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Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

By P.W. Singer. 499 pp. Penguin Press, 2009 $29.95

Droids locked and loaded, ready to take over the world. As P.W. Singer describes in his latest tome on modern military tactics, the scenario is no longer just a plotline for a science-fiction movie. Robotic warfare is increasingly pushing the grunt work of the frontline to networked computer terminals in the rear. And that’s changing the look of war.

Singer admits he’s been fascinated by war since he was a child, and it shows. He traces the advent of the modern mechanized fighter from mythology’s metallic servants constructed of gold to the remote-controlled devices meant to tip the scale during World War I, such as carts used to ferry supplies to troops in trenches or explosives to an enemy bunker.

Robotic weapons can be designed as warrior humans only wish they could be: extremely precise and accurate, emotionally detached from their targets, and rugged enough to be rebuilt if something goes wrong.

They’re a force multiplier, often sent in to do the most dangerous tasks such as forward scouting or disarming remote-controlled explosives. And their use is growing, from virtually no unmanned systems in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, to some 12,000 by the end of 2008.

With this increase comes a payload of issues that will alter armed forces. Some military jobs, such as fighter pilots, stand to become obsolete. Every service wants a tailormade battlefield gadget, but patchwork development is hampering a unified military approach, Singer notes.

And technology can only take the military so far in irregular warfare against a highly adaptive enemy.

Yet Singer’s well-researched, approachable compilation brings the chilling realization home that science fiction is closer to battlefield fact than most people dare to imagine.


Originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.