Fortunes of war
What will the future bring in terms of war and warfare, asks Galal Nassar
As each year comes to an end, we review its major events and trends with an eye to predicting what will happen in the year to come. When the year's end coincides with the end of a decade, it is natural to extend the analysis further into the past in order to project forecasts further ahead, over the coming decade, for example. In both short and long term projections, conflict and the clash of armies are prime determinants.
The course of human history is directly linked to the fortunes of war, which determine the victor and loser, define the rules of the balance of power and set choices for the future, such as peace, mutual deterrence or further war. The further ahead we attempt to peer into the future, the more advances in the methods of war and in military technology determine developments in the balance of power, and, hence, in the fate of the world.
This article attempts a glimpse at the wars of the future. The ways that they will be conducted and the weapons that will be developed and deployed are a gauge of the extent to which countries can safeguard their national security and a criterion of where they stand with respect to the fast-moving train of progress.
Parties to the conflicts of the coming decade will focus on waging especially brutal offensives, whether from below the surface of the earth, above ground, or at the level of low-orbiting satellites.
War plans have been developed that indicate that 20 percent of future military allocations will be devoted to research and development in the fields of surveillance and reconnaissance, WMDs, inexpensive and easy to produce missiles, as well as difficult-to-detect transcontinental missiles, the enhancement of survival capacities, the use of pilotless aircraft doubling as communications relays, and the use of robots for various military tasks.
The world is on the verge of a new boom in weapons production, next to which mankind's advances in military technology over preceding decades will pale, even in the realm of non- conventional weapons.
FUTURE OF MISSILE WARFARE: Studies estimate that tens of thousands of short-range (up to 300km) missiles are already in service in around 30 countries. They predict that this figure will double after 2010 and that the number of countries using them will increase.
From an operational standpoint, countries will have to build up appropriate missile-defence systems in order to protect vital targets and offset or minimise the potential effects of such missiles being launched. Such systems will need to be able to detect and intercept hostile missiles as soon as possible after they are launched, in order to destroy them at a sufficient distance from their target areas.
Various systems will be brought to bear against missiles at various phases, from launching and the kicking-in of propulsion devices to stabilisation of trajectories and the eventual homing-in on targets relying on the force of gravity.
The more diversified an anti-missile defence infrastructure is and the more components it has, the more complicated and perhaps also more circuitous an attacker's task of hitting targets.
For example, the attacker may have to spread launch bases across extensive tracts of land and diversify launch times between bases that are located far apart. As a result, the enemy's missile- defence system, trained for a constant barrage, will have to contend with intermittent and unpredictable spurts coming from different directions, scattering attention and forcing it to respond on the spur of the moment.
This "missile-flooding" tactic compels the defending party to perform three tasks at once: the search for launch platforms, the locating of warheads coming from different directions at once, and the firing of numerous missiles simultaneously to intercept and destroy them.
It is precisely such a scenario that has inspired efforts to produce effective missile-defence systems. Some of these have aimed to develop the means to destroy enemy missiles while still on the ground, while others have aimed at intercepting them during their immediate post-launch phase, or just as they have settled into trajectories on course to their targets.
One area of anti-missile technology that is certain to take rapid strides in this century is in sophisticated high-powered laser weaponry.
COMMAND AND CONTROL SYSTEMS: The term "command and control" first appeared in the US to refer to a system developed to automate conventional air defences. Over the next three decades, the concept became closely associated with developments in computerised military technology needed to reduce the amount of time needed to execute plans strategists believed had proven successful in the field.
The more sophisticated the computerisation, the shorter the time factor in collecting, sorting, categorising, analysing and processing information and in formulating decisions and relaying them to experts.
Computerised command and control systems have proven increasingly valuable components of military operations. As these systems have grown more sophisticated as the result of immense technological advances and refinements introduced on the basis of tests in previous wars, they have also brought about fundamental changes in planning, organisation and command and execution structures.
Modern command and control systems enable the rapid transmission of instructions to units operating at distances from their command centres. They also transform the processing of information sent in by intelligence and data-gathering systems and assault-weapon coordination and defence systems into routine tasks.
If the victory or defeat of an army is contingent upon the skill and perspicacity of its commander, the commander of the future will be able to execute his command and control duties more quickly and in a shorter amount of time than ever before. One of a future commander's most essential prerequisites will be his ability to transfer his familiarity with the computers and high-tech games of his childhood to learning and becoming adept at the communications and command and control instruments that will be central to a successful mission.
