US eyes new generation of boats, radios, cameras and other tools for potential clash with China

TAMPA, Fla. — The increasingly futuristic nature of warfare in the 21st century calls for a new generation of tools for the U.S. military — heat-sensing cameras that can detect enemy machine gun nests from miles away at state-of-the-art inflatable boats that can be dropped from helicopters and portable underwater controllers capable of operating drones overhead.

US officials say the particular risk that tension between the United States and China could one day explode into a military confrontation in the Pacific has heightened the need for more advanced sea-based weapons and reconnaissance capabilities.

A major U.S. special operations conference in Tampa recently brought together military leaders and their defense industry allies, including companies from partner nations like Australia who would find themselves on the front line if such a clash erupted with the Chinese Communist Party’s war machine.

As China invests billions of dollars in building a military capable of standing up to US forces, US defense leaders are developing new capabilities that would give the Pentagon an edge in any future battle.

Some of the most advanced tools are those integrated into the camera imaging systems aboard various combat vehicles.

“The sensor can look so far that we can look at the whole bridge. We can scan it with the thermal and zoom in and then if we find a signature with someone on it…and see if they’re carrying a weapon or he runs a machine gun station or something,” said Douglas Pillsbury, CEO of tactical video solutions company Aries Defense.

His company’s products, along with high-end digital imaging equipment made by the American company Teledyne FLIR, were equipped on the revolutionary Whiskey Project tactical boat, a prototype presented in Tampa that was designed and built by the Navy. combat-tested Aussie. veterans and presented as the next step in the evolution of the military boat.

“This allows us to remove the element of surprise from the combatant so that he can see what he is about to engage at ranges far greater than our opponents’ weapons can engage us,” said Mr Pillsbury told reporters as the Whiskey Project craft passed through. Tampa Bay at speeds of up to 40 knots, while onboard cameras and sensors captured stunningly clear video of the surrounding seas and coastlines.

“The idea for us is to feel first, see first, strike first,” Mr Pillsbury said of the industry’s approach to a maritime conflict with a future adversary. .

The Whiskey Project’s multi-mission reconnaissance boat is just one example of a new wave of vehicles, weapons, equipment and marine cameras already deployed or under development.

Industry sources say the United States and its key Indo-Pacific allies could rely heavily on such cutting-edge technology to combat China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its own growing arsenal. of military capabilities if such a military confrontation were to emerge.

At the Pentagon, war planners have spent years preparing for such a conflict. Publicly, defense officials commonly refer to China as America’s “stimulus challenge.” The term is a nod to the massive investments of time, money and resources China has made in its own armed forces.

National security analysts say Beijing’s goal is either to compete militarily with the US armed forces or to use its own military buildup as a deterrent by appearing so powerful that Washington might be dissuaded from intervening if the PLA was engaging in a major offensive operation, such as a large-scale operation. invasion of Taiwan.

China’s strategy is centered on “anti-access and area denial” (A2/AD).

It is an approach that relies on a combination of defensive systems, artillery, radar and other tools and aims to prevent an enemy from occupying or moving into a specific area of ​​land, air or sea.

For American war planners, the possibility of fighting China marks a major departure from the strategies of the past two decades, during which American troops have mainly focused on ground operations, counterterrorism and military missions. urban special operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.

The dynamics of the conflict in the Pacific would be radically different, and US forces would have to move quickly across the sea to challenge Chinese defenses.

“In the event of war, internal forces would exploit the region’s maritime geography to form an initial defensive barrier that could immediately challenge Chinese military operations,” wrote Thomas G. Mahnken, senior research professor at the School of Advanced International Studies. from Johns Hopkins University. in a recent analysis published on the US Naval Institute website.

“These forces would challenge Chinese air superiority, sea control and information dominance; delay and deny the ability of Chinese power projection forces to achieve their objectives, such as seizing territory from US allies or partners, while preventing China from projecting power beyond the first chain of he is ; and degrade major Chinese systems to create gaps in A2/AD networks,” Mahnken wrote.

tools of war

Unlike great power wars of the past, a US-China conflict would not see two massive armies fighting on land. Instead, US special operations capabilities at sea and in the air would be crucial and could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Central to US military strategy in any future war are communications systems, which could allow US forces to share information between domains in real time. One of these systems is the MPU5, built by the American company Persistent Systems and presented as “the world’s first smart radio”.

“Imagine it as wireless internet,” Jack Moore, the company’s vice president of business development, told The Washington Times on the floor of the sprawling convention center at the US Special Operations Conference in Tampa earlier this month. this.

“You can connect things to that – anything,” he said. “It’s way beyond the capability of a radio.”

The radio looks relatively traditional, but is capable of handling multiple data sources from around the world and comes with its own on-board Android computer system.

Paired with the company’s “Rugged Display and Controller” device, field service members would essentially have the value of an Internet of commands at their fingertips. The controller itself looks like a modern game console, making it easy to use for today’s generation of warriors.

Divers could use it to control a drone overhead or another small watercraft, for example.

“You can dive. You can jump it 30,000 feet or 20 meters underwater,” Moore said. “All the data is here. But it is the common controller for you to have multiple robots, multiple sensors.

“It’s very standardized, especially for the younger generation,” he said.

In a theoretical sea campaign, small groups of American personnel would also need to get ashore quickly and safely, emphasizing a new generation of smaller inflatable boats that can be inserted into a theater of war either by submarine, or by being lowered from a Helicopter.

Jacob Heimbuch, vice president of government sales at California-based Wing Inflatables, said his company’s state-of-the-art “combat rubber raid craft” provides that capability. Its V-bottom design, he said, allows for a much smoother ride and safer transport for any mission-required gear.

“It has a surge that helps cushion the bumps. It’s not like a standard boat,” he told The Times. “It cuts through the water instead of being flat.”

“No other boat has ever been able to take eight guys with their gear, with fuel, to get in and out with this older technology,” Mr. Heimbuch said. “With this new technology, you can fit everyone in the boat. You can get where you’re going and you can go out with your whole team.

Wing Inflatables recently won a five-year contract with the Marine Corps to supply up to 900 boats, Heimbuch said.

These high-priced contracts for maritime capabilities will only increase in the future. And top Pentagon officials readily admit that their approach must continue to evolve.

“There are some things we’ve done over the course of modernization over the past 20 years that frankly need a bit of a refresh,” said Jim Smith, acquisition manager at U.S. Special Operations Command. , during an audience at the Special Operations Convention.