When you imagine a battlefield of the future, what does it look like? A myriad of options are available, ranging from robot soldiers to remote control tanks and cyber intelligence. There are a lot of variables about the future of battle, but one thing is almost certain: it will definitely include drones.
To prepare for the next generation of warfare, cadets at West Point are taking down a new foe as they train to fight with and defend against drones. It’s a modern twist on classic training that could have a big impact on future battles.
Army Cyber Institute
As an inside group at West Point, the Army Cyber Institute is tasked with discovering what the future of warfare will look like. A lot of things fall under the cyber category, but the think-tank mostly focuses on Internet and electromagnetic devices that can be used in war. In this case, drones fall into both categories.
The institute has a few training locations around the country, but the New York facility is convenient and equipped for West Point students. This summer, nearly 1,000 West Point cadets headed to the unique Army Cyber Institute campus to participate in a new-age course. Although they study battlefield history, strategy, and technology, actually being in battle and facing evolving technology is a completely different ballgame.
Cadets are faced with as realistic a scenario as possible. In a mock village that has been set up solely for training purposes, cadets can experience a variety of battle locations. In one exercise, they may be wading through tall grass; in another, they may be advancing on buildings in an urban environment. Leaders call this a MOUT, or a Military Operations Urban Terrain.
In each exercise, a platoon of 40 people is given a scenario: a drone has been seen in the area that could likely run remote surveillance of the area and report it back to the enemy and could also likely remotely detonate explosives. Small-arms fire, cadets learn, isn’t very effective in fighting this type of drone. Although the devices may be new, the planning and strategy behind the exercise remain the same. After reading the scenario, platoons used tried-and-true planning and communications methods to coordinate efforts and assign responsibilities. Each platoon executed their own solution to the problem, which allowed for teaching opportunities to discuss the many options on the battlefield.
Simple Device; Complex Solution
From drone delivery services to aerial photography, these remote control planes have been redefining a wide variety of industries over the last few years. It should come as no surprise that they are set to have a big impact on espionage and warfare. In their base forms, drones are actually comprised of fairly simple technology. Although extra features can be added, drones used in battle don’t need many bells and whistles. But the effect these game-changers can have on warfare is amazing.
What can be bought at most major stores or websites can completely change battle strategy; the drone used in these training exercises can easily be bought for less than $200. Instead of creeping through areas or being hidden on an approach, soldiers must now reevaluate their battle plans to account for an eye in the sky that has a unique and powerful perspective of the entire situation. With drones, there are fewer secrets and places to hide. Cadets learned this first hand when their potential solutions were foiled by the drone’s unique movement and viewpoint.
For such a simple device, the solution is rather complicated, but quite effective. Because drones pose a moving target, simply shooting them with a traditional gun is usually ineffective. Instead, the military is turning to a cyber rifle that is half computer, half rifle. In this particular exercise, an antenna is attached to an airsoft M-4 rifle, which is connected to a computer that uses wireless internet to attack the drone with code. The rifle then aligns with the drone’s path, and shooters simply have to push a button to shoot down the drone. By combining modern tracking technology and simple firearm techniques, an accurate anti-drone measure was born.
Future of Warfare
For cadets at West Point, staying ahead of current technological advances is of vital importance. The cyber rifle only works in certain situations against certain types of drones, so there is definitely room for continued development. However, as cadets learn to both pilot and take down drones, they gain valuable skills that will no doubt play a role in the future.
Adding drones and other technology to the battle mix certainly changes things, but some aspects of battle will undoubtedly stay the same. For instance, in the training exercises, some platoons still used traditional guns to protect the drone and its pilot. It’s up to military leaders of the future like these West Point cadets to determine what aspects of current warfare will give way to new technology and which will stay the same. One thing for sure is that a new wave of technology has made warfare more advanced and unpredictable than ever before.