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Master of Scaremonies
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The Future of War

At a recent exhibition of new military technology one independent expert stood almost agog as the prototype for a new killing machine was rolled out. It went by the acronym of URV or Unmanned Robot Vehicle - and it looked like something from the movies.

"It was frightening. The [URV] has laser radars at the front and these things were scanning up and down and from side to side," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.Org, a Washington-based military studies group. "It was the most Sixties, sci-fi thing I have ever seen."

Pike and others believe this is the future of warfare - or at least part of the future. Technology will increasingly allow the most sophisticated and best equipped militaries - primarily that of the US - to fight battles using robots rather than soldiers: robots which can detect, assess and attack a target.

The United States army is already developing an arsenal of robotic weapons that could be deployed within a decade or so. In the air, Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) are now being used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere - both for surveillance as well as dropping so-called "Hellfire" missiles. The US is trying to develop ways for UAVs or drones to work in swarms, attacking targets en masse or operating an aerial delivery system to cover an entire region.

Technology is also changing the nature of munitions.

Already there are devastating thermobaric bombs which have more destructive power than any other conventional weapon, while microwave bombs or transient electromagnetic devices (TEDs), which release a massive burst of electromagnetic energy sufficient to disable computers without killing people, are also in development.

Space may become the next battlefield, and it is in this area that technology is really pushing at the boundaries.

Reports in the US suggest that ideas either on the drawing board, or else already in development, include killer satellites that could destroy an enemy's satellites, a Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) that could swoop with hypersonic speed up to 3 000 miles to attack a target, Hyper-Velocity Rod Bundles which would fire tungsten bars weighing 100kg from a permanently orbiting platform - and even a space-based laser that uses mirrors to direct the sun's rays against ground targets.

This last project - known as the Eagle or Evolutionary Air and Space Global Laser Engagement - was contained along with other such radical ideas in a 2004 Air Force plan to transform space into a weaponised zone.

Developments in the US and Israel in body armour have incorporated nanotechnology, greatly increasing its protective capabilities - in effect making it likely that there will soon be vests that can even stop armour-piercing rifle rounds. Improved personal protection, coupled with advances in medical technology, have meant wounded soldiers now have a better chance of survival.

This story was first published in the London Independent.
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