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Title: Future of Warfare?

Ace the Super Villain - February 27, 2011 05:51 AM (GMT)
So I spend a lot of time thinking about what might bring the world to the point of another conflict between military super powers and what technologies will be available when they do. I call this the "Cold War 2 Scenario".

Right now, the human race is relatively well off. Economic crises rear their head now and then, but we mostly succeed in shrugging them off and learning from our mistakes as they come. Pirates and terrorists cause harm, but don't threaten world freedom the way Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany did. Nonetheless, a slippery slope lies before us that could push many countries to the brink of disaster and force the most powerful countries into no-win decision making. My prediction is that these issues will reach their breaking points between 2050-2100.

Overpopulation - The human race is pushing the limits of how much the planet Earth can support. Humans will eventually start running out the most basic essentials, like shelter, food and water, let alone the resources to save themselves like education and infrastructure. Unfortunately, the countries experiencing the highest population growth rates are also the countries who already experience shortages of these essentials. The high number of humans also increases the risk of pandemic. During the Middle Ages, Black Plague was able to destroy almost 50% of Europe's population in the span of 4 years. In modern time, that could equate to billions of people.

The Western Super Powers probably won't have to deal with this directly, but may suffer from refugees, attacks from poorer countries coveting their neighbor's resources and the moral weight of millions of people starving around them.

Climate Change - It's too late for the world to go green and reverse the effects of Global Warming. Even if you don't believe that humans are fully responsible, the fact is that the Earth is rather suddenly shifting in climate on a global level. Valleys once fed by glacial runoff are now running drier and drier. Seasonal storms are increasing in intensity. Some animals are declining while others like the super aggressive Humbolt Squid are becoming invasive. The dramatic Icelandic volcanic eruption that halted air commerce across Europe likely occurred because there was less snow, causing less weight and pressure to push down on the vent and keep the volcano quiet.

So far, all of these have been mostly inconvenient, but it's only a matter of time before something huge and catastrophic happens or one too many inconveniences becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back. Countries with problems that can't be solved are prime places for charismatic dictators to take over.

Fossil Fuel Crisis - It has long been known that fossil fuels will not last forever. Unfortunately, many of the old predictions for when exactly they will run out were written under the assumption that China and India would still be riding rickshaws and elephants by 2010. The huge burst of development in the East coupled with the failure of the West to replace the existing fossil fuel infrastructure means that we are all barreling towards a future where the world runs out of fossil fuel in a sudden and catastrophic manner much sooner than we will be able to deal with. The key danger is not to our electrical grids, which can function perfectly well with any number of alternative energy sources, but to our transportation infrastructure, which works only on gasoline and diesel. Next generation ethanol fuels might provide a viable alternative, but the present speed of hydrogen and electrical engine development will not leave those sources ready by the time fossil fuels run out in 2050-2100.

Besides all the trains, trucks and planes carrying important merchandise from country to country, almost all military vehicles run on fossil fuels. Assuming not all countries run out at exactly the same time, countries that still have fuel will be able to rampage across countries that have already run out, and the super powers will have to be careful in deciding how much of the world they want to maintain a presence in.

Even if we do manage to save ourselves from plunging into the dark ages, any sudden shift away from fossil fuel economy is going to throw fossil fuel producing countries into a state of complete chaos. If the governments run out of money, they will likely be overthrown, possibly by more charismatic dictators.

Space Race - This one may seem a bit odd, since historically, outer space has been off limits to military conflict and the space race has been dead for decades, but I think there's some potential conflict beyond the clouds by 2050-2100. Although humans don't venture out as much, there is a great deal of junk flying around in orbit that would make very attractive targets in a state of war, such as the GPS system. We're also starting to discover materials in space that we might actually want, like the potential fusion fuel, He-3 or the vast amounts of minerals available on the moon or in near-Earth asteroids, especially rare ones like iridium. The majority of space research these days is also going into making space flight cheaper and more accessible, such as ISRO's AVATAR hyperplane or the privately operated Space Ship Two, which means that more spaceflights can occur.

But the biggest potential threat behind space travel is that so many countries can do it, and by 2050, it's likely every 1st and 2nd world country will have the ability to reach the stars. There will also be more and more private enterprises exploring space like Virgin Galactic. It's only a matter of time before we start having to answer questions like who owns what in space, and this time, it won't be between USA and USSR, it will be between everyone in the world and it's very likely that disagreements will arise.

