Defining fifth generation warfare

by Ezra Buckley on May 31, 2017


WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: Discussing fifth generation warfare (5GW) makes me think of this quote from the Bible: “I beheld, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.”–Jeremiah 4:25. This defines 5GW, non-contact warfare in the present context. Since Sept. 11, 2001 the U.S. has performed more than 500 targeted killings on identified terrorists using armed unmanned aircraft.

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When did 5GW actually start? Non-contact warfare suggests that you destroy a specific target without a human directly seeing it. If that is correct, then 5GW techniques started with long-range artillery and naval gunfire using rifled-barrel weapons. Or you could say the Norden bomb site might qualify. Or, you could also say that the German V-1 and V-2 buzz bombs over England started this generation of warfare. In a very broad sense, these are all good candidates.

To read Warfare Evolution Blog Part 1 click here, for Part 2 here, here for Part 3, for part 4 click here.

But let’s add one new requirement: precision accuracy. That would narrow it down to laser and GPS-guided weapons. In that case, we would only need to go back to 1968, when the first were dropped in Vietnam. Or to the Falkland Island dispute in 1982, when the Argentinians fired three French-made Cruise missiles and hit two British destroyers and another of their ships. But, the best example is the use of drones to deliver Hellfire missiles against specific human targets.

However, we must consider weapons used to destroy infrastructure targets, and those designed to eliminate specific human targets. Cruise missiles did a great job of infrastructure destruction in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In August 1998, they also destroyed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, North Sudan, where Bin Laden was suspected to be at the time. But, the honor of initiating 5GW really goes to the Predator drone and its Hellfire missiles. That began when the CIA took an Air Force-owned Predator to Redstone Arsenal, and had it outfitted with Hellfires. On February 21, 2001 that drone fired three missiles at a tank target during testing, scoring three direct hits.

On 4 February 2002, an MQ-1 armed Predator fired a Hellfire missile at three men, standing near a known mujahedeen base at Zhawar Kili, Afghanistan. 5GW weapons then became assassination tools. Now this is where the Bible verse applies: there was no man (the three men were obliterated) and the birds (the Predator UAVs) fled (they left the area). On 4 March 2002, a Predator drone destroyed a Taliban machine-gun bunker pinning-down an Army Ranger team on Takur Ghar Mountain.

For our purposes here, 5GW began in 2002 and has been used to destroy infrastructure as well specific human targets ever since.

One of the histories of our drone missions is recorded in “Terminator Planet” by Nick Turse and Tom Englehardt. The Predator drone, which could only carry two Hellfires, has been replaced by the Reaper platform, with a significantly larger armament payload. The Reaper can carry not only four Hellfires, but two 500 pound bombs. The heart of the Reaper is the 12-camera Gorgon Stare reconnaissance system that can locate, analyze, and destroy targets with amazing accuracy. The next versions are even better: they will contain the new 92-camera Argus-IR systems (Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-InfraRed), with much greater area coverage and resolution. The Reaper can target large infrastructure and smaller specific human targets, where the Predator was mission-limited because of its constrained ordinance package.

The Reaper is soon to be replaced by the MQ-Ma drones now being tested. This new series will be “networked, capable of partial autonomy, all-weather, and modular with capabilities supporting electronic warfare (EW), CAS (close air support), strike, and multi-INT (multiple intelligence) ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) missions’ platforms”, according to the U.S. Air Force.

We have two MQ-Ma platforms in testing now: the Boeing , and the Northrop-Grumman X-47b. The Phantom Ray made its first flight on 27 April 2011. The X-47b made its first carrier take off and landing on 10 July 2013. So as you can see, these new platforms have been flying for several years already, shaking-out the bugs in the software and refining the control algorithms.

Another platform in this Ma series is the Falcon HTV-2 (Hypersonic Test Vehicle) built by Lockheed Martin. Carried to the edge of space by a launch vehicle, it hangs around waiting for target coordinates. Once it has a mission, it can travel to the target at MACH-20 (13,000 miles per hour). Unlike the Predators and Reapers, the Falcon has no engines. It is a disposable platform: the explosives are inside the airframe. If a sparrow falls from the sky anywhere on this planet, from anything other than natural causes, our advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems will detect it. Then, a Falcon can put ordinance on that exact spot in half an hour or less.

