Friday, September 29, 2017

Future Warfare

I noted I submitted an entry for the Mad Scientist contest about future warfare. The top 25 entries are published here.

I didn't make that cut (there were over 150 entries). Which I knew. Here's my entry. Which I liked:

"Scouts Forward!"

Entering the Grid Vacuum
Sergeant Gary Washington, lead 3-7 CAV Scout in the M7A2 Giunta Cavalry Vehicle A-10, sat in the rear compartment struggling to remain in his seat. As they approached the dismount point, his plugged-in Model 4 Modular Exo-Skeleton/Liquid Armor Suit—MESLAS—topped off its charge. Regular infantry had to make do with mechanical Model 2 exo-skeletons, the poor Slugs. Lord knows what exotic power source the Special Forces Operators had for the super suits they got last year, in 2039.
Alpha-10 was moving forward somewhere in Bluestonia along with their A-7 wing vehicle into the suddenly created battlefield Grid Vacuum where the enemy phalanx had once stood its ground. The United States Army’s Third Infantry Division (Phalanx) had just pushed and shattered the Novgorodian 4th Guards Tank Phalanx. Atomized elements of that phalanx still survived by going to ground, but the grid that allowed them to fight as an integrated whole was gone. That’s what Intel thinks, anyway.
Combat between forces that wielded networked and long-range firepower directed anywhere along the forward edge of the battle area was fast and savage. Such a battle almost replicated the Lanchester Square Equation, which calculated attrition based on every friendly being able to shoot at every enemy. So a battle begun between fully functioning phalanxes was costly in machines, until one side gained a sensor edge and began to inflict attrition deeper and at a rapidly accelerating disproportionate rate. It was much like the old “push of shields” where ancient hoplite phalanxes struggled in head-on collisions until one side broke and ran. Sure, this was basic stuff from the seminal work Forging the Phalanx, but it was true.
If there truly was a Grid Vacuum that could be filled rather than a kill sack covered by a smaller Novgorodian operational maneuver phalanx quietly waiting in ambush for the 3rd Division’s heavy M11A1 Legion main battle tandems to storm in, the 3rd could advance.
That’s why 3-7 CAV was going forward. Artificial Intelligence was great and nobody worried about their broken shells going back to Dover Aerospace Force Base. But Mark I (enhanced) Soldier eyeballs were still necessary if you didn’t want to declare everything a free-fire zone.
Break through to face just enemy non-phalanx forces and it would be a turkey shoot. There was a time the Army always had that advantage. Those were glory days, indeed.
Sergeant Washington unplugged even as his team mate, Corporal Tony Lee, finished up his final checks. M-18 5.56/25mm Personal Precision Weapon? Good to go. Everything else was ratified by the AI system. Washington was especially comforted to see the four Overwatch Bots attached to the MESLAS fully functional at 99%.
HOOAH (Holistically Optimized Obedient Artificial-intelligence Hybrid), which controlled the MESLAS, confirmed in her confident cadence, “All systems good to go, Sergeant Washington. Your 4-mini-cell backpack is within function parameters, reading 91%; but I’ve tagged it for maintenance.”
“Thank you, Hooah. That’s a comfort.”
HOOAH noted Washington’s response, which correlated with positive morale in past actions. The judgment was supported by physical indicators of heart rate and oxygen consumption, among other vital signs monitored by the MESLAS Net-Medicine suite.
“Ready, Tony?” Washington asked.
“Good to go, sergeant,” Lee confirmed.
Washington, as he knew Lee would be doing, eye-balled the GCV external sensors streamed to his virtual reality helmet display to watch the outside world go by. No hostiles were pinpointed by the AI enhancers. Not that the two Virtual gunners remotely manning the two GCV Remote Weapon Station sponsons weren’t already hunting for hostiles. But he was an Actual, so this was more than a video game.
“We’re ready to drop the slab,” Washington reported to A-10’s commander. Staff Sergeant Ben Richmond was guiding his GCV to a covered position near the objective that might have enemies or just frightened civilians praying the phalanx would pass them over to re-engage the Novgorodians.
“Roger that. Firing the drone cloud now,” Richmond responded.
The drone cloud was a local ISR network of disposable micro-drones carried in rockets that fit in the 4-cell launchers carried by the GCV on both sides of the gun turret. They could run full-on for several minutes as they descended (lasting longer in a phalanx push was unlikely), but could still work on low power for limited sensor capacity—if they survived to hit the ground.

