Unmanned War Systems and American Society
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. has moved rapidly from activating only a handful of unarmed unmanned flying systems to currently deploying over 7,000 unmanned systems in the air and over 12,000 on the ground, many of these heavily armed. There is every reason to suspect this rapid incorporation of military robotics will only accelerate.
Popular systems today include flying drones to carry out air strikes (over 120 so far in Pakistan) and surveillance and pack-bots on the ground to help dismantle improvised explosive devices. Today with more than forty-three other countries developing military robots, the robot arms race is on and we are merely seeing the most primitive models of the war machines to come.
The main purpose of writing the following scenario is to raise awareness of several unsettling trends involving unmanned systems in the U.S. military (for more, see the work of Peter Singer, who has many articles available for free here), and to serve as a call to action for those concerned by them. At the end of the scenario I will present a few possible ideas as to how we could potentially avoid this outcome. I hope to spark debate that will generate more and perhaps better solutions to help Americans guide in a brighter future in the new age of military robots.
A Pessimistic Scenario
By the the year 2025, unmanned systems had largely come to replace live soldiers in the war on terror. Most of the systems were aerial drones, but unmanned ground and underwater systems (included here as ‘drones’) played a significant role as well. With American soldiers now mostly away from combat, other than high-level Special Forces, there was notably little public concern in the U.S. over the ongoing wars on terror or for entering new operations.
For over a decade it had become very easy for Presidents, with strong encouragement from the Pentagon, to unleash drone attacks in new countries through simple command. Congressional Declarations of War had been done away with for almost a century and following the model initiated with Pakistan and Yemen, additional drone campaigns had been initiated from the Executive with little public debate. This resulted in a series of ongoing Kosovo like campaigns from the Horn of Africa to the Philippines.