Obsolescence. From the beginning, whoever has made the top weapons of the day obsolete, has ruled the world. Every advance has been a game changer, but some have been more notable because they turned the colossal investments of ruling nations into relics nearly overnight. A good example of the changing face of war would be the cannon. Titanic castles built to withstand siege for months could be laid low in hours. Later came the bomber, which rendered nearly all previous defenses useless, and finally (for the moment), the nuclear warhead. Mutually assured destruction put an end to hot, direct wars between those powers in possession of the ultimate weapon. We have continued to work on our other military technology in order to enforce our will upon non nuclear nations, and they increasingly have turned to terrorism in a fight which can not be won militarily.
I would like to stress that there is no such thing as a purely defensive weapon. If a nation were able to simply raise an impenetrable force-field over their entire territory, it would merely free up all of their other resources to offense with no worry of reprisal. The top four military powers on the planet, the U.S., Russia, Israel, and China, have all recently displayed this in their disputes with non nuclear powers. There have been quite a few interesting military developments in the past year.
Three significant new technologies have hit, rapid fire, that will change the value of all the chess pieces on the board:
- China has developed a missile capable of taking down an aircraft carrier in a single shot. The missile travels at mach 10. Aircraft carriers are the primary U.S. traditional weapon of war. We pull them up alongside of a nation we intend to dominate, and control their airspace. This development shifts our weapons development desires strongly in the direction of anti-ballistics. It also changes the role of aircraft carriers to one of subduing weaker nations, since they would likely not survive the first salvo of a war with a major power.
- The military has begun putting robots on the front lines. Everything from bomb diffusers and pack bots to armed drones and driverless vehicles, nearly autonomous already. Moore’s law has robotics doubling in power every year and a half, this has held true for a hundred years. If you really stop to think about that, it has mind boggling implications for the near future. Supercomputers are on track to be able to emulate the human brain in real time within three to nine years. A year and a half later, they should be able to think twice as fast, twice as big, never forget, never sleep, think of ways to improve themselves. The timeline of this remains in question, the outcome doesn’t.
- The reason we haven’t seen lasers become a big part of our military is one of power. We haven’t been able to create a laser that is strong enough, small enough, and portable enough to be properly weaponized. The traditional benchmark has been 100 megawatts. Northrop just announced in late March that they have exceeded this benchmark. Reflective coatings may begin take the place of camouflage.
The military seems ready to scrap the F-22 program.This is likely the most dominant fighter in production, and would seem to be crucial to our strategy of air superiority, so why the change of heart? Are they just squeamish about the cost? I doubt it. Obama has been in talks with Russia and the rest of the world pushing for nuclear disarmament, starting by capping the maximum warheads per country and preventing new nations from acquiring them, and then moving towards total disarmament. A lofty goal, but an odd one if we are serious. Why get rid of our greatest deterrent?
I think they see that the future is getting very near. Obsolescence is coming once again to the old ways of war. Once nations have laser anti ballistics systems in place, anti aircraft-carrier missiles become obsolete, as they can be shot down at the speed of light; so do the aircraft, they could just slice the wings off the whole squadron in an instant. Intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles could be shot down before they got far from the launchers.Where does this leave the state of war? In the hands of swarms of small autonomous machines.
Update: The below is test footage of a scaled down version of the YAL-1 Airborne Laser. This truck was being shot at by an advanced tactical laser flying over in a modified C-130 Hercules. Imagine what they can put in larger planes and ground installations. This is a game changer.