Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Insect-Drones Are Coming!

No joke:

It may seem like a futuristic arcade game, but a scene from an Air Force animated video shows a new wave in military strategy. The scene goes like this: Bad guys are being shadowed from a careful distance by small robotic drones designed to resemble birds and insects. When one of the bad guys opens his apartment door, a tiny robo-bug — looking like a garage door opener with wings — sneaks in to spy. In another scene, a robo-bug creeps into a sniper’s roost and delivers a deadly shot.

Air Force officials think Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, could be a significant part of the Defense Department’s arsenal in the not-so-distant future. Civilian researchers and airmen at the Air Force Research Laboratory, based at this installation outside Dayton, Ohio, have set a 2015 deadline to roll out the first generation of tiny drones. This first group, they hope, will be the size of birds and be able to operate several days without recharging.

Britain’s Special Forces have tested a 28-inch-long MAV, called the Wasp, on reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan. Last year, the U.S. Marines placed a $19.3 million order for the small unmanned aircraft, developed by California-based AeroVironment. The Wasp can be fitted with explosives that could theoretically be used in a surprise attack.
Could this be another healthy step in the so-called "bloodless" revolution in US military doctrine? I think yes, possibly. Little unmanned drones can get into positions that a human sniper couldn't, enabling more discriminate targeting and saving civilian lives on the other side. A solution perhaps to the current and counterproductive strategy of dropping 500 pound bombs from 30,000 feet when trying to take out seven insurgents... They also contribute to force protection. In Iraq small unmanned drones have already been used to identify IEDs.

But I was less heartened when I continued reading this article. I haven't yet acquired and watched the video it's describing, but from the reporter's depiction, Air Force marketing teams are characterizing the military utility of these assets in far from "bloodless" terms:
The marketing video, created by the Air Force scientists to explain their vision, claims the drones would be “unobtrusive, pervasive, lethal.”
Hmm. Not that they would be discriminate. In fact, depending on how they're deployed, they could be quite the opposite, according to Wired Magazine. Furthermore:
Parker added that the use of tiny MAVs could have civilian applications. For example, small unmanned air vehicles could be dispatched into rubble after a natural disaster to search for signs of life.
Hmm, they'd have no military application in protecting civilians and other noncombatants in war zones? For example, dispatching them into rubble after a barracks has been targeted to search for signs of wounded there or in the vicinity? (Which it would then be the responsbility of the US military to treat humanely.) Funny that this is described as an afterthought, and something divorced from military affairs, rather than integral.

My concern is not with the drones - they're likely to be an improvement over existing "precision guided" munitions and reconnaissance methods. My concern is with the military's frame. That their marketing researchers think the best way to sell these assets to the public is by emphasizing their lethality, rather than their precision and humanitarian applications, is a sad sign of the times.

1 comment:

hank_F_M said...

Of Interst.

The First Laser Gun Was Too Cruel To Use

The split between the lab and field soldiers happens more often than one would think usually along these lines.

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