I learned a lot about Drone Warfare reading and thinking about "The Killing Machines" in The Atlantic by David Bowden.
The benefits of drones for military use are numerous:
- Stealth: Drones can be relatively small (some are now even the size of bugs) and they can survey from vehicles that are aerial, terrestrial, underwater, or I would imagine, even subterranean. In a sense, even a spy satellite is a type of drone, isn't it?
- Persistent: They can hover unmanned over enemy territory for not only hours, but also days at a time, and switching in replacement drones can create a virtually continuous stream of surveillance for months or years, depending on the need.
- Powerful: The sensors on a drone can include high-definition cameras, eavesdropping devices, radar, infrared, "and a pixel array so dense, that the device can zoom in clearly on objects only inches wide from well over 15,000 feet above." Further, with features like Gorgon Stare, multiple cameras linked together can view entire cities in one feel swoop.
- Long-range: Drones can function doing reconnaissance or surveillance far away and deep into enemy territory. With drones, no one is too distant or remote as to be untouchable.
- Lethality: Drones can carry missiles such as The Hellfire, a "100-pound antitank missile" and other weapons that can act expediently on information without the need to call in additional support.
- Precise: Drones can hit targets with amazing precision--"It targets indiscriminate killers with exquisite discrimination."
- Safety: Drones carry out their work unmanned with (or without) controllers stationed at safe distances away--sometimes thousands of miles back at the homeland.
- Expendable: Drones themselves are throwaway. As with a bee, a drone is more or less useless when disconnected from the hive. Similarly, a military "drone is useless as an eyeball disconnected from the brain," since drones function only as an extension of back-end satellite links, data processors, intelligence analysts, and its controller."
Overall, the great value of drones is their integration of technologies: vehicles, global telecommunications, optics, sensors, supercomputers, weapon systems, and more.
To me, between the questions of fairness, legality, and privacy--drones are being given a bum rap.
- Fairness: Just because one side has a technology that the other doesn't, should not mean it's wrong to use it. This is what competition and evolution is all about. I remember learning in school, when children would complain to the teacher that something was unfair, and the teacher would reply, "life is unfair!" This doesn't mean we should use a shotgun approach, but rather use what we got, appropriately.
- Legality: Is it legal to kill targets rather than apprehending them, trying them, and otherwise punishing them? This is where sincere deliberations come in on whether someone is a "lawful target" (e.g. enemy combatant), "imminent threat" (e.g. self-defense), whether other alternatives are viable (e.g. collateral damage assessments), and will killing them do more hard than good to foreign relations, influence, and even possibly breeding new hate and terror, rather than quelling it.
- Privacy: The issue of privacy comes less into play with military matters and more with respect to domestic use for law enforcement and other civilian uses (from agriculture to urban planning). The key is protect citizens from being unduly monitored, tracked, and scrutinized--where freedom itself is under big-brother attack and we all become mere drones ourselves in a national hive of complacency and brainless obedience.
Rather than scaling back drones use, I liked Mary Ellen O'Connell vision of new drones "capable of delivering a warning--'Come out with your hands up!' and then landing to make an arrest using handcuffs."
This is the promise of technology to learn from mistakes of the past and always bring possibilities of making things better in the future. ;-)
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Don McCullough)