Robots at War: The New Battlefield
A new way of war is on the horizon. Already, robots and drones are replacing human pilots and foot soldiers in some roles, and in the future they will take over many more. The benefits of removing human soldiers from harm’s way are obvious. But there’s a price to pay when a society can wage war by remote control.
There was little to warn of the danger ahead. The Iraqi insurgent had laid his ambush with great cunning. Hidden along the side of the road, the bomb looked like any other piece of trash. American soldiers call thesejury-rigged bombs IEDs, official shorthand for improvised explosive devices.
The unit hunting for the bomb was an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team, the sharp end of the spear in the effort to suppress roadside bombings. By 2006, about 2,500 of these attacks were occurring a month, and they were the leading cause of casualties among U.S. troops as well as Iraqi civilians. In a typical tour in Iraq, each EOD team would go on more than 600 calls, defusing or safely exploding about two devices a day. Perhaps the most telling sign of how critical the teams’ work was to the American war effort is that insurgents began offering a rumored $50,000 bounty for killing an EODsoldier.
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P. W. Singer is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution and the author of Children at War (2005) and Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (2003). This article is adapted from Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. © 2009 by P. W. Singer.more from this author >>