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SOLDIERS WHO STAY AWAKE FOR A WEEK AND ROBOTS IN POINT POSITION: WELCOME TO WARFARE IN 2035

5 August 2012
The novelist and bomb disposal expert SIMON CONWAY imagines how evolving technology will see genetically enhanced soldiers enter the war on terror in future decades


Their eyes shine like night predators in the cramped confines of the stealth helicopter. Among their many genetic enhancements, each soldier has an additional tissue layer at the back of the eye, giving them the night vision of a fox.

There are ten units in the squad: eight metabolically dominant humans that can go without sleep for a week and two non-Asimov compliant robots. The soldiers wear lightweight composite armour, their chest webbing packed with high-powered mini hydrogen cartridges for powering their weapons and comms. They are armed with long-range rifle systems fitted with ballistic computers and recoil-less submachine guns, as well as non-lethal weaponry that uses electromagnetic radiation waves to create a burning sensation in the target.

The officer in tactical charge of the operation is connected to the action via a firewall-protected laser link that relays instant information to her directly from each soldier’s goggles. She is situated on the command and control platform, a modified Boeing 747 circling at 10,000 feet. Onboard software programs integrate data into patterns that allow her to make rapid decisions. The Generals at Central Command in in Tampa Florida also watch in real-time; edited footage is relayed to the White House situation room.

The drone swarm confirms that the location is secure; the chopper hones in on the infrared beacon put out by the Pashtun guide. As the soldiers exit through the loading ramp, a ripple moves the length of the squad, the colour changing fibers in their camouflage clothing adapting to local conditions. They fan out as the robots take point position – each one fitted with UV and infrared sensors, chemical and biological detection systems, and a chain gun capable of firing thousands of rounds a second from multiple barrels. Twenty years ago  over 50% of battlefield casualties were sustained on first contact with the enemy. The point position was the most unpopular, but now, thankfully, it is a job for robots.

They begin the long march to the target.  Remote physiological status monitoring allows the tactical officer to measure the exact physical status of her soldiers, including the rate at which they burn their fat. Sustaining a 24/7 soldier requires 12, 00 calories a day, the equivalent to forty-six power bars. There is no way of getting that much food into a soldier, nor for them to carry it.  Rather their cellular mitochondria has been tweaked to improve its efficiency at converting fat into energy.

The decision to deploy a Special Forces team rather than simply using a thermo-baric bomb had been taken to minimize the risk of civilian casualties. The cave complex that houses the target, a suspected bio-weapons factory, is located beneath a Pashtun village in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The decision to initiate the raid was taken after a National Security Agency computer trolling communications networks in South Waziristan picked up a conversation between two enemy commanders in which one of them had used the Pashto term Kewai, meaning “smallpox”. The advisers were overheard discussing an ethical dilemma that had recently come to the fore. Was it permissible under the laws of Islam to use a Kewai device?

As they approach the target, the airspace above the squad rapidly stacks up. In addition to the tiny surveillance drones, there are now larger unmanned weapons platforms carrying precision-guided missiles, as well as two stealth fighters providing top cover. Further security is provided by a lumbering 70 year old B52 bomber packed with the latest JDAM smart-bombs equipped with artificial intelligence, said to be capable of beating a Grand Master at chess.
The tactical officer orders the assault. Breaching explosions and zips of tracer stain the night-vision images captured overhead. The squad moves room to room throughout the pitch-black cave complex, killing enemy combatants. A soldiers is hit by an enemy bullet, but escapes unharmed: in response to the rapid drop in blood pressure, his FRAMR (Feedback Regulated Automatic Molecular Release) implant delivers therapeutic drugs directly to his bloodstream.

It is all over in minutes. It is now time for Sensitive Site Exploitation, the squad moving through the cave complex looking for items of intelligence value. They cannot afford to miss anything. Technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand it ensures the US military retains full spectrum dominance on the battlefield, but on the other it empowers the destructive ideologies of those ranged against them. A self-replicating pathogen built in a laboratory like this could destroy civilization in weeks.
Simon Conway's latest novel Rock Creek Park was published on 2 August 2012.
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