Our present-day pilotless platforms have been branded “drones” to their detriment. The word communicates a lack of adaptability or agency. For an increasingly automated fleet of machines, it denotes monotony and mindlessness: the droning of engines as a Predator lazily loops above the mountains, observing friend and foe alike. “Drone” is inappropriate for an ever-expanding suite of devices with greater close-in roles in combat. An AlphaDog, an EOD bomb-disposal bot, the DARPA Crusher, and the Battlefield Extraction Assistance Robot (BEAR) are not “drones.” To better describe our new combat compatriots and better comprehend their multitudinous uses and designs, let us properly christen our autonomous allies.
ComBot is the accurate alternative to “drone.” An obvious combination of Combat and Robot, it describes our soon-to-be automated assault associates in an easy-to-digest term. The name has a practicality lacking in most military monikers. It is not a shoe-horned acronym such as Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) pronounced “see-wiz” rather than “ki-wis” or “cue-z”. What layman would ever think of a high-tech Gatling-gun when they hear “CIWS”, or a pilotless aircraft when they hear “UAV”? However, the wordplay of ComBot makes the backing concept immediately recognizable. A rose by any other name may be just as sweet, but people abandoned the term horseless carriage for a reason; let’s update our language to match the concept.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
The DC region was invaded by naval demonstration drones with varying degrees of impact. Northrop Grumman’s X-47B UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator), the drone designed to launch from carriers and begin the replacement of manned fighter jets, made its way cross-country to Naval Air Station Pax River in Maryland after successfully completing its first major phase of testing. En route it rounded DC’s beltway and, as in other places it was seen by the public, it sparked some humorous befuddlement.
Earlier in the week another U.S. Navy drone demonstrator at Pax River made a more literal impact into Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This was an RQ-4A BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator), a modified version of the Air Force’s Global Hawk, and one of only two of the “A” variants. As the linked AOL Defense article points out, Northrop Grumman has continued to make major improvements with the more advanced “B” and “C” variants.
CGBlog has a good run down and analysis of the Coast Guard’s future shipbuilding plan, including the views of a just-released GAO report. If you’re not familiar with the debates, this a good chance to get caught up on the future of another service with a global impact on maritime security.
The U.S. took another step towards closure on the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing on Sunday. A year after a SEALs strike took down Osama bin Laden, one of al-Qaeda’s local operators for the Cole bombing, an American drone strike killed Fahd al Quso in Yemen with the Yemeni government’s blessing.
Quso’s death leaves only Jamal al-Badawi at large, another al-Qaeda local operator in the bombing and fellow FBI Top 10 Most Wanted Lister. The U.S. military is holding Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, the Cole mastermind and field commander in Guantanamo Bay, and will bring him before a military commission trial in November where he faces the death penalty.
Quso escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003, was re-imprisoned after he turned himself in and in 2004 sentenced to 10 years. He served 5 until Yemen secretly released him in 2007. In May 2010, Quso issued a statement again threatening U.S. warships. Later that year the U.S. State Department designated him a global terrorist, but he had always faced U.S. charges and had a bounty on his head.
While not belittling the serious threat posed by Quso, his efforts had a touch of the slapstick. The Cole was the second bombing attempt – the first failed to strike the USS The Sullivans when the plotters overloaded the boat, which sank before hitting its mark. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Cole bombing was also less than the propaganda coup al-Qaeda hoped for as Quso, who was to film the attack from an apartment nearby, overslept and missed the action.
Sunday’s actions bring the U.S. Navy once step closer to book-ending the Cole bombing in a similar way achieved with 9/11 last year. But as the world is forever a changed place since that day in September, the significant increase in anti-terrorism / force protection measures implemented since the Cole will remain in place long after the U.S. reaches closure on that October.