Pentagon creates medal to honour drone pilots
The Pentagon will award a new medal for drone pilots. Photo: AP
US TROOPS who launch drone strikes and direct cyber attacks may be recognised with a new medal, the first combat-related award to be created in the US since the Bronze Star in 1944.
For the first time, the Pentagon was creating a medal that can be awarded to soldiers who have a direct impact on combat but from afar, the US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, said on Wednesday.
''I've seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought,'' Mr Panetta said. ''And they've given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.''
The work they do ''does contribute to the success of combat operations, particularly when they remove the enemy from the field of battle, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight'', he said.
The new blue, red and white-ribboned Distinguished Warfare Medal, pictured, will be awarded to individuals for ''extraordinary achievement'' related to a military operation that occurred after September 11, 2001. Unlike other combat medals, it does not require the recipient to risk his or her life to get it.
The medal would be considered to rank slightly higher than the Bronze Star but lower than the Silver Star, defence officials said.
The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest combat decoration in the US and rewards meritorious service in battle, while the Silver Star is given for bravery. Several other awards, including the Defence Distinguished Service Medal, are also ranked higher but are not awarded for combat.
Over the past decade, remotely piloted Predators and Reapers have become a critical weapon to gather intelligence and conduct airstrikes around the world.
They have been used extensively on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and northern Africa, but have proved controversial in many of those countries for inflicting civilian casualties.
Last week, the White House defended killing targeted suspects with drone strikes, in response to criticism from human rights groups.
''These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise,'' the spokesman for the White House, Jay Carney, said.
Cyber attacks have been seen as a growing national security threat. The Pentagon does not publicly discuss its offensive cyber operations or acts of cyber warfare. Considering that secrecy, it is not clear how public such awards might be.