Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Idea Pitch – Battlefield Mobility and the Flyboard Air

November 18th, 2016 by Matt Whitwell

Zapata Racing photo by Liam McKenna

Introduction

On 30 April 2016 French jet ski champion Franky Zapata broke the world record for the longest hoverboard flight on his newly designed craft. Zapata piloted his Flyboard Air a distance of 2252m in less than seven minutes. Video footage of the flight shows the pilot and board reaching altitudes of up to 30m (98ft) above sea level. It also shows the Flyboard Air outperform, in both speed and maneuverability, the collection of small craft (including high powered jet skis) that were trailing it on the water. Although yet to be demonstrated, Zapata Racing claims the board is capable of achieving speeds of up to 150km/h and a ceiling of 10,000ft. This blog will discuss this technology’s potential as a military capability in the ADF.

A Precision Insertion Platform

The advent of fixed and rotary wing aircraft has revolutionised military tactics and mobility. The Flyboard Air technology has the potential to take modern battlespace mobility one step further, creating a platform that will enable forces to rapidly deploy to where they are needed most, at the time they are needed most. Special Forces elements could self deploy deep beyond the frontline to conduct traditional Special Forces tasks such as Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and shaping operations. ISTAR specialists could rapidly occupy key terrain or structures (such as the rooftop of a high rise building or the top of a large mountain) to provide situational understanding to commanders while maintaining the ability to detect, identify and strike or hand-off High Value Targets (HVT). The Flyboard Air could enable the insertion of a Pre-Landing Force element ashore without the requirement for rotary wing or surface vessel insertion during amphibious operations. This would minimise the potential initial threat from shore based air defence and anti-ship systems. The Flyboard Air could provide the ability to project small numbers of highly trained surgical or medical specialists and their equipment forward to establish triage for casualties, or to augment existing medical capabilities while conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in coastal or littoral regions.

Omni-directional Mobility

The ability of a military force to deploy to the right place at the right time can be the difference between victory and defeat. The Flyboard Air technology could provide the military commander with omni directional mobility options for Quick Reaction, Counter Attack and other situational forces. The opportunity for a force to identify an enemy main effort, reinforcement column or avenue of advance and rapidly deploy reserve forces to target, influence or deny it at the tactical level without the requirement for additional operational level platform support (such as a helicopter capable of lifting a section or platoon sized element). The method of utilising aircraft to insert ground forces behind, around or close to and enemy, could be achieved in in a different way with the Flyboard Air.

Support to Decision-making and Command

In spite of technological advances in communications and information systems, the command and control of military forces in modern conflict is no less challenging than it has been throughout history. What if a commander had the ability to utilise Flyboard Air technology to elevate himself and his key staff high enough above the battlespace to gain a firsthand appreciation of the progress of the battle in an ever changing tactical picture? What of the improvements to medium and short range radio systems (such as VHF and UHF) where a communications specialist could extend their ranges and performance?

Where to From Here?

The future is bright for Flyboard Air technology in both civilian and military utility. The possibilities for its use extend beyond just a mobility platform, from multiple passenger or litter capable hover lift systems for casualty evacuation, to a drone hunter-killer or UAS interception capability, through to a fully weaponised and integrated combat system able to deliver munitions to a target area. The possibilities for future research and development of the Flyboard Air as a military capability appears so likely that a US military firm, Implant Sciences Corporation, is said to have announced intent to acquire Zapata Industries.

Conclusion

This technology can be adapted from recreational sport into a military capability multiplier. The examples above are just some of the potential options for employment of the Flyboard Air as a versatile and capable addition to the ADF’s inventory. This blog has focused on the potential utility of the Flyboard Air for the Army, but the system could have multiple uses within RAAF and RAN.

Questions to readers:

1. Which Corps, units or specialisations within the Army could benefit most from the addition of the Flyboard Air system?
2. What uses could the Flyboard Air have other than those mentioned in this blog?
3. What are the drawbacks (cost, implementation, targeting) of the Flyboard Air system?
4. What technical improvements (noise reduction, performance, endurance) could be considered for the Flyboard Air system?


About the author:

Major Matt Whitwell is a career Infantry officer who is currently working as a Career Advisor at the Directorate of Officer Career Management – Army.


Disclaimer:

Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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