Will Robots Control Our Military?
By: Charlie Mossiat
Being an ROTC student, I often think about how my future life in the military will be. Ideally, I will achieve my goal of becoming a pilot in the United States Air Force, however, if that does not happen there are several different career paths I could follow. Regardless of what I do, I am a part of this program because I wish to serve my country. One thing I am constantly reminded of and I think about greatly though is my future position. My superior officers have told me several times that my year could be the “last group of pilots the Air Force may see”. This really boggled my mind because what would the Air Force be without pilots? As the discussion with them continued, I learned of what lay ahead of us. The thing that could take future cadet’s jobs, as well as many other professions in modern industry, is robots.
Currently, in the air force, the “in-person” pilot amount surpasses that of remote-controlled drone pilots, but the number is increasingly becoming more and more similar. I have been told several times to be grateful about being in my current year because what the future holds, may not have humans. In many professions this is the case, however, I am going to focus strictly on the military for this argument. I’d like to break it down into a few main topics: the positives, negatives, morale, global impact. These topics I feel best represent both sides of what the future holds as an autonomous military.
As a current cadet, I am neutral in this subject because robotics most likely won’t affect my career path. I will remain neutral in my thoughts for this to better relay a proper “debate” between the positives and negatives of what the future holds. Starting with positives it is important to note that probably the biggest benefit is that having robots will save the lives of human troops. As of right now, the front-line forces of our military are typically the Navy SEALS and the US Marines. These branches see the most combat, which means that unfortunately they typically also have the largest amount of casualties. The US Air Force has several unmanned aerial vehicles that help support the troops on the ground, and do not contain any form of human life within them. The work of these machines is incredible. They defend units and take out targets super accurately, however, there are still men on the ground losing their lives to the enemy. It goes without saying, but we can see ground troops in the future eventually evolve into becoming autonomous machines. One of the ways that this is hinted through is “movies”. Of course, we are not close to having our own “iron man” but time can only tell when this will happen. The second biggest benefit is that robots are programmed to do exactly what they are told, which means that if we are able to develop some very technologically advanced machines, they should be able to execute the missions we ask them to do without a problem. Having robots with this capability can aid in bomb diffusal, infiltration, search and rescue, as well as any other kind of mission, without risking friendly life. Relieving these frontline troops and replacing them with robots, or even just having them alongside smaller units could greatly reduce the number of casualties we see in the armed forces.
Of course, the main thing that we think about when it comes to military robots is some sort of machine that resembles a human and has the ability to use weaponry to take out the enemy on the ground. However, in a more practical sense that is already starting to demonstrate itself in modern technology is robotics in the medical world. Today we have machinery such as MRIs which can diagnose internal issues within the human body, along with this, tools are starting to include robotic applications to help doctors operate on patients in a more safe and efficient manner. The military is starting to use these methods on a small scale, but it is only going to get more and more advanced. When it comes to the air force, many people think solely of pilots, but one role overlooked that is slowly becoming more obsolete is flight nurses. The objective of a flight nurse is to fly backseat with pilots and aid in medical assistance with troops on the ground. They interact with search and rescue units to medically support injured airmen and usher them to larger facility medical care. There was little they could do decades ago as the equipment they were given was limited to a first aid kit. Today nurses are equipped with the same tools in hospitals but in the back of an airplane. As time goes on this position is dwindling because insurgent teams are being trained to be basic EMTs and get them to the medical equipment within the aircraft. With the development of attack and defense robots, humanoid robots in early stages have been rumored to aid in health support before they see the front lines because it’s a lot riskier to hand a robot a gun than medical support equipment.
The last thing I would like to talk about for positives is something that is already being used daily in today’s military. EOD or explosive ordinance device disposal robots have been a part of our military for quite some time now, and are major components to human life support in today’s military. Although there are few that are still around the previous bomb diffusal technique consisted of a soldier in a large lead suit defusing it by hand. The suit was heavy, difficult to work with, and did little to protect the person if a major bomb were to go off. Robotic interaction allows there to be no human contact with the explosive and has been around long enough to see an immense amount of advancements. Bomb diffusal robots have been used to “safely dispose of explosive ordnance for over 40 years”(Techaz). With forty years of improvement today, robotic diffusal robots are capable to work autonomously to dispose of explosives in day and night operations, in an effective fast manner with no human assistance. What’s important to note about this in relation to the subject at hand is if in 40 years of advancements the robots now have the ability to operate on their own, imagine what will happen when robots are put into attacking positions? It’s only a matter of time before this happens, and with today’s technology, it is inevitable how quickly they will see advancements.
