Accelerating technological advancement, especially in the digital spectrum, has asserted its impact on nearly all realms of life. Having its roots in the commercial sector, recent years have seen rapid democratization of technologies that could potentially even be weaponized.
Given this progress, throughout the years, the world of security has changed tremendously, the intensity of which is manifested through the consistent advancements in smart weapons market. Economies across the globe are involved in persistent efforts to upgrade and enhance their munitions infrastructure, in order to maintain optimum protection against increasingly severe national security threats.
Modern conflict resolution and defense solutions call for advanced weaponry technology with a broader range, a trend that is expected to hold true even as years progress. The growing emphasis on smart weapons industry development is a pivotal feature of this phenomenon.
Smart weapons – Tracing their evolution
Smart weapons, or smart munitions refer to weapons that leverage computerized guidance systems to navigate to their targets. Advancements in sensor, algorithm, and processor technologies, among others, are paving the way for the potential development of fully autonomous weaponry in the forthcoming years.
These technologically advanced munitions are guided mostly using television/infrared, laser, or satellite systems. On the basis of weapon type, this industry can be classified into missiles, including air-to-ground missiles or surface-to-air missiles, munitions such as smart bombs, precision artillery ammunition, sensor fused weapons or electromagnetic pulse weapons, guided rockets such as anti-submarine rockets, anti-tank rockets, air-to-surface rockets or air-to-air rockets, as well as guided projectiles or firearms, smart bullets, among others.
The earliest known references to autonomous weaponry date back to 1916, in a US patent application for an aerial torpedo. This weapon, known in modern terminology as a lock-before-launch guided bomb, was designed to be dropped straight over a shop, via aircraft.
The term “smart weapons”, however, was coined first in the early 70s, following its usage by the USAF as a distinguishing factor between laser and TV-guided smart munitions and other ‘dumb’ munitions. The usage of the term has widened since and is now applied to nearly any weapon with a certain degree of intelligence or autonomous guidance capability, which can detect and attack targets with minimal external or human support. Guided weapons have gained immense traction over the decades, with an increasing focus of global defense authorities committed to developing these technologies.
The emergence of the smart weapons market stems mainly from rising global pressure to mitigate civilian casualties and collateral damages resulting from the carpet-bombing of entire cities or areas during wars or international conflicts. This was evident especially in the aftermath of the world wars, with over 10 million and 50 million civilian fatalities recorded in WWI and WWII respectively.
Additionally, smart weapons technology also helps mitigate risk to assets. Conversion kits to smart weapons, such as JASSM (joint air-to-surface standoff missile), for instance, have equipped conventional bombs with fire and forget capability.
How laser and other modern technologies are reshaping military operation
Modern defense systems are highly reliant on connectivity and precision guidance technologies to achieve optimum real-time information and situational awareness. This is made possible by the integration of IoT and other connected technologies within the military infrastructure, allowing soldiers access to more efficient, powerful, and effective weaponry. In this context, with defense budgets being increased steadily across nations, smart weapons market is likely to observe a further surge in revenue.
The amalgamation of defense operations and technology has been envisaged considerably over the years, most notably with the depiction of laser-based weaponry in science fiction narratives. Laser technology in defense applications has been popularized by famous sci-fi franchises in the past, featuring soldiers armed with laser-based guided munitions. This idea is now coming to fruition in reality as well, as the proficiency of laser technology is brought to the forefront by dedicated scientists and researchers.
A notable example of this is the spectral beam combining fiber laser system developed by a team of scientists at Lockheed Martin. The novel smart weapons technology leverages AI (artificial intelligence) to focus multiple fiber lasers into a more powerful single beam. The resulting weapon is a small, laser-powered guided munition, that can identify and launch an attack on the target with extreme precision.
Thus, emerging disruptive technologies are effecting a dramatic change in the way defense, deterrence, and security operations are planned and implemented, at both multilateral and national levels. Laser-based guided munitions are rapidly establishing themselves as a low-cost and highly effective alternative to almost any traditional weapon.
Intensifying global focus on smart weapons technology development initiatives
Nations worldwide have established diverse methods for designing and incorporating smart arms into their armed forces. For instance, each branch of the US Military is in the process of harnessing massive leaps in data processing and image recognition technologies, in an effort to create faster, more precise and increasingly autonomous weaponry.
The Navy is conducting experiments to test a 135-ton vessel, dubbed Sea Hunter, which is designed to patrol the oceans sans crew, as well as identify and launch attacks on submarines autonomously. Meanwhile, the Army is involved in the development of a smart missile system, called the JAGM (Joint Air-to-Ground Missile), to lock in on vehicle targets without human intervention, whereas the Air Force is working on a pilotless variety of the storied F-16 fighter jet, as a part of its SkyBorg program that aims to leverage autonomous weaponry in computer-managed battles.
China is making similar headway in the advancement of the smart weapons industry, with the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) pursuing substantial investments in swarming, robotics, and other artificial intelligence & machine learning applications. For example, the PLARF (PLA Rocket Force) is supposedly leveraging targeting, remote sensing, and decision support use cases to “intelligentize” its missiles, thereby incorporating higher levels of automation in their defense operations.
In many ways, the evolution of new technology has changed the way a smart weapon is defined. The future of precision guidance is a mixture of several variables that will be able to not only utilize but also control technical development and transition. The integration of AI and other progressive technologies undertaken by major smart weapons industry contenders could well make military systems and the prospect of war much less perilous for civilians than at present.
Global Market Insights Inc. has a market report dedicated to smart weapons, available at: