Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Drone Wars

Thanks largely to a seemingly endless series of wars, skirmishes and guerrilla battles military equipment is again advancing in leaps and bounds with advanced technologies quickly becoming obsolete and new methods of waging wars becoming increasingly commonplace. One of the most interesting (terrifying) new developments has been the increasing reliance on drones.
                A drone is basically an unmanned air craft that can be remotely operated from a computer, hand held remote control or satellite link. They are categorised differently from missiles (which can be remotely operated) due to the ways in which they are used. Drones can be used to carry out a variety of functions and are expendable or reusable. Drones have been around in varying forms in the last 3 decades pre-dominantly in the form of long and short range reconnaissance vehicles. Recently, however, they have begun to generate a lot more interest and attention thanks to the “War on Terror” and the variety of wars that have been going on under the rubric of this war. In these wars they have increasingly been used as offensive weapons that minimise casualties (on one side at least) and are able to access locations that otherwise would be difficult to enter. Outside of combat they are predominantly used for reconnaissance but they have also seen many other uses both military and commercial from supply transports to mapping vehicles. These uses continue to form a significant part of the backbone of military operations but there have been recent shifts towards using them in a more offensive manner.
                It is this combat use that has been dominating much media interest over the last few years with many journalists and political commentators questioning both the morality and legality of using these weapons. The moral arguments are perhaps the most intriguing as drones are now frequently used to conduct lightning raids against small “insurgent” bases across borders. This might seem perfectly acceptable except the weaponry these drones carry is significant with some drones such as the MQ-1 Predator carrying hellfire missiles or Griffin missiles. These weapons have a huge destructive capability and whilst they can be targeted the area of destruction far outstrips the term pin point strike. This has meant that a huge number of civilian casualties have frequently been caused by these missiles and that there has been significant outcry against their use. The opposing point of view however says that they significantly reduce combat casualties – though of course this only means those on the right side of the combat.
                Moral aspersions aside though the legality of drone warfare is interesting with the US conducting extensive raids in the Middle East and Africa without the consent of the sovereign powers in specific countries. This has allowed the US in particular to extend the theatre of the war on terror and conduct bombing raids in countries not technical involved in the conflict. This has created an interesting legal issue in the international community as these raids are technically illegal though they serve a purpose as part of efforts to end the respective wars in the Middle East.
                Finally the most recent development in drones comes after a 4.9billion USD contract was awarded to create handheld drones for use by US ground forces. These new remote controlled drones are designed to be carried alongside a soldier’s standard kit and should be the size of a drinks bottle. They are designed to be used to take out a single target with a small explosive charge. For soldiers this will mean less casualties are sustained – it may also mean arise in military insurance for soldiers equipped with these new drone.