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Combat by Remote Control

Photonics Spectra
Aug 1999
Daniel C. McCarthy, Senior News Editor

During the American Civil War, mounted Confederate scouts hand-sketched maps with remarkable speed and accuracy to aid Southern generals on the cusp of battle. Since then, laser-guided bombs and infrared heat-seeking missiles have increased the precision and tempo of military engagements, but they cannot supplant the value of accurate and timely information about an enemy. NATO's recent bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade attests to the fact that precision bombs are only as accurate as the information provided to the pilots delivering them.

Jon Grossman, a senior researcher at Rand Corp., notes that the occasional and unfortunate spectacular misses documented during NATO's campaign were more often attributable to factors other than the technology. "Typically, the laser part works really well; often, it's human error that's the dominant thing. Laser-guided bombs have demonstrated really outstanding performance, but they're not bullet-proof: Human error can cause them to precisely miss."


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