By 2026, the UK Ministry of Defense plans to spend $2.5 billion on research and development of new technologies, with the aim of keeping the country at the forefront. Covering a range of programs from artificial intelligence to hypersonics, the spending plan – announced on June 7 – offers a comprehensive overview of the type of investment and technologies the UK sees as necessary to ensure that the one of the oldest advanced armies in the world retains its position. through the 21st century.
“The next decade will see the ability to advance and harness science and technology as an increasingly important measure of global power and a key driver of economic, political and military competition,” read a statement of the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, describing the portfolio.
The lab has announced that £2 billion ($2.5 billion) will be spent by 2026, as part of a wider research and development initiative outlined in a 2021 strategic review. Some of the technologies consist to incorporate advanced technologies found elsewhere in other armies. But for many, there is a promise that the research will deliver not just next-gen capability, but “gen-after-next” technology. The Lab describes them as capabilities that do not yet exist, where the contributing technology is not fully understood.
Preparing for war with tools that will exist in two generations is to aim to build the stepping stones to access these technologies. These are three of the most interesting programs, intended to prepare the Department of Defense to fight wars in the 2050s and beyond.
Under development by countries like the United States, China and Russia, “hypersonic” is the category of any weapon traveling at five or more times the speed of sound. These weapons have profound implications for long-range attacks and even nuclear deterrence.
In its brief statement on the development of a hypersonic program, the Department of Defense stresses that working on the weapon will prove the country is “a credible partner for hypersonic science and technology”, likely keeping it in orbit. partner countries alongside which the UK regularly develops weapons.
Getting to a hypersonic weapon first means making advances in materials and other weapon systems, breakthroughs that can then support a super-fast missile industry. For all these efforts, the Laboratory says the weapon will “provide transformational and affordable options to deliver operational advantage to future British Armed Forces”.
While it’s unclear how each technology in the portfolio will transform warfare, hypersonics is pretty straightforward: a missile that can fly at Mach 5 can threaten warships, buildings, armies, and even political leadership. ‘a remote and high-speed country, while complicated the challenge of interception for any potential missile defense.
Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment (CIRCE)
Borrowing a name from the witch in Homer’s Odyssey, CIRCE is a pair of satellites that together will carry sensors to analyze space weather. satellites, describe the size of a “cereal box”, are designed to monitor changes in the isosphere, the part of the atmosphere where “variations in the environment can interfere with the operation of GPS, communications and detection technology”.
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, now known as the fundamental navigation technology of civilian life, started as and remains a military technology maintained by the US Air Force, and these satellites will improve understanding of the space through which its signal travels. Knowing ionospheric weather and its influence on signals means the military could better know how to adapt to unexpected interference.
Once in orbit, “CIRCE will improve our understanding of space weather and help us protect critical satellites from the many hazards associated with operating in space,” said Paul Godfrey, Commander of UK Space Command, said in a press release.
The CIRCE satellites will enter space using a launch vehicle manufactured by Virgin Orbit, attached to the wing of a 747 jumbo jet. Using an aircraft to achieve some of the distance to space greatly reduces the distance the rocket has to travel, and launches of small wing-mounted satellites could be a more cost-effective way to populate space with useful sensors.
See through smoke and other obstacles
To fight the wars of the future, an army of the future will have to see what it is up against. Another technology in the next-gen (and next-gen) portfolio is future sensors. With the aim of finding new ways to collect and share useful information in dangerous and difficult situations, such as combat in urban areas or in terrain difficult for radio signals, the Laboratory is working on a range of technologies all grouped under the “future sensing” section.
One such hazard is smoke, which is both a natural effect of gunpowder and often deliberately used to block sight. One approach to dealing with this is to use lidar, and in a study 2021a lidar-based technique enabled real-time mapping through smoke at a distance of up to nearly 500 feet or 150 meters.
Other work funded by the Lab explores how existing or new cameras can see through snowstorms and clouds. New sensors for tracking small drones in the open or in urban environments can also make the world more visible to a soldier, allowing an army to better act on deeper information from a battlefield.