Standardizing Robot Language
August 5, 2006: The U.S. Department of Defense is developing standard procedures for ground controllers to use when calling in air strikes from UAVs. It was five years ago that the CIA began using Hellfire missiles, carried by Predator UAVs, to attack terrorist targets throughout the Middle East and Afghanistan. The U.S. Air Force, and then the U.S. Army, began using armed UAVs as well. The army added the lighter (44 pound) Viper missile, to complement the 110 pound Hellfire. New UAVs, like the Predator B, will be able to carry 250 and 500 pound smart bombs.
Up till now, each service improvised, when it came to how they called in missile attacks via a UAV. But the Department of Defense likes to establish standards, so that air controllers working with any of the services will not have to learn several sets of procedures, sometimes in a very short time. This has been a practice for many decades, mainly because it saves time, and lives, in combat.
Many of the first armed UAV missile strikes were done without someone on the ground calling the shots. The CIA would use the cameras on the Predator to find and identify the target, and then fire the missile. But now it's becoming more common for ground troops to detect potential targets, that are not as visible from the air. Moreover, the use of smart bombs by the new Predator B, and other UAVs, will also mean more work for controllers on the ground. The new guidelines will be drawn up and distributed before the end of the year.