WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — They might fight the war from computer consoles and video screens, but the troops that launch drone strikes and direct cyberattacks to kill or disable enemies can now recognized by the government for their battlefield contributions, defense officials say.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that for the first time the Pentagon is creating a medal that can be awarded to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations, but do it from afar.

Defense Department Announces Distinguished Warfare Medal for Drone Operators

In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, Capt. Richard Koll, left, and Airman 1st Class Mike Eulo perform function checks after launching an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle Aug. 7, 2007 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo: AP/US Air Force – Master Sgt. Steve Horton)

The new blue, red and white-ribboned Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to individuals for “extraordinary achievement” related to a military operation that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001. But unlike other combat medals, it does not require the recipient risk his or her life to get it.

“I have seen first-hand how modern tools like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems have changed the way wars can be fought,” Panetta said in a statement. “We should also have the ability to honor extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight.”

A recognition of the evolving 21st Century warfare, the medal will be considered a bit higher in ranking than the Bronze Star, but is lower than the Silver Star, defense officials said.

The Bronze Star is the fourth highest combat decoration and rewards meritorious service in battle, while the Silver Star is the third highest combat award given for bravery. Several other awards, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, are also ranked higher, but are not awarded for combat.

Over the last decade of war, remotely-piloted Predators and Reapers have become a critical weapon to both gather intelligence and conduct airstrikes against terrorist or insurgents 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.

Over the same time, cyberattacks have become a growing national security threat, with Panetta and others warning that the next Pearl Harbor could well be a computer-based assault.

The Pentagon does not publicly discuss its offensive cyber operations or acts of cyberwarfare. Considering that secrecy, it’s not clear how public such awards might be in the future. The federal government, for example, launched a broad leak investigation after reports surfaced that the U.S. and Israel may have been responsible for the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked computers in Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities.

Officials said the new medal will be the first combat-related award to be created since the Bronze Star in 1944.

Based on the order of precedence, the Distinguished Warfare Medal will sit directly below the Distinguished Flying Cross. It may be awarded for actions in any domain but not involving acts of valor, the Defense Department stated.

“The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from comrades or from other persons in similar situations,” according to the Pentagon’s list of criteria for the medal. It could include the “hands-on” but remote launching of a weapon and could specifically include efforts in space or cyberspace.

The medal is a brass pendant, nearly two inches tall, with a laurel wreath that circles a globe. There is an eagle in the center. The ribbon has blue, red and white stripes.

“This new medal recognizes the changing character of warfare and those who make extraordinary contributions to it,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey in a statement. “The criteria for this award will be highly selective and reflect high standards.”