Master Sgt. Krystoffer Miller of the 325th Security Forces Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., takes
a quad-legged unmanned ground vehicle (Q-UGV) on a 2021 exercise. (Airman 1st Class Annabel del Valle (U.S. Air Force))
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Eons ago, humankind’s first warrior hurled a spear or stone and prayed to an appropriate deity to guide his ballistic weapon to its target. Millennia later, modern-day man applied his genius and appetite for war toward improving his aim, using electric systems to guide weapons — and the vehicles that launched weapons — to often harder targets.
Among the earliest guided weapons were torpedoes, such as that developed by John Louis Lay in 1872. Towed behind a ship until launched, it worked, though not very well.
Soon after development of the first practical airplane, the powers involved in World War I worked on guided aerial bombs, such as the gyroscopically controlled Kettering Bug, which took flight in 1918. World War II saw such weapons proliferate on land, sea and air.
But it was the development of computers and the U.S.-owned-and-operated Global Positioning System that ushered in a new era of warfare. The perfection of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, in the 21st century has enabled chairborne controllers to attack targets thousands of miles away.
With such power, however, comes grave responsibility, and all too often a drone-launched missile kills innocent civilians, as happened during the August 2021 fall of Kabul, Afghanistan. Perhaps an even more sobering thought is that the latest generation of remote-control weapons are relatively inexpensive, widely available and fielded by more than 100 armed nations or organizations. The current crop might spark bloodless battles between machines or, perhaps more likely, remorseless remote slaughter.
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