The command and control systems of the future will be able to handle increasingly diverse and complex operational tasks involving such elements as amassing forces, surprise, rapid manoeuvring and securing the safety of combat troops and equipment. One of the consequences of these changes will be to greatly reduce the size of the battle arena, which will give the commander a fuller view of the positions of both friendly and hostile forces.
If, as some foresee, command and control programmes are developed and put in place by the middle of the coming decade, it may be necessary to introduce significant changes into line-of- command structures. In the coming years, for example, there will be a need to bring the conduct of a modern joint-forces battle up to date with the new command-and-control technology.
Tactical systems will have to be rebuilt and tasks prioritised and reassigned. With such developments, conventional line-of-command systems will become obsolete, and they will be supplanted by systems able to ensure the fastest and most efficient information gathering, processing and decision- making processes, such that appropriate orders can be transmitted directly to the combat units concerned and avoiding delays inherent in conventional line-of-command structures.
In the future there will not be time to muse over plans, redraw maps, or dispatch messengers to the nearest unit capable of defending against an assault. Such lost time could well spell the difference between victory and defeat in the lightening-speed battles that will be one of the salient traits of the wars of the future.
FUTURE OF DECEPTION TECHNIQUES: The technology involved in camouflage and decoys will not only become increasingly effective, it will also acquire as great an importance as the manoeuvrability of light weaponry.
Already, state-of-the-art transmitters can fool hostile surveillance devices into thinking that military units exist where they do not. So sophisticated are the machines that they give off the same electronic, communications, heat and other signatures as real fighting units, throwing what are currently the most-advanced detection apparatuses off the scent. Future improvements in camouflage and decoy technology are certain to compound the burdens placed on command and control and communications systems.
Clearly, deception is not sufficient to score a victory: an army must also have the know-how and technology to destroy hostile command and control systems. A stealth missile, for example, could take out an enemy's command and control centre. The communications systems of the future will also be crucial to the efficacy of command and control systems, as will counter-electronic techniques that will become more resistant to detection and deciphering.
Ciphering devices will also be more secure, less complicated to handle and have longer ranges. These systems will undergo a transformation with the incorporation of sophisticated digital technology in all communications media, including oral media, one of which will be a machine for the transmission of wireless messages during troop movements in the field.
Code will likely be used in diverse areas and ways, in keeping with the "need-to-know" maxim according to which individuals without the necessary security clearance are only given the information they need in order to perform their assignments, while special teams resolve problems of interfacing.
Even levels of deception have undergone modification as a consequence of technological progress in recent wars. It is now possible to protect forces at the tactical level from the effects of hostile reconnaissance devices. This opens the way to deception at the strategic and mobilisation level, although there remain considerable difficulties to overcome.
FUTURE OF INTELLIGENCE GATHERING: Surveillance devices, monitors and other intelligence-gathering and conveyance devices are proliferating, supplying commanders with a flow of up-to-the-minute data in different areas.
Night time or bad weather are no longer obstacles to penetrating enemy air space. Reconnaissance aircraft with or without pilots, together with satellites and space stations, track the movements of hostile forces hundreds of kilometres from the front lines. In the battle arena itself, remote-control monitoring devices either on the ground or fired into the air give support to aerial-surveillance apparatuses.
All the data flowing in from these devices or retrieved from airborne surveillance units is assembled and processed. No sooner does preliminary data from remote sensory devices come in than it is analysed and findings reported back at the tactical, operational or strategic levels in forms appropriate to each.
Analysis and feedback centres, the hubs of all this activity, are also responsible for storing, sorting, retrieving and collating information and for combining it with information provided from other sources.
Data and intelligence systems have a certain hierarchy. Each system has a person responsible for a specific sensing device, or for a specific area of combat information, thereby ensuring comprehensive analysis of data and the efficient and rapid transmission of processed results to those who need them.
Such systems will receive inputs from a variety of devices using infrared or photoelectric sensor technology, such as Side-Looking Airborne Radar, an all-weather, day/night remote sensor that has antennas aimed to the right and left of the flight path and that is particularly effective in imaging large areas of terrain.
Future developments in sensor devices and other monitoring and intelligence-gathering equipment and systems will enable command and control centres not only to track the smallest movements of enemy troops and equipment, but also to identify snares and ambushes in enemy terrain, and, perhaps, to eavesdrop on orders commanders give in the field.
THE THEATRE OF OPERATIONS AND FUTURE BATTLE FIELDS: One of the distinguishing features of modern warfare since the end of World War II, and one that has influenced schools of military thought for half a century or more, has been the expansion in the arena of war, theatre of operations and fields of battle.
However, the enormous technological progress that has taken place over only a couple of decades has greatly extended the dimensions of these areas, while at the same time reducing the fourth dimension: time.
It has now become virtually impossible to keep up with the flow of events on the battlefield while at the same time achieving the element of surprise at operational and strategic levels. As a result of the introduction of new technologies, commanders have found themselves contending with such a rush of incoming information that they have had no time to assess the situation and take appropriate decisions or actions.
Only when they have become adept at using the new information-gathering and processing technologies, which are still being developed, will they be able to control the field of battle with appropriate swiftness and ease.
One of the salient changes in the field of battle of the future will be the ability of every unit to signal its precise location using secure and digitally- encoded navigation and transmission devices linked by satellite networks. Precision in identifying the location of units in relation to the play of battle will make it possible to optimise their use in the deployment of artillery, as well as in directing aerial-support effort to targets that might be located hundreds of miles away from the battlefield.
FUTURE OF MARITIME WARFARE: Navies will be increasingly equipped with boats and frigates armed with land-to-land and land-to-air missiles, as well as with anti-submarine weapons.
Some vessels will be relatively small, but still large enough to carry, say, a helicopter for tracking and taking out enemy submarines. There will also be more ships along the lines of the French navy's Lafayette Class frigate, which incorporates a number of stealth features.
At the same time, light and mid-size submarines will be used to obstruct naval communications, while increasing use will be made of light missile boats with enhanced speed, manoeuvrability and missile range and improved self-defence capacities against aerial attack.
As in other branches of the armed forces, the navies of the future will also become increasingly reliant on computerised electronic equipment for surveillance, targeting and obstructing enemy radar and wireless communications.
Among the latest missile-carrying additions to the world's navies are the Russian Guided Missile Corvette 1234 Nanuchka class, equipped with SSN3 missiles, the 1,300 ton Israeli Saar-5, of which three are currently under construction in the US and will be equipped with US Harpoon missiles, and modern French vessels such as the Lafayette Class frigate.
FUTURE OF AERIAL WARFARE: Aircraft sensory and communications equipment will become more sophisticated than ever.
When a military aircraft takes off, onboard monitors will relay data on the plane's fuel levels, position and state of weapons, as well as information on the placement of enemy and allied forces as recorded by the plane's radar equipment to remote command centres. Air-force command will transmit instructions to the pilot by means of data exchange between their respective computers, which will be synchronised and secured by various electronic protocols and codes.
Missiles carried by the aircraft will be self-guided by infrared radiation or by the electromagnetic signatures of enemy targets. Aircraft-recognition devices will facilitate distinguishing between enemy and friendly planes, in spite of similarities in their designs, and this will enable control equipment, forward air-defence units and interceptor planes to isolate and engage hostile aircraft, thereby minimising the possibility of firing on friendly aircraft.
The air forces of the future will strive to acquire fighter planes with the stealth technology that started to be developed in the late 20th century. In addition to the ability to escape radar detection, purchasers will be looking for multipurpose fighter planes capable of intercepting and engaging enemy aircraft, furnishing air cover and support for ground and air forces and delivering long-range missiles.
Equipped with sensor and radar- targeting systems, as well as advanced computer technology and guided missiles, the new generation of fighter planes will be capable of all-weather, day/night pinpoint targeting and will simultaneously be able to protect themselves from hostile missile bombardment.
Aerial-engagement operations will be facilitated through expanded use of early-warning and command and control aircraft, such as the American E- 2C Hawkey, the E-3 Sentry, or the Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) developed by other countries. High manoeuvrability, the ability to remain airborne for long periods of time, and the ability to take off and land on short airstrips will also be purchasing criteria.
The fighter planes that will dominate the skies in future wars include the American F-15, F-16, F-18, F-117 and F-22, the Russian MiG-32, MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-24, the French Mirage-2000, Mirage- 5000 and Rafale, and the EU's Eurofighter.
Assault helicopters will also play a greater role, especially when equipped with multipurpose missiles to take out enemy artillery from other aircraft or from tanks and submarines.
The new generations of helicopters will be fitted out with automated navigation systems and night- time fighting equipment, and their undersides and flanks will be armoured so as to render them better suited to air-land operations, whether in engaging enemy aircraft, landing and transporting troops and equipment, or firing at hostile targets.
The most important helicopters in future warfare will be the American Apache, Cobra (modified) and Blackhawk, the Russian Defender C-24 and C-25, and the EU's Dauphin.
FUTURE ARMIES: The armies of the coming century will be developed to enhance their performance of several functions. Among the most important of these are their amassing and strengthening force, which means enhancing the ability to deploy combat forces with massive destructive power and to reinforce them from major bases, and their protecting force, which means enhancing aerial cover, especially against hostile missiles and pilotless aircraft, to protect troops, bases, ports, military complexes, strategic and political targets, urban centres and residential areas.
