Whereas the disruption of an enemy's communications systems and other technology is not a novel concept, the Defense Department is searching for new ways to do this. "If I'm flying against an air defense system trying to track me, if I can suppress or block that signal and send back a false one, that's an example of electronic warfare," Maybury says. "This is particularly important as we get into the advanced information age; more and more aircraft are being run by software."
Boeing's $67 million EA-18G Growler is an example of an electronic warfare weapon. It has been used by the U.S. Navy as a communications jammer aircraft since 2009. The Growler is now or will likely soon be able to transmit malicious software code via its array of sensors, Bronk says.
"The whole field of cyber has exploded since 9/11," Maybury says. "In the last year alone, we have created two brand-new career fields in the Air Force—one for remotely piloted aircraft operators and one for cyber operators."
Applying traditional military strategy to the cyber world, "you want to outmaneuver your attacker or change the battlefield dynamically," Maybury says. One idea the Air Force has been pursuing is dynamically changing the signature of its information technology (IT) systems to prevent hackers from targeting Defense Department computers. This could mean moving information around on virtual servers within a physical server or, potentially, switching a server's operating system without disrupting operations. "We're talking about saving the state of your data and then quickly converting to a different OS or application using the same data," he adds.
Cyberconflict is already a reality, although it is debatable whether it has ever escalated to the level of a "cyberwar," where one nation uses IT systems to attack the computers and networks of another nation. "For me, the biggest IT weapon innovation is Stuxnet, a piece of malware that reputedly knocked perhaps as many as one-third of Iran's centrifuges at Natanz offline—that's a major piece of engineering," Bronk says. "Regardless of who made it we must see this as an enormous change in how covert-action, low-intensity battle is waged," he adds. "This will likely not be an isolated case."
Missile guidance systems
Combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq often exist right in the middle of civilian areas, placing even greater demands on precision use of explosive weaponry. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) have been in development for much longer than a decade, but they have matured since 9/11 to the point where the U.S. and its allies can "destroy a particular corner or room of a house with a rocket fired from 70 kilometers away, something that is both ludicrous and outstanding," Gustafson says.
Guided missile systems have become accurate to within a square meter, according to Gustafson. "In fact, we are now so accurate that we are downgrading the warheads," he says. "Why do we need to cause all the extra destruction when all we want to do is kill the baddies in [a particular] room?"
Smart grenade launcher
The shoulder-fired XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System, about the size of a regular rifle, has been in the hands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since late 2010. The CDTE uses thermal sensors and a laser range finder to spot its target, after which microchipped, radio-controlled 25-millimeter ammunition can destroy that target, even when hidden behind a wall or other cover. Called "the Punisher," the CDTE weighs about 6 kilograms and is 75 centimeters in length.
Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS) use global positioning systems, maneuverable parachutes and an onboard computer to increase airdrop precision when delivering pallets of supplies to precise targets, something that is a particular challenge in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. The Air Force first tested JPADS in Afghanistan in August 2006, dropping containers with food, water, ammunition and other supplies, weighing 230 to 1,000 kilograms, to troops on the ground. The U.S. Marine Corps have been using similar technology in Iraq since 2004 to drop 900-kilogram loads within 70 meters of their designated target points.
The Air Force has increased its precision airdrops significantly, says Maybury, adding that "this is particularly a challenge in places like Afghanistan, where there are lots of hills and you want to make sure that you drop things in particular locations so they don't fall into enemy hands."