Murphy's Law: March 22, 2002


Most of the American casualties in Operation Anaconda were the result of ambushes. This is usually the case in combat. But Afghanistan is a war starved for battles, so each action is going to get a lot of political and media attention. One result of this is that you will probably see, out in the open, the Pentagon problem solving process that usually takes place behind the scenes. The problem that will now get a lot of attention, of course, is how to avoid these ambushes. The army will propose that there simply be more training in how to deal with ambush situations. This has worked for over a century. But the high tech crowd in the army will see this as a reason to put more money into robots. They want deadly little mechanical critters that can move about on the battlefield, watching, listening and even sniffing for the enemy, to help avoid ambushes, or minimize the damage once the enemy opens fire. The air force will ask for more airborne sensors, and UAVs, to better unmask the enemy lurking in the shadows. And then there are the space cadets, who will ask for more billion dollar satellites that can see through clouds and pick out guys with guns hiding in the bushes. 

Now the safest, and cheapest, solution is more training for the troops. But it's hard to get Congress behind this. The troops are always training and there is no way a lot of congresscritters can get more jobs for their districts by increasing training. The robots proposal resonates more with Congress, as this is a high tech project (making it easier for the legislator to get media attention for backing it) and will cost a bunch of money (carefully spread around into as many districts as possible). The air force asking for betters sensors, or the space crowd asking for more satellites falls into the same category. But the space solution may cost too much money, and satellite building is a very specialized business that is already concentrated in just a few congressional districts. The air force pitch for newer and better sensors pits the air force against the army robot project. The air force already has a lot of people building sensors, while robots are new and, let's face it, sexier. 

Never underestimate the amount of media buzz you can get out of a weapons development project. Why do you think the air force gets so much money for all those exciting looking warplanes and missiles. Aircraft (for all services) are the single biggest item in the defense budget. Buying them and maintaining them cost a lot of money. But robots are playing the same card; being new, sinister and generally wicked looking. Indeed, the air force is pushing it's current robotic reconnaissance aircraft (Predator and Global Hawk) and upcoming robotic combat aircraft. 

So the when "ambush problem" becomes an item in Washington, expect the robots to be the lead solution in the big money sweepstakes.


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