On November 3rd, three men belonging to the Haqqani Network were going about their businesses as usual in the tribal badlands of North Waziristan. Little did they know as they got out of their hide ut that the Grim “Reaper” would reign “Hellfire” from the sky and take them down. Reaper, being an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or a drone and Hellfire, being the missile fired by it. Slowly but surely, the rules of war are being changed by an army of remote controlled devices becoming more intelligent, independent and deadly with every strike.
The people who carry out such strikes sit half way across the world. They are soldiers, fighting a war but without putting their lives in danger, sitting comfortably in air-conditioned rooms and sipping on hot coffee. The communication is via two way satellite transmission. The drones give live visual data feed whereas the “” tells them where and when to strike. The mission does not always include missile strikes but mostly involves what generals like to call, maintaining an unblinking stare on the enemy, observing their movements so that data can be collected as evidence or for planning a future attack.
There are several advantages to using a pilotless aircraft. The most important and obvious being not putting the life of the pilot in danger. At the end of a mission, the pilot can go back home, enjoy dinner with his family and come back fresh the next day. Also the planes can be designed more aerodynamically as you don’t have to seat a human in them. Training pilots is less expensive as training is more or less like a video game, a simulation. A decrease weight of the pilot means an increase in the weight of the weapons. Drones can fly at higher altitudes and higher speeds as the effect of g-force is no more a consideration. Average flight time increases. Possibility of pilot error decreases. So does response time for reacting to developing situations. Of course there are several disadvantages to having a pilotless aircraft. Success is easy against defenseless Afghans, but when it comes to fully fledged dog fight in the air, the unmanned aircrafts will get creamed by their manned counterparts. This is because current technology does not allow these aircrafts to make quick time decisions, which come instinctively to pilots. Also in case the satellite communication breaks down, the drones will have to fall back on programmed soft ware’s which currently depend on assuming conditions and acting based on them.
The coming of artificial intelligence
The disadvantage mentioned last will be irrelevant in the future. Efforts are underway to allow some degree of decision making to the drones. They will be able to fire at targets that fire at them. Decide the course and choose landing locations based on ad-hoc situations. Alter altitude and direction to avoid hostile fire and if all else fails, go kamikaze on the enemy and self destruct. Each drone currently requires a support staff of about 180 but that number will drastically come down when these new features kick in. And America is going for the drones in a big way. The UAV program was spared defense cuts even in the wake of recession. Already the American air force is training more pilots to fly drones than other aircraft. The F-35 is said to be the last of the fighter jets that will carry a pilot. Strategies are being drawn involving thousands of drones that would overwhelm an enemy air force and create a kind of an aerial blockade over enemy cities cutting of ground and air supply and to think of it, the sun itself. Even India is acquiring drones both from national and international firms to increase surveillance along our porous border. The future wars will involve less blood and more scrap metal.
But, will there be blood..?
Questions are being raised over the ethics of allowing a machine to kill humans. Should machines be granted so much power? Even if there’s a man sitting behind the machine in a far away land, the fact that it would seem like a video game to him is also disturbing. War takes a heavy toll on soldiers. Many are often scarred for life. The fact that in the future a soldier will kill a bunch of men and destroy cities in the morning and then recite bed time stories to his kids before retiring peacefully to bed at night will take the stigma out of inflicting death and destruction. Also when advanced nations know that their men will not be directly in the line of fire, they will be more likely to take violent steps. Seeing young soldiers return in caskets weighs heavily on a nation’s conscience and acts as a major deterrence. Absence of that will increase the likelihood of war thereby decreasing the likelihood of solution by peaceful dialogue.
In time, these questions will be answered. One day, the machines will rise and all our lives will be affected. What do you think?
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