In our most recent podcast, we discussed the ramifications of our military using more and more UAV’s and other such “mechanical soldiers” in different operations. In order to try and get a better viewpoint, I reached out to a friend of mine in the military and see if he had anything to add. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions (even during his guild’s raid, what a gentleman) and provide them here.
Special thanks to Sergeant Chilcott of the 65th Fires Brigade, Riverton, Utah. Additional thanks to all other men and women in our armed services, both active and reserve.
1. Is drone use common now among troops, or is it still sort of a novelty? New tech vs. tried and true.
Since the advent of the UAV, for operational purposes (drones have been used for training for a long time), I have wondered (and I think this goes for a lot of the guys I work with) why it took so long for the military to start using them. So, in many respects, the technology doesn’t hold any particular mystique. On the other hand, the benefits to the warfighter can hardly be taken for granted, and they’re benefits that we didn’t have, to the same extent, before. So, there is definitely appreciation for what these new technologies bring to the table.
2. Do you think the military looses anything by using drones instead of boots on the ground?
Flesh and blood troops definitely have a greater capacity for their PR value, but they also carry with them an inherent, equal potential to be a PR liability. Drones are totally impersonal, so it’s easy to see them in a more negative light – a faceless intruder, etc. But, UAV’s are also, in most cases unseen and unheard, in an operational environment, so that invasion into people’s lives is somewhat mitigated. Of course, there are certainly exceptions to that, but the UAV, from a management perspective, is a more predictable factor, which further helps to mitigate the potential for negative impact on the public. Additionally, the UAV is not a substitute for troops at all, but rather a tool for the enhancement of their mission capability. Ideally, our boots on the ground are establishing good relationships with indigenous populations and making it clear that the intent for our “drones” is to provide greater situational awareness, so that our soldiers can do a better job of getting the bad guys and minimizing the disturbance to the average Joe on the street.
3. Do you think the military is always aware of any breeches into the drone network?
Of course not – as an IT professional, I would have to be either blissfully ignorant or criminally naive to believe that any network was immune to intrusion. Network intrusion detection is a HUGE deal throughout every segment of the IT industry. And nobody is 100% aware of every breech of their network’s security. That having been said, the military sets matters of security at the very top of their priority list, and network security is no exception. We also have very effective tools, policies and procedures in place to minimize exposure and limit the extent of any breeches that may occur.
4. Would you say the military is reliant on drone use yet? Is it still a luxury?
We’re certainly not reliant on them. No more so than on any other piece of hardware. UAVs are another tool in the toolbox. Definitely a valuable tool, but by no means a deal-breaker.
5. Does the use of drones turn warfare into simply another video game?
I have heard it said that the UAV makes warfighting more akin to playing a video game. But I’ve never met a Service Member who didn’t treat his combat role with the utmost seriousness. That said, the guy on the ground, who still has to square off against a determined enemy, doesn’t see anything game-like in the war he’s fighting, regardless of the assistance he gets from the “eye in the sky”, manned or unmanned. And since the UAV operators are still FAR fewer than the ground forces, I’d say the war still feels awfully real.
I don’t know that a soldier and an unmanned vehicle can really be comparable to each other. But, in terms of the fiscal cost of bringing one or the other to the battlefield, my guess would be that they are likely fairly similar. The dollars and cents of either materiel or personnel are far from my area of expertise, but when I first enlisted, I heard an estimate of a little more than $100,000.00 just to get a single soldier through Basic Training. Then, there are countless other schools and operational/maintenance costs that go along with keeping a soldier combat ready, so the expense is not insignificant. How that ultimately compares to a UAV is a question I wouldn’t dare try to answer with level of understanding.
7. With the threat of cyber attack from anyone (not just foreign powers, but also bored 9 year old’s), is it wise to keep building up such a “connected army”?
This goes back to the question about security breech awareness. The military does a pretty darn good job of mitigating threat and securing its IT resources, especially considering the size of the bull’s-eye on us and our means of prosecuting our wars. In the modern world, cyber space is, increasingly, the battlefield on which we fight. And, as the military continues to get leaner and leaner, in terms of manpower, the need for cyber-superiority, as a means of extending our reach, becomes greater and greater. Additionally, our inter-connectivity is used for a lot more than just operational concerns. Morale, welfare and support are facilitated and enhanced by inter-connectivity, especially on the physical battlefield. So, in this day and age, it’s hard to imagine a military that isn’t “connected”. Again, connectivity is another tool in the toolbox, and definitely a valuable one to have.