August 20, 2019
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Wars of the future: Lasers, microwave cannons and drones, lots of drones

Rafael Salido

Washington, Apr 25 (efe-epa).- High-precision lasers, microwave cannons and drones to evacuate wounded soldiers are just some of the projects that on Thursday took center stage at the "Spotlight Exhibit," an event at which the US Defense Department presents its latest advances.

As if it were a trade fair, dozens of displays were set up on the Pentagon's central courtyard to highlight some of the projects on which laboratories all around the world have been working in cooperation with the US Armed Forces.

Despite the military nature of the event, the majority of the projects stood out more for their technological minimalism than for their military elements, reflecting a military force that is ever more aware of the fact that in the future wars will likely be fought more with computer chips than with heavy weaponry.

"These are the systems we'll see in the future," engineer Robert Snead told EFE.

Snead is collaborating with the Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command to develop vehicles equipped with laser armament and capable of damaging or knocking out enemy armored vehicles.

The project will enable soldiers to open fire with high accuracy on targets located at great distances.

"Now, we're working with targets like small artillery pieces and all-terrain vehicles, elements that we cannot attack easily with the systems we currently have," said Snead, adding that some of this equipment is ready to be used in combat.

Another of the US military's big needs at this time is improving the operational capability of its vehicles, many of which may ultimately be uncrewed.

This is the case with the all-terrain vehicle on which Army Capt. Daniel Harder is working.

"It's like a remote controlled van. You can use it to transport materiel, you can use it as a military vehicle ... It's a multi-use platform," he told EFE.

Although it's still in the development stage, Harder said that - thanks to the participation of different branches of the Armed Forces - this tank-like vehicle can have an almost unlimited number of uses.

For the present, developers are testing its use as a missile-launching platform, a self-driving cargo vehicle and even a mobile heliport for uncrewed, mid-sized vehicles.

Something bigger, but also uncrewed, is the ARES, a large drone designed mainly to evacuate wounded soldiers from the front.

"There are occasions when our helicopters are too slow or don't get authorization to fly, so if we can use uncrewed vehicles, the wounded will have much greater chances of survival," Nathan Fisher, a scientist with the Army's Medical Research and Material Command, told EFE.

Fisher admitted that this method is not ideal, since "the wounded would not (be attended) by qualified personnel" during their evacuation journey, but he said that in any case it's a better scenario than keeping them on the front lines waiting for help that might not come in time to save them.

"Sometimes being able to get a wounded soldier to a hospital is the most important factor in the equation," he said.

In combat scenarios that are ever more dominated by uncrewed vehicles, one can imagine that having a tool to deal with such vehicles will be indispensable. Lt. James Wyner is working on exactly that.

The Air Force, Wyner told EFE, is moving forward with the Thor project, a "unique system" capable of "downing groups of drones."

"Basically, what is does is send out an expanding microwave radiation wave which destroys the electronic systems of the (enemy) devices and they then fall to the ground," he said.

This system, which needs to be transported in a kind of container equipped with an antenna and the action range of which is similar to a short-distance weapon, is in its final development stage and in September it will be put to the final test.

Besides these projects, the Defense Department also presented its latest advances in hypersonic technology, satellites, virtual reality goggles and low-cost underwater exploration devices.

All this is being displayed for a large number of high-ranking military personnel and to the fascinated gaze of a large number of children, who came to the Pentagon on Thursday on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, thus transforming the military equipment fair into a real party.

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