2017 was not a happy year for the world, but it was certainly a good year for weapons. Here are the five most interesting weapons of the last year:
The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
When it comes to anti-ship missiles, the United States has always been behind Russia. The Soviet Union and now Russia have been fielding them since the 1950s, and Russia and China have numerous models in use, as well as upcoming hypersonic weapons. America, meanwhile, is still using the venerable and short-ranged Harpoon from the 1970s. The new Long Range Anti Ship Missile, or LRASM, should even the odds. The LRASM, which will launched from ships and aircraft, has a range of more than 200 miles compared to seventy for the Harpoon, packs a 1,000 pound–warhead, and is designed to be stealthy to enemy radar. This year, Lockheed Martin was awarded an $86.5 million contract to build the first twenty-three regular production missiles for launch from B-1 bombers and F-18 fighters. While the U.S. Navy's offensive punch has long tended to be airpower, the LRASM will go a long toward restoring the potency of the navy's surface warships.
The next big thing in warfare may be groups of a hundred or more air or ground drones, in a robotic blitz to blanket the battlefield and smother the enemy. In 2017, DARPA put out a public challenge for its Offensive Swarm–Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program: the agency wants someone to come up with tactics that will enable drone swarms to fight in an urban area. And not just any tactics: DARPA wants drones that can adjust their tactics in the middle of a battle. That Pentagon thinking has progressed beyond technology, to how to actually employ technology on this battlefield, suggests that drone swarms have matured as a concept.
The Zircon Hypersonic Missile
Russia announced this year that its Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile had been successfully tested. Russia claims that the Zircon has a speed of 4,600 miles per hour, which would make too fast for current shipboard defense weapons to shoot down. That prospect already has Britain worried that its new and expensive aircraft carriers will be sitting ducks for Zircon missiles.
The M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams Tank
With all the worries that Russia's new T-14 Armata tank has rendered Western tanks obsolete, it's significant that America's—and therefore the Western world's—primary tank is finally receiving a major upgrade. The M1A2 Abrams is bulking up into the M1A2 SEP V3, with improved armor, sensors and electronics. The upcoming SEP V4 will feature improved ammunition for the M-1's 120mm gun and an enhanced laser rangefinder.
Russia's New Warships
That Russia is building numerous new warships, including frigates and corvettes, isn't a surprise. What is troubling is that these relatively small vessels will be armed with the Zircon hypersonic missiles, which give even a small ship a big punch. Of course, with any weapons and especially Russian ones, expectations and real-life performance may differ. Nonetheless, if Russia succeeds in building a hypersonic missile that can equip smaller warships with a fast, devastating punch, then this is trouble for navies—and one in particular—that rely on big, expensive ships like aircraft carriers.