High level drones and combat robots: how Americans are trying to secure technological superiority
Cuts in US defense spending, coupled with psychological fatigue from numerous wars, will soon lead the world's strongest armed forces to a strange state. They will be excessively redundant against those countries with which the United States is not knowingly going to wage any war. And they are insufficient against potential opponents who are few but very strong and by their actions or even by the very fact of their existence they destroy American hegemony.
With the help of technological superiority, the United States defeated a really serious opponent only once - Iraq in the 1991 year. Serbia in the 1999 year, the same Iraq in the 2003 year, not to mention Libya in the 2011 year (with the latter, however, the United States almost did not fight), were too weak to draw any conclusions from the victories over them. At the same time, in 1991, the American army was prepared for losses that were lower than expected and became the benchmark for future wars. Serbia and Libya were completely without losses; during the “second Iraq” they were minimal. Now it is considered that there is simply no other way. However, the losses in the course of the counter-guerrilla phase of the “second Iraq” and the whole counter-guerrilla Afghan war were no longer entirely minimal. Nowadays, however, everyone has become accustomed to the fact that losses in counter-guerrilla wars are much higher than in classical ones. But this does not make it easier for Americans; they have already officially declared that there will not be more campaigns like the Iraqi and Afghan ones.
However, classical wars are now also impossible to carry on, as the Syrian experience has shown. If a large and powerful army, even if equipped with outdated weapons, is facing the Americans, and the leadership of this army and the country as a whole is not ready to capitulate from one type of American military machine, the United States has problems. Yes, they could crush Syria, even without big losses, but it would take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, hundreds of billions of dollars. And this is already a luxury. Thus, a small country, moreover, devastated by civil war, clearly puts a limit to American power. Moreover, there can be no question of waving, for example, on the DPRK.
To have a gigantic army that cannot fight is ridiculous. As a result, the United States will have to either radically reduce the Armed Forces, or enter a new stage of technological superiority. Weapon on new physical principles, which are now spoken of very much, either it is fundamentally impossible to create in the foreseeable future, or it will require such huge investments that the project immediately loses its meaning. But there is a solution - to create combat robots.
The most famous example of crewless systems are UAVs. There are already hundreds of types and tens of thousands of them in the world, with the United States, Israel and China leading in their development with a large margin from all of them. But the vast majority of UAVs - intelligence, do not carry any weapons. For the time being, military drones are being created only by China and the USA. And only the Americans began to widely use them in battle - this is the MQ-1 "Predator" and the MQ-9 "Riper".
MQ-1 "Predator" at the Dubai Air Show, January 2014. Photo: Kamran Jebreili / AP
It was released about 450 "Predators", now continues the production of the most advanced modification of the MQ-1 "Gray Needles". "Reapers" produced more than 100, and it is expected to produce more than 300. The Predator has a maximum speed of just over 200 kilometers per hour, an 1100 kilometers range, and a practical ceiling of about 7600 meters. It is capable of carrying two Hellfire anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) or two small bombs, or four Stinger anti-aircraft missile complexes (MANPADS), in this case acting as air-to-air missiles. The MQ-1 speed increased almost to 300 kilometers per hour, the ceiling - to 8800 meters, the number of missiles doubled. The Riper has a maximum speed of almost 500 kilometers per hour, a range of about two thousand kilometers, an 15200 ceiling, and carries up to 14 Hellfire or several JDAM guided bombs.
The US Navy is actively working on the deck of the X-47V UAV, which recently managed to successfully land on the deck of an aircraft carrier and take off from it. This machine will have a range of almost four thousand kilometers. True, the combat load he will have no more than the MQ-1 and MQ-9. While X-47B is available in only two copies, it is still far from launching it into the series.
The "predators" and now the "Reapers" have been shooting at al-Qaeda and Taliban militants throughout the Near and Middle East for many years, killing civilians as well. This is the maximum possible for these types of machines. They are really useful only in a battle with an enemy who has no air defense at all. The reliability of combat UAVs is still very low, during the operation, for a variety of reasons, almost a hundred “Predators” and about a dozen “Reapers” have been lost. At least four “Predators” were shot down over Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan, including such old air defense systems as the Strela-1 and the Strela-2 MANPADS.
But it is not necessary to draw far-reaching conclusions about the low reliability and limited capabilities of combat drones. Manned aviation I started with devices much more primitive. At Ripers, the task of suppressing air defense with the help of both airborne weapons and electronic warfare (EW) is already being worked out. In the case of massive use, such devices, even with their current low characteristics, can create problems for ground-based air defense of most countries of the world.
The possibility of converting old combat aircraft into combat UAVs cannot be ruled out. They can be used to break through and suppress enemy air defenses, including by depleting the enemy’s air defense missiles. In the US, they are already working on using A-10 attack aircraft and F-16 fighter jets in such a role.
The lack of UAVs (both reconnaissance and combat) is one, but very serious: the possibility of losing communication and the lack of programs that guarantee successful autonomous actions in any situation. This means that the enemy can at least “drop” the UAV, breaking its connection with the operator, as a maximum - to take control and, accordingly, to capture the UAV. And the precedent has already taken place: in December 2011, the Iranians were able to capture the most secret American reconnaissance UAV RQ-170 "Sentinel". Apparently, this was done with the help of the Russian or Belarusian EW Avtobaz system. Moreover, "Sentinel" was not shot down, namely, planted. Accordingly, according to this parameter, US combat drones also have a significant limitation so far: they cannot fight against countries that have developed electronic intelligence and combat systems.
