Right now, the U.S. Navy has a warship with a laser gun patrolling the Persian Gulf. The USS Ponce is an old ship that first saw service as an amphibious transport in the 1970s, designed to carry troops, vehicles, and helicopters close to beaches. Saved from a scrapyard, the U.S. Navy strapped a laser to its back and sent it forward, turning it into a cold warrior testing the waters of the future.
Apart from America’s nuclear arsenal, the 10 active aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy are the most powerful single units of military might in the world. While the combined ranges of ships and planes mean carriers can place bombs on most of the Earth’s surface, the ships are still limited to operating in water. Air, however, covers all of the earth, and a new request from DARPA wants to bring carriers to anywhere there’s sky.
The Navy already has robotic boats of a sort. In August, they demonstrated swarms of boats, all converted to remote control, some even with degrees of autonomy, in a test on the James River. The converted boats were mostly patrol craft, designed for small human crews. UISS, instead, will be a specially made craft, designed to coax sea mines into exploding before larger ships arrive.
As police from Germany and Australia will tell you, 3D printed guns are likely to be as fatal to the person firing as they are to anyone else. This is true primarily for poorly made 3D printed guns using weaker plastics that can't absorb the explosive shock from the gun blast. Without specially designed ammunition, the stress of firing rounds risks exploding the gun -- and injuring the person holding it.
In the tense moments of a long-range gun battle, unnecessary movements can give away a combatant's position, cause them to lose sight of the enemy, and possibly lead to fatalities. For America’s special forces, Sandia National Laboratories has developed a new sniper scope that, with the press of a button, adjusts focus. Called Rapid Adaptive Zoom for Assault Rifles (RAZAR), the lens has immediate uses on the battlefield, but in the future, it might just be a birdwatcher's best friend.
Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider looks like the future. Not the distant future -- not the “Star Trek” future -- but a closer, more attainable future. Its design is based primarily on Sikorsky's X-2 project, and as the name implies, this isn’t just the future of helicopters. This is the future of helicopters at war.