Ace the Super Villain - February 27, 2011 08:37 AM (GMT)
One of the most interesting things the world will face is the existence of not 1 or 2 but 6 military super powers all at once. I define a super power by the following traits:

Globally Deployable Military & Maintained Presence - Like the USA does now, a super power must have the ability to launch a full scale attack on any country in the world. Aircraft carriers, paratroopers, ICBMs and other technology are used to achieve this. Super powers must also have a permanent presence around the world so that they can quickly react to the movements of other super powers or threats to their allies.

High Population - The most important resource is human resource. From high populations, future super powers will have access to huge pools of talent to invent and utilize next generation technology.

Advanced Technology - Super powers must have technology that only they or only other super powers have access to. Nuclear weaponry and space rockets in the Cold War or the USA's modern stealth fighters are examples of this.

Space Capable - Future super powers must be capable of producing space worthy vehicles and launching them from their own territory.

Indigenous Production - Super powers must be capable of producing everything their country needs to maintain their super power status themselves. This also includes having the natural resources necessary within the country's borders. Indigenous Production will be even more important when there are 6 super powers because any one of them might be able to apply pressure to a supplier of their enemy.

There are 3 countries that will definitely be super powers by 2050, the USA, China and India, and 3 that may or may not, the EU, Russia and Brazil.

USA - America is currently the world's only super power and will likely retain super power status by 2050, however, it won't be the same indomitable force that it is now. While the other 3 focus a great deal of spending on improving or maintaining infrastructure and quality of living, the USA has continued to spend most of its income on its military, some say to the point of neglecting of its infrastructure, education and healthcare. A country once famous for its "American Dream" may be known only for its military by 2050. As many people know, the USA is not capable of supplying its own energy needs indigenously and this will be an enormous national security threat that will either force the USA to invent new energy technologies for itself to use or force it to rely on its ample military to get what it needs.

China - The world's most rapidly growing economy in the 2000s, China has exploded into an industrial powerhouse. China has the world's largest population and its government struggles to accommodate them, often resulting in harsh but unavoidable human rights violations. China suffered immeasurably at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialism, and has for a long time developed a vast military to retain its independence. The China of the future will likely be a China constantly hungry for more resources to satiate its huge population, and it's military will likely be used to supply regimes that give it what wants and threaten those that don't.

India - India is often seen as hanging in China's shadow. Although India is poorer and growing quite as fast, it's democracy is far better with human rights and relatively free of corruption so far. India's military has been investing in some inventive new technologies like their composite Tejas fighter and next generation Kanchan tank armor. India's space agency, ISRO, is also highly successful and even turns a profit. They are currently working on the AVATAR hyperplane which, if successful, will be able to transport cargo into space for less than 1/1000 the cost of a NASA space shuttle launch. The Indian private sector has developed engineering marvels like the Nano automobile, the world's cheapest automobile. Like China, India's leaders will not allow their country to lag behind the West so long as they have the power to keep building up.

European Union - Although Europe is home to many of the world's strongest economies and most advance technologies, the European Union itself is not a single unified country, and it is only with unity that the EU will be able to compete with the USA, China and India in a world of true crisis. So far, the EU has only been proven in a world of relative safety, so it's unclear how their present arrangement would be able to deal with a World War or Cold War situation. If the EU's military power remains in control of the individual member states, it's difficult to say what would constitute a permanent global military presence for the EU or if their collective foreign policies would be similar enough to protect allies of the EU.

Russia - Once the backbone of the Soviet Union, Russia has become somewhat of a wash-up since the end of the Cold War. While the US's military funding has somewhat stalled, Russia's outright halted for a decade or so while it recovered from collapse of communism, and nowadays, most of their key military projects are joint ventures with India. Although Russia's leaders are determined to return their country to the top of the world, it's unclear if Russia really has the capacity to compete with all the other super powers at once. And as a large exporter of petroleum, it's unclear how Russia will deal with the Fossil Fuel Crisis, although their Siberian oil reserves will likely be some of the last petroleum deposits, which they could use to their advantage.