With these positives, come several negative aspects too. One thing that we must think about on an economic scale is the cost of this. Sure, paying to train and equip a human soldier costs money, but to create the machinery with the proper technology to execute a task effectively and consistently, will cost a substantial amount more. Budget is something we always have to consider, which is why having the military consist strictly of robots is something we probably won’t see anytime soon. The other major setback is something I cant see being resolved anytime soon and that is the fact that robots will always lack the instinct of humanity. War is a battle between two groups but fought between two men. A program can produce the same result every time, but war is always changing and a lot of decisions are made on the spot by soldiers. These choices often result in life or death situations that will either hurt or support the mission. Unfortunately, this “gut” feeling is something we will never be able to replicate. Personally, I think there are more negatives than positives, but one thing that will always have that keeps me leaning against the idea of the military is morale.
I’ll touch on this subject lightly because it sounds like a bit of a joke, but to many, it is a genuine concern but, what happens if the robots turn on us? Many science fiction movies consist of some kind of machine that supports the humans but eventually gets smart enough to turn on its creators. It sounds cliche but on a small scale, this could be a problem in the early phases of robotic integration. Maybe not in a “world dominance” machine vs human type way but imagine a robot with a weapon malfunctions and ends up killing friendly humans in its direct area. This is a scary thought but machines run into problems all the time, especially in the early prototype phases. I think this is a major reason why we are not seeing ground robot troops at the moment because extensive off-field testing is occurring prior to their introduction on the front lines. People will make the argument that “Well maybe we do not have these robots yet because we aren’t technologically advanced enough yet.” but this is a false statement. We are advanced enough to do this and we have evidence to prove. Our Air Force has these robots but in the sky. UAV’s or unmanned aerial vehicles are able to attack ground targets from thousands of feet in the air with the only human interaction being coordinates typed into a computer. The reason why these are a part of everyday attack and defense, and ground ones arent is because if a UAV misfires, it is in the air, and there are no friendly units around it that it could hit by accident. With this in mind, as research continues, the introduction of a ground robot will undoubtedly be coming soon.
What I am about to talk about is controversial, many people may support or disagree with me, but my opinion on this subject matter will never change. I think in war, or any situation for that matter that can consist of the life of a human being lost must come with possible danger for the one who takes that person’s life. I will never support killing outside of war, but when it comes to military conflict I understand what it takes to win a war. This being said, regardless of who we are fighting with, both sides consist of the same species, humans. If you are a soldier, pilot, seaman, or whatever, you are still a human being, and the same goes for the opponent. Its hard to put into words, but if both sides are fighting to the death in any scenario, the only way I think this is acceptable is if the “winner” risks their life in the process. To better state this I think it is wrong that a drone pilot can sit behind a computer screen and wipe out an entire village of people across the world, like some video game, without risking their lives at all. This ideology is odd, but I stand by it strongly.
The last thing id like to talk about is world conflict. This is something we face every day in the military, as troops in all military are stationed across the world to defend their nation. Having robots will lead to more conflict because the leaders of these militaries are more inclined to fight because they won’t be risking human life. Above all, I believe the reason for not supporting autonomous dominance in the military is psychological reason. No matter the situation at any time, I feel that human beings’ risk of life and judgment will always surpass that of a machine.
After discussing both views on robotic integration in our military it is tough to find a side to support. I think there are benefits and negatives to both views but it all depends on preference and what happens as time goes on. From a cadet’s perspective, I don’t fully support it, my life goal has been to become a pilot and although this is still a possibility, the odds are getting smaller and smaller every year as drones are quickly replacing the jobs of human military members. In the media, however, it is going to be a long time before this is something everyone is accustomed to. There will be times were news about human life being lost leaves people questioning “well why didn’t we use a robot for that dangerous job?”. Other times a robot will mess up and the public will question “Why didn’t a human do that task?”. In the end, it is a decision that the military has already made, and we will see which way they start to lean as technology improves and time goes on.
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