Imagine being a German soldier in the lines of World War I. You know that your government and rival nations are developing new weapons that will either give you a sudden advantage or spell your doom. Then, a rumble comes across No Man’s Land, and the hulking forms of the world’s first tanks break through the mist and smoke as they bear down on you. The die has been cast, and you are doomed.
You know what I wouldn’t have wanted to face with no warning or historical precedent. This. This would be scary.
Predicting the first tank may seem impossible. After all, what German soldier or leader could have predicted that a new American tractor would be adopted into a rolling fortress with cannons and machine guns? Well, new research from an Army laboratory indicates that a weapon like the tank was nearly pre-ordained.
Alexander Kott has discovered a law-like trend in the development of weapons from early footsoldiers and archers to horsemen and towed artillery to modern tanks. Understanding how this progression has functioned and how it will continue might allow the Army to predict the future weapons it will have to fight against.
Kott’s findings are straight-forward, even if the math that backs it up is super complicated. Basically, the development of military technology follows a steady, exponential growth. It’s similar to Moore’s Law, where the number of transistors per chip doubles about every two years.
Just like how Moore’s Law allows programmers to write software for future computer chips, Kott’s research into weapon progression may allow weapon designers to prepare for new weapons even before they debut.
The math is complicated, but Kott’s general contention is that multiple variables of infantry and armored vehicles, especially the firepower and system weight, rise at a predictable, exponential rate. And Kott did everyone the favor of predicting what a tank and infantryman would look like in 2050, according to his model.
First, the infantryman.
Alexander Kott used the T-72 tank as part of his data set. This heavy behemoth as part of a trend in weapon design.
(Vivek Patankar, CC-BY 2.0)
The heavy infantryman of 2050 is expected to have an exoskeleton that weighs 55 pounds. That may sound heavy, but the exoskeleton is powered and can carry up to 297 pounds of equipment. That includes armor, a weapon much heavier than the rifles of today, a large combat load of ammunition, and more. Add in the 200-pound soldier, and the heavy infantry of 2050 is a 500-pound, walking weapon.
But the firepower goes up as well. Kott envisions a maximum rate of fire of 700 rounds per minute at a range of up to 1.25 miles. The energy of each shot will likely be about 15,490 joules. That’s roughly similar to the M2 .50-caliber machine gun that has to be mounted on vehicles, ships, or tripods today. Imagine carrying a weapon that powerful everywhere.
But tanks will go through a similar transformation.
Kott predicts a two-person tank crew will ride in a vehicle weighing 55 tons. It will fire up to 10 rounds per minute with an effective range stretching out to over 3 miles. And these rounds will be huge and/or powerful. The expected kinetic energy of each shot is up to 20.9 megajoules. That’s a fast-flying round of something like 135mm.
But as Kott points out in his own writing, there is a possible major change coming to weapons development. As directed energy weapons come into maturity and get deployed, they could change how the model works. Historically, infantrymen and artillery have generated more firepower by firing larger rounds with more explosive energy. But lasers and plasma cannons project relatively little mass.
But Kott still expects future tanks to deliver the equivalent 20.9 megajoules of damage, they may just be able to save a little weight on weapons (weight they may use for power generation within the tank).
So, what’s the value of the research? Kott’s not even releasing sweet designs of what this infantryman and tank will look like.
Well, these trends exist across the world, not just in the U.S. So a tank designer of today knows that they need to design their vehicle to survive hits from a 20.9-megajoule attack. And rifle designers can start thinking about how to deliver a .50-cal’s power in something an exoskeleton-equipped infantryman can get through a door frame.
They also have to figure out how you poop in it.