The latest laser warfare, the UAE's new fighting machines and India gets defensive with its ballistic missile shield. Plus, Hilary Synnott on what to do with the Pakistan and the Taliban challenge.
A team from US-based Boeing Integrated Defense Systems has shot down a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) using a laser for the first time – but not in the Star Wars way you might imagine.
The UAV was destroyed by a Stinger missile fired from a trial Laser Avenger vehicle, (basically a Hummer fitted with missiles and in this case a laser cannon). The firing stands out because though UAVs tend to look flimsy they are hard to target and the laser may have now made this task easier.
Heat-seeking Stinger missiles were designed – long before UAVs were a common battlefield feature – to home in on the heat plumes created by jet aircraft and helicopters. As such, the relatively cool appearance of small and medium UAVs, with their tiny piston engines, renders them almost invisible to Stingers. So as UAVs proliferate, armies need new ways to ensure that they’re not spied upon by them from above.
Boeing’s new solution involves shining a laser on to the aircraft to heat up its skin and make it more attractive to a missile in a process named “super-designation”.
At present, the US Army’s Avenger vehicles are one-trick ponies, carrying missiles to troops on the ground as a last-ditch defence against attack from the air. This latest trial adds impetus to a programme to upgrade them with laser turrets, following tests in 2007 that also proved their capability against mines and roadside bombs, “cooking them off” from a distance.
UAE radically redesigns ICV
Germany’s Industriewerke Saar is reworking the Russian Kurgan BMP-3 infantry combat vehicle for the United Arab Emirates. Major work will see the engine moved from the rear to the front. At the moment, the troops in the back can only get in and out via roof hatches, but moving the engine out of the way will enable a new door to be cut out of the back of the vehicle. This means that the vehicle will be able to stop facing incoming fire, protecting troops as they get out.
Indian BMD shield
India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation claims it will begin fielding a ballistic missile defence (BMD) shield by 2011, following a successful interception test of the new two-stage Prithvi Air Defence II (PAD II) missile in March.
This would see India join an exclusive club, as there are only a handful of other countries that have active, indigenously developed BMD capabilities: Israel, Russia and the US. India’s latest PAD II trial saw it destroy a ballistic missile 75km above the earth’s surface.
Japan’s naval manoeuvres
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence force (see cover story Monocle issue 1) has just commissioned JS Hyuga, an 18,000-ton helicopter carrier, the largest ship to enter service in the modern fleet. The vessel will be used for anti-submarine warfare and is one of two carriers on order. As China bolsters it naval presence in the region, Japan is not going to be left behind.
A former British high commissioner to Pakistan asks how the world can help stabilise the country.
By Hilary Synnott, consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
To read the news from Pakistan, it seems the country is about to succumb to violent extremism. Some suggest it’s a greater threat to global security than Afghanistan, with nuclear weapons, an aggressive army and five times the population.
With the emergence of the “Pakistan Taliban”, the proliferation of suicide bombings and the adoption by one of its regions of its own version of Islamic law, Pakistan is facing its worst security crisis since Bangladesh broke away in 1971. Meanwhile, the economy has nose-dived and is being bailed out by the IMF. And the political scene is in turmoil: the main political parties are at loggerheads, seemingly oblivious to the troubles that surround them. Even the ruling Pakistan People’s Party is divided as a result of the idiosyncratic leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto. In the wings stands the army, the country’s most effective institution, which has held power for more than half the country’s 62 years.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s review of strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan concluded that military efforts must be stepped up in both countries, with continued drone strikes in Pakistan’s territory. But Barack Obama also recognises that military means alone are not enough: he aims to provide $1.5bn (€1.15bn) a year in new non-military assistance to help rebuild Pakistan’s institutions, provide jobs, and develop water and energy resources.
If Pakistan’s political troubles bring about early elections, the political parties rather than the militants will continue to win: religious parties have never appealed to the majority, who embrace the peaceable Sufi tradition of Islam. But it’s imperative that those parties use outside help effectively and transparently. And they must offer better opportunities for young Pakistanis and a healthier alternative to renewed army rule.
“Iron Dome”, the $200m (€151m) Israeli defence system designed to shoot down incoming Hamas or Hezbollah rockets with interceptor missiles, was tested successfully in March and should be operational by 2010.