Captured by Iranians RQ-170 Sentinel, December 2011 of the year. Photo: Sepahnews / AFP / East News
A fundamental breakthrough in the development of unmanned aircraft would be the creation of an unmanned fighter that buried all fifth-generation vehicles. Such a fighter would have far fewer restrictions on overloading, which would allow it to have high speed and maneuverability. At the same time it makes no sense to create an unmanned strike aircraft, without creating a similar fighter. For example, "Reapers" or prospective combat UAVs can effectively suppress ground defense. But they will not be able to fight enemy fighters, they will shoot off drone drone as on the test site (such as the Russian MiG-29 in April 2008 shot down an Israeli Israeli reconnaissance UAV in the coast of Abkhazia). And if the shock UAV will hide behind the traditional manned fighter, it is not a fact that it will be effective.
To date, there was one air battle between a combat UAV and a manned fighter, which ended as expected - the death of the drone. 23 December 2002 of the Year “Predator” conducted reconnaissance of the southern regions of Iraq before the inevitable invasion of the USA there and ran into the Iraqi MiG-25, the fastest military aircraft in the world. It was created in the USSR in the 60-ies to intercept American strategic bombers, but not to fight small-sized drones. "Predator" was the first to release Stinger against the enemy, but did not hit. The MiG retaliatory strike proved to be successful. However, to draw conclusions from this episode is not worth it, because the "Predator" was not created as a fighter.
However, for an unmanned fighter, the problem of the stability of communication or the creation of programs for autonomous actions is the most difficult, this is not even at the level of concepts. However, almost all experts agree that if the sixth generation fighter can be created at all, it will either be completely unmanned, or it can be used both in manned and unmanned versions.
There is no doubt that Americans will actively work on combat drones. But they will need to solve two fundamental tasks - to achieve a stable connection and low cost (much lower than that of manned aircraft). Without this, combat drones will become only a useful supplement to the current sun, not giving them, however, fundamentally new opportunities.
Another direction of robotization is the creation of ground combat robots. Not sappers, which are already widely used in many countries, though not so much in the Armed Forces, but in counter-terrorist units. And not exotic vehicles such as the useless “Alpha Dog”. All this, of course, will be developed, but here we are talking about combat robots. And the reasoning on this subject can be purely theoretical, since no specific projects have yet been viewed by either the United States or any other country.
Of course, the most important direction should be the creation of the actual combat robots, replacing the infantry. Of course, in the field and especially urban conditions it will be very difficult to organize remote control of a large number of objects, which, moreover, will require a large number of qualified operators. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that the robot has good coordination of movement and maneuverability on the battlefield under the most diverse conditions. At the same time, the robot must have a reasonable price so as not to be, cynically, it sounds more expensive than an ordinary infantryman. On the other hand, the solution of these problems will give a very good effect, ensuring a sharp reduction in losses and, consequently, the need for people. In addition, robots on the battlefield will produce a very strong psychological impact on the enemy, besides forcing him to spend on the defeat of robots a significant amount of ammunition.
An equally important task is the creation of robotstanks. Two options are possible here. The first is the creation of fundamentally new vehicles, which, due to the lack of a crew, can be much smaller in size and carry much larger ammunition than a traditional tank.
Radio-controlled tank "Ripsow". Photo: John B. Carnett / Bonnier Corporation / Getty Images
As for security, the question here is complex. On the one hand, it may seem that the lack of people in a tank allows reducing the thickness of the armor and, accordingly, the mass of the tank. On the other hand, this can lead to a sharp decrease in the survivability of the machine, which will make its creation meaningless. In this case, of course, it is necessary to ensure that the tank-robot was noticeably cheaper than a traditional tank.
The second option is the robotization of existing tanks, primarily obsolete and stored. It is very attractive from the economic point of view, since it gives a “new life” to an already existing, basically exhausted tank. Costs will require only the installation of equipment that provides remote control and automatic loading of weapons. At the same time, such a tank is also economically efficient in the sense that it is almost not a pity, since it was already written off. Accordingly, even if such a tank is destroyed in battle, without achieving any success, it will at least force the enemy to spend at least one expensive anti-tank ammunition (the situation is similar to the version of redesigning obsolete aircraft in combat UAVs). If the tank-robot inflicted at least some losses on the enemy, it will certainly pay for its re-equipment.
Finally, it is possible to create anti-tank robots, that is, carriers of anti-tank systems. Some other options are hardly real. So, senseless unmanned infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, because these machines are designed just to carry people. It is unlikely that artillery will appear without calculations, since, as a rule, it does not directly touch the enemy in combat, which means that replacing people with robots is not so important here.
So far, projects of combat infantry robots and tank robots are not visible. But it was they who would return the US Armed Forces to fully fight. Under the same conditions as for the UAV - low cost and stable communication.
One very serious problem arises in connection with the creation of combat robots. If the robot is remotely controlled by a human, then everything is fine - one person kills another in another new way. It is almost no different, for example, from the use of missiles. But if a robot infantryman (or a combat drone, or a robot tank) gets a program that allows them to operate completely autonomously, then this means that the robot was able to and the right to kill people. And this is a very serious problem, more precisely, a complex of problems. In a narrow practical sense, the danger of intercepting the control of the robot by the enemy remains. Or a complete exit of the robot out of control. And this problem is not only narrow practical, but also broad moral and ethical and even philosophical. And “at the same time” is a threat to the existence of humanity. It is clear that even the battalion of the crazed infantry robots will not destroy humanity. But the very possibility that robots will kill people can lead to very disastrous consequences.