The U.S. military has been modernizing the armed forces in preparation for a potentially new era of warfare around the corner.
2018 was certainly a year jam-packed with defense headlines as the defense industry became re-energized across all sectors and innovation to meet the requirements of U.S. forces was reinvigorated.
So as we kick off this new year, which defense stories should Americans be keeping an eye on?
We’ve curated five of the many exciting defense advances that made headlines last year. These five stories will continue to grow throughout the upcoming year. You’ll find one from each of the five fundamental terrains where we face ongoing and new emerging threats: land, air, sea, space and cyber.
New warships with laser weapons, next-gen extreme off-roading, safer vehicles that will become this generation’s ‘humvees,’ landmark moments for the most advanced fifth-generation fighter jet in the world, historic creation of a new Space Command and “Space Force”… and finally where to stay tuned for the next wave of AI (artificial intelligence) where giant things are quietly happening.
New destroyers with laser weapons
Ten new powerful destroyers, able to decimate more types of enemy threat and at even greater distances, will be joining the fleet. And these destroyers may be armed with futuristic laser weapons.
The new Arleigh-Burke class warships are part of the very wise shift towards rapidly expand the surface fleet and will definitely expand the might and strike reach of the U.S. military. The fierce looks alone of the Arleigh-Burke class destroyers at over 500 feet long, with a nearly 60 feet beam, displacing approximately 10,000 tons, send a very clear message to would-be adversaries of the U.S.
Current destroyers already pack a wallop, carrying an array of powerful weapons and aircraft.
There’s a devastating array of firepower like missiles such as the hard-hitting Tomahawks, standard ones (SM-2MR), vertical launch ASROC and evolved Sea Sparrow.
For threats under the water surface, they can use their six MK-46 torpedoes launched from two triple tube mounts.
Should a threat like a surveillance drone or a small craft get close, then the sailors can unleash weapons like the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) and the 5-in. MK 45 Gun.
Aircraft further expand the ships’ firepower. They can carry two helicopters armed with MK 46/MK 50 torpedoes for underwater threats like submarines and Penguin/Hellfire missiles for above-surface threats like enemy warships.
The new “Flight III” Destroyers will be even more advanced, loaded with cutting-edge new tech like new advanced engines and improved radar … not to mention those laser weapons.
The Navy ordered $9 billion worth of next-gen Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to be built by Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works.
New extreme off-roading, max protection vehicles for Army
More than 6,000 new, extreme off-roading, max protection vehicles will be in the hands of U.S. forces. Not to be confused with Oshkosh that makes the adorable kids’ overalls, Oshkosh Defense is a serious player in defense with nearly a century deep experience and expertise.
Oshkosh Defense won the JLTV (joint light tactical vehicle) gig that will be replacing the iconic “Humvees.” In 2018, the U.S. Army bought $1.69 billion worth of these next-gen vehicles. This is the latest in the shift towards this state-of-the-art fighting vehicle. Back in 2015, the military bought $6.7 billion worth of JLTVs.
JLTVs will be the new “humvee” for soldiers and marines who will definitely benefit from the remarkable advances. Oshkosh TAK-4i is an intelligent independent suspension system that gives warfighters a way smoother ride in combat.
They’ll also be able to leverage the extreme off-roading, amazing maneuverability which will be ultra-handy when dealing with threats – and also very importantly, the Oshkosh JLTV will deliver greatly enhanced protection against a range of threats including IED blasts that previously could have been lethal.
This is beyond next-level protection for our forces. Rather than the classic armor, every single detail has been considered to enhance safety for those inside. There’s a futuristic hull that will withstand hardcore beatings from the enemy, whether ballistic attacks or bomb blasts. There’s even a special system that absorbs and deflects bomb blast energy away from those inside.
Inside the vehicle, there is a huge number of measures taken to help keep forces safe like special seats that are designed to protect against a bomb blast.
These new vehicles are so cutting-edge and fully-loaded with advanced features there’s even automatic fire suppression systems.
F-35B stealth fighter jet first combat deployment
The ground-breaking fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter Jet, the Lightning II, made history in 2018 when the F-35B successfully completed its first combat mission.
On Sept. 27, the F-35B conducted its first-ever combat strike supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel by successfully dropping bombs on targets in Afghanistan.
The Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 F-35Bs in the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed California in July, and by September they had joined the U.S. 5th Fleet.
The Marine Corps variant is STOVL – as in short takeoff/vertical landing. In fact, this aircraft is an utter breakthrough in heaps of ways – not least of which is that it is the very first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft in the world. This method provides huge advantages such as wide flexibility and rapid access to combat zones by potentially utilizing a wider range of ships, as well as rudimentary landing areas as opposed to proper base runways, closer to front-line combat.
Space Force commandos
In a landmark move, President Trump signed an order launching a new U.S. Space Command. One of the tasks will most likely include developing ways to defend American space assets like satellites, which are vital for U.S. forces’ communications, surveillance, navigation and more.
Increased focus on space is timely since countries who are not always friendly to the U.S. have long held ambitions to stop – and even destroy - American satellites. These countries have invested resources and talent into rapidly advancing their space tech.
As soon as 2019, Americans may begin to see U.S. investment and results. Ultimately, financial support could be in the billions.
There were also many headlines about the White House creating a new armed service branched dubbed the “Space Force.” Both establishing a new command, and a “force,” will be a long process and something to watch over the next year.
Fortunately, many teams in the military have already made great strides for space. In particular, the USAF, which has consistently made remarkable breakthroughs with applications here on Earth and in space.
Are we ready for ‘rise of the machines’?
In 2018, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced more than $2 billion of investment in new and existing artificial intelligence (AI) programs.
Called the ‘AI Next’ campaign, the next few years will yield a series of breakthroughs in third wave AI. Machines will be able to adapt to changing situations – and that’s just for starters.
DARPA will create an array of powerful capabilities for the U.S. military to both protect the country and to enhance the military’s effectiveness.
For example, DARPA will advance approximately 60 current promising programs like real-time cyber attack, dynamic kill-chains for all-domain warfare, human language tech and, multi-modality automatic target recognition.
To support the health and well-being of U.S. forces as well as civilians, there are also AI programs related to biomedical advances and using prosthetic limbs.
Some AI tech has already proven useful for a wide range of missions from cyber attack warning through to space-based imagery analysis, so this AI will also advance.
In addition to progressing the powerful tool of machine learning for AI and other tools like AI for facial recognition and AI for self-driving vehicles, DARPA will be creating breakthroughs in an entirely new generation of AI.
It will be fascinating to see the AI breakthroughs of 2019. The nation has always been able to rely on DARPA to ensure U.S. technology outstrips adversaries. Many hostile actors are aggressively pushing their AI programs, but luckily the nation has DARPA to exceed their skills and help keep the nation safe.