Top military officers presented lawmakers with their view of future war Friday: laser-armed warplanes, soldiers with computer backpacks, and seagoing missile launch pads.
Some of these weapons are already in development. The question raised by lawmakers is whether the military can afford it all. A hearing of the Senate Armed Services acquisition and technology subcommittee brought out the tension between what the military wishes to do and what it can afford.
“Rather than just new toys, it’s got to be relevant to the operating environment,” said Adm. Jay L. Johnson, vice chief of naval operations.
Johnson, accompanied by senior Army, Marine and Air Force officers, provided new detail on a top future priority, the arsenal ship.
The Navy is looking at four to six arsenal ships that would be lightly manned but heavily armed with vertical-launch missiles. One money-saving idea involves modifying the hull of the Navy’s workhorse DDG-51 Aegis-class destroyer.
“We would like to have the arsenal ship afloat and functional by the turn of the century,” Johnson said.
Lawmakers got a glimpse of what the foot soldier of 2020 might look like in the form of Sgt. Garry Moubray of the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division. Moubray carried a standard M-16 rifle fitted with a heat-sensitive night vision sight, a soldier-to-soldier radio system, lightweight body armor, and a television camera that can send battlefield images back to headquarters. It was all coordinated by a 486-power computer imbedded in his backpack.
A reporter allowed to look through the thermal sight at the committee hearing room could clearly make out the heads of senators and lobbyists in a bright red while cooler inanimate objects appeared darker. Unlike standard night-vision equipment, the thermal sights function in fog or smoky conditions.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Ed Eberhart, appearing at a separate hearing Friday, described, “one of our highest priorities,” an airborne laser that will be mounted on a large airplane and capable of tracking and destroying missiles.