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Unmanned Vehicles: Militaries Keep Their Options Open

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The Future of Unmanned Vehicles: Militaries Keep Their Options Open

(Source: Stratfor; published June 7, 2015)

Just because militaries can design effective unmanned vehicles does not mean they will design them en masse. Instead, they will build systems that can be used both remotely and manually to optimize their functionality.

However, institutional inertia and a general resistance to change will ensure that the adoption of hybridized systems takes a long time.

The United States will continue to be a pioneer in this field, since it already has much of the requisite infrastructure to manage a large volume of remotely operated vehicles.

The idea of replacing every one of the military's manned vehicles with an unmanned system was once an unattainable fantasy. But with the development of remote technology, it has moved firmly into the realm of reality, and the popularity of drone use in the war against militant Islam has prompted a debate over what kinds of vehicles should compose its future fleets. And while the national conversation has focused almost exclusively on aircraft, unmanned technology has applications in ground and sea vehicles as well. Remote operation has the potential to further transform the way the United States makes war.

Earlier this year, in fact, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Fabus said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is currently being developed, could well be the last manned fighter aircraft his branch of the military will ever buy or fly. His comment prompted responses over the strengths and weaknesses of remote operation technology. One side argues that the design advantages of unmanned vehicles outweigh the challenges they introduce; the other insists that only a human can properly use even the best designed systems.

Ultimately, geopolitical imperatives, not political rhetoric, are what drive weapons technology. As governments continue to prioritize the targeting of terrorist cells and non-state actors, remote operation technology will remain a critical tool in their counterterrorism operations. Unmanned technology, with all the tactical advantages it offers on land, water and in the air, is here to stay.

The debate, then, is over how quickly and to what extent armed forces should make the switch from manned to unmanned systems. Both systems have disadvantages, and each one offers something the other does not. U.S. military leaders understand as much, and so the United States will design hybridized systems that combine the best elements of manned and unmanned vehicles. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Stratfor website.