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War Fighter Robots

Beyond the fantasy of such movies as "I Robot" (with Will Smith) or "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" lies the reality that the future of military tactics may well include the use of robotic war fighters.

One senior officer, Lt. General Rick Lynch leading the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq says that of the 150 troops killed in combat, 122 might have lived, if only the U.S. had sent a bigger and better-capable robot army in Iraq . "80 percent of those soldiers didn't have to die."

The exploits of the explosive ordnance disposal teams and the robots they employ to clear roadside bombs are well known. But Lynch doesn't consider those devices robots because they require humans to control them remotely. "I'm talking about a system that has a certain degree of autonomy," he said.

That General Lynch holds a Master's Degree in Robotics from M.I.T. helps to establish his credibility in making this assertion and in arguing for more support. Lynch focuses on four separate areas in which he believes robots could play an expanded and important role:

1) Unmanned route clearance.
2) "Persistent stare" (diligent observation of known hotspots with armed robots)
3) Convoy following (having only the lead truck of a convoy manned, the rest being "directed" by a robot.
4) "Robotic wingman" (in which "an unmanned vehicle that will mirror the movements of others with a certain degree of autonomy')

The reality is that this vision of deploying robotic war fighters to substitute for human soldiers in known dangerous situations is still not on the horizon because of limited field testing. Yet the argument for greater testing an deployment is compelling and is underscored by the numbers of soldiers killed or wounded in battle situations. General Lynch's desire is

He said seven soldiers under his command were killed and three were captured because they were out watching IED hotspots. "That didn't have to happen." Robots can take the soldiers' places, he said. They can continuously keep watch on an area, and if nefarious activity is spotted, "We can take appropriate action. ... We can kill those bastards before they plant the IEDs," he added

The future of war fighting included many new technologies. Some seemed like science fiction a decade ago, even while military research was being conducted. Limiting funding for innovative programs like the ones supported by General Lynch would be a mistake paid for by the lives and limbs of our soldiers. New technologies are being tested and developed all of the time. The chance that wars will end, or conversely, never return to conventional means, is unlikely. How we fight on the field of battle, should. We have the means.

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