Our show today with military robotics expert P.W. Singer took a hard look at the implications of the U.S. military's increasingly wide push to use cutting-edge technology to defend troops, survey areas, and kill enemies.
Singer told Tom Ashbrook that a revolution is now underway, comparable to the World War I era when mechanized warfare overturned the whole notion of conflict. And this latest technological revolution, Singer warned, profoundly changes the way society relates to war, accelerating trends that were already unfolding:
We no longer declare war anymore. We no longer have a draft. We no longer buy war bonds. So the barriers to war in our society were already dropping. And now we have this technology that allows us to carry out these acts of war without having to send people into harm's way. And so it allows you to go to war, it allows the nation to go to war, really without reflecting on it.
Singer went on to suggest that this is what we now see playing out in Pakistan, where the number of airstrikes by U.S. drones would qualify as war. "We've had more drone strikes into Pakistan than we had manned bomber strikes in the opening round of the Kosovo War," Singer said. "But we don't call it a war, because we view it differently for some reason."
He decried the notion of society celebrating "YouTube war," where flashy video clips of robotic killing and combat are put up on the Internet to be viewed for "fun." We'll avoid posting any of those, but we thought it might be instructive to look up close at the technologies that Singer is talking about.
The Predator drone is perhaps the best-known unmanned/robotic vehicle used by the U.S. military. Here's an interesting test and analysis of its capabilities:
Singer also looks at the "Packbot," a tiny rover made by iRobot for reconnaissance, and for defusing bombs:
The CRAM, or Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar, has been used against insurgent attacks in Iraq. It's sometimes referred to as "R2 D2," after the Star Wars droid, given its round, turret shape. It spots incoming shells and uses a spray of fire to shoot them down. Developed by Raytheon, here it is in its test phase:
Wired magazine's Danger Room blog is a clearinghouse for all kinds of stories on new military experiments and technological developments. Here's a video the blog highlighted on a hummingbird-style "nano" drone that is being explored:
The Pentagon's own news service reports occasionally on its latest high-tech gadgets and robotic technologies. This is a report last year on its "Mule," a robotic transport vehicle developed by Lockheed Martin:
Along those lines, here's what the "Crusher" looks like, a rugged ground vehicle developed by Carnegie Mellon University:
Finally, here's the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial drone, a bigger, faster version of its military cousin, the Predator. The two have been in the air in Iraq, and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region: