Advanced Weapon Systems and Platforms

Military commanders require innovative options such as advanced weapon systems or platforms in order to face new threats and challenges while reducing risks for fratricide and collateral damage. The need to operate with minimal or no collateral damage is of concern especially in environments where the difference between combatants and non-combatants may be difficult to discern or change minute-to-minute. New technologies will be essential to ensure adequate situational awareness and (kinetic or non-kinetic) precision in these scenarios*.

Advanced weapon systems
Advanced weapon systems may refer to novel systems or significantly improved existing systems. A brief description of novel systems is provided next. Note that the development of protection measures against these novel systems remains part of the Research Area A8.

Novel weapon systems
Traditionally, the ability of conventional weapons or weapon systems to damage or disable comes from kinetic, incendiary or explosive effects generated by chemical energy. Novel weapon systems allow engaging targets with different degrees of lethality by using alternative energy sources or effects. The result is the (temporary) incapacitation, neutralization or destruction of a target, with the aim of generating either an offensive effect contributing to own mission objectives, or a defensive effect contributing to own force protection. Due to evolutions in the field of miniaturization and energy technologies, novel weapon systems are providing an emerging solution for a broad range of modern military missions, including space, urban and unconventional warfare.

Examples include:

  • Non‑traditional propulsion systems. This may be interpreted broadly, but it usually relates to other than chemical propulsion (such as electromagnetic or electric propulsion, e.g. railgun).
  • Non-lethal or less-lethal weapons. Various technologies may be used to obtain some desired effect: blinding, deafening, or any other non- or less-lethal incapacitating effects.
  • Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). These are electromagnetic systems capable of converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and focusing it on a target, resulting in physical damage that degrades, neutralizes, defeats, or destroys an adversarial capability. Some specific examples:
    • Moderate energy laser weapons to dazzle sensor optics
    • High Energy Lasers (HEL) to (mainly mechanically) neutralise very rapid targets (space, hypersonic…)
    • High Power Microwave transmitters, which couple or interact with the electronics within targeted systems either by causing damage or temporary disruption from which the system cannot self-recover in time (or at all)
    • Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons, which disrupt communications and damage electronic equipment
    • (Ultra)sonic weapons, which use sound to injure or incapacitate an opponent. Sonic weapons either make a focused sound beam or an area field of sound. Sonic weapons often relate to non-lethal weapons. Depending on the power, important effects on the body, other than related to hearing, may occur.
  • Hypersonic weapon systems. These systems can travel at hypersonic speed, defined as 5 times the speed of sound or more. Examples include hypersonic glide vehicles, hypersonic cruise missiles, cannon-launched guided projectiles, ballistic missiles, and more.
  • Novel energetic materials. The novelty may for instance lie in the chemical composition. It may relate to explosives in general or to specific elements of internal, external, or terminal ballistics. A link may exist with novel warhead designs and materials.

Note: the studied novel weapon systems require an integration with enabling subsystems allowing the system to detect, identify, track/chase, disable, hijack and destroy elusive (hidden, evasive, etc.) targets. Therefore, such systems need to integrate information originating from different sensor types and should contribute to or interact with battle management systems.

Advanced platforms
This research area also provides a framework for developments that relate to platform aspects other than the weapon system, or even to the platform as a whole. It may relate to sea, ground, or air operations: land systems and mobility, surface and underwater naval platforms, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and more. Note that space systems fall under Research Area 01.

Advanced platforms may include robots. Research Area 07 therefore provides a framework for robotics, with an emphasis on hardware aspects. Studies that focus on the sensors, the data processing, or the AI algorithms for autonomous operation, are covered by Research Areas 03 and 04.

Examples of research topics are:

  • Platform dynamics, stability, and control
  • Propulsion, power generation, and distribution including alternative fuels and drive or propulsion systems
  • Platform architecture, integration, and ageing
  • Impact of platforms on their environment (overlap with research Area 09 is possible)
  • Platform survivability and operability in challenging conditions
  • (Computational) fluid and solid mechanics applied to platforms

*NATO Science & Technology Trends 2023 – 2043

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