consequences.
A pinnacle of strategic stability is arms control and non-profilleration agreements, which has limited the employment of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. With the combination Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, one of the obstacles to international agreement is caused by uncertainty about how strategic benefits will be distributed. For instance, the international community is currently deliberating on the ethical issues regarding the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These ethical issues may require the State to fundamental rethink the rules of war. However, a lack of consensus regarding the systemic advantages on their employment, in is uncertain whether it would deter or incentivise the escalation in war.
Wider actors will have a access to future munitions as production becomes cheaper and more economical. Nuclear weapons, the last revolutionary weapon, rewrote the rules of international strategy and security. The destructive technology has been limited in development and employment. In contrast, there are more multiple nations employing earth-orbiting satellites today; another disruptive technology. With commercial availability, proliferation of these technologies becomes wider and faster, creating more peer competitors on the state level and among non-state actors, and making it harder to broker agreements to stop them falling into the wrong hands.
To respond and defend; we must understand the drivers that will lead to the future of munitions. It is important to note that these future weapons and munitions will be required to operate alongside and compliment our current systems and will not replace them altogether. These drivers will not change the nature of war but will ensure that the concepts of today will not be able to respond to the future of munitions. Both the drivers and dividers will shape future munitions development; how influential they are is yet to be decided.