Dropping the Rear Slab
Washington heard the alert from the track commander as A-10 slowed to a halt: “I’m popping the rear door seals and initiating positive over-pressure.” Richmond always sounded like he was speaking from another world forward in the crew compartment. With his retro moustache and odd obsession with old board games like Catan, he was kind of alien-like, really! Funny what you thought about before going “over the top.” Sitting in the rear compartment within your MESLAS was an isolated place. Dismounting was worse. And it would remain that way until the mission was over and everyone was back at headquarters.
Machinery whirred and a high flow of air blew through the compartment—SOP despite zero indications of an NBC environment—and soon the first crack of light appeared as the outside world was opened.
The ramp was down and the doors flung out, and it was time to go over the top into the world. “Dismount! Go!” Richmond ordered. Lee went right while Washington went left. And that’s likely the last time they’d see each other on this mission.
“See you on the other side, Lee. Washington Out.”
Lee loved that morbid farewell. Well, not a lot, truth be told. But Washington believed it was good luck. Lee’s HOOAH would flag it as “banter” not requiring a response—if it even let the joke go through.
Washington’s HOOAH was already scanning available sensor data, especially the micro-drone information, that painted a tactical picture guided by strict Program of Engagement settings. It identified potential lawful targets paired with fire assets available from Legion rail guns to his own M-18 PPW to neutralize them, dead zones, and confirmed civilians—background muting anything that did not pose a potential threat within the next 60 seconds. Live that long on top of the world and you planned your future.
It was an individual battle now, with a feeling of isolation made worse by the Soldier Enhancement drug cocktail that heightened his awareness, making Washington feel like an observer rather than a part of the world. Washington had no idea how the Operators coped with their genetic enhancements that replaced the drugs. He would be alone on his mission to clear the woods and coordinate with Lee when he approached Karmėlava from the southwest.
Mind you, Washington knew that he had fire support that could include the entire firepower of Third ID Phalanx plus whatever the Aerospace boys and girls would provide. And more to the point, he had A-10 and A-7 plus select Legion MBTs from First Heavy Enhanced Brigade providing operational overwatch for the recon push.
“Hostiles,” HOOAH stated, prompting Washington to stop and take a knee. “Target set A-D Hostiles in the woods line.” The targets highlighted as target pips were ranked in order they should be destroyed. Washington confirmed the tactical picture and weapon choice, raising his M-18 to his shoulder.
HOOAH had already released the safety and selected 5.56 DBC—dumb but controlled—firing protocol. Washington aimed at priority target A, gave the order, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened until his MESLAS exo-skeleton arms moved the PPW on target and fired its first unguided round. The next three rounds fired within 2 seconds as the suit moved Washington’s arms to aim at Hostiles B, C, and D.
“All Hostiles neutralized,” HOOAH confirmed. “No threats visible. New target set A-C Hostiles detected moving deeper in the woods. Confirmed Hostile. Weapons free.”
HOOAH queued up the starboard RWS on A-10, which Staff Sergeant Richmond had released for this fire mission. The GCV was 50 meters back behind the low ridge that Sergeant Washington had just jogged over. The A-10 AI brain took over and elevated the 7.62 for indirect fire.
Washington gave the order, “Fire.” In a tiny fraction of a second, the sponson slewed for final targeting adjustment, firing two guided rounds per target just in case the targets moved and lost Hostile status. The first round would at worst re-establish the Hostile for the second round under the ROE/POE.
HOOAH assessed that her sergeant’s reflexes and decision times were well within effective parameters. The mission could continue.
Where Washington’s M-18 could not reliably reach the interior targets with either 5.56mm DBC or smart 25mm grenades, the diving 7.62mm guided rounds would push through foliage—barring tree trunks or large branches—and bend toward the targets.
Hostiles A and C were neutralized. Hostile B was tagged as probable neutralization—68%—and out of the tactical picture. “Sigh.” Washington actually spoke the word—which HOOAH noted as a minor confidence Divot. “That will have to be good enough for now,” he thought.
Sixty-four seconds had passed. Sergeant Washington felt on top of the world. He was alive and his targets were not.

