If you went back in time and told a soldier in World War II that your MOS was Cyber Network Defender, he or she would probably respond by asking “What the hell is a cyber?” (The World War II soldier would be even less impressed that cyber is somehow considered a combat arms job.) It’s fun to look at the changes afoot in technology and warfare today and try to predict the military jobs of tomorrow. Here are five future military occupation specialties, based on events now in the news.
Cyber Bomb Technician
Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense, explained of America’s war against the Islamic State, “We are using cyber tools, which is really a major new departure… These are strikes that are conducted in the warzone using cyber essentially as a weapon of war, just like we drop bombs.” It’s hard to know for certain, but I would wager that ISIS much prefers these cyber bombs to JDAMs. Since this is the new direction of military rhetoric, however, it’s pretty clear that terms like cyber bombs and cyber missiles are here to stay—and that we can expect some cyber ordnance to be used against American forces soon enough. Cyber bomb technicians will be the soldiers who find these malicious enemy programs embedded on our computer networks: the nuclear power plant one line of code away from a meltdown, or the fighter jet that “forgets” how to eject or how to launch a (physical) missile.
Of all the technologies with the potential to change everything for the military, “swarming drones” are perhaps the most exciting. What could an engineering battalion do with a swarm of autonomous drones able to build brick walls? That’s not science fiction: swarms were doing that years ago, and “flight assembled architecture” is just getting started. Swarms can even build bridges! Swarms can do intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance with ease. Now arm those drones: think a swarm of bees, only instead of getting stung, you and everyone nearby is shot dead. The Air Force is certainly interested in this concept. While the drones operate autonomously, they will certainly need someone to call them in and direct them. (“Swarm, go kill those people, but not those people” or “Swarm, build a barracks over there.”) “Swarm pilot” as a military specialty will be here sooner than you think. One imagines a Special Forces team member whose job is swarm employment (“Swarm, go build us a rope bridge over that ravine” or “Swarm, go spy on that outpost”), or a new type of air force JTAC who embeds with army infantry units. With this technology, you’re limited only by your imagination.
While you weren’t looking, lasers leapt from the latest Star Wars film and landed on the battlefield. “Think of it like a welding torch being put on a target, but from many hundreds of meters away,” said an engineer with Boeing of the latest laser technologies. The move to laser weapons is going to have as profound an effect on military strategy as precision guided munitions. We’re going to lean heavily on drones going forward, and so, too, will the enemy. Guess what weapon is great at killing drones? Lasers are “silent, invisible, and precise,” and can melt a drone in seconds. Lockheed Martin already has a laser cannon that can burn through the engine manifold of a truck “in a matter of seconds from more than a mile away.” And they’re only getting started.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: the Helicarrier was the worst part of the first Avengers movie. In a world where everyone can fly—including supervillains—why would you place your entire command staff on a flying aircraft carrier with four giant propellers acting as bulls-eyes? The giant green rage monster and the Norse god from another dimension are far more believable than the helicarrier. The U.S. Department of Defense is interested in a real life helicarrier, however, though thankfully its sights are set a little lower. They want to use C-130s and other cargo jets as flying aircraft carriers for drone squadrons. While mini-drones are enormously effective, they simply cannot fly the kinds of distances that the military requires. Enter the C-130: fly to your target, lower your tailgate, and scramble the fleet. DARPA is presently working on the concept, meaning the first captain of a helicarrier is not far behind.
Death Star Operator
Sandia Laboratories, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and other defense contractors are working on a space-based laser. They claim such a laser could destroy an intercontinental ballistic missile from thousands of miles away. They claim such a laser could defend our satellites from enemy attack. They claim a lot of things but I think we all know what’s really going on. One man’s space-based laser is another man’s prototype Death Star. It’s only a matter of time and scale before fear keeps the local systems in line. Fear of that battle station.