Drone warriors

 

Last updated 9/27/2023 at 6:43pm



Elon Musk used his privately owned (satellite) communication relay system called “Star Link” to prevent a Ukrainian marine drone attack on Russian ships. Musk’s stated reasoning was that destruction of Russian ships in the Black Sea could generate a much broader war. Preventing expansion of the war is commendable. But the affair raises some serious questions that need to be answered.

If any ordinary citizen had done what Musk did, that person would probably be in a federal prison. We are allowing individuals and corporations to accumulate wealth and influence that allows them to manipulate government. That situation allows an end-run around democratically elected government, a subversion of democracy.

A question is being debated: Is drone warfare guided by artificial intelligence moral? No. War is not moral. There is a very important issue about the use of military weapons that make their own decisions. History gives us some insight.

In the 1890s, Cubans were attempting to obtain their independence from Spain.  The United States backed Cuba.  In August of 1898, the USS Maine steamed into Havana harbor.  The captain ordered the crew to maintain a full head of steam in case the ship needed to maneuver quickly.  An explosion sank the ship with substantial loss of life.  Divers determined that the cause was an external explosion.  Sensationalist news media, then called yellow journalism, championed U.S. invasion of Cuba—the Spanish American War of 1898.  Years later, the USS Maine was floated and, again, the assessment was that the explosion was external. During World War II, a large bank of data was assembled regarding the way ships deformed when subjected to explosives. Admiral Rickover, the “father of the nuclear navy,” conducted a review of the damage to the USS Maine using modern science and the accumulated ship explosive damage data. His review team concluded that the USS Maine had sustained an internal explosion. The hot boilers were separated from the powder magazine only by a steel wall. Additionally, the boilers were coal fired. The “canary in the coal mine” was a method of detecting odorless explosive methane gas that occurs in coal seams. An internal explosion of methane or the powder magazine caused the sinking of the USS Maine. But blame for the explosion had been falsely attributed to Spain and helped generate a war.

If a rogue, someone like Osama bin Laden, secretly used a drone to conduct an attack, blame could accrue to the wrong party, and, in a nuclear age, that could be disastrous.

Although Elon Musk may have had good intentions and may have prevented an expansion of the Ukrainian war, a future Elon Musk with good intentions could just as easily expand a war. U.S. government policy should be made by accountable elected officials.

Our government has been using remotely controlled drones to launch attacks for several years, e.g., an attack in Afghanistan controlled from a screen in the U.S. Some of the targets were not correctly identified. If we now assign decision making to computer programs, we will be extending the risk of unwanted problems. We need to instruct our elected members of Congress to put strict limits on weaponry that can choose its targets without human control.

Jack Stevenson is a retired infantry officer, civil service and private corporation employee who now reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary from his home in Pensacola, Florida.

 

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