ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, May 23, 2014 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bristles when he hears someone use the word drone.
“You will never hear me use the word ‘drone,’ and you’ll never hear me use the term ‘unmanned aerial systems,’” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. “Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft.”
Dempsey spoke to Reuters and American Forces Press Service on his way back to Washington from Brussels and the 171st Chiefs of Defense Meeting at NATO headquarters.
The American people seem to have the image of robots “flying around semi-autonomously making their own decisions and conducting kinetic strikes without oversight by responsible human beings,” he said. “It’s not like that at all.”
There are more than 80 people for each remotely piloted vehicle, he said. They operate and maintain the aircraft, and analyze the information gathered. “It’s so important for us to remember that there is a man or woman in the loop,” he said.
And, whether a service member uses a bayonet or a remotely piloted aircraft with a Hellfire missile, “the ethical application of force applies,” Dempsey emphasized.
The law of armed conflict, the principles of war, U.S. ethics and legal bases apply no matter what the weapon, the chairman reiterated. “So, when we introduce remotely piloted aircraft into a theater in a Title 10 role, we apply the same standards,” he said.
The standards are predicated on the near-certainty of the effect — is the weapon going to do what the operators need it to do? Military personnel always assess the risk of collateral damage on people or buildings. And, “we ensure that we are achieving an effect with the appropriate behavior for the United States of America,” Dempsey said.
Remotely piloted aircraft are “a valid, useful and responsible military instrument in the way we use them,” he said. “So long as we continue to think of them that way and so long as we continue to use them in a transparent … ethical way, then I have no concerns about their use.”