Robot Attack Planes

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An Associated Press article from this past weekend describes a new breed of remotely-piloted vehicle, called the Reaper, that the U.S. Air Force is preparing to deploy to Iraq. This plane is similar to the Predator aircraft which has been used throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, mostly for surveillance activities. The Reaper, as the name hints, has a different mission. Armed with bombs and missiles, the Reaper is an attack aircraft. Its pilots will sit in safe, remote locations as far away from the battlefield as Nevada, while they rain down death and destruction by remote control.

Welcome to the age of asymmetric warfare. Asymmetric warfare is the nice, clean way of describing war between two parties of unequal power or ability. Of course, most war could be described that way, but in this case it’s meant to describe a situation where one party has wildly different power or ability than the other. I think we’re unlikely to see, in my lifetime, an old-style war of two equally-matched powers standing face-to-face and slugging it out. Instead, we’ll see terrorist attacks, where 20 people can kill 3,000 in a single attack. Or worse, superpowers such as the U.S. dropping millions of dollars of munitions on large swathes of territory containing a few combatants and many innocent civilians.

And the Reaper is the next step in our progression. Putting people near the battlefield is to risk their lives. Even when the opponent is wildly underpowered or under-resourced, they are still able to lash out and kill. Solution? Keep your own combatants far away from the battlefield. Makes perfect sense, yes? But stop and think about the net result - war becomes even cleaner and tidier. The United States is a nation that has yet to even deal with the simple, gripping site of caskets returning from a war zone, and yet we strive to make war even cleaner for ourselves. A sane person has to ask, if a war costs us no casualties then what possible downside is there to us engaging inĀ  one? Basic morality is clearly not enough, because currently war does cost us some casualties, and yet we chose to start one. When we can finally engage in a war that generates no casualties for us, what’s to stop power-mad people from launching them? It’s really kind of pathetic that in the 21st century we need to be asking a question like that, but I think it’s critically important that we figure out how to answer it, because future technology is only going to make war more bloody for some and less painful for others.

Robot air attack squadron bound for Iraq

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