A moment in time in the life of an enabled vehicle commander beyond 2040

With consideration given to the proposal of the Chief of Army's Accelerated Warfare concept, it would be prudent to develop a narrative that allows a reader to envisage what warfare of the future might look like at the lowest level. The following narrative was developed with consideration given to the concept of a fully enabled Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) system for the battlefield of beyond 2040. This narrative was written in the form of a short story and is centred on a short snapshot in the life of an enabled vehicle commander and their crew of five. This narrative in no way tries to predict the future but offers one of many potential outcomes of a future that is enabled, connected and lethal.

Sometime in the future…

Sitting next to their next-generation IFV (infantry fighting vehicle), Captain Andre makes a coffee and thinks about the last 24hrs. His flame and CBRND retardant (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence) jumpsuit sits tight under his armpits and groin where the self-tightening tourniquets are fitted. Struggling to get through the last few mouthfuls of a 500ml 24 hr liquid ration, Captain Andre realises the diazepam injection hasn’t fully countered the adrenalin shot the suit administered just prior to the crew’s last contact, and the crew is feeling a little edgy. Probably contributed to the argument between Captain Andre and the vehicle maintainer just before – when he had said the drones were running low and he needed to power the IFV up for a bit. Oh well, what’s done is done – they’ll have a word later.

Due to the garbage position the AGGPS (Auto-generated ground positioning system) had moved the vehicle to, Captain Andre has had to employ all six ground sentinel vehicles out at their maximum tethered range– close to 500m, which is no good if they need to bug-out quickly. The sentinels are ok, they just need a lot of juice and keeping them tethered drains the power banks. Might even need to consider throwing the extra solar panels out if they are here any longer. They are in a built-up area that is pretty-much rubble now, so the C3 distraction pods have been deployed which will make leaving all the more difficult. Distraction pods are fired out at distinct distances from the platform and start radiating as if they were a HQ vehicle (which creates an EMF target saturation to negate opposing force targeting systems). It saturates the operating environment and shields the actual location of their vehicles. Two pods from the next vehicle over, about 1500m away, were destroyed in a swarm UAV attack just this morning so they are worth every cent.

As Captain Andre enjoys their one coffee of the day – the maximum allowable given consideration to the threat and the likelihood of another adrenalin shot being imminent prior to contact – he considers the water situation. The hydrators have been working overtime to farm moisture out of the air to make sure the team of five have enough to keep them going. The hydrators are a good solution and much better than their contingency hydrators, which can turn any liquid into drinkable water within a few hours. The idea of drinking previously contaminated water is unpleasant even if it has been sterilised and turned into whatever it is that comes out of that thing. They are on their long-range rations which are pretty-much just a drink that contains 24hrs worth of proteins, carbohydrates and nutrients. They are not great but fortunately you’re usually only ever on them for about two weeks at a time. Switching back to fresh food though is always a nightmare; the adrenalin and diazepam shots, mixed with a liquid diet for two weeks always makes your stomach do terrible things. There are shots for that too though…

The thought that there is no real ‘front line’ anymore, even in what is as close to a conventional war, is daunting. The constant feeling of isolation from a real HQ or any other group of humans for that matter is depressing. It’s even to the point where there is no notice of a resupply drop any more. The AGGPS moves you to a location with little to no warning and suddenly you marry up with an unmanned sentinel full of whatever it is you need. Or suddenly a UAS will drop some fresh rations or ammunition on you and you’re expected to generate the rest. The vehicle itself is pretty self-sufficient. The human component is probably the most unreliable cog in the whole system.

A soldier slowly approaches Captain Andre – cautiously, so they’ve probably already heard all about the vehicle maintainer’s last encounter – and informs that two out of their five aerial systems need to return to their sockets in the IFV to refuel. This means retracting the hydrators and solar panels to allow access to the roof panels. 'No worries, just start up at the same time to save the power packs burning too much juice to bring everything back in.'

'No worries, Sir, our water is at close to 80% and turning the car on should bring our power banks back to optimum levels and negate the need to continue using the hydration panels.'

'Cheers mate, just make sure the thermal screens are deployed before turning it on.'

