US unveils medal to honour troops in cyberattacks and drone strikes
Pentagon says award reflects an age of warfare featuring robotic weapons and digital combat
Agence France-Presse in Washington
The Pentagon unveiled a new medal to honour "extraordinary" troops who launch cyberattacks or drone strikes from their consoles, even if they do not risk their lives in combat.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, announcing the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, said it was time to recognise those who play a crucial role in modern warfare with hi-tech weapons far from the front line.
"Our military reserves its highest decorations obviously for those who display gallantry and valour in actions where their lives are on the line, and we will continue to do so," Panetta said.
"But we should also have the ability to honour the extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations."
He said the operators of unmanned, robotic aircraft and cyber weapons "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".
The medal reflects a new age of warfare that emerged over the past decade and featured robotic weapons and digital combat.
Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and bombs have been used to kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the CIA to go after suspected al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Other robotic aircraft, including the stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel and larger Global Hawks, are used to spy on adversaries from the sky without putting pilots in harm's way.
The military also views cyberspace as a new battlefield and has created a new command dedicated to digital warfare, recruiting and training new "cyber warriors".
The power of digital weapons was driven home by a cyberattack that reportedly disrupted Iran's uranium facilities in 2009-2010.
The New York Times said the attack was carried out by American and Israeli spy agencies.
The medal is designed as a brass pendant medal, nearly 5cm tall, that will carry a laurel wreath encircling a globe with a Defence Department eagle at its centre, attached to a red, white and blue-striped ribbon.