Brazil - Unlike the others, Brazil is nowhere close to becoming a super power in the near future, but nonetheless has many of the components of a potential super power. Brazil's main issue is the lack of any advanced military technology. Civilian-wise, Brazil does produce the world's largest fleet of ethanol powered vehicles, many designed in Brazil, which will give the country an advantage during the Fossil Fuel Crisis. Like China, India and Russia, Brazil has a very fast growing economy.

Ace the Super Villain - March 4, 2011 07:09 AM (GMT)
Other Players:

Besides the 6 super powers, there will be plenty of other countries that will be militarily important during the world crises of 2050-2100. Assuming a Cold War 2 scenario, these countries will be the site of real conflict in future wars.

Japan - After getting nuked by the USA for trying to conquer all of East Asia in the 1940s, Japan gave up on militarism and has become a mostly pacifist country ever since. Japan has a Self Defense Force instead of a Military, the distinction being that the SDF is not allowed to operate in foreign countries, and by national law isn't allowed to produce nuclear weapons. However the SDF is still one of the best funded militaries in the world, let alone East Asia, and most of East Asia is still on bad terms with Japan for conquering them in the 1940s. In particular, China, Russia and North Korea have grudges against Japan and represent 3 of the World's most powerful militaries. What's more, Japan is highly technologically advanced, especially in the field of robotics, and could rapidly arm itself for war if threatened, meaning a small problem in East Asia could be blown out of control very quickly.

Norway - Norway is a small, mostly important country in Northern Europe, with a few key features that might make it a very interesting place by 2050. Norway produces a lot of petroleum thanks to North Sea oil deposits, but can keep its own electrical grid functional with only hydroelectric power, thanks to high rainfall and mostly vertical terrain. Thanks to shrewd banking practices, the country puts most of its oil income into savings which has resulted in the country being very wealthy. Although Norway has a incredibly small population, it has experienced a huge influx of immigrants in recent years. The country as a whole is 11.4% immigrant and Oslo is 27% immigrant. In a worldwide crisis situation, the rate of immigration would likely climb, and immigrant families would likely feel that dire situations in their home countries are also dire situations for Norway and its small but technologically advanced military. Norway is not a member state of the European Union, and if it stays that way, could come to represent an alternative option to the EU for refugees or nations seeking political aid.

Mexico - As countries collapse in the turmoil of 2050 world crises, Mexico will represent the border between crumbling Latin America and stable North America. Although Mexico might succumb to the turmoil itself, as one of USA's only 2 bordering countries, it's very unlikely that the USA would allow the Mexican government to topple without trying to interfere. There are few countries in the Western Hemisphere that can pose a serious threat of invasion to Mexico, but it may still see trouble from terrorists, paramilitaries and drug cartels. Mexico is a large producer of petroleum, and will likely suffer as fossil fuels begin to run out. Mexico is also at high risk from climate change; for example, Mexico City is depleting its natural freshwater reserves and may become uninhabitable long before 2050.

Pakistan - India's Islamic rival to the west, Pakistan and India have been butting heads for a long time, with 2 wars and an ongoing territorial dispute from the 1960s. Both India and Pakistan support sizable militaries and while India collaborates with Russia on its next-gen military technology, China shares its next-gen projects with Pakistan. (Bear in mind that China also has an on-going territorial dispute with India) India and Pakistan also have stockpiles of nuclear weapons which were intended to be used against each other. In recent years, Pakistan has been under attack by Taliban forces trying to overthrow its government. There is concern in the region that terrorists might start a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, which would be catastrophic.

Western China - Although most westerners are familiar with the plight of Tibet, few realize that the provinces of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia also resent being ruled by Beijing. (although Inner Mongolia is becoming more accustomed to it) In a Cold War 2 scenario, it's likely that China's rivals, especially Russia and India, will fund separatists in these regions to cause trouble for the PRC.

Former USSR - Russia has a long and proud history of bullying its neighbors as a show of dominance in the region. As Russia prepares to return to its Soviet glory, it has begun to rekindle this tradition. South Osetia in Georgia was attacked and Russia has repeatedly threatened to invade or cut electrical power to Ukraine (which relies on Russia for almost all its electrical power) to keep them from cooperating with NATO or joining the EU.

