Milwaukee Nail

As a soldier, and more importantly, as the leader of combat soldiers, there has always been the desire to engage your enemy in war from a safe distance. If you and the opposing enemy soldier are both armed with only a sword and a shield, one of you has to be better skilled than the other at close personal ground combat, in order for a decisively executed battlefield win to happen.


You may be the rich, good looking, part of the landed gentry of your nation who has spent most of your young adulthood training as a soldier, or even a knight, but that farm boy who physically works a lot harder than you will have more personal strength. His ability to strike harder and faster than you with his sword or even just a wooden staff could take out the rich boy on the opening day of the latest war.


Along comes the crossbow and the longbow and you don't need the strength of the powerful farm boy. Now a person pulled from the dregs of society just in time for the next war can be taught how to use the long-distance weapons. It does not take years of skilled training and big biceps to deploy a bow and arrow type of weapon.
A peasant in rags with minimum training can kill a knight in full armor from a safe distance. One arrow, from one peasant and the years and money spent to prepare and equip the knight, are put to waste in a matter of seconds.


Then, along comes gun powder, cannons, and individual firearms and there are no longer knights on horseback. Especially, when it is even easier to train the peasant on how to successfully deploy a muzzle-loading firearm and kill on the battlefield than it is to train to use a longbow.


The first, very large successful standoff deployment of gunpowder driven weapons was the US Civil War. By the time we got to WWI in 1914, artillery was the king of the battlefield. The farther away you can kill your enemy, hopefully, the more you can keep your troops alive.


Airplanes come into military conflict in WWI, and they have gotten more deadly every year since. However, you still had to have a human or a group of humans to crew the flying, killing machines. In WWII we sent out 1000 plane raids and would suffer 40% losses of aircraft with ten-man crews. That is a lot of dead Americans in one flying mission that lasted less than 24 hours.


More Airmen died in WWII than did Marines who fought in the Pacific.
So the question is, how to dispatch your weapons of war without human, hands-on directing of the killing machine and be effective and accurate?


The answer is robots. I am not talking about the cute ones on the old Lost in Space TV show, or the ones you see and have come to love in the Star Wars series. Then, of course, there are the drones.


Everyone who watches TV knows what a drone is-maybe. The misconception is a drone is just launched into the air and on its own seeks out and finds the enemy to destroy. A Hollywood clean kill and none of the friendly forces get hurt by return fire from the opposition.


When you hear about drone use in the news, what has happened is a remotely-piloted aircraft has been directed by a trained aircraft pilot who flies the “drone” into an enemy's location and remotely, by human hands deploys a weapons system to kill the bad guy. At this point in our military, we are not dispatching autonomous robots either on the ground, in the air, or under the sea, to seek out on their own to kill the enemy, without humans saying yes or no to the kill.


This, however, does not mean that the US military does not have the ability to generate and deploy autonomous robotic weapons systems. Systems that once sent out onto the battlefield, can find and kill the enemy without an American military person controlling the final phase of the mechanical kill operation. Our Department of Defense has the technical ability to program robotic weapons to kill on their own.
The issue is, has the US figured out the moral and ethical aspects of sending out robots to do our killing? We would be expecting the robots to make the decision as to whom of our enemies gets killed on the battlefield. This, without firsthand human knowledge of who that enemy target is on the day the robots take over the killing fields.


You are an Infantry troop who has been fighting all day, sometimes hand-to-hand with your enemy. The fighting subsides, you dig in for the night (in WWII we called them foxholes) and hope that being below ground level you will have some safety. In the middle of the night, you hear a motorized scratching sound coming from your “front.” You do not see any humans moving, even ones who low crawl on their belly to get to you in the dark.


What appears to be a metal spider about the sizes of a cowboy hat drops into your fighting position. It wraps its mechanical legs around you and self detonates. Killing you and your battle buddy who is sharing your hole in the ground. The bad guys were not controlling the little robot spider; it was sent on its own to seek out and destroy with no human guidance once it was dispatched.


The technology for these autonomous weapons systems is already here and can be used, deployed on land, sea, and air. The US has the technology, and so dothe Chinese. I am sure the Russians have it, and many of our allies and foes are working hard to acquire this technology.


If our next enemy is releasing spider drones on the battlefield, the US had better be ready to do the same. It does not matter how good our US troops are; if they are being killed by mechanical weapons that are not being directed by enemy humans, it will be hard to keep our people on the battlefield.


If you have no way to fight an enemy weapons system, then it is time to leave the conflict.


When I was at Army Infantry school, I learned the term DIP, which means “Die In Place.” When the battle got so bad that there was very little chance you would walk off the field, you prepared to make every round of ammunition count as you acquiesced to DIP.


But in your mind there was a chance you may overtake the human enemy on the battlefield and perhaps with your last round, kill that enemy before they killed you. How do you stop a herd of drone spiders that can climb trees and wait to drop onto you as you pass under–killing your entire squad as the damn thing self detonates?
I read two books this past week. Paul J. Springer's , Outsourcing War To Machines which is non-fiction and David Poyer's, Deep War, which is fiction about a high tech Navy war in the Pacific. They both scared the heck out of me. However, reading both at the same time made the two books seem more real and more intense.


Springer's book tells you what is already out there that can kill you in the dark and Captain Poyer's fictional series gives you a very insightful lesson on just how it will happen and how bad it is going to be for the US.


One of my contacts in the DoD said the other day “we live in monumental times.” When I asked him what he meant by that, he advised me “monumental times are the times you live in, that later they build monuments dedicated to your service in time of national crisis.”


Of course, our DoD does not build monuments recognizing your warfighting skills if you are still alive.  

 Major Van Harl USAF Ret

“Outsourcing War to Machines, the Military Robotics Revolution”

 Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl
Click here to learn about Van Harl and read more of his articles

E-mail Van Harl at:
[email protected] 

Kazmierczak