We are starting to see drones everywhere. As the human race advances, so do the tactics of war. The most advanced technology is often pioneered by the military. The advancement of military drones in particular has transformed civilian operations as well as military ones. How much do you know about these drones, and how is our government and military using them?
What Is a Military Drone?
Military drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are remote-controlled aircraft of various sizes designed to perform tasks deemed too dull, dirty, or dangerous for human troops. While drones have their many civilian uses in agriculture, surveillance, film making, and other areas, we’re going to be talking about military drones, specifically armed ones used in combat.
The main selling point of a military drone is the lack of an on board human pilot. This is advantageous for a number of reasons: one, it requires fewer airmen to risk their lives in the field, and two, the lack of piloting equipment makes the drone lightweight and potentially very small.
The History of Military Drones
The first use of unmanned aircraft was in the 1800s, when bomb-filled balloons were shipped out over Italy by the Austrian army. Almost a century later, technology had advanced considerably and the first technological drones were used for target practice. Throughout World War I and II, pilot less missiles and torpedoes were developed by the United States and numerous nations across Europe.
In 1959, as tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to skyrocket, so did drone innovation. “Red Wagon,” a classified UAV program, surfaced in 1960 after the Soviets shot down an American drone. In the late 60s and early 70s, more drones emerged in the Middle East, and it would be the Israeli military who would develop the first UAVs with real-time surveillance and pioneer UAV use in electronic warfare. In 1973, the United States confirmed their use of drones in Vietnam, and drone use became even more prevalent throughout the 80s, resulting in the European Union establishing CAPECON, a three-year UAV development project.
The first military conflict in which UAVs played a major role was the Gulf War, after which investments in drones by militaries around the world have become commonplace.
Military Drone Build
Military drones normally look like small, lightweight airplanes with no cockpit or windows. Quadcopters are another form of drone, more commonly used in civilian operations than military ones. Drones are powered by lithium batteries or airplane engines, depending on their size. They’re equipped with the most advanced computing technology available, as well as prime position and movement sensors that can measure distances, detect targets, and avoid collision. Drones also use radio to send data like videos and receive remote control.
Types of Military Drones
Some of the deadliest and/or most frequently used military drone models include the MQ-1 Predator and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper. The Predator was developed by General Atomics, a military contractor, and has been used primarily by the USAF and the CIA for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Bosnia.
Financial Cost of Military Drones
In 2016, approximately $2.9 billion were put into drone research and procurement. The Department of Homeland Security pays about $62 million a year to develop and maintain just 10 unarmed Predator drones, which, along with Reaper drones, can cost up to $3,500 per flight hour.
Military Drone Pilots
While military drone pilots do not physically risk their lives piloting a UAV, studies show that they still experience psychological side effects like PTSD and intense stress. Drones often target dangerous individuals but end up killing many civilians in the process, women and children included. In many ways, the stress experienced by drone pilots is unique because the actual combat is far away from them. They are not toe to toe with the enemy, taking lives in order to save their own. As a result, drone pilots have expressed concerns that the way they take lives is less honorable and more cold-blooded than the way troops on the ground take lives. Additionally, drone operators are required to view the effects of a drone strike for hours, even days, after it’s taken place, whereas airmen vacate the scene as soon as possible once bombs have been dropped. Drone pilots also observe their victims long before pulling the trigger. They watch them live their lives and interact with their neighbors, so that, in a way, they know them before they kill them. A drone pilot’s awareness of the devastation caused by drones in communities and on human bodies is higher than anyone else’s; they watch the town before the strike, and they observe the aftermath.
In anticipation of these psychological effects, drone pilot training involves intense dehumanizing of the enemy and a glorification of killing, which no doubt leaves its mark on the pilot’s psyche. These pilots are also notoriously overworked, spending three to six times as many hours on duty as regular Air Force pilots. The film Eye in the Sky paints an arguably accurate picture of the long-distance trauma these pilots experience.
Pros and Cons of Military Drones
So, this leads us to ask the question: is the use of drones humane? Is it even legal? Proponents of drone use argue the following:
- Drone strikes ensure the safety of the United States by deconstructing terrorist organizations anywhere in the world.
- They kill fewer civilians than any other weapon used by the military.
- They protect more U.S. military personnel.
- They are cheaper than manned aerial warfare or ground combat.
- They are legal both under international and United States law.
- They limit the scope of conflict, as well as the scale.
- Drone strikes are conducted with the cooperation of other countries.
On the other hand, critics of the drone strikes argue that:
- Drone strikes wreak havoc on civilian communities and in turn create more terrorists than they set out to destroy.
- They often target individuals whose involvement in terrorist operations is not confirmed or who do not pose a significant threat to the United States.
- Drone strikes are illegal under both international and United States humanitarian law, which states that lethal force is only permissible when the target poses an immediate threat to the country’s survival. And it can be argued that not all drone targets fit this category. In 2009 and 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur and 45 former members of the U.S. military urged both drone pilots and their leaders to discontinue the use of drone strikes as they violated basic human rights.
- Drone operations are “secretive, lack sufficient legal oversight, and prevent citizens from holding their leaders accountable” for their actions (http://drones.procon.org/).
- Drones desensitize pilots and emotionally disconnect military personnel from the horrors of war. And feeling repulsed by war is necessary to preventing it further.
The Future of Drones in the Military
Since September 11, 2001, the United States’ use of drone strikes in the War on Terror has increased, particularly under former President Barack Obama’s administration. The death toll from American drone strikes was approximately 2,400 in total from 2009-2014 and has risen to more than 6,000 since 2015. The United States Air Force has used thousands of drones over the last few years; in fact, nearly one in every three USAF aircraft is a UAV. The number of countries using drones has also increased to about 50 in recent years, including China and Iran. Despite the growing use of drones, they remain a controversial and unpopular tactic.
Case studies in Yemen have shown that 92 percent of civilians who witness a drone strike in their communities suffer from PTSD. Of these 92 percent, the majority, and the most impressionable, are children. Similar studies have been conducted in Gaza, and they show the same psychological effects in children living there, who are constantly berated with the sound of drones flying overhead, never knowing when one will strike. A reluctance to help drone victims has also been documented in Pakistan and Afghanistan; many onlookers have learned that those who rush to help the wounded are just killed in a subsequent drone attack sometime later. In high-risk areas, civilians are known to avoid congregating in large groups or visible areas, and many children are kept home from school for long periods of time out of fear of strikes.
Despite this, it seems unlikely at the present that drone strikes will be discontinued and the use of drones abandoned by the United States military or by other militaries around the world.
Honoring Our Veterans
Whichever side you are fighting on, war is horrific and lamentable. We at Low VA Rates are aware of the emotional and physical costs it takes on our service members, and while we are thankful that less of them are in harm’s way because of the use of drones, we’re also concerned for the well being of drone pilots. Our mission is to provide all veterans and service members with an affordable, comfortable life after their time at war is finished, and we do this by offering the terrific mortgage rates for veterans and our military service members. Call us today for more information at 855-223-0705.