Fantasies and realities of robot war

The idea of replacing human solidiers with automated devices for
fighting wars has been an obsession in the Pentagon since the
1960s. During the Vietnam War, for example, there were elaborate
plans to build an electronic barrier separating North from South, a
network of sensing devices that would identify enemy traffic and
guide strikes from the air. Much of the technology that makes possible
today's computers and the Internet derives from decades of
government funded research, development and production originally
justified by any all out push to create the "electronic battlefield."

A recent article by Conn Hallinan, "The Rise of the Machines," comments
on the most recent steps in this ongoing, throughly deranged misuse
of American science and engineering, i.e., scientists, engineers and your
tax dollars. He writes:

The press had lots of fun with the recent robot debacle in the Mojave Desert. Competing for $1 million in prize money, 15 vehicles headed off on a 142-mile course through some of the most forbidding terrain in the country. None managed to navigate even eight miles. The robots hit fences, caught fire, rolled over, or sat and did nothing.

However, the purpose of the event was not NASCAR for nerds, but a coldly calculated plan to construct a generation of killer machines.

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Mar. 13 “race” was part of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) plan to make one third of the military’s combat vehicles driverless by 2015. The push to replace soldiers with machines is impelled by an over-extended military searching for ways to limit U.S. casualties, a powerful circle of arms manufactures, and an empire-minded group of politicians addicted to campaign contributions by defense corporations.

This “rise of the machines” is at the heart of the Bush administration’s recent military budget. Sandwiched into outlays for aircraft, artillery, and conventional weapons, are monies for unmanned combat aircraft, robot tanks, submarines, and a supersonic bomber capable of delivering six tons of bombs and missiles to anyplace on the globe in two hours.

. . . . The military’s interest is in part a function of the Vietnam Syndrome: lots of aluminum caskets and weeping survivors play poorly on the six o’clock news. While so far the Bush administration has managed to keep these images at arm’s length by simply banning the media from filming C-130s disgorging the wounded and the slain, as casualty lists grows longer, that will get harder to do.

The lure of being able to fight a war without getting your own people killed is a seductive one. “It is possible that in our lifetime we will be able to run a conflict without ever leaving the United States ,” Lt. Col. David Branham told the New York Times last year.