The enemy suspects nothing; a small team of stealthy special operatives slips in behind enemy lines, quietly dispatching sentries and other opponents without raising an alarm. They secure their objective, and slip out... with no-one the wiser.
This has always been a central idea behind the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series, published by Ubisoft games. In these titles, the player has been in control of highly trained soldiers sent in to perform covert operations deep in enemy territory. And now, with the release of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the player once again assumes this role, but now the game is set two decades in the future, and the soldiers under the player’s command have access to some extremely high-end technology.
While the games bearing Tom Clancy’s name are often speculative in nature, and sometimes visit possible futures, Future Soldier takes things to a new level. The squad is equipped with heads up displays, powered by virtual information systems. They are clothed in responsive armour that adapts their camouflage to match their environment almost perfectly.
They have access to remote drones and other high-tech gear that take them several steps ahead of their enemies. The question that arises from all of this is simple: has a series that has traditionally been relatively close to the truth suddenly taken a turn towards science-fiction? Is the technology seen in this new title a work of fantasy, or does it have basis in fact.
According to Jean-Louis DeGay, Strategic Outreach, Natick Soldier RDEC, what we see in this game is not far from where various militaries would like to be in the near future. He said as much in an interview with Popular Mechanics... but much of the technology in the game is still in development. It simply cannot be built yet. On the other hand, there is technology featured in the title that is already being employed on the modern battlefield, too.
According to Ubisoft, virtually all the military tech in the game is inspired by existing technology, working prototypes or research projects that are currently underway. The science-fiction edge to this realistic shooter may very well soon become science fact, transforming the battlefield into yet another arena where the highest tech wins.
Technology that the player has access to in the game comes in a variety of flavours. The first, most obvious set of technology comes in the form of communications. In the game several systems are combined to provide the soldiers with real-time, heads-up information displays that add virtual reality elements to what they see in the real world. Part of this is the Weapon Augmented Reality (WAR) system, which provides live updates of weapon status and targeting information. Should this technology develop into a reality, soldiers will use a single eye reticule to provide them with a heads up display that will include things like an ammo count... not unlike a video game, really.
Another technology that is prominent in the game, and has been talked about in numerous real world research and interest circles, is optical camouflage. In the game this technology is still in prototype stages, so the player can only use it when moving slowly. However, the inspiration for this element came from real world research into fields including meta-materials that can bend light around the wearer, fibre optics worked into uniforms and micro-LED impregnated threads used in material.
Combat drones – Unmanned Air Vehicles, or UAVs for short – are less science fiction than one would think. You can buy one to use with your iPhone, after all. But the game takes the concept further, making used of UAVs that are weaponised. These Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles are capable of launching explosives and low-yield EMP missiles in the game.
Much of the game play is dependent on modern optics. Many of these are in development today, and may well see deployment on battlefields in the near future. One such optical system is a magnetic sensor that uses high grade algorithms, combined with measuring surrounding metallic resonance, to collate data and diaply significant metal objects - like explosives and weapons – while filtering out ‘noise’ like
nails, door hinges and the like.
Another sensor technology is the heartbeat sensor, which is attuned to the specific frequency common to the human heart-beat. Using this short range sensor, information of enemy positions can be gained, regardless of cover.
There is much more technology to be discovered in this latest Ghost Recon title. The fact that mu of it constitutes military technology we may see within our lifetimes is mind-boggling. But it’s not surprising... after all, war is big business, and military research funding is generous. Until then, though, we have the theoretical military tech in Future Soldier to enjoy and marvel at.