Just because something works, we don’t necessarily need it. Such is the case with Fire Scout, a Navy unmanned helicopter that operates from small ships, though it can fly 115 miles or so from its mother ship. But is there any reason to have an unmanned helicopter that operates at sea? One that, in the era of a fully networked global intelligence system, is redundant. One that would be highly vulnerable in a real war with a peer adversary. Is it just because we can? That unmanned everything is now within reach? There’s nothing wrong with Fire Scout per se, but in its story is an interesting parable: That just because something isn’t attracting Washington enemies bellowing about cost or “fraud, waste and abuse,” doesn’t mean we should keep using it.
The Army announced last week that budget cuts would necessitate the reduction of the regular army from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2018. An additional 17,000 civilian positions will be cut during the same time period. Citing “strategic factors, to include readiness impacts, mission command and cost,” the Army already has a vocal legion of lawmakers lined up ready to call foul. But this position shouldn’t fool anyone. Through their continued investments in unmanned aerial vehicles, automated weapons, and a host of other technological advancements, the Army is doing exactly what it has strategically planned to do all along—take the human component out of warfare.
Ancient by information age standards, Hunter is an Army drone that’s been in use since the Kosovo War in 1999. At 2,000 pounds, it’s neither sleek nor personal, more of a family car that’s hardy enough to have abundant cup holders than a hot rod. But with a heavy fuel internal combustion engine that allows it to operate from unimproved airstrips, Hunter can fly for over 18 hours, giving it the endurance and range necessary to support ground operations out to some distance.