Since the firearm’s creation, firepower has aggregated at increasingly lower echelons in armies with each century, allowing smaller number of soldiers to dominate larger amounts of terrain and inflict greater amounts of damage on enemies. Today, a pair of soldiers handling a 20th-century machine gun can exceed rates of fire achievable only by an entire regiment of 19th-century riflemen. Advances in robotics, miniaturization of technology, and most importantly, exploration of human-machine combat teaming concepts will continue this trend and render the infantry squad of the 21st century the deadliest yet.
Insurgents in Syria have already begun incorporating inexpensive quadcopters and other commercially available drones at the squad level, even using them as airborne improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Man-portable and inexpensive, a remote-controlled gyrocopter modified to hold anti-personnel or anti-armor warheads gives infantrymen a new way to clear a room, attack enemy infantry in cover, or destroy hostile tanks. While currently susceptible to electronic jamming, advances in robot object recognition should allow future drones to autonomously acquire targets, leaving electronic attacks designed to sever connectivity less effective. Rules of engagement, the intensity of conflict, and the nature of enemy forces will determine the extent that this autonomy can be used.
Russian use of drones as forward observers in Syria and Ukraine also highlights how machines will increasingly take on what were formerly human responsibilities. Future infantry platoons deserve a persistent overhead drone presence that tracks enemy forces and possesses the ability to drop miniature precision-guided munitions from above. Loitering above small-arms range, a small drone could identify enemy forces with electro-optical and infrared sensors, lase targets for indirect fire, push full-motion video down to ground forces, and relay communications for infantry squads.
On the ground, quadruped drones like Boston Dynamic’s “Spot” could even become combatants themselves, carrying crew-served weapons over complex terrain and accompanying infantrymen. These same quadrupeds could also help solve the logistical challenges created by drone usage. Boston Dynamic’s LS3 (Legged Squad Support System) can already carry hundreds of pounds of fuel, food, water, and ammo across extremely rugged terrain, thereby reducing the need for aerial resupply of units operating away from main supply routes.
For the most part, these advances do not bring new capabilities to land forces; they simply miniaturize existing capabilities. Legged and tracked robots provide an avenue to place tank-like capabilities at the squad level. Precision indirect fire and close air support, once the domain of divisions and brigades, can be inexpensively placed in the hands of a platoon leader guiding remotely piloted aircraft. Modern infantrymen have always coordinated with armor, artillery, and airpower, but these new systems under development will be under the organic control of infantrymen themselves, creating an opportunity for even greater synergy in combat arms and greater lethality. These technological advances will trigger the most substantial changes in infantry tactics since World War II.
Read the Original Article at War on the Rocks