Simultaneously, armies will be better trained and equipped to protect themselves under conditions of unconventional warfare, as well as to reduce the risk of casualties by friendly fire.
A further feature of the armies of the future is their capacity to win the information war. The collection, processing and appropriate deployment of information on the enemy, and the simultaneous prevention of the enemy's access to information on your own and allied forces, is of pivotal importance in the management of war.
Armies in the future will develop and enhance their intelligence-gathering capacities, as well as their ability to destroy, confuse and control their adversaries' information sources. They will also increase the precision of the information provided to commanders and the speed with which it is made available.
The armies of the future will need enhanced precision targeting, since the pace of 21st-century warfare will make it increasingly necessary to reduce the speed needed to identify and destroy enemy troop locations, supply lines and ammunitions centres, as well as command and control centres and other strategic targets.
Armies will therefore have to enhance their ability to probe deeply into enemy territory, pinpoint high-value targets, and transmit the necessary data as rapidly as possible to units charged with carrying out operations.
Finally, the armies of the future will need to win the battle of manoeuvrability. Weapons and techniques will be developed and enhanced with an eye to gaining superiority over the enemy in the rapidity and flexibility of troop and artillery movements.
FUTURE OF NUCLEAR ARMAMENTS: The coming decades will bring an unprecedented boom in arms production, including nuclear weapons production.
American scientists have already begun work on producing a new generation of nuclear bombs, the first of which will be a powerful hydrogen fission bomb. The nuclear warheads will be guided by lasers, and these will also be used to create powerful nuclear thermal explosions. Scientists are also studying how to use such explosions as an alternative to conventional nuclear tests.
They are studying the use of solid hydrogen, which has an explosive power 30 times greater than conventional alternatives. Nuclear weapons production will rely heavily on research and on state- of-the-art technology related to quantum, nuclear and astral physics.
As one scientist in a scientific research institution in Geneva has said, the nuclear weapons of the future will have enormous military value as they will not give off large amounts of radiation.
The next decades will see a similar boom in the production of other non-conventional arms and weapons systems.
THE POSITION OF THE ARAB WORLD: The Arab world will face enormous challenges as a result of advances in military technology.
Already, a huge scientific and technological gap separates the Arab world from the industrialised powers, which have organised and developed their science and technology establishments into fundamental components of national security.
The fact that Arab countries, along with other developing nations, are struggling to rally the resources and capacities to safeguard their national security has already given rise to sharp North-South tensions over questions of dependency, technology monopolisation and technology transfer.
Without a doubt, the current scientific and technological revolution has brought a qualitative shift in contemporary military thought, and many countries have initiated programmes to reorganise their armed forces to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In future war scenarios, conventional forces will not play a major role. Most will be reorganised into smaller units of highly trained combat-ready professional soldiers equipped with the most up-to-date equipment and weapons.
However, clearly not all countries will be able to emulate the new forms of military thought being shaped by rapid advances in arms technology. Many will be hampered by deficiencies in their technological, economic and human-resource capacities. Even so, radical changes in modern warfare will compel them to search for all available means to contend with such challenges and to take whatever measures are possible to pre-empt or minimise potential threats.
Yet, preparing for modern warfare does not have to entail consigning conventional military concepts to the rubbish bin. Rather, these can be altered and added to in ways that accommodate the new military technologies and techniques. Thus, instead of purchasing the latest and most expensive weapons off the assembly line, armies with more limited means can modify existing weapons and equipment to enhance their performance or undertake new tasks.
At the same time there should be heightened awareness of how important scientific and technological research and development is to a nation in general and to a country's military and strategic welfare in particular.
Unfortunately, the Arab countries still continue to buy second-rate weapons, instead of producing their own, and the state of their military research and development is far behind that of the industrial powers.
Nevertheless, this should not keep these countries from doing whatever is in their power to confront the potential threats coming from military advances or from building the capacities needed to defend their national security.
However, in the opinion of this author these tasks can only be accomplished through strong and effective collaboration between the Arab countries, with the aim of catching up with the scientific and technological revolutions, benefiting as much as possible from the revolution in military affairs, and developing and producing their own technologies and hardware instead of buying everything from abroad.
If at the same time these countries are able to optimise the use of their own natural and human resources, they should be able to achieve a good level of self-sufficiency.
The Arab world must develop a collective military strategy to confront the wars of the future. Such a framework is essential if the Arab countries are to coordinate their plans to realise parity in military technology and to be as prepared as possible for the threats of war in the present and future.