Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Women Warriors: Why the Robotics Revolution Changes the Combat Equation 1

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Women Warriors: Why the Robotics Revolution Changes the Combat Equation 1

Article excerpt

[This] should not be about women's rights, equal opportunity, career assignments for enhancement purposes for selection to higher rank. It is about, most assuredly is about.. .combat effectiveness, combat readiness, winning the next conflict....

- General Robert H. Barrow (retired), 27th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps

So began the testimony of General Barrow before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 1991 regarding his opinion on women in combat during which he gave his ultimate conclusion: "women can't do it...and there is no military need to put women into combat."2 That is about to change. In the wake of women successfully integrating into submarines and graduating from Army Ranger School, an additional-and heretofore underappreciated-factor is poised to alter the women in combat debate: the revolution in robotics and autonomous systems. The technology leap afforded by robotics will shift the debate from whether women are able to meet combat standards to how gender diversity in combat will improve the U.S. military's fighting capability. Over the next decade, the U.S. military will reap huge benefits from robotic and autonomous systems that will fundamentally change both the tools used on the battlefield and the approach taken to combat. Not only will robotic technology undermine the standard arguments against women in combat, but full gender integration across all combat roles will maximize American employment of autonomous systems and corresponding combat effectiveness.

To understand how robotics will change the equation of women in combat, this article first examines the current law and policy regarding women in combat positions, taking a close look at how the services are approaching the current Department of Defense (DOD) guidance to establish gender-neutral standards for all occupational specialties. While present policy and direction favors opening all combat career fields across genders, full integration is still more notional ideas than reality. To understand why, this article examines the arguments surrounding women in combat, both for and against. Next, the article highlights how robotics technology in development today will change the future battlefield by augmenting the physical capabilities of soldiers and lightening the loads carried by combat troops. Finally, this article assesses how robotic advancements will not only counter the naysayers of women in combat, but should also compel senior leaders to integrate women into combat roles faster than currently planned. In sum, diverse combat teams will improve U.S. future combat effectiveness in a robotic and autonomous systems fight.

Women in Combat: Current Status of Law and Policy

Though women have served in the Armed Forces in every conflict our nation has faced since its founding, the numbers of women and types of roles or occupational specialties they have assumed have grown dramatically since World War II. This expansion of female participation in the military was driven in part by necessity following the implementation of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973 and in part by the equal rights movement. Despite these drivers, combat participation was specifically forbidden by statute until 1993. Following the recommendations put forth by the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces in 1992, Congress lifted the statutory restrictions surrounding women in combat and instead left decisions regarding appropriate occupational roles for genders to the Department of Defense. While these changes allowed women to serve in combat aviation roles, DOD excluded women from assignment to any unit below the brigade level whose primary role was to engage in direct ground combat.3

Following a number of Congressionallymandated reports and the expanding role of women in combat roles in the War on Terror, DOD replaced the ground combat exclusion with a requirement for gender neutral standards in 2013. In a joint memorandum by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, DOD committed to removing "as many barriers as possible to joining, advancing, and succeeding in the ILS. …

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