Robot Warfare

The Use of Unmanned Drones to Destroy Suspected Terrorists

What are unmanned drones and what do they do? Recently, with advances in flying technology and unmanned exploratory vehicles, a new player has entered the field of military tactics. Unmanned drones. Using what could be summed up as high-tech remote control airplanes, pilots-or the planes onboard computer-can take surveillance photos, track suspected terrorists, and more recently, even launch an airstrike on pre-determined targets, using sophisticated missiles and other weapons.

according to Wikipedia,

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard. Its flight is either controlled autonomously by computers in the vehicle, or under the remote control of a navigator, or pilot (in military UAVs called a Combat Systems Officer on UCAVs) on the ground or in another vehicle.
There are a wide variety of drone shapes, sizes, configurations, and characteristics. Historically, UAVs were simple remotely piloted aircraft, but autonomous control is increasingly being employed.
Their largest use is within military applications. UAVs are also used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as firefighting /or nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for manned aircraft.


Where did the Drones come from and how were they used in the past? The concept of a military employed Drone has been around for at least 50 years. The first Drone to be armed and employed in battle was the German FX-1400 or “Fritz”, which consisted of a 2,300 pound bomb, dropped from an airplane and steered by a pilot in the “mothership, used in WW2. After the war ended, very little was done in the advancement of Drone technology. After the Vietnam war, the US military began to use small, light Drones called Fireflies to do reconnaissance missions above Southeast Asia. Because of the cost to the Defense Budget to produce them, production and employment of UAV’s were stopped. The US first became truly interested on a larger scale in the use of UAV’s after the success of the Israeli’s Pioneer Drone.

Powered by a 26-horsepower snowmobile engine and equipped with 16-inch guns, the Pioneer made its American debut during the Persian Gulf War. Iraqi soldiers grew to fear the ominous buzzing of the Pioneer and in one widely reported incident, a group of Republican guards became the first humans to surrender to a drone. The success of the Pioneer in Desert Storm led to the Department of Defense spending over $3 billion on UAV programs during the 1990s. -IAR.com

After purchasing some from the Israeli Military, the US began the task of creating better and more useful Drones. In the 1990’s, as stated above, the Department of Defense spent around $3 Billion on the advancement and production of UAV’s. After the 9/11 strike on the twin towers, the need for an armed UAV that could travel into remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq where no soldier could go was obvious.

Extensive use of armed UAVs began with the Global War on Terror (GWOT), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Up to this point, UAV missions were mostly those of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes. In February 2001, the first Hellfire missile was test-fired from a Predator UAV.

Today, the United States uses three types of attack drones; The MQ-1 Predator, The MQ-1C Sky Warrior, and the MQ-9 Reaper. Read more about these three types of offensive Drones below.


What do you mean airstrikes? UAV’s can be equipped with missiles and weapons similar to those of fighter and other manned aircraft, primarily Hellfire missiles and Laser Guided Bombs. Being small, light, and without human limitations, a Drone can stealthily creep into enemy territory and deploy their weapons on unsuspecting targets. Under normal circumstances, drones are given a target to destroy, and an onboard computer makes the decision of how to do that during the mission. See a map of past air strikes here
an over view of the current UAV’s deployed by the USA;

While the U.S. military employs a wide variety of UAVs, there are only three currently in use with offensive capabilities: the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-1C Sky Warrior, and the MQ-9 Reaper, all three built by General Atomics. The Predator, the most commonly used drone in the American arsenal, can loiter at 25,000 feet for nearly 40 hours, and is equipped with two Hellfire missiles and two cameras—one infrared and one regular—that can read a license plate from two miles up. The Army’s Sky Warrior is a slightly larger version of the Predator that can fly slightly higher, loiter for a shorter amount of time, and carry two more missiles than the Predator. The Reaper, also known as the Predator B, is the largest and most powerful of the three drone models. The Reaper can fly at twice the altitude and speed of the Predator and can carry eight Hellfire missiles or four missiles and two laser-guided bombs. It also carries an improved camera and software package that can “recognize and categorize humans and human-made objects,” such as improvised explosive devices. Although the Defense Department’s 2011 budget doubles spending on the Reaper, the Predator will remain the primary UAV in use.