Then, our military will migrate to the MQ-Mb series, now on the drawing boards. These drones will take-over many missions now flown by fighter-bombers. They will be more autonomous, they will be sent out in swarms, and many can be controlled by one single human on the ground through a master control drone in the swarm.

After that generation, we move to the MQ-Mc series. These drones will be completely autonomous and will accomplish the 3F missions – find, fix, and finish – of the future. They will even be capable of aerial dogfighting with enemy aircraft and taking-out enemy air defense missile systems. Just watch the “Terminator” series of movies, and pay close attention to “Skynet”, “Aerostats”, and the “HK-Aireals”.

Fighter pilots will be out of a job in a few years, so they and Boeing have come up with the F/A-XX next-generation fighter plane. This traditional fighter jet will be controlled by AI (artificial intelligence) software, and the pilot is just in the cockpit for the ride. It’s clear that pilots cannot withstand the G-forces endured by the Falcon and other advanced UAVs, so pilots will be anachronisms and the F/A-XX fighter could simply become a member of the Mc series of unmanned aircraft or abandoned altogether.

Add all this information to the roadmap for UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles). Smart torpedoes, UFPs (upward falling payloads), and mini autonomous are in our future. Then when you must factor-in the new developments in platforms such as the HAASW-UTAS (high altitude anti-submarine warfare-unmanned targeting air system), which carries MAD sensors (magnetic anomaly detectors).

A submarine is a huge chunk of metal and it distorts the earth’s magnetic field. They cannot hide from our MAD sensors and ASW (anti-submarine warfare) weapons, no matter how deep they dive. To better understand ASW, read Peter Huchthausen’s book, “October Fury”, an accounting of the hunt for Russian submarines during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

Then, consider TALON and Swords, our robotic ground warriors. They have been effective at bringing 5GW techniques to the present 3GW and 4GW battlefields in the Middle East. But, they have severe limitations as there are just too many obstacles for them to avoid on the ground, compared to the relative openness of the sky and the oceans. Ground-based robots move slowly and are vulnerable to attacking human forces. Cyborgs and robotic ground warriors are significantly limited compared to what we can do with UAVs and UUVs.

Russell Weigley talks about some of this in his book, “The American Way of War”. After World War II (WWII), America controlled the seas (we were taught by the Germans and the Japanese how important that is). Since WWII, America has controlled the skies (Pearl Harbor taught that painful lesson). In the near future, America will not only control the skies and the seas, we will OWN them. Present UAV and UUV roadmaps validate this statement. Controlling the ground with robotic warriors is problematic, especially when you consider the rules of the Geneva Convention and the Hague World Courts. There’s a plethora of international rules and laws concerning ground combat between armies. Comparatively, there’s a paucity of international rules and laws about aerial and naval combat.

5GW is now morphing into 5GW PLUS now, where we combine elite special operations forces on the ground with UAVs in the skies, UUV in oceans and along the shorelines (shallow water), and some robotic systems on the ground.

This is clear when you look at the manpower roadmaps for the military services. In 2014, the U.S. Army gave involuntary separation papers to 550 majors and 1,100 captains. The Army will reduce the present number of soldiers by 80,000. The Marines are slated to reduce their forces by 20,000 or more. However, elite special operations units (Special Forces, Seals, Delta Force, etc.) are budgeted to increase to 72,000 highly-trained and specialized warriors (up from 60,000), mostly for snatch-and-grab and “rendition” operations.

So the trend is evident: more machines attacking our enemies from the skies, on the seas, and on the ground, with fewer soldiers directly involved in the fight. That means, of course, that our war machines have to get smarter. As Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War”: “The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities….it is best to win without fighting.” How can we force that event? By shrouding our enemies in a dense thick “fog of war”, even before battles begin. How is that done? By manipulating space and time so that our enemies realize that any battle plan is futile. That leads us to 6GW warfare in our next installment.

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