On Top of the World
“So far so good, Hooah. Tactical status, please.”
HOOAH logged the continued positive mission status of her human Scout partner—reporting the data up the chain of command—and at the same time pulled all backgrounded data into the tactical picture now that close threats were neutralized.
Sergeant Washington could see that A-10 was standing ready while Lee was continuing an uneventful sweep to the west. Alpha-7 was farther west doing its best not to emit signatures.
North, the town of Karmėlava loomed, with buildings, indeterminate persons and vehicles, and Randoms that could be anything given the fractional ISR picture one encountered forward of a friendly phalanx grid that has yet to be leapfrogged. The Network worked in cyber, sure; but CAESAR—Cyber-Assisted Engagement System: Army—was a mix of code and physical ISR and offensive and defensive weapons, whether tube, rocket, rail, or beam. CAESAR made a division a true phalanx.
Some air assets along with shell-carried recon clouds of micro-sensors were being sent over the Grid Vacuum, but long-range enemy rail guns and missiles made their useful lives short, resulting in a tactical status reliant on local sensors operating under the reach of the big weapons.
Anybody on the battlefield, whether Scouts or Slugs (especially), called being outside of a protected space “on top of the world.” Normally you had to dig underground while unobserved and not move (or emit) a muscle thereafter; move low and slow like random animal life; sit still in the open for no more than 3 minutes; or be encased in heavy armor, active defenses, and stealthiness to avoid being a bright strobing target pip on every Hostile’s screen.
Being a target pip was not healthy.
Thinking you could be a target pip was not healthy either. HOOAH recorded a Divot and carried on.
Sergeant Washington advanced, skirting the now cleared forest while moving in semi-random directions directed by HOOAH for semi-random periods of time. The outer buildings of Karmėlava got larger and through gaps and down open lines of sight on roads, the tactical picture was filled out. An Alpha Fires Strike could level the town, but that wouldn’t get dug-in or protected Hostiles avoiding available sensors, while making a mess of civilians.
HOOAH highlighted a Random pip in a building on the edge of town that was spiking up at 45% Hostile evaluation. The AI was seeing signature patterns that troubled its robotic mind.
Corporal Lee reported in. “Sergeant Washington, this is Lee. I am ready to approach the target. Overwatch Bots released and operating. Awaiting your orders. Over.”
Who knows what Lee actually said, but all HOOAHs automatically translated their meat sack partners’ language into standardized communications patterns. Washington responded, “You betcha. Working on it.” HOOAH would translate that, too.
As he examined his tactical picture, marking his destination point at the edge of the town, Washington recalled his class on HOOAH. Back in the old days in the First Korean War, a British unit under attack by the Chinese army reported, ‘Things are a bit sticky, sir,’ which the American commander took to mean “tough but okay.” Which meant American units more in need of help—because their commanders were screaming for reinforcements—could get scarce support. The British unit was smashed up. That kind of misunderstanding didn’t happen with HOOAH. If the other guy had HOOAH, of course.
Washington ordered his own MESLAS-mounted Overwatch Bots to deploy. Four cubes released from the exoskeleton limbs unfolded around him into flat quadcopters with sensors and lightweight 5.56mm Shorts with 5 rounds loaded, and sped forward. Washington would complete his advance under their observation envelope.
“Lee, this is Washington. Move in 10.”
Replying quickly, Lee indicated he would move on the command. Washington’s and Lee’s HOOAHs coordinated the signal that sent the scouts in motion.
When the signal was given, like Lee on the other side of the woods, Washington gave the order, “Hooah, bang bang moving.” It was old school, but HOOAH understood.
