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Hot Lead And Blue Steal (I)

I haven't discussed anything about Wizbang Blue in a little while, but I didn't want the authors over there to think I've forgotten about them. In recent days, they've put up two postings on a topic near and dear to my heart -- advances in military technology -- and I want to use their pieces as jumping-off points for my own thoughts on the subjects.

First up, Larkin discussed the latest in military robotics -- the SWORDS robot. (In the latest example of tortuous acronyms, "SWORDS" stands for "Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System.") SWORDS is the result of strapping weapons on to a robot originally constructed for finding and disarming mines and other explosives.

Larkin recognizes that the SWORDS robot is not the stereotypical "robot" as most people consider it -- an autonomous machine that acts independently within the parameters of its programming. Rather, it is a machine that operates by remote control, directly under the guidance of a human being who dictates its every action.

This is a GOOD thing.

The purpose of the military is to carry out the lawful orders of the United States government. Its primary manner is the use of force, both threatened and actual. And it is unparalleled in its efficacy in that regard.

The purpose of the military is not to "kill people and break things." That is the way in which it carries out its purpose. The military does not enjoy doing these things, for the most part; it simply accepts that as part of its duty.

Moreover, war is not about "fairness." As the late Col. David Hackworth famously said, "If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly." If we can fight and kill the enemy without putting our own soldiers at risk, then ABSOLUTELY we should do so. SWORDS is just such a tool, and we would be foolish to refuse it on such grounds.

I have seen one criticism of using such tools that is worthy of consideration: that by keeping our troops safer from danger (NOT safe, but safer -- currently, the SWORDS' controller must be within 1000 meters of the unit), we are, in essence, stripping that operator of some of the protections of the laws of warfare. Many of those laws allow the individual troop some leeway in their conduct out of recognition of the "heat of battle," and understand that quick judgments are essential to battlefield survival. If, in retrospect, some of those decisions were in error, it's understandable because the individual was in justifiable fear of his life and acted accordingly.

SWORDS reduces the "imminent" aspect of the danger. The controlling soldier can afford to take a few more seconds to evaluate the situation before making the "shoot/no shoot" decision, because all that is at risk is a machine, not a human being.

This is a step in the direction of what Larkin fears -- independent, autonomous war machines, roaming the battlefield like the soulless killing monstrosities from the "Terminator" movies, striking without mercy, without restraint, without compunction.

The human element of warfare is something that we must -- eventually -- confront. How much direct human control must be kept over the weapons of war, and how much we can trust to automation and machine logic.

But SWORDS is a very, very small step in that direction. And those who see it as a step towards the dehumanizing of our military need to take a good, hard look at their own perceptions of that military -- and the men and women who will be spared risks by its use.


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Comments (11)

I'm all for SWORDS. Just th... (Below threshold)

I'm all for SWORDS. Just think of the phyisical torture and mental anguish it would alleviate from the lives of our soldiers who are currently confronted with choices like: Return fire and risk hitting the human shields these subhumans exploit. Also, with no human face to make threats like that against, the enemy may use that tactic less and less. Just think, a heavily armed machine approaches, having just mowed down 20 other democrat operatives, and speaks in their native tounge that hell fire is about to rain down on them and they will have no oportunity to "take the infidels with them".

It's not as good as their immams going around cursing the souls of the mass murdering scum what target children and women for sport, but hey, what do ya want, a miracle ?

I too like SWORDS. Mostly b... (Below threshold)

I too like SWORDS. Mostly because we Americans would really prefer that people buy our stuff and sell us stuff rather than trying to kill us. (I'm not arguing this point, so just call me an asshole and be about your business if you're so inclined.).
But..... if everybody starts doing it, think of the Star Trek episode where war is all neat and clean and people just climb into the death box when they've been "killed" in a simulated attack.
As R.E. Lee said, "It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."

The point of that "progressive" movie, "Stealth" was that things like this are terrible because we Americans are just warmongers and this will allow us to kill even more brown people without danger to ourselves. To which I would reply, Yes. The difference being that when we take over a country, we give it back to the people after we've killed the dictators.

I do not read Blue, it is t... (Below threshold)

I do not read Blue, it is toxic to my soul. Too much hate. I also don't care at all what a liberal thinks about the military. That is a given. They hate them.

I think this is a step in a great direction. People used to argue the same points when the military started using planes. When the Navy shoots its cannons from 30+ miles away. I think it is great as long as we know we are still killing. Not playing a game. ww

This is no different, as Wi... (Below threshold)

This is no different, as Wiki said than long range rocket attacks, JDAMs and other techniques that help to make our warriors safer. Blue on blue happens whether up close or at long range and there are consequences for those involved as well as for collateral damages that can not be explained.

"Please put down your weapo... (Below threshold)

"Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply."

R2D2 and C3PO go to war... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

R2D2 and C3PO go to war

if i was given the choice t... (Below threshold)

if i was given the choice to go into battle with a gun or control a robot.... hmmmm..... which one?!

Haven't been over to Blue i... (Below threshold)

Haven't been over to Blue in awhile, glancing at my sidebar at the headlines this very moment kind of reminds me why:

~The Torrent of Lies Continues

~Romney's Big Red Mack Truck

~Why The Surge Failed

...I'd be doing a lot of writing, and I don't have the time right now.

Anyhow, SWORDS is good at what it's capable of, which is limited at the moment. In the future, when robotics progresses to a point where we can conduct entire operations and control entire fronts without a boot on the ground or a pilot in the air; then issues of morality and the human separation from massive amounts of killing should be absolutely addressed.

SWORDS is battlefield enhancement, not the grim herald of a cold future wasteland dominated by killing machines (sounds like I just read the back of a sci-fi novel).

In many cases the name is p... (Below threshold)

In many cases the name is picked so that someone can use a cool Acronym, just as with SWORD.

SWORD is not a robot but a teleoperated waldo (term coined by Robert Heinlein). The effect on a person actually operating the device is much more like someone who is there than someone sending death at long range, as in a bomber or launching a missile. The fact that you see the picture on the screen still puts you in the middle of the action.

No matter what systems we c... (Below threshold)
The Listkeeper:

No matter what systems we come up with, the need to keep a human being in the ultimate fire/no fire decision on any given target is critical.

I would be interested to he... (Below threshold)
Matty The Dude:

I would be interested to hear debate on how this will affect the rules of engagement for different missions.

If the SWORDS robot is being used, when it begins to take fire there is no real threat of injury or loss of life to the soldier operating it. In many cases this is the base concept that triggers a soldier's authorization to fire back at the enemy.

I guess you could reason that the robot is a military asset and the soldier would need to protect that asset if it were under fire, I just think that this could open a fiery debate.






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