The Future of Airborne?

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 November. It is a dark night. No moon. Some twenty western hostages lie dispersed around a terrorist camp. British Special Forces have been mapping the site for some time, slowly building a biometric map.  They have successfully identified where the hostages are being held, as well as the routines, habits, strengths and weaknesses of their captors.  Radio and cyber communications have also been hacked. 

Some miles off shore a wave of landing craft and CB90 assault craft depart HMS Prince of Wales and stealthily make their way to the shore.  Half of the force continues to the beach undetected, but halfway in part of the force stops. From the decks of the landing craft ghostly figures ascend to the heavens.  3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines is going into action.  

At the spear-tip of the force is 45 Commando, the new AI-enabled Joint Commando Air-Maritime Assault Force.  Equipped with the latest Mark 5 Gravity Jet assault suits the battalion represents the future of airborne assault. As each commando rises into the night sky s/he carries an assault rifle and a series of small ground attack missiles. Heavier personal equipment is carried alongside by a personally-assigned ‘intelligent’ lift drone.  After the initial air-assault mission the Commando will hit the ground running and join forces on the ground, with their kit ready for action.  

As the Commandos begin their part of the rescue a further phalanx of ‘intelligent’ fast strike drones lift off the decks of the British aircraft carrier and make their way towards the littoral. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35 Lightning 2’s are also warming up on the deck to reinforce the shock the Royal Marines, SAS and SBS are about to inflict.  

Timed to match the moment of the enemy’s least readiness and thus create maximum shock and confusion, the SAS and SBS force move into the camp having dispatched some of the guards.  As they advance flying commandos and strike drones appear from several directions at once and target each individually identified ‘mark’. The Special Forces, now supported by the ground force, seize the hostages and extract them. 

Merlin helicopters, with advanced noise suppression blades, move in behind the aerial human and intelligent machine attack ‘swarm’ so that the Royal Marines can escort the hostages to the ‘choppers’ and safety.  The SAS and SBS simply retreat, job done, unknown, unobserved, and back into the darkness from whence they came. 

As the Merlin’s land four of HMS Prince of Wales’s F-35s from 809 Squadron Fleet Air Arm obliterate the camp. Ten minutes in and it is all over. 

All a bit James Bondish?  Maybe. Just watch Royal Marine Richard Browning and his Gravity Jet suit!

Some years ago I led a significant project for the head of an important Allied navy into the future of so-called ‘brown water operations’. Entitled Effect in the All Water Battlespace: Riverine Operations, and without breaking confidence, the essence of the report was how best to reduce the cost per naval platform per operation.  However, to meet its goals the study also combined strategy, innovation and technology to form new partnerships and ideas. The ultimate aim was to understand how a force could better fulfil its mission as quickly, effectively, affordably, and as successfully as possible, as part of what is known in the jargon as ‘ship to objective manoeuvre’. Some of you may think Richard Browning’s Gravity Jet suit may have little military application. Let me assure you it has. Let me also assure you that right now defence agencies in China, Russia and elsewhere are also assessing it.  

Julian Lindley-French