Captain Andre quickly drops the helmet-mounted display to view the C3 overlay. Looks as though the Battle Group is in classic grid pattern, with each enabled vehicle spread out about 1500m apart and C3 distractors fleshing out the grid. Each vehicle will occupy a different spot in the grid each time, even the friendly forces will never know the difference between an actual vehicle and C3 pod. It’s automatically generated by the HQ algorithms via the AGGPS and each IFV mothership auto-moves to each location, deploys their C3 distraction pods in accordance with HQ direction, and waits to see which side – or sides – will move first so it can react. It’s pretty much the nature of things now.

The operator panel shows their automated counter missile systems are all operational. Which is good news as they often get jammed or spoofed. The only drawback is that if they fail, the radars will sense the incoming projectile but only give you eight seconds to be mounted up before the mothership moves automatically to its alternate location. It’ll cut all the tethers for the sentinels, but they’ll re-join at the RV location automatically – pending on their power capacity at the time. If not, they’ll self-shut down and fry their circuit boards so they don’t get grabbed. The enemy has been employing UAS to grab ground and air vehicles to reprogram and use against us. The enemy also has much less sophisticated methods for doing that too – they pay a lot of money to just about anyone to go and grab our unmanned systems. The non-lethal protection methods are a pretty good deterrent. A little zap never hurt anyone.

The mothership PODS systems are fully operational too. PODS is short for Projectile and Point of Origin Disruption System. Basically, it’s a system that registers an incoming projectile and fires to neutralise the missile and the point of origin both. The only drawback is that after it’s fired the enemy will know it’s not a distraction pod and launch more stuff at them, so they’ll have to move. Or, as has been the case lately, the enemy will try to overwhelm the systems by covering more than a grid square in fire. If that’s the case there is, unfortunately, not a lot you can do. On the plus side, with so many distraction pods and only one real vehicle in that space, the enemy finds it hard to choose a target to strike at most of the time. It’s called C3 Camouflage.

The mothership’s pulse communications systems are up and running. The pulse system is pretty simplistic: you speak into the mic, the pulse system will convert this to pulses through the vehicle into the ground, which is picked up by friendly vehicles and converted back into speech; that’s how they communicate. This has been a good way to negate the enemy’s electronic attack capability. By using pulses, the system can communicate from within what can best be described as a ‘faraday cage’. It’s easier for the computers to use digital coding which makes the automated vehicles easier to manoeuvre. If all else fails, they still resort to the more old fashioned written orders sent with resupply pods. Contingencies like these are all explained in the written orders provided for each mission.

The operator panel is showing what has to be at least 15 vehicles mustered to disperse around an objective. This is likely a pre-emptive move to draw the enemy out. Prior to a move like this, the HQ will deploy every vehicle’s C3 distractors to various FUP locations so if the enemy is not paying attention it can look like there’s 15 form up points all around them. That’s why manned observation posts are still so important. Looks like they’ll attack shortly and then re-disperse back into our grid. 15 vehicles is a lot to muster at one point… that can mean up to 500 manned and unmanned systems against one point. Must be really important.

Captain Andre feels concern as an unmanned ambulance flying overhead with two casualties underslung in their pods – the enemy has obviously gotten lucky with one of their strikes. They’ll probably be fine, but as a precaution Captain Andre does one more check of all the tethered sentinels – their weapon systems in particular, as the electrically fired projectiles can malfunction pretty regularly.

The enemy will be pretty likely to launch a counterattack after this as is often the case. Just as Captain Andre checks the situation update from the operator panel for the assault in the other sector, his vehicle’s PODS system activates with its trademark noises: first are sounds like fabric tearing as the projectile is neutralised, followed by the ‘cough cough cough’ of the point of origin suppression system. Captain Andre has no need to call out to everyone as they all know that’s the signal to mount up. As the last of the crew mounts up with two seconds prior to departure, Captain Andre hears the tethers from the sentinels being severed. They’ll catch up at the rendezvous. As the mother ship begins to move, the vehicle maintainer gives a wry smile to Captain Andre as he passes him his coffee mug he left on the track… Now he really needs to apologise.