The Middle East - Big surprise here. As fossil fuels begin to dwindle, the region will probably become even more important to foreign powers and will probably face more invasion and interference from the many growing super powers. As alternative fuels are adopted and fossil fuels finally run out for good, many countries in the Middle East will lose their only export and primary source of income. This will likely result in their governments being overthrown or perhaps invaded by their neighbors. The real question for the Middle East will be whether or not the rest of the world still cares once fossil fuels have been replaced, or if the region will simply become the new Africa and seen as beyond help and beyond care in a world where there are bigger fish to fry. Nonetheless, there will be plenty of sources of conflict in the Middle East before the well runs dry. The many nations annoyed with western or soviet interference may find assistance from China, India or Brazil more palatable. The harsh environments of the Middle East will also be more susceptible to overpopulation and climate change. High food prices are already triggering a series of revolutions across the Middle East that may only be setting the tempo for the coming century.

Ace the Super Villain - March 20, 2011 08:02 PM (GMT)
Before getting into futuristic technology, we'll take a look at the world's most modern military technology in the present. 2050 is not so far off, so it's likely that some of the more advanced technologies will still be in use. Because modern militaries use such a great deal of technology, I'm only going to explain the most advanced and important or iconic ones.

5th Generation Fighter Aircraft:

The true codpiece of any modern military is its 5th generation fighter aircraft. The aspects of a 5G fighter include:

- High Stealthiness - the ability to avoid radar detection
- Super Cruise - the ability to fly at super sonic speeds for an extended period
- Super Maneuverability - using advanced systems like thrust vectoring to go beyond the realm of conventional aircraft ability
- Advanced Avionics - powerful onboard computers that can engage multiple targets
- Advanced Materials - created from the latest materials like composites and advanced alloys

There is only 5G fighter currently operated by any country, the USAF's F-22 Raptor, widely considered to be the most advanced fighter in the world:
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The reason for this is not so much because the rest of the world lacks the technology to compete with the USA, but rather the cost of creating a 5G fighter is immense, and no other country considers it reasonable given that there there aren't any Soviets around to rile things up. Even in the USA, funding for new F-22s has been cut in favor of cheaper F-35s (see below) and many existing F-22 are never used because they are too expensive to fly. For later comparison, the F-22 costs about 150 million USD per unit.

Nonetheless, the tense atmosphere in Asia has prompted the budding Asiatic super powers to start developing their own 5G fighters, albeit probably less advanced and cheaper than the F-22.

China's entrant is the J-20:
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(image from )
The J-20 (it's Chinese name 歼二十 means Annihilator 20) is still steeped in mystery, so it's hard to tell what it's capabilities are or will be. It's even unclear if the current aircraft sighted is a prototype or technology demonstrator. The will use Chinese built thrust vector capable engines, and its airframe is very stealth-shaped, but has a few unstealthy features like its forward canards. Most estimates suspect that it will be no match against American F-22s and F-35s, but to me, it seems the more likely rival will be Sukoi Flankers and the PAK-FA. Estimated cost is around 110 million USD per unit.

Russia and India will be operating the PAK-FA:
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Sukoi in Russia will develop the main airframe and HAL in India will provide expertise and tweak the build for IAF specifications, for example by adding a second pilot seat. The PAK-FA includes a powerful new engine and will be the first 5G fighter with full 3-D thrust vectoring, which may put its maneuverability even ahead of the F-22. Estimated cost will be 100 million USD per unit.

Finally, the USA has a second 5G fighter up its sleeve, the F-35 Lightning II:
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Mostly designed to be a cheaper version of the F-22, at 132 million USD per unit, it isn't much cheaper, and still more expensive than the proposed Asian 5G fighters. The F-35 lacks supercruise, but the F-35B will have jump jet capabilities similar to the British Harrier. There are also plans to mount the F-35 with a Next Generation Radar Jammer. The F-35 project is partially funded by the United Kingdom and other governments, and an F-35I Israeli model is also being developed, in contrast to the F-22 which is only operated by the USA.

Ace the Super Villain - March 20, 2011 09:40 PM (GMT)
However, most Air Forces around the world operate what are called 4.5th or 4++ generation fighters. These are either 4th generation aircraft that have been upgraded, like the USA's F-15E Strike Eagle or the Russian Su-30, or newly developed aircraft like the Eurofighter Typhoon or Indian HAL Tejas that feature some, but not all of the abilities of a true 5G fighter, usually skipping on high stealth.

