In the beginning, there were sticks and stones. Then came the crossbow. Then muskets. Then manned bomber planes. Now, there are killer drones, unblinking real-time surveillance apps, and a host of other smart weapons like the long-range, laser-guided robo rifle at the center of Motherboard's latest doc, Long Shot.
War changes. To wit: the Future of War, a new conceptual vision of tomorrow's so-called networked battlefield by TrackingPoint, the Texas-based smart-weapons startup behind that robo rifle. Just as GPS changed the way we thought about and waged wars at the turn of the century, TrackingPoint writes, so too are smart weapons changing the game, one in which "data is a force multiplier". Indeed, it's precisely that—data—which lays at the heart of the Future of War idea suite, with its increased command and control of multiple shooters:
…via mobile app so leaders can have a display on their mobile device of each shooter overlaid on a map view with green dots representing shooter, red dots representing tagged targets in near real time, thumbnails of streaming video from each scope that can be blown up on touch, and the ability to interact with non smart rifle video inputs (such as a drone). When a streaming view is blown up, it will take up a quarter or full section of the screen, depending on user preference.
Each shooter with a smart rifle also has the opportunity with multi-tag feature to simultaneously track multiple targets at multiple ranges that a leader can see on his mobile device.
Being able to see everything on the battlefield through not only autonomous systems (spy drones), but from inside a soldier's optics:
Target confirmation and top-level decision making can happen on the fly, both macro and micro level battlefield views will be available, and with recording capabilities, soldiers can learn more from their engagements to increase performance over time.
Exploiting rifle and enemy geo-location data:
Smart rifles have embedded wifi and USB ports to enable hardline connections with other smart devices including communications gear. Smart rifles currently do not have native GPS but can have GPS plug in via USB that enables geolocation of the rifles themselves and of tagged targets via onboard sensor arrays (compass direction and range input from laser rangefinder). This will enable the tracking of targets after they are taken down, targets that are tagged and then leave the scopes field of view, rifles lost in combat, positions of soldiers and more.
And handing off targets by:
…touching a smart rifle icon and a map location and the designated user will see an arrow in his scope directing him to look at handoff location. Whether from shooter to shooter, leader to shooter, drone to leader to shooter, shooter to leader to drone, handoff is a simple touch interface via a mobile device and mobile apps augmented by the appropriate a la carte communications gear.
All of this is to say it's simply not just about the gun. The idea is that meshing small-unit operations into the networked battlefield will translate, in TrackingPoint's words, into "massive increases in baseline lethality and situational awareness with the least amount of training".
Don't worry, it gets better. Among the Future of War's "future concepts" are firing systems capable of doing away with deviations in muzzle velocty shot after shot, small arms munitions and delivery systems designed to rout unmanned threats from air, land, and sea, and image-recognition applications.
These are all just ideas, of course. Who knows if they'll ever fully come to fruition. And if they do, will they perform to the degree users expect?
As we saw first hand while field-testing TrackingPoint's precision-guided rifle in Texas, smart weapons are still far from perfect. But that's not stopping the government from coming around. TrackingPoint's Oren Schauble tells me that the company has now done demonstrations for over 25 federal, state, and local agencies.