Tag Archive | "Drones"

DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, U.S Air Force/Released

Is remote killing easier than traditional combat?

DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, U.S Air Force/Released

DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, U.S Air Force/Released

One argument against the unmanned drones that the United States currently uses in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and against terrorist targets in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia is that because the drone pilot sits thousands of miles away from combat, operating the drone remotely, killing is easier — more akin to a video game than real combat.  The argument goes that if killing is easier, the soldiers will be more prone to use lethal force.

Proponents argue that this kind of killing isn’t easier because the remote soldier isn’t in the combat theatre where soldiers are in an environment where killing is the norm and  they have comrades with whom to process the experience.   Drone pilots kill during the day, go home after work and coach their kids soccer games.  The theater of war, this argument goes, engenders battle hardened soldiers who become more acclimated to combat and killing.

In any case, proponents argue that removing the warrior from the heat of battle allows him to be more contemplative and careful since his own safety is not at risk.  ABC news aired a segment that illustrated how patient remote warriors can be:

David Muir, Inside the Drone War: On the Ground and in the Virtual Cockpit With America’s New Lethal Spy, ABC News, Jan. 12, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/WN/inside-predator-drones-game-changing-technology-war-afghanistan/story?id=9543587.

To my knowledge, there is no study on whether remote killing is harder or easier than traditional combat tactics.   Any thoughts out there?

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Predator Drone

An epiphany on killer drones

Predator Drone

Predator Drone

I am currently finishing an article on autonomous killer drones – military robots that can go out, identify and kill enemy combatants without human supervision.  They don’t exist yet, but technology is inching us closer to that day.  54 countries are developing military robots and autonomy is a hot feature.

My paper argues that autonomous killer robots are illegal under international humanitarian law because various IHL provisions require the exercise of discretion in combat, a quality I argue that robots lack.

One argument against this position is while robots don’t possess human-like discretion, they also don’t possess human-like foibles such as temper, volatility, fear, anxiety or revenge.  These emotions conspire to cause soldiers to lose their cool in the heat of battle.  It is often argued that a major advantage robots have over humans is that they can fire second.

This ability to fire second was the source of my epiphany.  It occurred to me that a Monitor and Merrimack moment is looming, a time when two enemy autonomous robots first meet in combat.  But what if both robots are programmed to fire second?  They may approach and circle each other, waiting in vain for the other to initiate the use of force.  Peace may break out, unless some human intervenes to save the day.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law