It's debatable just how superior a 5G fighter is to a 4.5G fighter, especially considering the cost per unit. Many 4.5ers cost as little as a 3rd of what the F-22 does. In early simulators, F-22s were able to shoot down 100s of less advanced aircraft with no losses, but no one really knows what to expect from modern fighters. The USAF has even pulled the F-22 out of live combat tests like the 2008 Red Flag against French Rafales and Indian Su-30MKIs, some say out of fear that poor performance would result in further budget cuts for the F-22.

Here are some quick pics and explanations:

F-15E Strike Eagle
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An oldie but goody, the Strike Eagle is famous for having a thrust-to-weight ratio higher than the weight of the aircraft, allowing it to climb straight up without stalling. There are also plans to make an F-15SE Silent Eagle that will have semi-stealth capability and other 5G features.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
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Navy fighter, said to be the stealthiest non-stealth fighter in the world.

Su-30+ Flanker Variants
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Sukoi sells a number of Flankers to countries around the world. The newest models have unprecedented maneuverability thanks to thrust vectoring. Image is of the Indian MKI model.

Eurofighter Typhoon and Dasault Rafale
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The EU's primary fighter aircraft. The Typhoon is often considered to be superior, featuring high maneuverability and supercruise, but the Rafale is no slouch and comes at a reduced cost. Live tests between the Typhoon and MKI have shown the MKI's thrust vectoring to be more maneuverable, although Indian pilots praised the Typhoon's agility.

J-10 and JF-17
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China's fighters, the J-10 (Annihilator 10) and JF-17 (Joint Fighter) which is also operated by Pakistan. The JF-17 is amazing cheap for a fighter aircraft at just 15 million USD per unit.

HAL Tejas
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The world's smallest jet fighter, the Tejas is also unique in using an unprecedented amount of composite materials. The Tejas will be rival to Pakistan's JF-17s, however, the Tejas is not quite finished in development and costs twice as much. Tejas technology will likely be incorporated into the PAK-FA and India's MCA 5G combat aircraft in development.

An interesting point to make is that Brazil is the only budding super power to lack any 4.5th generation aircraft. Brazil's latest combat aircraft is the Super Tucano light attack turboprop plane, used for patrol and anti-insurgency at a cost of 9 million USD per unit. However, there are rumors that Brazil will join Russia and India in producing the PAK FA.

Ace the Super Villain - March 20, 2011 10:35 PM (GMT)

The next important piece of aerial technology is the UCAV or Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle. These are in contrast to UAVs or Unmanned Air Vehicles. Current UAVs like the USAF's in/famous MQ-1 Predator (shown below) can carry weapons for bombing terrorists in the mountains, but are considered incapable of fighting against other combat aircraft. UCAVs are designed to fight enemy fighter aircraft, either by remote control or artificial intelligence. Current UAVs cannot function 100% autonomously, but can fly along pre-programmed routes and such without a direct remote control.

MQ-1 Predator
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The iconic UAV right now is the USAF's MQ-1 Predator which has seen extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq. On December 23, 2002, an MQ-1 engaged and was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25, becoming the first aerial drone to engage in air combat.

MQ-9 Reaper and Avenger
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More UAVs by developer General Atomics are on the way. The Reaper is already deployed while the stealthy jet powered Avenger is in midst of development.

No true UCAVs are currently operated by any military, but several are in development. At present, most UCAVs look very similar to each other. Most of the experimental UCAVs are stealth.

Northrop Grumman X-47, Dassault nEUROn, BAE Taranis
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Because UCAVs are inherently smaller than a manned aircraft and don't require pilot carrying systems, like a cockpit and ejector seat, it's possible to operate UCAVs from a much smaller naval aircraft carrier. Proposed UCAV carriers would be about the size of a destroyer and would launch UCAVs via electromagnetic catapults.

UCAVs offer other theoretical benefits over manned aircraft. Without a human physically present, the UCAV is not limited by the G-strain of the human body, which would allow it or its remote operators to engage in humanly impossible maneuvers.

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