Clever boffins around the world spend a lot of time coming up with amazing new machines for the military. Oftentimes, these have a distinctly James Bond or even Star Wars flavor. There’s any amount of remotely controlled planes, ground vehicles and even helicopters in development or already in service. In fact, the future of warfare looks increasingly robotic. Read on to find out about some of the most awesome 21st-century military hardware innovations.
20. Zumwalt-class destroyers
“The U.S. Navy’s newest warship, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world,” the Navy magazine All Hands declares. Handed over to the military in April 2020, it’s the first of the new Zumwalt class of warships to take to the seas. And it’s strikingly modern streamlined hull is sure to turn heads.
The ship comes with an innovative electrically powered propulsion system, and that sleek hull is designed to cut its way through the stormiest of seas. The vessel’s profile means it will be exceptionally hard for enemy forces to detect its location. USS Zumwalt’s role is defined as a “ship killer,” and it will be armed with SM-6 and Maritime Strike Tomahawk missiles. Eventually, the Navy will have three of these formidable destroyers.
19. WildCat robot
This extraordinary four-legged beast is basically a robot with the capability of running at speeds of up to 19 miles-per-hour across a variety of terrains, according to its developer. The machine has two modes of movement: bounding or galloping. High-tech robotics company Boston Dynamics is behind this latter-day mule. For that is its putative purpose – as a beast of burden for soldiers on the ground.
WildCat is a successor to an earlier Boston Dynamics robot called Big Dog. That earlier machine could carry up to 400 pounds, the website ExtremeTech notes. And presumably its successor will be looking to achieve similar feats. Apparently, the boffins behind WildCat hope to refine their pet robot further so that it can reach speeds as high as 50 miles-per-hour.
18. CV90120 Ghost Tank
BAE Systems – the company behind the CV90120 Ghost Tank – summarizes the machine’s capabilities in three words, “Strong, agile, lethal.” And it’s difficult to argue with that terse strapline. The vehicle has a fearsome attack ability with a 120-millimeter cannon which can fire up to 14 rounds a minute, according to the company. It also boasts an array of high-tech systems to protect the tank from would-be attackers.
The Ghost Tank has what BAE Systems calls a “Defensive Aid Suite.” This consists of various hi-tech sensors including radar and lasers that warn of incoming fire. The vehicle also has a special skin that masks its thermal signature – making it almost impossible to detect. This gives the machine its title of Ghost Tank. Finding an actual ghost might in fact be easier.
17. TERN Program
The Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) is a U.S. Navy sponsored program seeking to develop unmanned aircraft for shipboard launch – capable of both surveillance and strike missions. It’s probably not a coincidence that a tern happens to be a type of seabird known for its free-flowing, acrobatic flight. The beauty of the Navy’s TERN is that it can take off vertically, is remotely controlled and it can return to its host vessel.
This futuristic drone can take off from a ship’s heli-deck in a vertical position with its rotors acting like those of a helicopter. Once airborne, it swivels 90 degrees on its axis and the propellers then act like those on a conventional plane, according to the Global Security website. For landing, the process is simply reversed. The TERN developers apparently plan to give their drone a minimum 600-mile range and a 500-pound payload capability.
16. Guardium UGV
The Guardium UGV – unmanned ground vehicle – has one main purpose: surveillance and defense of sensitive boundaries. Unlike human guards, it never gets cold, doesn’t mind rain and will not drop off to sleep in the small hours. Whether it’s a border line, the perimeter fence of a sensitive industrial plant or an army base, the Guardium can reportedly offer 24/7 security.
This remotely controlled vehicle can be customized with cameras and microphones. Furthermore, it can even be armed with a remotely controlled weapons system. The Guardium has other possibilities for frightening off intruders – it can be equipped with a loudspeaker. Imagine encountering this on a dark night and it starts shouting at you. Scary. It can travel at up to 50 miles-per-hour and is capable of carrying a payload in excess of 650 pounds, the Defence Update website notes.
15. Sea Hunter unmanned surface vehicle
We’re quite used to autonomous planes and ground vehicles, but how about a full-size remotely controlled ship? That’s something just a little bit different, and it’s exactly what the folks at the U.S. Defense Advanced Defense Research Agency (DARPA) have developed with their aptly named Sea Hunter. It’s an unmanned vessel with submarine-tracking capability that can travel across the waves for months at a time.
From the point of view of the U.S. Navy – not to mention America’s taxpayers – the Sea Hunter has one standout advantage over conventional warships: cost. An everyday destroyer – with all its crew – burns through around $700,000 each day, according to the Naval Technology website. In stark contrast, the 132-foot Sea Hunter – configured as a trimaran – has a daily running cost of around $20,000. The idea is that rather than a handful of expensive vessels, the Navy could instead deploy large fleets of these considerably cheaper ships.
