Speaking last month at the U.S. Army Winter Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Col. Christopher B. Carlile, director of the Army UAS Center of Excellence, said "technology is not going to replace the soldier." (File photo / Air Force)
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As Army drones reach 1 million flight hours in the two wars next month, the service envisions a future in which humans stay in the loop, said a lead Army official for unmanned aircraft systems.
"Would you, as an American citizen, agree with the idea of turning a machine loose that is going to kill using biometrics or something else?" said Col. Christopher B. Carlile, director of the Army UAS Center of Excellence. "Culturally and morally, I truly don't believe the American people will be there in 25 years."
Carlile discussed the Army's UAS "road map" for 2010-2035 at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium here in late February. The road map, which is awaiting approval by senior leadership, outlines how to conduct urban operations while minimizing collateral damage.
"One of the key tenets that you can take away from our road map is that technology is not going to replace the soldier," said Carlile.
There is a growing emphasis on UAS operators taking an "air scout" approach, feeding infantrymen information about the tactical environment before a mission. Future technology upgrades will allow systems to fly autonomously through "point and click," making them more accessible for infantrymen.
"Why should we worry about somebody trying to fly something stick and rudder, using two-dimensional nonvisual cues to do that," Carlile said. "If you let the human do what the human does best, which is think logically, then we have a much better situation."
The road map looks at using drones as network relays or to supply cargo. The question of using drones for troop transport or medical evacuations led to some moral and ethical questions.
"When you put a medic with a soldier, that soldier stays with that medic," Carlile said. "The feeling was right now, we still need to have standards of care."
Carlile said the future will likely bring more teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft. Manned airstrikes carry less risk of civilian casualties, he said.
"The U.S. Army has a large capital investment in lethal platforms that are manned that also give the ability to make last-minute decisions from the cockpit," he said. "Let's maximize those."