Editorial: Military drones on...

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One of the most impressive advances in technology for the U.S. military in the last decade has been with unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.
The unmanned vehicles have been around in military circles in some form or another for a century, but technology and new battlefield challenges have made them critical to the military today.
This week, the U.S. Navy became the first to launch a drone from an aircraft carrier, eliminating the need for access to airstrips in the U.S. or ally countries to make them effective.
The drone is an incredible tool that not only creates a more cost-effective means to gather intelligence and attack enemies in hard-to-reach locations, but they also help keep our military personnel at a safe distance. Any technology that helps the United States reduce battlefield casualties should be embraced and developed.
Drones have proven effective in both the information-gathering and attack roles and will surely become an increasingly useful tool in our military arsenal.
One potential pitfall with this new technology, though, is the possibility that one day these drones will likely be able to operate without any human oversight once the mission is established and launched. It will be a mistake if we ever let such a weapon become the decision-maker on the battlefield.
We use cruise missiles, smart bombs and the likes, but a human must launch them and determine a target. With current drone strikes, a human operator must verify a target and pull the trigger, even if he or she is thousands of miles away. This is how it should be.
The human element of war can be irrational, nasty and cruel, but to put the life of anyone in the hands of a war machine alone is a dangerous step that raises too many questions and leaves too much to chance.
We should continue to develop drones and use them in innovative ways that not only make us more successful, but keep us safer and better informed on the battlefield. But they should never become autonomous actors sent on missions to make cold, calculated decisions in the one environment that is never as black and white as it may seem.