Army Chief Chafes at New Reliance on Technology

Gen. Odierno chafes at common thinking that technology can replace soldiers.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno speaks at the Pentagon Jan. 27, 2012.
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America's appetite for war has shifted significantly in the last decade, prompting the Obama administration to lean heavily on the use of unmanned drone strikes and hawkish politicians of any stripe to stress that a proposed military action would not include "boots on the ground."

Critics argue this mindset of fighting the enemy from afar only damages America's reputation abroad and, even if effective in killing an enemy, does little to compel or influence others from taking up arms against the U.S.

In an age of using technology to substitute for human warriors, one of the nation's highest-ranking officers cautions against relying too much on the 21st-century tools that have defined warfare over the last decade.

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"There's a thought process out there that technology can solve our problems, it's a clean way to conduct war," said Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, while speaking at the annual Army expo in Washington, D.C. "I understand what people like about this. You use technology, you don't have casualties, you don't have injuries, you don't have people dying as much."

Odierno, who spent much of his career as an artillery officer, criticizes the thought process that "if we stand off and we throw precision missiles and rockets, that will cause the enemy to capitulate and solve all of our problems."

"That's not a solution," he said. "It's about influencing, it's about compelling, and it takes personal interaction. In some cases it take people on the ground in order to be able to do that."

Odierno spoke on a panel alongside Gen. John Paxton, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and Navy Adm. William McRaven, who heads up U.S. Special Operations Command. The trio discussed the importance of returning the emphasis of warfare to actual people while the military determines what role it will play after 12 years of war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

McRaven cited the more than 90 countries worldwide in which U.S. commandos are currently conducting operations.

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"To prevent crisis, you have to be there on the ground," he said.

"Virtual presence is actual absence," added Paxton.

The Obama administration's employment of armed drones abroad has brought widespread attention and criticism from all corners of the globe. Amnesty International declared Tuesday that the ongoing campaign of targeted drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.

Between 2004 and 2013, the U.S. has conducted a total of 376 strikes, killing as many as 3,600 including roughly 1,000 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which compiles these statistics.

Odierno stated Wednesday that he was not singling out the use of any particular technology within the nation's arsenal. He highlighted the benefit of outfitting his troops with the most up-to-date equipment and resources.

"It doesn't replace having soldiers, Marines, SEALs on the ground," he said. "There's a balance."

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