Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a short essay series on Future Warfare which asked what the dominant trend in warfare will be over the next 20 years.
By Cadet Wilhelm Bunjor
The single greatest tragedy of war is death. Images of dead and wounded soldiers returning from combat should give pause to policymakers considering military force. Yet emerging technology will soon provide commanders with options to limit the amount of troops in harm’s way. While war will never allow for soldiers to fight outside of harm’s way, continuing research in unmanned vehicles stands to drastically decrease the number of soldiers who enter an enemy’s line of sight.
In May, 2014, Lockheed Martin demonstrated that a convoy could successfully navigate through a city with only one manned vehicle in the lead. Israel also conducted research in unmanned vehicles and already fielded such a vehicle capable of a variety of missions including convoy and perimeter security. Thus far, unmanned ground vehicles hardly qualify as a dominant trend in warfare, but as this new technology becomes operational it will gain popularity among military and political leaders as an attractive alternative to direct use of troops. In the same way political and military leaders see airpower as a low cost alternative to ground troops, so will they see the use of unmanned vehicles.
Before unmanned ground vehicles become operational, the US military and government should address several questions. First, to what extent can vehicles replace people? Certainly a machine cannot build rapport with and gather intelligence from the residents of a village. The military should plan on how to incorporate these assets into the existing force structure and not let wishful thinking outweigh military realities. The second important question is what the moral implications of unmanned vehicles are. UAV’s have raised enough moral issues, but what will it mean when the US broadens what it can accomplish militarily without putting as many soldiers in danger? The use of unmanned vehicles runs the risk of making war too politically acceptable as well as decrease concern for civilian casualties and negative strategic outcomes from the use of force.
 Paul McCleary, “US Army’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle Research Creeps Along.” Defense News, May 13, 2014, http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20140513/DEFREG02/305130031/US-Army-s-Unmanned-Ground-Vehicle-Research-Creeps-Along.
 “Guardium MK 1” Gnius Unmanned Ground Systems, http://g-nius.co.il/unmanned-ground-systems/guardium-ugv.html.