Beware China and Russia: US forces want ‘swarm’ weapons

(From the National Interest)

By Harry J. Kazianis

America’s greatest potential military competitors—namely Russia and China—are developing game changing capabilities to deny U.S. forces the ability to enter into contested military theaters. Moscow and Beijing are also spending billions of dollars to modernize and upgrade their armed forces, while at the same time Washington underfunds, undertrains and underappreciates the threats of the future. While there are many possible solutions to this growing great power challenge, one seems almost too incredible to imagine, seemingly pulled from the pages of your favorite comic book to be real. This potential solution: drone swarms.

US Navy is developing swarms of mini Cicada drones to spy on enemies.

US Navy is developing swarms of mini Cicada drones to spy on enemies.

OK, stick with me here for a moment—and no, I haven’t been watching too many Terminator movies. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, speaking recently at the Economic Club of Washington, previewed the idea. A special endeavor is being championed by the recently created Pentagon Strategic Capabilities Office: small, swarming drones that are being built mostly from parts created by 3D printers. Carter noted that “they’ve developed micro-drones that are really fast, and really resilient.” Carter added that the machines “can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9. . . or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert.”

US Navy drones being launched from tube

US Navy drones being launched from tube

Seen a version of this idea before, loyalNational Interest readers? Paul Scharre, Senior Fellow and Director of the 20YY Future of Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security has been working on this concept for a while now and has written one of the most comprehensive essays on the topic in these very pages back in 2014.

Scharre, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and played a key role in crafting policies on unmanned and autonomous systems, not only gets the problems:

“The U.S. military is at a crisis point. We are staring down the barrel of a future where U.S. military technological superiority may no longer be a given where the military strength that has undergirded global security since World War II may be in question. The technologies that have given the U.S. military its edge stealth, long-range sensors, communications networks and precision-guided weapons are proliferating to other actors. As a result, so-called “anti-access” challenges threaten traditional modes of power projection. While individual U.S. ships, planes and tanks remain more capable one-on-one, the pernicious “death spiral” of rising costs and shrinking procurement quantities means that the United States has increasingly fewer and fewer assets to bring to the fight. The U.S. military will have to fight significantly outnumbered, and even the qualitative advantages U.S. assets have will not be sufficient. Quality matters, but numbers matter too. At a certain point, U.S. aircraft and ships will simply run out of missiles.”

But he sees a big-think solution: Read more



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