Magazine article National Defense

10 Technologies the U.S. Military Will Need for the Next War

Magazine article National Defense

10 Technologies the U.S. Military Will Need for the Next War

Article excerpt

* Throughout U.S. history, advances in military capability have been fueled by innovation. All branches of the military consistently have managed to use technology in new and creative ways to gain an edge over the enemy.

The wars of the past decade exposed an "innovation gap" that forced the U.S. military to play catch up, and react to enemy tactics--such as roadside bombs and sniper attacks--rather than anticipating them. The Defense Department's research-and-development apparatus was slow to respond with new and improved weapons based on changing threats. Critics have called for the Pentagon to stop wasting money on science projects that target undefined hypothetical future wars, focus on systems that they know deployed forces need, and to move them to the field in weeks or months, not years or decades. Innovation is not helpful if it's not assisting troops at war. As many senior Pentagon officials have noted, an 80-percent solution that can be available in months is better than a perfect outcome that could take years or decades to achieve.

In this special report, National Defense identifies 10 key technologies that U.S. forces likely will need to fight the next wan Regardless of where or when that conflict might be, there is widespread consensus that advances in certain key areas would benefit U.S. forces.

Examples are faster and quieter helicopters, advanced crowd-control weapons, lighter infantry- equipment that doesn't overburden troops, ultra-light trucks and better battlefield communications. In the maritime realm, Navy leaders have for years been seeking stealthy mini-submarines that can be remotely operated, and fast bulletproof power boats for anti-piracy and coastal security operations.

Accurate intelligence about the enemy is always on the military's wish list, and success in future conflicts will require technologies that can perform persistent surveillance to help identify enemies and friendly forces. Robots that can operate autonomously also will be essential tools of war, not necessarily to fire weapons, but to conduct mundane tasks such as delivering cargo.

Also on the wish list is renewable energy that reduces the military's dependence on fuel supplies. Transporting fuel to war zones has become one of the most dangerous missions because enemies know that it is the lifeblood of the U.S. military machine. Almost anything that helps reduce that demand is likely to be welcome.

The list of 10 technologies that follows is in no particular ranking order.

1 Faster, Quieter, Safer Helicopters

* When Taliban fighters shot down a special operations MH-47 Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan this summer, killing 30 U.S. troops, it was seen as proof that U.S. forces need faster choppers. Special operators and medical evacuation units, in particular, need more speed not just to reach critical areas of the battlefield more quickly but also to be able to dodge enemy fire.

Secret missions such as the one that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden also have shown the need for agile, quiet, less detectable rotorcraft. A modified stealth helicopter used in that operation crashed, highlighting another issue with the current crop of military choppers: They are most prone to accidents during takeoff and landing.

These speed, noise and safety demands are forcing manufacturers to stray from conventional helicopter designs, which experts say caps an aircraft's speed at around the 170 knots that the CH-47 Chinook currently reaches.

Tilt-rotor advocates say the military should buy more V-22 Ospreys, which can reach cruise speeds of about 250 knots.

"In 50 years, a lot of aviation will be this kind of machine," said Emilio Dalmasso, senior vice president of commercial business at Augusta Westland, which is partnering with Bell on the BA-609 tilt-rotor "One that has the capacity to take off and land like a helicopter but then fly as an airplane. …

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