Before any U.S. military planner or leader writes off this latest news flash from Iran as irrelevant bluster, it is important to recognize the more important fact that it represents: The robotics genie is out of the bottle. The resemblance of the U.S. Predator to the Shahed-129 is one more indication that U.S. forces are also subject to being observed, tracked and targeted by robotic systems. Dr. Peter Singer, author of Wired For War, elaborated on this point at the Naval War College’s 2012 Current Strategy Forum. “Right now in military robotics there are more than 50 other countries that are building, buying and using military robotic systems,” he said.
Singer explained the fantastic proliferation of robotic systems in recent years by noting that the U.S. began the war in Afghanistan with just a handful of UASs and no ground robotic systems. Eleven years later, the United States is employing approximately 7,000 air systems and more than 12,000 ground systems. While the U.S. may have an edge in quantity and quality of robotics, the adage that “sometimes good enough is excellent,” may be appropriate for an Iranian UAS system that is good enough to provide the rudimentary over-the-horizon targeting data for a shore-based anti-ship missile system. Iran has a capacity to build and operate these systems and they have experience using them in combat. Naval leaders and military planners are wise to keep a keen eye on and give due respect to the potential capabilities of Iranian and other foreign robotics systems.
Cdr. Daniel Dolan is assigned to the Naval War College where he teaches Strategy and War and serves as the Deputy Manager of the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program. He is an EP-3/special mission P-3 Naval Flight Officer and frequent contributor to Proceedings .