The battlefield of tomorrow
Our lives are becoming more complex, faster and more technological. For all the benefits growing connectivity and increasing digitalisation bring, they also pose a multitude of risks for new forms of threat and they make our world more unpredictable. In order to ensure the security of people and societies in the future, technological and intellectual boundaries must be overcome. Experts at Saab therefore constantly analyse past and present military events and link them to global trends to draw lessons for the future. Their forecasts have been at the heart of development work for decades and make a significant contribution to ensuring that troops all over the world are already equipped today for the attacks of tomorrow.
Conflicts and their theatres are becoming increasingly diverse and unpredictable. Strategies that were successful yesterday may be ineffective tomorrow. In addition, geopolitical events such as the current war in Ukraine lead to major upheavals at all levels – political, social, economic – within a very short time and make forecasts extremely fragile. Today more than ever, militaries must be aware of these challenges and depend on partners who can offer the right solutions flexibly and quickly.
What can ground troops achieve?
The concrete lessons from the Ukraine war have yet to be learned, but the first trends are already apparent that will significantly affect future armament decisions. The current conflict once again confirms the importance of logistics, it provides deep insights into the condition of Russian troops and it shows the enormous importance of well-equipped infantry troops – especially the longer the war lasts.
New theatres will determine infantry combat in 2040: in addition to land, sea and air, nations are increasingly exposed to threats from cyberspace and outer space. This multi-domain battlefield poses major challenges for militaries when it comes to protecting their troops and population as well as national security. Training and equipment of armed forces must be improved in consideration of numerous possibilities of artificial intelligence, robotics and network-oriented systems, because the experts agree: traditional infantry fighting remains decisive for war. "There will always be a war on the ground. Even if precision operations over long distances using drones are already available and will continue to increase, soldiers are still needed to capture and/or defend an area," says Anders Wahlström, infantry expert at the Swedish defence company Saab. "With versatile weapon systems such as the Carl-Gustaf, NLAW or even the AT4 family, we give militaries worldwide the decisive edge. Modular systems ensure that Saab's products are effective and reliable in 2040 and beyond."
Urban Warfare: cities as battlefields
An increasing number of people around the world live in cities. The effects of the climate crisis, famine, terrorism or flight from oppression are leading to new migration flows. All this leads to the fact that theatres of war are shifting into urban environments. When cities become battlefields, soldiers need weapons that can cope with these new demands. Many of the new capabilities of Saab's AT4 and the Carl-Gustaf are therefore designed for the urban environment. For example, short combat distances, complex terrain, the need to fire from inside buildings and the need to engage targets inside buildings were key considerations in the development.
At the same time, existing capabilities need to be modernised and improved to remain competitive: greater accuracy, high marksmanship and speed, increasing effectiveness while keeping transport weight low and flexibility are just some of the capabilities to enable troops to gain that decisive advantage. However, the increasing complexity due to technology must not make the operation of the weapon more difficult.
HE 448 – the new ammunition for Carl-Gustaf
Saab's recoilless anti-tank rifle Carl-Gustaf combines highly complex demands with the greatest possible tactical flexibility. It reduces the amount of equipment to be carried and, at just under 7 kilograms, is a lightweight in its class. With the new Carl-Gustaf M4, soldiers have a reliable weapon to neutralise tanks as well as camouflaged troops, remove obstacles and engage enemies in buildings. The additional compatibility with programmable ammunition (HE 448) enables an even faster response. An interface in the projectile also forms the basis for communication with the new fire control device (FCD 558). The HE 448 round provides the FCD 558 with accurate information on ammunition type as well as propellant temperature and combines this data with the target distance entered by the operator to determine the best trajectory. This results in fast preparation, high precision and increases operational effectiveness. The M4 also achieves new top results in range and fragmentation distribution. With Carl-Gustaf, soldiers enjoy complete confidence in their equipment.
"Complete autonomy unrealistic"
Robots marching on the battlefield or artificial intelligence fighting wars almost autonomously will remain reserved for the cinema hall by 2040 and beyond. Nevertheless, robotics, AI and Big Data offer a multitude of opportunities to support infantry troops. They can help to gain a better overview and observe the enemy in order to attack them at their weakest point. They can be the decisive seconds in the analysis to adapt one's tactics to the respective threat. And they can pass on newly acquired information to modern weapon systems in a matter of seconds through partial automation, thus gaining the decisive time advantage. Communication and connectivity will play a much greater role on the multi-domain battlefield in the future.
"As a company that develops and manufactures weapon systems, we have years of experience with systems that, at a certain point, work without humans, so to speak," Wahlström says. "However, this does not mean that these weapons act completely autonomously. Rather, it is about the role of mission pre-planning, because truly autonomous mission decisions raise a number of ethical questions." The expert does not expect that corresponding framework conditions and regulations will allow for such systems in the near future, referring to licensing procedures in other areas, such as self-driving cars.
Studies also confirm that weapons are worthless without the human factor. Machines decide faster than humans, do not need breaks and can endure more. But they are not (yet) intelligent enough to replace humans on the battlefield or to compete against them. Robots are no more effective than soldiers (only more efficient at killing) and would not act in accordance with international humanitarian law in war, because programmed pattern recognition can never distinguish between civilians and the enemy.
A toolbox for the future
Saab's key to success definitely lies in the modularity of its systems. This is particularly evident in the ammunition. The intelligently designed Carl-Gustaf as well as the AT4 weapon work with an 84‑mm calibre. This allows individual subsystems, such as ammunition subsystems like the fuze, to be recombined and assembled. Capabilities from one weapon can thus be transferred to another in a short time. "Let's take the AT4 family 'Roquette Nouvelle Generation' as an example. Here, ammunition subsystems from both the AT4 and Carl-Gustaf portfolios are used," says Anders Wahlström. This intelligent modular principle enables a rapid response to changing requirements as well as individual customer needs. And it offers the military the additional advantage of not having to train their troops on new weapons as well as being able to continue using existing ammunition.
Is this for real?
The skills of the soldiers and their weapons will remain essential for war. The more complex the threats become, the greater the importance of education and training. While live training with ODT (Outdoor Training) simulators as well as live firing with real weapons will continue to be key components in soldier training, virtual training also opens up a multitude of new possibilities: on the one hand, in terms of basic training, if virtual training will replace live firing exercises on a large scale (also for environmental, cost and time reasons); on the other hand, at the tactical level, if it is about realistic, virtual, indoor training. "We see a great need in the future for the ability to use realistic simulations of the different weapons that replicate actual behaviour in terms of ballistic performance as well as handling," explains Anders Wahlström.
For years, Saab has been investing not only in the development of its weapons, but also and above all in the training it offers. In addition, the company cooperates with leading universities and research institutes – the exchange with customers and experts from a wide range of disciplines is a key success factor for the defence company.
Anders Wahlström: "Looking into the future is enormously important, especially for us as a service provider. We always have to think one step ahead in order to give our customers the decisive advantage on the battlefield. However, forecasts are only as good as the basis on which they are made. That's why we set the highest standards for analyses of current events in order to be able to react quickly and act flexibly." No one can say for sure what the year 2040 will actually bring. What experts at Saab are convinced of, however, is that there will not be a decoupling of the battlefield and the soldier. Infantry is still the future!