14. PL-01 stealth tank
With its sleekly armored hull the PL-01 stealth tank has the look of a thoroughly modern – and daunting – battle machine. But the vehicle is much more than just a looker. It’s encased in a high-tech shell made from a composite material: ceramic-aramid. That’s tough enough to withstand the force of a 40mm armor-piercing round or the impact of a 20-pound charge of TNT. Further protection comes from the stealth features including thermal camouflage.
The three-strong crew sits in the safety of the main hull with the turret remotely controlled. As a bonus, there’s space by the tank’s rear entrance large enough to carry four extra personnel. The vehicle packs an impressive punch with its 120-millimeter cannon, and it can also carry a heavy machine gun or a grenade launcher, according to The National Interest.
13. Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is the ultimate in high-tech long-range bombers. Its sci-fi design – with the wings and fuselage forming a single profile – isn’t a product of the Northrop Grumman designer’s Star Wars fandom. It’s actually the optimum physical outline to bamboozle enemy radar operators. And when you’re flying deep into hostile airspace, that’s a highly desirable quality.
The plane will be able to deliver precision-guided conventional bombs or – and let’s hope it never happens – nuclear warheads. Northrop Grumman is building the aircraft at its secure facility in Palmdale, California, and we can hope to see a maiden flight sometime in 2022. All of this high-tech equipment doesn’t come cheap, though. Each plane will cost an estimated $654 million and the U.S Air Force is planning to have a 100-strong fleet, according to Popular Mechanics.
12. RoBattle unmanned ground vehicle
Take two commonplace words – robot and battle – mash them together, and what do you get? That’s right: RoBattle. This remotely controlled, unmanned ground vehicle can be used for a variety of military purposes. It runs on six wheels and each one has independent suspension – meaning it can maneuver over the roughest of terrains.
RoBattle’s modular design makes it highly versatile with kit to easily suit different missions. It can operate as a solo reconnaissance and attack vehicle or act in a support role for ground troops. The machine can carry weapons systems, navigation and mapping equipment. It also has a range of sensors. So when there’s a dangerous mission, RoBattle can take the risks instead of humans.
11. BQM-167A Air Force Subscale Aerial Target
Unlike much modern high-tech kit, the BQM-167A Air Force Subscale Aerial Target (AFSAT) is not a machine intended for reconnaissance or attack missions in a battle theater. In fact, its purpose is to be tracked and virtually destroyed. It’s a missile system used to train U.S. Air Force combat pilots in the essential art of destroying enemy ordnance in the air. After an exercise, the AFSAT is then retrieved for re-use.
The 20-foot, winged missile can travel at speeds of 700 miles-per-hour at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet, according to the Kratos website. It can also skim along at heights of as low as 50 feet. Those operational characteristics make it a true test of a pilot’s skill and reflexes in reacting to enemy attack. If you can consistently counter these AFSATs in training exercises, you should have a good chance of surviving a real-life missile attack on your plane.
10. RIPSAW MS1
The RIPSAW MS1 is far from any old tank. For a start, it needs no crew – it’s a remotely controlled vehicle that can pretty much do everything that a tank with humans inside can. Fair enough, it probably can’t make a decent cup of coffee. Though it can fight on the battlefield, making casualties only a problem for the other side.
The men who came up with this highly mobile, lightweight autonomous vehicle are twin brothers Geoffrey and Michael Howe of North Brunswick, Maine. The tracked RIPSAW can scoot over most terrains and it’s fast. The vehicle is capable of going from zero to 50 miles-per-hour in just 4 seconds, the website Army Guide claims. The Howes came up with their innovative tank after studying the way Monster Trucks and NASCAR sports cars are put together using lightweight tubular technology.
9. General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle
The General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an unmanned aircraft system – what we mere mortals outside of the military know as a drone. But it bears little resemblance to the type of remotely controlled gizmo that you might fly in your backyard. This 28-foot long lethal weapon has a range of nearly 2,900 miles, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center. Apparently, it can also fly as a high-tech reconnaissance machine.
The Gray Eagle is much more than just a drone, though. It’s deployed in a pack of four with two ground control stations and an array of other technology operated by as many as 128 military personnel, the center adds. That makes this one of the most advanced systems in the world. With its payload of four HELLFIRE missiles, it’s also one of the most deadly.
8. SKELDAR V-200
A partnership between Swiss company UMS Aero Group and Swedish outfit SAAB is behind the SKELDAR V-200 unmanned aerial vehicle. It’s an unusual beast in that it comes in the shape of a miniaturized helicopter – just 13 feet long and a little over 4 feet tall, according to the latter company. The remote-controlled plane can also stay in the air for as long as five hours.
With its limited footprint, it’s ideally suited for launch from a ship. The principal purpose of the SKELDAR drone is intelligence gathering. This vertical take-off and landing aircraft can also be used for land based operations. As well as reconnaissance, its array of sensors can provide invaluable information for targeting enemy forces. Also, its high-tech equipment can be used for electronic warfare.