Normally the MESLAS amplified his own movements. But in a planned approach to target, the MESLAS treated Washington like a passenger, moving him forward in a covered approach as much as possible while he was fully tactical looking for threats from his suit sensors, the Overwatch Bots, Lee’s assets, and whatever else friendly was out there.
Alpha-10 was firing now. Richmond could see what his dismounts could see and was busy approving or altering queues of suggested 7.62 and 40mm rounds, including drone cloud rounds to guide in what followed, that the GCV HOOAH calculated.
There were enemies in Karmėlava. Many were going down as soon as they were tagged Hostile under ROE/POE. Like the men in the woods, they appeared to be irregulars. Maybe there were also hidden regulars with better weapons and armor who were meshed in a jury-rigged local network. Washington would find out soon enough.
HOOAH could see that the battlefield was getting messier. Hostiles were being revealed and targeted. At one point, HOOAH directed the MESLAS to fling Washington to the ground for cover. The body count would be impressive already if you could even compare the loss of however many irregulars were KIA to losing even one highly trained and well-equipped Scout-HOOAH team. And now HOOAH could see that Lee had taken cover, restricted to shooting indirect via remote sensor input.
As Washington neared his initial target, 40mm rounds set for masonry breach fired by the GCV hammered the building, creating a mouse hole to enter.
Washington fired 25mm rounds set for low-level concussion effect. One through the window left of the mouse hole and two more through the access point, set to explode on the other side. An Overwatch Bot dashed through the hole, where HOOAH indicated that it had fired two rounds at a Hostile still up.
Sergeant Washington struggled through the mouse hole, now back in control of the exo-suit. As he stood and moved through to the room on the street side, he saw that Lee was still pinned in place with more of A-10’s attention turned to supporting Lee in order to get him moving. Long range enemy fire could still be in the picture even without a working Novgorodian phalanx. Washington felt more alone at that moment.
HOOAH added two more Divots to the profile. And then the enemy really came alive.
Explosions rocked the building around Washington. Overwatch Bot Number 2 was mission killed in the falling debris. Confirmed Hostiles advanced on his position from several directions. Overwatch Bot No. 1 had settled on the roof and showed the threat clearly. After confirming the threat queue, Washington fired his M-18’s first 25mm smart shells through the window well back from exposure, but then had to advance to another window to swing the barrel into position to take on other identified Hostiles.
HOOAH noticed a BRDM-10 with a 30mm gun moving into position near Washington. Behind that was a “Technical” based on a large service van that more easily mimicked a civilian vehicle, signature-wise. It had a pop-up heavy machine gun through the open roof hatch now. “Sergeant, 20+ Hostiles, one BRDM, and one Technical. Signature analysis indicates a local network. Advise retrograde.”
“Roger that, Hooah. Thanks!” Washington was already moving toward the back of the structure. As he approached the mouse hole, he detached a Claymore Spike that he pounded into the wooden floor using his exo-skeleton-protected and enhanced right fist.
“Hooah! I could use some Boombas out there on the street to break them up a bit!”
HOOAH quickly assessed faster options for the mission effect and calculated that her Scout was correct. No human would have noticed that HOOAH’s process took any time at all. Within seconds the first circular eRobot-made M-980 Mobile Variable Yield Smart Mines—“Boomba” was a Slug nickname that had stuck—would be fired by a distant Legion MBT and infest that Karmėlava street. They had the advantage of being able to follow the POE and avoid harming Civilians. They freaked out the enemy for some reason as they scurried about, all predator-like.
Meanwhile, enemy rounds coming through the gaps in the damaged building dogged Washington’s steps. He exited through the mouse hole and emerged into a relative calm with the firing and pursuit temporarily behind him.