On the Drone’s choice weapons, Hellfire Missiles;

Each missile is a miniature aircraft, complete with its own guidance computer, steering control and propulsion system. The payload is a high-explosive, copper-lined-charge warhead powerful enough to burn through the heaviest tank armor in existence.

Laser Guided Bombs, sometimes used with Hellfire missiles on the larger of the three Drones

Laser-guided munitions use a laser designator to mark (illuminate) a target. The reflected laser light (“sparkle”) from the target is then detected by the seeker head of the weapon, which sends signals to the weapon’s control surfaces to guide it toward the designated point. Laser-guided bombs are generally unpowered, using small fins to glide towards their targets. Powered laser-guided missiles, such as some variants of the US AGM-65 Maverick and the French AS.30L, use the same guidance system, but have greater range and maneuverability because they are not limited to unpowered flight. Some LGB’s have been fitted with strap-on rocket motors to increase their range; one such weapon is the USN AGM-123 Skipper.


Um…okay, so what’s the problem? As the USA and other countries have began to use UAV’s on and off the battlefield, questions about the morality of using something as inhuman as an unmanned drone to do something as total and irreversible as bombing an area arise.

Many of these moral issues were put forth by David Cortright in an interview with PBS.org

Well, these weapons can destroy targets, but they cannot achieve the political goal of ending the threats from terrorism.
And they have posed many grave dangers in terms of security, legal and moral questions for our country. As you said, the technology is spreading. As many as 50 countries may now be developing or purchasing this technology, including countries like China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran. Hezbollah has deployed an Iranian-designed drone aircraft.
Iran is reportedly developing a drone with a 1,000-mile range. These are for surveillance now, but it’s not that difficult to attach missiles and bombs to these weapons — to these drones. What kind of future are we creating for ourselves, for our children, our grandchildren? A world where many states, perhaps all major states, would have this technology, the threats of war striking, of missiles coming out of the sky with no warning would be persuasive.


Aside from moral issues, how can UAV’s be bad? Aside from moral speculation, The anti-drone rally has been fueled by possible cases of innocent civilian deaths in attempted airstrikes.
In their paper, The Year of the Drone, An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010 by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann February 24, 2010 The authors stated that:

Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present have killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom around 550 to 850 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.

If one third of all victims killed are innocent, are the other two thirds worth it? However, claiming a full one third of targets to be innocent has proven hard to support. For instance, on 5/26/2012, the Afghan government claimed that an air strike had killed and innocent eight member family and demanded the use of Drones be stopped, but a senior NATO officer, anonymous because he is not authorized to disclose this information, said they have yet to find any comprehensive evidence to support ANY civilian casualties from airstrikes. Obviously, the severity of the civilian casualties is hotly debated, and we may never know for sure whether or not it is a real problem, and if Drones kill any less civilians than a SEAL team would. Another issue caused by drone strikes are the growing tensions between countries.
According to Matt Vasilogambros from NationalJournal.com

The U.S. is one of only three nations where fewer than half of the population disapprove of American drone attacks. Although the U.S. is the only country that polled higher than 50 percent approval of its drone strikes, a majority of those in Britain and India do not disapprove of the strikes either.


Well then… How could UAV’s ever be good? While there is a strong likely hood that Drone Strikes have been responsible for the death of at least some innocent civilians in the strike itself, an unmanned vehicle whose only point of contact with the rest of the country is the intended area, can undoubtedly reduce the risk of civilian casualties along the way, and in any ensuing firefight that would be present if Drones were replaced with SEAL teams or manned aircraft. A limited amount of contact with a country like Afghanistan, which may resent tangible US presence (like soldiers) is a great advantage. A Drone also has the advantage of stealth over almost all other forms of attack we currently deploy. On top of all this, Drones have no cockpit or pilots, making them harder to detect on radar, and giving them unlimited range without having to think about human needs, not requiring food, water, sleep, or any kind of method of escape.

According to the wikipedia article titled Drone attacks in Pakistan

Pakistan’s government publicly condemns these attacks, but has secretly shared intelligence with the United States and also allegedly allowed the drones to operate from Shamsi Airfield in Pakistan until 21 April 2011, when 150 Americans left the base. According to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Pakistan’s Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights, but in 2008 requested Americans to increase them.

according to Dawn.com

In a rather rare move, the Pakistan military for the first time gave the official version of US drone attacks in the tribal region and said that most of those killed were hardcore Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists and a fairly large number of them were of foreign origin.

