In 2017 J. Noel Williams, an American Defense strategist wrote a piece in “War on the Rocks”. The title caught my eye. KILLING SANCTUARY: THE COMING ERA OF SMALL, SMART, PERVASIVE LETHALITY. In it he said, loitering munition technology “will impact the character of warfare more substantially than the introduction of the machine gun.” He went on to call it “A revolution happening in plain sight”. I remember reading that sentence. And I read it a second time. It was astounding at the time.
Well– here we are 5 years later. The Revolution continues. Loitering Munitions have demonstrably changed tactical combat whether your enemy is Armor or Ground pounding Infantry and topography indifferent. By 2020 dozens of videos were on YouTube showing Azerbaijani military drones taking out Armenian tank after tank and all manner of mobile and fixed military assets. Among these fast becoming ubiquitous weapons is a system known as the “Switchblade”. We (the US) sent a bunch of the 300 models to Ukraine along with the shoulder-mounted Javelin MANPADS.
These weapons are the new reality of war. Many nations employ them. Some are our allies. Some are not. I was infantry in Vietnam. I would not have wanted to be in any other MOS. 11 Bravo Infantry.
But that was a half-century ago. In the analog era. where infantry soldiers of the 20th century were not dissimilar to their predecessors, a century before. Rapid advances in technology are forcing fundamental changes of Combat strategy and tactics. Drones, MANPADs, Loitering Munitions, Stand-off weapons, hypersonic missiles, and the less lethal but a huge leap into modernity for the infantry soldier: the Augmented Reality headset, called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).
In Vietnam, navigation in triple canopy jungle meant paying attention to the topography and the map. Especially in a new AO. The Lt. would call over the platoon Sgt and the “Point Man” and discuss the topo. Do we move down that stream and then find a place to cut up the hill to our objective? Do we hump this overgrown trail that may or may not be booby-trapped? Or do we look for yet another route to get there? (I hated it when we used streams as our path for even a short duration. The rushing water masks all else. You can’t “hear” much.) Hearing matters in the Jungle. When the Lt. folds up his map and says “we’re going up that hill and set up an NDP. ” (Night Defensive Position) – talking was over, it was hump time. Most often through unknown terrain to a destination, we’d never been. I walked Point with my German Shepard dog.– When the Platoon Sgt. said, “RUCK UP”, you’d saddle up and move out. In the modern era with a Recon Drone and Infantry Headsets, the Lt. or the Platoon Sgt will pull a Butterfly sized drone out of his pocket while we’re still at the bottom of the hill, and it flys up and we all get a remote look at it (in our IVAS Googles). No *visible* bunkers up there? That’s a good sign.
The Kid above in the chopper was lucky and got home without getting hit. You might have died from a “booby trap” or a B-40, a 122mm rocket, incoming artillery or an AK-47 round ripping your body apart. But there was a Human being involved somewhere in the Kill Chain. Warfare is now moving toward AI automation .
Remember that Scene in the movie “Patton“?
- Correspondent : General, we’re told of wonder weapons the Germans were working on Long-range rockets, push-button bombing weapons that don’t need soldiers. What’s your take on that?
- Patton : “Wonder weapons?” “My God, I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics. Nothing is glorified? Nothing is reaffirmed? No heroes, no cowards, no troops, no generals. Only those who are left alive and those who are left… dead. I won’t live to see it.“
General Patton was prescient.
If you’re interested in Military tactics and developments. The web site: “War on the Rocks” is must read.