Innovation and the defence White Paper recently linked to designer Milton Glaser’s ten point credo about life one of the points of which was this.

Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldnt want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.

Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.

Now Peter Singer (no not that Peter Singer) draws our attention to something about the defence White Paper that is truly amazing.   

An amazing revolution is ongoing around us, especially in war. The US military went into Iraq in 2003 with a handful of unmanned planes. There are now more than 7000 robotic drones in its inventory. In 2003, the invasion force had no ground robotics. Today there are roughly 12,000 on the ground. And the latest models of our robots give new meaning to the technology industry term “killer application”, as they now come with a lethal armoury of missiles, rockets, and machine-guns.

Yet, it is interesting that in a white paper that plans a force out to the year 2030, [o]ther than a discussion of buying a mere seven high-altitude drones, to supplement the manned maritime patrol aircraft, (essentially talking about Australia one day buying the capabilities of the US Air Force’s Global Hawk type drone, a remarkable system, but one which is already almost 10 years old), this revolution isn’t mentioned.

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12 years ago

Considering the grief that unmanned planes have caused, especially in Afghanistan, with missiles launched by someone sitting at a desk in Florida, do they necessarily have a place in Australia’s defence strategy, other than for reconnaissance?

As for battleground robots…….

Even with 12,000 on the ground I’ve seen no reports of anything useful that they’ve ever accomplished. I’d like to think that after the lesson dawned, following Australia’s purchase of a number of 68 ton Abrams tanks and the subsequent need to buy a couple of aircraft that could accommodate them (one at a time IIRC), that our military planners have thought a little more carefully about buying the latest toys for the boys.

12 years ago

Have unmanned planes caused particular grief? I am sure that they have caused grief, but so have manned planes, manned boats (launching cruise missiles) and men themselves. Is there any study or evidence supporting the possibility even that unmanned planes have increased the grief available on the battlefield?

As for battleground robots

You have never seen a report about demining or IED defusing? What about search robots? Hmm, have you read any reports?

12 years ago

The US Army have always been better equipped than the Australians who make up for it with better training.

At any disposals store you can buy Hoochie Cord (see ) which is a classic piece of high-tech low-tech with many uses. Besides tying up tents and shoes, it is also used for signaling. Yes that’s right, at the same time the Yankees are recreating Star Wars with their massive military budgets, the Australians are talking to each other over bits of string. However, sending signals over string has a long and successful history and has been demonstrated to be reliable, silent, immune to jamming, difficult to intercept, cheap, lightweight, and recyclable. The most remarkable property of this invention is the ability to send signals to a sleeping recipient and wake him up at the same time, without alerting the enemy.

Sadly the details of the technique are poorly documented (generally passed to it’s advocates only by direct demonstration) and it will possibly one day fall into disuse and vanish from history.

As for the bots, yeah Obama seems to be enthused on them, big spending on tech weapons. Of course, once the basic design is figured out, they will be captured and copied so all sides will have them. Once that happens, a haze of plausible deniability will develop because there’s not much to prove who really is driving (these devices are perfect for spies, criminals and terrorists).

You have never seen a report about demining or IED defusing? What about search robots? Hmm, have you read any reports?

I would guess that unmanned explosives probably hold the record for random destruction. The big budget never got allocated to cleaning up Vietnam or Cambodia, so those countries will no doubt be happy to see the research and development pushing forward.