7. Lockheed Martin SR-72
American company Lockheed Martin is developing this aerodynamically advanced hypersonic aircraft for the U.S. military. According to Airforce Technology, this twin-engined, 60-foot plane will be capable of flying at speeds of up to Mach 6. That’s around a staggering 4,600 miles-per-hour! The SR-72 will take on a surveillance and intelligence gathering role but it will also have attack capabilities. In other words, it will be a high-tech spy plane with a potential sting in the tail.
The SR-72 is being designed to fly with or without a human pilot, so it will have an autonomous, remotely controlled capability. This aircraft, it’s claimed, will be able to reach any part of the world within 60 minutes. The SR-72 is currently slated to take to the air in 2023, although it will be several more years before it’s fully operational.
6. Cormorant VTOL UAV
The Cormorant VTOL is an unmanned aerial vehicle designed and built by Urban Aeronautics for the Israeli Defense Forces. The nearly 18-foot long aircraft is propelled by two ducted fans mounted to the rear and has vertical takeoff and landing ability. Apparently, plans are afoot for a piloted as well as an autonomous version.
Its maneuverability and small launch and landing footprint will make it highly useful in urban warfare situations. In operation, the Cormorant will be able to carry a payload of in excess of 1,000 pounds. It can be used to transport small numbers of personnel or cargo. The aircraft can also play a key role as a medevac vehicle – especially for casualties caught in tight spots where a conventional helicopter cannot land.
5. DOK-ING MV-4 mine-clearance drone
On its website, Croatian-based DOK-ING – the company that makes this remotely controlled vehicle – proclaims, “Don’t send a man to do a machine’s job.” Yep, it’s difficult to argue with that. Dealing with unexploded ordnance – whether it’s a roadside booby trap, a bomb that’s failed to go off or a landmine – is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
So, if there’s a machine capable of doing it, that’s got to be an excellent option. And there is: the DOK-ING MV-4 mine-clearance drone. This unmanned ground vehicle can be fitted with a variety of tools to detonate unexploded ordnance. Chain flails, rollers, a blade or a gripper can all be attached to the front of the armored vehicle depending on the particular mission. As it works, the human operator can maneuver it from a comfortingly safe distance.
4. Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS)
The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) is a cute critter. It’s basically a remote controlled vehicle that can maneuver its way into tight corners. The little tracked machine is ideal when a soldier wants to explore some unknown terrain without exposing himself to enemy fire. The onboard camera can show exactly what’s going on behind that wall, and who’s hiding there.
As well as providing in-the-moment intelligence, the MAARS can attack with its light machine gun plus its four grenade launchers. It’s an altogether dangerous little package, to put it mildly. Word has it that the U.S. Marines are interested in this clever robot vehicle. And it’s easy to see how it could be real boon in combat situations.
3. Boeing X-51 Waverider unmanned scramjet aircraft
Here we have something that really looks like it could have come from an imaginatively styled sci-fi movie. Designed by Boeing with input from NASA, this unmanned remotely controlled aircraft was put together to demonstrate how hypersonic capabilities could be used in a military context. In tests, it has reached speeds of up to around 3,800 miles-per-hour, according to Airforce Technology.
The developers apparently hope to increase the aircraft’s speed to something like 5,400 miles-per-hour as the project matures. There have been various test flights with an especially successful one in 2016. After that, Charlie Brink of the Air Force Research Laboratory was bullish in an interview with the FlightGlobal website. He said, “I believe all we have learned from the X-51A Waverider will serve as the bedrock for future hypersonics research and ultimately the practical application of hypersonic flight.”
2. DOGO Ultra Light Hand-Held Anti-Terror Robot
Despite its lethal capability, the DOGO Robot may be the cutest military vehicle ever developed. It’s a tiny little remotely controlled gizmo that runs on tracks and looks a bit like something a kid might zoom around a backyard. But what makes it stand out is the fact that it can be armed with a semi-automatic 9-millimeter Glock.
General Robotics is the developer behind this clever machine which weighs in at just over 20 pounds. according to Armada International. It’s ideal for dealing with terrorists or house-to-house combat operations. And if you’re of a mind to talk to, say, a hostage taker, the DOGO has two-way audio capabilities. You’ll also be able to see your enemy thanks to the robot’s camera. What’s more, this diminutive gadget can even climb stairs.
1. Northrop Grumman Fire Scout
The Northrop Grumman Fire Scout is a full-sized autonomous helicopter. It has a somewhat sinister look because where you’d expect to see the pilot’s windshield, there’s just a non-transparent nose. But the point is of course that the pilot is not in the aircraft but controlling its flight from a remote station.
There are two Fire Scout models. The MQ-8B has already proved its worth in operations in Afghanistan. There it was deployed to help counter roadside bombs and booby traps while minimizing the risk to personnel. It has also been tested with on-board weapons systems. The larger MQ-8C – based on the Bell 407 helicopter – is the next stage of development and its greater size gives it increased capability.