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Israel – Gaza Conflict is Being Pwned by Video Game Players

Geeks have become the future of warfare

By: Stephan Arbib
Published: November 19th, 2012 in News » World
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While the strength of a particular nation’s military prowess was once quantified by the number of boots on the ground, fingers on the joystick might be the new yardstick, as proven by the current Israel – Gaza conflict.

In a world where leading militaries are exchanging fighter aircraft for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and where defensive shields like Israel’s Iron Dome have become war-time game changers, it’s the lonely video game player that is controlling the outcome and providing the upper-hand.

The gamer, a person portrayed in an unflattering light far too often in movies, television and by media as nerdy, lonely 30 year-old virgins living in their parents’ basements, the truth is, they have become hot commodities in advanced air forces, being recruited to ‘pilot’ the world’s most advanced weaponry, often ahead of experienced Air Force pilots.

In order to become a UAV pilot, remotely controlling aircraft 20,000 feet in the air while being able to surgically strike at targets on the ground, the US Air Force used to require a pilot who has completed manned aircraft training in the Air Force and has experience flying in combat aircraft. Even with this qualification, a new UAV pilot would need to take additional UAV-specific training.

As demand grew for UAV pilots, the realization that many of the physical demands of piloting any manned aircraft such as g-forces, atmospheric pressure, and motion are not applicable to UAV pilots as all controls are manned from the ground. As well, the simplicity of controlling UAVs often puts overqualified manpower controlling a joystick which gamers have been training on their whole teenage lives.

“Anyone who has learned to play a handful of games can generally figure out how to operate almost any high-tech device. Games require players to construct hypotheses, solve problems, develop strategies, and learn the rules of the in-game world through trial and error. Gamers must also be able to juggle several different tasks, evaluate risks and make quick decisions”, noted an article from The Economist.

While the UAVs have become the rock star offensive gadget in every military, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has been utilizing a no-less-impressive defensive technology which requires the same skill-set to operate.

With the war erupting once again between Israel and Hamas, the IDF have deployed Rafael Advances Defense Systems’ Iron Dome to help protect its cities from Hamas’ most advanced rockets to date. The Iron Dome, a mobile all-weather missile defense system, was designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells being shot at populated centers. Much like the UAVs, the Iron Dome is manned by a “gunner” in the IDF, a person whose resume often highlights his/her Xbox Live Gamerscore.

“When I shoot one down, I feel happy, satisfied,” enthused Idan Yahya, Iron Dome gunner in an interview with Wired. “I try to disconnect from my feelings when I’m at the controls though,” Idan explains.

It’s this ‘disconnect’ that has many concerned. The ground stations where the UAVs and the Iron Dome are operated from are often hundreds of miles away from the actual conflict, and in the case of the US Air Force UAV operations in Afghanistan, are in Las Vegas, about as far away from the conflict as one can be.

It’s this distance and the lack of ground operational experience that has critics worried that putting such offensive firepower in the hands of people who have never experienced actual war, outside of going after the Covenant in Halo, could create unneeded casualties. This concern is obviously unfounded in the case of the Iron Dome, where its sole purpose is to defend.

But those who say that operating a UAV is like playing a video game from 8,000 miles away are mistaken, said a US Air Force official, who did not want to be identified, in an interview with Air Force Times.

“You are 18 inches away from 32-inch, high-definition combat, where you are in contact [by headset with] the guys on the ground,” said the official. “You are there. You are there. You fly with them, you support them and a person you are tasked with supporting gets engaged, hurt, possibly killed, it’s a deeply, deeply emotional event. It’s not detached. It’s not a video game. And it’s certainly not 8,000 miles away.”

While new technology, especially ones developed to cause causalities, will always have their detractors, the fundamental nature of warfare is changing, and the experience, dexterity, and hand-to-eye coordination that were honed over years of playing Mario, Splinter Cell and Black Ops have become critical for military superiority.

All of which is great news for those looking to one day move off the couch and out of their parents homes, and ultimately be at the helm of a real command center.

Related articles: Iron Dome, UAV, IDF, Israel, Gaza, Video Games, Conflict
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