Retrograde to Alpha Ten
Washington could hear the BRDM, and HOOAH calculated progress based on sound alone to put it in the tactical picture. The immediate threats were infantry and especially the Technical—his last First Sergeant had called them “urban assault vehicles.” It was a “classical reference,” Top had said. Washington assumed it was from some 2D about the old Army. Whatever. It was dangerous.
“Focus, sergeant,” HOOAH advised. Her soldier’s reaction time was clearly degraded. Divots were added to his profile. Sergeant Washington was still within marginal operational parameters. “Overwatch Bots—re-designated 1, 2, 3—are nearly in position. Corporal Lee is withdrawing. I will fire a Claymore Rocket-Assisted Spike to cover his movement in 2 seconds. Brace yourself,” HOOAH warned.
“Thanks Hooah. I appreciate you on my six!”
The 4-cell backpack bucked a bit as it launched the CRAS. It would drive itself into the ground at its impact point, and sweep the ground with directional explosively launched ball bearings if Novgorodian pursuers followed into the open.
Preparing for retrograde, Washington’s three Overwatch Bots established a line to guard against the Technical making a rapid sweep to catch him in the open. The enemy vehicle shouldn’t live long if it did that, but it might live long enough to end one Sergeant Gary Washington’s precious life on top of the world.
Washington began his retrograde run. The tactical picture was getting a bit alarming.
The Novgorodian BRDM was about to drive through a gap between two buildings. HOOAH highlighted the threat and when Sergeant Washington did not quickly respond by ordering a counter-measure, HOOAH confirmed its POE and fired both of the multi-purpose rockets from Sergeant Washington’s 4-cell. The BRDM counter-measures struck down the first rocket but were not able to cycle fast enough to stop the second warhead that penetrated just under the turret, sending flames shooting from the crew compartment. The local network did not have any defensive missiles slaved to deal with the threat.
Just then, the Claymore Spike in the building vacated by Washington reported three Hostiles with a Civilian shield pushed ahead of them entering the room. Quickly calculating the shot spread, the weapon under POE detonated its left-most quadrant, splitting one Hostile in two, sparing the Civilian, but allowing the other Hostiles to open fire on the weapon/sensor, destroying it. That data stream died, leaving the two Hostiles featured on the tactical display to slowly fade as the last-known position information got stale.
HOOAH added several more Divots for the failure to engage the BRDM and worried in its AI sort of way that Sergeant Washington was becoming borderline combat ineffective.
As Sergeant Washington ran from the town and toward the safety of A-10, he could see without looking over his shoulder, thanks to his Overwatch Bots and other MESLAS sensors, that enemy irregulars were appearing at windows and opening fire. Their fire was pretty inaccurate so no automatic responses were triggered in the Overwatch Bots.
HOOAH intervened. “Sergeant Washington, engaging is optimal. Shall I queue targets?”
“Absolutely, Hooah. Let’s use the 5.56. And have the Overwatch Bots engage.”
Washington stopped, dropped to a kneeling firing position, aimed in the general direction of the closest Hostile, ordered “Engage, Hooah!” and pulled the trigger.
The MESLAS took over, and when the first Hostile was within the aim point, fired. Washington observed the tactical picture as the exo-suit fired the M-18 at the next targets, coordinating with the Overwatch Bots for target selection. With a human operator, this was technically not a banned killer robot in action.
Within 7 seconds, 8 Hostiles were down and enemy fire from the buildings ended. Two of the Overwatch Bots were black on their ammunition supply. Washington resumed his retrograde.
HOOAH had already added Divots as her Scout proved able to act on AI suggestions but without the awareness to initiate tactical actions. This mission on top of the world couldn’t end soon enough.

