Battlefield robotics is transforming modern war and saving American lives, according to this enthusiastic account.
Brookings Institution senior fellow Singer (Children at War, 2005, etc) begins with a history of the crude, radio-controlled unmanned vehicles and planes of World Wars I and II. Technology made quantum advances over the following decades, but resistance from military leaders hobbled development. Leading the opposition were U.S. Air Force generals, who took for granted that any respectable warplane had a pilot. By the ’80s the logjam had broken, and the 1991 Gulf War saw the much-publicized use of “smart bombs” as well as unmanned drones buzzing over Iraqi positions to transmit their observations. America’s 21st-century wars feature ingenious battlefield robots that peer around corners, search for the enemy in dangerous caves and inspect roadside bombs while their operators remain at a safe distance. Overhead, vastly improved drones search for suspicious activity and occasionally rain down destruction. The indefatigable author crisscrossed the country, interviewing engineers, soldiers, politicians and generals to deliver a vivid picture of the current controversies and dazzling possibilities of war in the digital age. As recent headlines on civilian deaths from American air attacks in Afghanistan reveal, many kinks remain to be ironed out. Tempering the optimism of the introductory chapters, Singer devotes much of his text to the flaws of these new devices and steep learning curve involved in employing them. He also reminds readers that even the most backward enemies possess a surprising ability to adapt. He points out what every thoughtful reader knows: Confronted by devastating, high-tech American technology, Iraqi insurgents haven’t scurried into oblivion, and the Taliban in Afghanistan are not retreating but advancing.
An engrossing picture of a new class of weapon that may revolutionize future wars but has not greatly daunted our current opponents.