Cyber, drone operators now eligible for 'Distinguished Warfare' medal

The first new medal out of the Defense Department since the 1944 creation of the Bronze Star recognizes the growing importance of cyberwarfare and drone strikes.

The Global Hawk, built by Northrop Grumman, features a bulging forehead. What you can't see is all the high-tech gear it's packing. Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Pentagon is expected to announce today the creation of a medal that can be awarded to drone operators as well as to individuals fighting in the cyberwar trenches.

Distinguished Warfare Medal
The Distinguished Warfare Medal. DOD

This would be a first. The Distinguished Warfare Medal, a nearly two-inch-tall brass pendant below a ribbon with blue, red and white stripes, will be handed out to people judged to have racked up "extraordinary achievement" directly tied to a combat operation but at a far remove from the actual battlefield, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the news. This is said to be the first new combat-related award since the 1944 creation of the Bronze Star.

In taking this step, the Pentagon is explicitly recognizing the increasing importance of cyberwar and drone activities to the nation's defense complex. Indeed, the U.S. Air Force is on record predicting that by 2023 one-third of its attack and fighter planes will be drones.

Update 1:36 p.m. PT: The Defense Department has just announced the Distinguished Warfare Medal. In a statement, it gave two examples of the kinds of exceptional achievements that might merit the new medal:

"The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyberattack on a DOD computer system."

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