Unmanned aerial vehicles — more commonly known as drones — have become invaluable to the United States military. Their presence increases every year in carrying out “necessary” assassinations against “terrorists,” as does the controversy surrounding their use. In a world ruled by Murphy’s Law, analyzing a newer military technology’s role shouldn’t be discouraged. Especially when that technology is finding it’s way into everyday life.
Either in surveillance or attack roles, drones have existed far before the “war on terror” was ever uttered by President George Bush. Their role, however, was expanded during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to carry out assassinations and reconnaissance too risky for actual soldiers. The ability to remotely control a vehicle capable of surveying and attacking in different regions of the world sells itself.
Into the Obama years, drones are increasingly relied upon on in “counterterrorism” roles. They are often employed in Pakistan and Yemen to take out al-Qaida members and other “threats,” as deemed necessary by the U.S. government.
According to a CNN report, more than 70 countries make use of drones, but the United Kingdom and Israel are the only other countries known to use drones in an attack role.
Whether you feel drone use in the world is justifiable as a counter-terrorism measure, or just a murderous loose cannon, it would be difficult to find someone who’s not unsettled by the idea of animal-disguised robots patrolling their neighborhood.
Though these concepts may seem logically unrelated, they may soon hit a singularity. According to a report by ABC7, the Pentagon spent $4 million on the development of small, battery-powered, robotic birds that could be used in covert missions.
Miniaturization of drones is the new trend, according to Wired magazine. AeroVironment is developing a “kamikaze drone:” a 2-foot, 6-pound missile, that can serve as a drone scout while midair. The Switchblade drone, as it’s called, was deemed one of the best inventions of 2012 by Time.
CNN did a segment recently about the development of spider and bird-like drones, that could allow law enforcement to go where they are normally not able to fit. Small drones aided in a rescue raid of a 5-year-old boy.
Awed by all the positives of drone innovation — and the innate cool factor of its technology — one can quickly forget that drones are a newer, swifter and more effective tool for killing people.
Drone tactics may have opened the doors to “fight terrorism” without risking American lives. The everlasting goal of any army is to be able to accomplish its objectives with less risk and more efficiency.
It would be simplifying and outrageous, however, to deny the fact that it is possible, and likely, that drones have some negative impacts.
John Brennan, Obama’s pick for CIA director, and current assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, denied the possibility of misfire or ambiguous usage of drones, comparing drone usage to surgery.
“… Compared against other options, a pilot operating this aircraft remotely… might actually have a clearer picture of the target and its surroundings, including the presence of innocent civilians,” Brennan said. “It’s this surgical precision… to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al-Qaida terrorist, while limiting damage to the tissue around it, that makes this counter-terrorism tool so essential.”
A report by Stanford and New York University disagrees. It points to data by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that says between 2,562 to 3,325 targeted “combatants” in Pakistan were killed between June 2004 and Sept. 2012 — 474 to 881 of whom were actually civilians, and 176 of whom were children.
The article discusses the long-lasting psychological harm the drone strikes have caused on the people of northwest Pakistan, with civilians afraid to attend religious gatherings or funerals, out of fear they may be targeted.
In Feb. 2012, the Associated Press published a report on U.S. drone attacks that had occurred between Aug. 2010 and Feb. 2012. The reporters interviewed villagers that claimed out of 194 people killed in drone attacks, 56 were civilians or tribal police. A separate report by Al Jazeera, published March 17, 2011, highlighted a drone strike that killed a group of 42 tribal elders and local businessman who were discussing a local chromite mine.
The U.S. insists it sources its data reliably with regards to who it aims for, only targeting “enemy combatants.” The Stanford/NYU report seems to refute this mystery method, calling into question the supposed security advantages we reap from these drone attacks.
Would a reassessment of current drone usage be detrimental? Reliance on them as a tool for warfare has risen repeatedly: 257 drone attacks happened in 2009, 279 in 2010, 294 in 2011, and 447 in 2012.
Our future world is likely to include many niches for drone use in everyday life. If we don’t start analyzing our mistakes in current drone employment, who’s to say the negatives won’t increase right alongside the drone population.