By Daniel Taylor
Unmanned drone attacks have created a lot of tension between the United States and Pakistan. The technological revolution that has enabled this type of warfare is rapidly gaining momentum. In fact, the Pentagon’s budget cuts are an integral part of the revolution in robotics; an important piece of the story that the mainstream media is neglecting to report.
When president Obama announced the cuts early this year, many asked how the military will maintain dominance and power if the Pentagon’s projected troop reduction moves ahead, making the issue a political football for the masses. What the public was left out of debating is the fact that the military has been doing extensive research and development of unmanned drones and robotics to replace human boots on the ground. This is the true reason – other than wider geopolitical reasons – behind the trend in troop reductions and the shift to a smaller rapid response military force.
The Military Officers Association reported on this shift in military structure,
“…a smaller force means “we’re taking risks in terms of time and capacity,’ noting it might take longer to build up forces before a conflict and longer to finish that fight…
To mitigate some of those risks, the plan calls for an increased reliance on special operations forces, so that budget will increase. Spending on drones will get a boost, too, hastening the shift to robotic unmanned planes, helicopters, and submarines. At least four new Reaper and Predator drone air patrols will be added to the Air Force asset list, as well as new Gray Eagle drones for the Army and Fire Scout robocopters for the Navy.”
As of January 2012, as many as 1 in 3 United States war planes are unmanned drones, operated by pilots thousands of miles away in Nevada. Cargo drones have also been recently used in Afghanistan. The Pentagon purchased 1,100 small, “throwable” robots from the company iRobot last year. Domestically, drones are increasingly being used by private groups and police departments. By 2015, the FAA is expected to approve the use of drones throughout U.S. airspace.
Robotic and augmented human force
In addition to fully robotic aircraft and ground vehicles, human soldiers will be augmented and “enhanced” with technology. Exoskeletons, “terminator vision” enabled by contact lenses, and brain chips are a few examples.
The converging revolutions in both robotics and brain science are paving the way for brain-machine interfaces. The Pentagon’s Avatar project is anticipated to eventually allow soldiers to operate humanoid robots from a distance using their own minds.
The technological revolution has effectively sparked a new arms race between nations. As the publication New Scientist points out, mind control is the future of warfare. The JASON group, a panel of leading scientists who advise the United States government, has stated that,
“The US should maintain awareness of medical advances in brain-computer interface, especially use in prosthetic devices, and monitor any developing non-medical applications closely. The US should monitor how such developments are proceeding in other cultures.”
Highlighting the fact that a new arms race is underway, The JASON’s evaluated the ability of adversaries to “…exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security.”
Despite revolutionary advances in technology, drones and other devices are not full-proof. An incident last year involved an unmanned drone colliding with a helicopter. P.W. Singer discusses the ethical implications of the increasing use of robotics in combat in this 2009 TED talk.