Things Get a Bit Sticky
The tactical picture was clearing behind Sergeant Washington as the enemy irregulars lost their interest in exposing themselves to fire. He was getting more and more interested in getting under armor within A-10 and calling it a day. This mission had been too hairy by far.
The bright side was that there were no signatures of an enemy phalanx of any size lying in wait. The CAESAR could be leapfrogged forward to keep 3rd ID Phalanx in the fight with a chance to finally break into the clear and hit un-networked forces that would be easy pickings in a Lanchester Annihilation Cascade. That was the dream for the effort it took to batter through an enemy phalanx. Even the Networked Legacy Brigades could be committed at that point.
The tactical picture indicated a presence to Washington’s right, amplifying what his eyes could perceive at the woods line he had cleared on the way to Karmėlava. A shot rang out and before HOOAH could move the MESLAS to ground—even though it had already identified the weapon as a 12.7mm sniper rifle—Washington was hit in the right leg, with the exo-skeleton frame absorbing part of the energy of the impact but not enough to prevent the powerful round from penetrating the liquid armor suit that protected Sergeant Washington.
“Sheist! Hooah! I’m hit. … Hooah.” Sergeant Washington was down and combat ineffective. The Divots didn’t matter at this point.
HOOAH sent out the FLASH OVERRIDE signal “Broken Arrow!” A Scout was down. A well trained and very expensive Army Scout and his equally expensive MESLAS. All ROE/POE were lifted within the threat radius to Gary Washington until further evaluation.
The Overwatch Bots reacted by setting up in a triangular perimeter with two (one still with rounds) facing the town to detect and shoot at any threats. Already, the liquid armor began to self repair its hole and would exert direct pressure on the wound when the hole had mended, drastically reducing blood flow.
Rounds from A-10’s main gun exploded along the woods line where the shooter had been detected by one of the nearly drained micro-drones scattered in the woods at the beginning of the mission.
Sergeant Washington’s own MESLAS managed to fire off its last CRAS round to add to his small perimeter. And big rounds from the dedicated Legion rail guns began exploding at the edge of the town creating a curtain of shrapnel and blast that would discourage any pursuit by the enemy. Normally fire that close to potential Civilian targets would have been disallowed by standard ROE/POE. A Broken Arrow mission changed a lot about how risk was managed.
To stabilize Washington, the MESLAS Net-Medicine suite evaluated the leg wound—it was bad—injected the wounded Soldier to deaden the pain, and otherwise began monitoring and transmitting vital signs back to the forward medical station. Evaluating Washington as savable, HOOAH signaled for a Battlefield Evacuation Drone, an armored stealthy flying system capable of lifting a casualty into its protected interior. It would begin treatment as the BED raced to the rear where full human medical care could begin within 10 minutes of the order to retrieve a casualty.
Without fail, the BED drone (everybody called it that, ignoring what the “D” stood for) arrived and rapidly but gently moved the WIA still in his MESLAS into the casualty bay. It sealed itself and began pumping extra oxygen into the space while it lifted on its four tilting rotor pods, and then sped off at nap of the earth to avoid air defense detection by the enemy.
The Scouts had achieved their mission at Karmėlava. With Lee already aboard A-10, it and A-7 took up overwatch positions to receive resupply drones and to wait for the regular units of the 3rd ID (P) to push through the area and beyond, and make way for the CAESAR leapfrog.
The Third Infantry Division (Phalanx) mission to free Bluestonia would continue.

The technical sergeant at the MESLAS Maintenance Company was frustrated beyond measure that the MESLAS Model 4 unit sent back 9 days ago would not respond. Oh, it was functional. The exo-skeleton and liquid armor components were repaired. Even the upgrades worked flawlessly.
“Eltee? I’m not sure what I can do with that damaged Scout MESLAS I repaired. The damage wasn’t that extensive, but the HOOAH AI just won’t respond like it should.” The NCO paused, adding puzzlement to her voice, “It works. And it all checks out.” Another pause.
“But it just keeps saying ‘Divot, divot, divot,’ and won’t stop.”

The Guinta Cavalry Vehicle is patterned on the vehicle I described in this Infantry article.

Forging the Phalanx is the title of an article on that topic I've been sitting on for about a decade. I hope to work on it in the spring, actually.

UPDATE: I wrote about the effects of DBC rifles in this Naval Institute blog post.