Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Drone Medals for Gamers?

This is riskier than a soldier facing Taliban or an actual fighter pilot dodging SAMs?  REALLY?!

We learned today that former Secretary of Defense, Mr Panetta, was not only able to keep this nonsensical medal alive, but that newly minted Secretary of Defense Hagel [see comment below] has apparently endorsed it, and will keep it at a an order-of-merit level above the Bronze Star.

American Military Veterans recall that the Bronze Star and other combat-related medals have been awarded for heroism, valor, and exposure to hostile fire in a combat zone.

Vets immediately recognize those who earned this medal for serving in hostile fire zones where the individual was at physical risk while operational -- no matter what his or her position.  When awarded for Valor, with the "V" device, it meant that the recipient was at "deadly risk" in direct contact with enemy forces.  Though unusual, the "V" device could be added to Commendation Medals as well.

Ranks ABOVE the Bronze Star

The Distinguished Warfare Medal, yet to be awarded, can be given for meritorious service -- in support of combat actions -- but not for being "at risk or hostile exposure IN a combat zone."

Initially, it ranked above the Soldier's Medal, but just below the Distinguished Flying Cross -- both awarded for heroism.

We wrote [below] about this medal back in July 2012, and we thought the ensuing outrage had put this [then] proposed medal completely out of the awards and decorations category. 

Looks like we were wrong, perhaps because we have so many flag-rank officers in our military who have NO combat experience.

[Posted July 2012]

We learned today that the Department of Defense, [then] headed by none other than Leon Panetta - ex-budget guy, ex-congressman, ex-CIA chief, wants to create and issue a new combat medal for the heroic pilots flying those life-threatening combat missions via remote control.

Drone pilot flying combat mission         [USAF photo]
That's right: Drone Pilots.

They gut it out in mortal combat in padded chairs using hand controllers, watching monitors to zap the bad guys.  Based on the edge of the combat zone, in Creech Air Force Base a half hour's drive from Las Vegas, these folks live a "white-knuckle" existence.

And, to unwind, they put on a video game.

Sometimes, they're not sure if they're on a real mission or playing a video game.

According to Air Force Major Dave Blair, quoted in the Air & Space Journal:
"... how much difference is there in terms of risk between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles!" 

In other words, do you have to really be "at risk" to qualify for a combat medal? 

Shot down at 65,000 feet

If you're pushing the red button on a joy stick just outside Las Vegas, versus flying over a combat zone at say 50,000 feet pushing the button, what's the difference in risk since there's no risk to a pilot flying over 10,000 feet.

According to Blair, the combat pilot has nothing to worry about if he's flying above 10,000 feet. 

Same level of danger, no real threat.

But, we seem to recall the Soviet technology of 50 years ago brought down a US U2 spy-plane at 65,000 feet, along with its pilot, Gary Powers.  Gary would likely tell you that he was at risk.

Of course, it was the loss of the U2 that prompted the creation of the drone under Project Red Wagon in 1961.
Major Blair advises that the drone pilots are more at risk because they are prime targets for "terrorists".

Why, while a drone pilot plays the slots in Las Vegas, a terrorist could walk right up to him, put a grenade in his daiquiri, and steal his roll of quarters.

The Joy Stick Medal would actually be designated the Distinguished Warfare Medal, and, in the order of merit, would rank between the Soldier's Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross "for exceptional conduct outside a combat zone."  Both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier's Medal are awarded for "heroism." 


The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. 

[It is an interim medal for those who have been recommended for the Medal of Honor.]

Soldiers's Medal

The Soldier's Medal is awarded for those who distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with the enemy.

Mr Panetta would degrade both medals with his new addition which has no linkage whatever to heroism, but rather, is tied to skill with a joy stick. 

Now operating a gaming joy stick does take some skill, and if the joy stick operator takes out enemy positions or personnel while sitting in a Las Vegas easy chair, then he/she should get a Commendation Medal or even a Meritorious Service Medal.

Come to think of it,
a Bronze Star can be awarded for administrative excellence
-- oops, for service in a hazardous duty zone, which Las Vegas is not, unless you count getting mugged in a back alley.

But, the future is not about heroism; it is about accomplishing the mission without sacrificing pilots -- why, the savings on medals alone would be phenomenal!

Predator; no passenger toilet facilities  [USAF photo]
Now, we do not disdain modern technology.  And there is no question that the drones will likely replace our combat pilots, and eventually, even our transport pilots. 

Risk to our personnel will essentially be eliminated, and G forces will no longer restrict the speed or maneuverability of aircraft -- although the crews did survive the accelleration of the SR-71 at Mach 5. 

But the drones will be far more maneuverable and some can even now stay aloft in a reconnaissance mode for as much as three months, or longer -- exceeding the capacity of the average pilot to control his bladder or bowels..  And speed?  The fastest on record is the Low Earth Orbit drone which flies at around 100 miles up and speeds around 17,000 miles per hour, give or take a Mach or two.

Then again, there IS this possible [probable?] scenario:

"Firebase Tango!
"We acknowledge your report that you are being overrun by enemy forces.
"However --
"Our system has been hacked and has crashed; we're attempting to reboot, which may take several hours. But, in the meantime, be advised the drone is no longer capable of distinguishing between friend or foe, so you may be at risk! 
Firebase Tango, Firebase Tango!  Please acknowledge. 
"Damn!  Looks like comms are out too; let's head over to the Strip for a beer while the system reboots."

Purple Heart for gamer's thumb [Epson]

So, let's not be handing out medals of heroism to some dweeb who is essentially a "gamer" on a slick computer console with a souped up joy stick.  If they do well, and blow up lots of stuff, and cause the enemy to bleed without killing innocent civilians, then we can give them a medal for their skill and accomplishment
-- but not for heroism.

1 comment:

It may be possible we helped influence SecDef Hagel on this issue.
At 1430, Mr Hagel reportedly announced production of this medal would be put on hold pending a full review of its requirements and place in the order of merit.

It is likely to rank between an achievement medal and a Meritorious Service Medal, but will at best, rank below a combat award.

It turns out that ex-Secretary Panetta authorized the medal a few days before he left office; an act of either incompetence or cowardice since he had already received considerable blow=back after he announced the creation of the medal last July.