One of the main trends in the development of armed conflicts in the 21st century is the expansion of multidomain battle. Potential future conflicts will be conducted everywhere: on land, at sea, underwater, in the air and in space. Even now, small-scale military operations are inconceivable without the use of space and aviation systems for reconnaissance, communications and navigation.
The second trend is an increase in the intensity of combat operations in the aerospace sector. The success of modern military operations is ensured through coordination across various fields, but strikes from the aerospace sphere will have the decisive influence.
The high efficiency of aerospace weapons is one of the determining factors here. In years past, it took days or weeks between a decision to launch a combat strike and its actual execution; now it only takes hours or even minutes. The resiliency of systems and their stealth capabilities coupled with the use of unmanned systems also contribute to the increased effectiveness of strikes.
The United States is currently modernizing and developing a whole range of tools that should enable it to deliver fast, pinpoint strikes against any type of target anywhere in the world. Multi-environment spacecraft, hypersonic cruise missiles and gliding warheads of ballistic missiles are considered the most promising among them.
But if we’re to talk about the most serious threats, then in our opinion it is, first of all, the X-37 orbital unmanned vehicle. Not only does the type have the ability to remain in space for a long time, but it can also quickly change orbit and perform a number of special functions.
The first such device was launched in 2010. Today, there are already several of them. It was officially stated that these devices were created for various scientific purposes and reconnaissance operations.
Secondly, cruise missiles — with their high accuracy and increased range (notably, the United States deliberately withdrew from the arms limitation treaty signed in the 1980s) — have an exceptionally important role today. There are thousands of missiles that can be used on a variety of systems, capable of delivering high-precision strikes in a coordinated manner from different strategic directions.
Finally, unmanned aerial vehicles are another promising means of combat operations that seriously complicate air defense. The capabilities and technologies in UAVs have undergone significant transformation since they were first developed. While such devices once carried out only reconnaissance missions, today’s drones also have the ability to perform airstrikes. They are armed with high-precision missiles and bombs, are inconspicuous, and have extended flight times. Some are even capable of remaining in the air for more than a day. They can also carry large payloads and have a wide arsenal of weapons.
And these tools are able to work as so-called swarms. This creates much more pressure on air defense systems than a similar group of manned weapons.
The development of aerospace attack weapons means adequate countermeasures must be adopted to maintain parity during a possible confrontation. But there is also the need to constantly increase the capabilities of existing air and missile defense systems to combat modern and future aerospace attack weapons.
One of these countermeasures is the development in radar, optoelectronic and radio technology for space-, air-, land- and sea-based use on modern platforms and using the new physical principles. This also includes their integration into a single information and intelligence system to achieve the so-called positive information balance over a rival.
Another but no less important step is automating the process of repelling an aerospace attack. With stealthy strikes carried out in mass, the distribution of resources and attacks on offensive targets will be carried out automatically. This will provide an optimal defense and prevent critical damage.
In short, combat operations during military conflicts in the near future will feature struggles between advanced technologies, with the most critical of those being aerospace attack weapons as well as air and missile defense systems.
Yan Novikov is the director general of Russian state-owned defense contractor Almaz-Antey.