Magazine article USA TODAY

Robo-Warfare Is the Answer to Terrorism

Magazine article USA TODAY

Robo-Warfare Is the Answer to Terrorism

Article excerpt


IF WE IMAGINE an ideal means of retaliation against those who have committed, or are planning, acts of terror against Americans, it might well include relentless pursuit, precision targeting, and assured kills, leaving terrorist suspects no avenue of escape. Through the use of robotic warfare--unmanned aerial, ground, and submarine systems--the U.S. military is making that vision reality. Robotic warfare well may be the perfect antidote for terrorism.

Reliance on unmanned means to conduct warfare is not new. American interest in developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) became keen in 1960 when Francis Gary Powers' U2 was shot down over the USSR. At that time, the Department of Defense began Operation Red Wagon, designed to develop unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft The Air Force's 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing flew 3,435 UAV combat missions in the Vietnam War. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel, dismayed at the number of pilots it lost in the conflict, developed its own UAV program. Israel used UAVs successfully against Syrian air defenses in the 1982 Lebanon War. Israel remains one of the world's leading producers of UAVs.

Repeatedly in his "Quadrennial Reviews," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has emphasized the importance of unmanned systems in the Global War on Terrorism. In 2000, the Defense Department had fewer than 50 unmanned aircraft in its arsenal. By October 2009, it had more than 6,800 in use by the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy.

Between now and 2013, DOD will devote in excess of 1,000,000 flight hours to train UAV pilots. The budget for unmanned systems has risen from $1,700,000,000 in 2006 to $4,400,000,000 in 2010, with higher expenditures destined to occur each fiscal year from now into the foreseeable future.

The Air Force is training 100 new UAV pilots each year between 2010-13, relying principally on UAV education facilities at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Ft. Poll La.

As of October 2006, UAVs flew more than 400,000 flight hours in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Since 2006, UAV laser guided missiles have killed approximately 1,000 people in Pakistan. At least 20 am thought to be leaders of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated groups. Somewhere between 70% and 80% of the kills am of the enemy, while a tragic zero to 20% am civilians who either were targeted mistakenly or killed from collateral damage.

UAVs are becoming ubiquitous additions to armies and air forces worldwide. The United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, Israel, Canada, Norway, China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, among others, have integrated UAVs into their armed forces.

Unmanned vehicles come in vastly different sizes and shapes, from nano and micro vehicles that burrow, crawl, or fly for short durations within a relatively small area and perform limited intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, to larger high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs that now cast an unblinking eye over vast areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan and along U.S. borders. They can deliver near instantaneous laser-guided ordinance to a terrorist target as small as a human sitting in the driver's seat of an SUV. That became the fate of Qaed Senyan al-Hariti, the Al Qaeda leader believed to be responsible for the suicide bombing alack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. On Nov. 3, 2002, an American Predator UAV fired a hellfire missile destroying al-Hariti and the vehicle that carried him.

Combat systems officers pilot various forms of UAVs. In combat zones, Army and Marine units can launch handheld UAVs such as the micro WASP HI and Gnat 750. Hand-launched micro UAVs fly over hills, buildings, battlefield obstructions, and haze 50 to 150 feet above ground, delivering clear pictures of enemy positions and geographic coordinates in aid of targeting and kills. …

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