Pressured by the prospect of sweeping cuts,
the Army is considering swapping thousands of grunts for robots, a senior officer says.
Gen. Robert Cone, head of the Army's training and doctrine command, told a symposium in Arlington, Va., earlier this month that the service is thinking about slashing a brigade combat team from 4,000 soldiers to 3,000, Defense News
A reduction in the nine-man infantry squad is also a possibility, he said.
"I've got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force," he said, Defense News reported.
The senior officer said other options would be remote-controlled vehicles following "manned platforms" that would need less armor and protection.
Over the past 12 years of war, Cone said, "we've sacrificed a lot things" — including flexibility and firepower — in favor of "force protection," Defense News reported.
The looming revamp comes as the Army faces a shrinking force, from 540,000 soldiers to about 490,000 by the end of 2015, with the numbers possibly sliding as low as 420,000 by 2019, Defense News reported.
The newspaper noted that personnel costs eat up almost half of the service's total budget.
Cone suggested that "3,000 people is probably enough probably to get by" with increased technological capabilities, Defense News said.
The Navy is already cutting numbers of seamen needed on ships, and Cone said the Army is thinking how it can do the same.
"When you see the success, frankly, that the Navy has had in terms of lowering the numbers of people on ships, are there functions in the brigade that we could automate — robots or manned/unmanned teaming — and lower the number of people that are involved, given the fact that people are our major cost," he said.
Robotic ground vehicles have already been tested in Afghanistan, including the Squad Mission Support System, a six-wheeled robotic buggy to carry soldiers' equipment, The Telegraph
The United States already has deployed drones
in attacks along the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
General Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander who oversaw NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the BBC that U.S. drones created "a tremendous amount of resentment" in areas they targeted.
"There's a danger that something that feels easy to do and without risk to yourself, almost antiseptic to the person shooting, doesn't feel that way at the point of impact," he said.
"And so, if it lowers the threshold for taking operations because it feels easy, there's danger in that."
The rise of the new technologies, however, has some worried; in 2012, Human Rights Watch called for a pre-emptive ban on killer robots "before it's too late," The Telegraph reported.
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