The actual numbers of deaths according to General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood from the Pakistani military;

Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.
“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”
The Military’s 7-Dvision’s official paper on the attacks till Monday said that between 2007 and 2011 about 164 predator strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed.

All 964 terrorists reported killed were eliminated at absolutely zero cost of life from US troops.
Armed with two Hellfire missiles, a Predator, a Sky Warrior, and a Reaper, respectively, can easily afflict as much damage on a target as four, twelve, and sixteen armed soldiers. Taking into acount that over 70 UAV’s from the USA have been shot down since the year 2000, the loss of life without the use of Drones could easily be anywhere from 800-1120 of the best soldiers. The actual number would likely be more, since ground attacks are usually much less successful than a surprise air one, and so the chances of destroying 964 terrorists in 164 strikes is very unlikely. The lives saved from terrorist attacks forestalled by the loss of leaders and important informants (shot down by Drones) saved many more lives, here in our own country, and around the world. While the use of Drones is still debated, we can at least thank them for everything they have done for us. The question is… was it worth it?


An opinion from one of our users…

Some people say its not nice, its not moral, its not right to kill with drones. Let me ask you this. Was it moral to drive a plane into the twin towers and kill 2752 people-all innocent civilians and service workers trying to save the lives of others? Is it moral to treat woman the way they are treated in their own homeland by the al Qaida and the Taliban? Is what they do to our country moral? Let me ask you something else. If we americans don’t “set a precedent” and don’t use drones, do you think the al Qaida will say, “okay, we won’t use UAV’s on you either when we get the technology!” Think about that when you say it’s not fair to use remote controls to kill.
Think of the 280+ families who, today, instead of burying their 20 something son, went to the zoo, or for a walk, or just stayed home, because instead of another brave young man, an inanimate object was shot down.-Anonymous


More reading on the subject of drone warfare:
This is a comprehensive list of links to learn more about drones, drone warfare, and the politics and ideas behind them. The links below reflect all views on the subject.
Wikipedia
General Atomics MQ-1 Predator on Wikipedia
Clearing House
The Avionationist
Middle East Clarity
Very Nice history of the Drone IAR
Ground Attack Aircraft at Wikipedia.org


Some Notes About Comments: I often choose an opinion or two from the comment section of each of my articles from one of my users, that makes a point I did not cover in my article. The comments chosen do not necessarily represent my views or opinions. If you would like to make a point for consideration of addition to this article, please include an all CAPS title saying: PLEASE REVIEW FOR ADDITION TO THIS ARTICLE! Titles that include rude remarks or repeated points already in this article will be excluded.
As always… if I have left something out, misstated something, or not provided any evidence to support a claim, or just plain spelled something wrong, then make sure to comment. Please include a all CAPS title saying: PLEASE REVIEW FOR CORRECTION OF ARTICLE! If you can prove my mistake with a link of your own, I will be happy to make any changes to the article necessary. My goal is to make this site as best as possible, but I do make mistakes. Thanks for helping out!


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🙂 -Josh
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10 Responses to Robot Warfare

  1. Anonymous says:

    Some people say its not nice, its not moral, its not right to kill with drones. Let me ask you this. Was it moral to drive a plane into the twin towers and kill 2752 people-all innocent civilians and service workers trying to save the lives of others? Is it moral to treat woman the way they are treated in their own homeland by the al Qaida and the Taliban? Is what they do to our country moral? Let me ask you something else. If we americans don’t “set a precedent” and don’t use drones, do you think the al Qaida will say, “okay, we won’t use UAV’s on you either when we get the technology!” Think about that when you say it’s not fair to use remote controls to kill.
    Think of the 280+ families who, today, instead of burying their 20 something son, went to the zoo, or for a walk, or just stayed home, because instead of another brave young man, an inanimate object was shot down.

  2. Mindi says:

    Very nice article…Very well researched and very well written. Drone warfare is still a hard decision, isn’t it?

  3. Budha says:

    No matter how many terrorists we kill, it is still wrong. Its a breach of Pakistan and the other countries rights. We shoul stop now before it gets out of hand.

  4. Theotherjosh says:

    Great article on Drones, so much information!

  5. Pingback: New article out! « There Is No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

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