Use of Drones

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16 March 2016

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Drones: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They are designed for surveillance and targeted killings, which allows the United States to carry out certain missions without risking the lives of military personnel.

The concept of drone’s dates back to mid-1800s when there were unmanned bomb filled balloons which were used to attack enemies in Austria. During the Vietnam War America initiated highly classified UAV’s into their first combat missions. Currently, there are two UAV programs; one where society is aware of drones use under military advisement, and the second remains covert under the umbrella of the CIA. While UAV’s have been used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia for intelligence gathering, their major uses sprang into action after September 11th. The use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles are controlled by pilots from the ground or the drone follows a pre-programmed mission. They gather intelligence by loitering around the target for hours at a time. It is recorded that the longest drone flight lasted for 84 hours. With dozen different types of drones out on the market the two most common categories are those used for recon and surveillance purposes and those that are armed with missiles and bombs.

Military’s Opinion

Since drones are operated mainly by military personnel, their opinion on their use is of great importance. An anonymous Captain in the Marine Corps with an MOS of 0206 as a Signals Intelligence Officer, who has been deployed to Afghanistan twice, offered his opinion by stating: “All I have to say is I would rather send in a drone then send my men into combat. These Marines have families and I would rather sacrifice a piece of metal then my Marine’s life. But regardless, send a drone in or my Marines, the mission will be accomplished.” An enlisted Marine. A Staff Sergeant with an MOS of 0369 as an Infantry Unit Leader who has also been deployed to Afghanistan, offered his opinion as well by saying: “Our intentions are far from firing missiles aimlessly. Intel can improve and our pilots can surely be more hesitant when firing those deadly missiles, however, this is war. War is not a pretty image. There will be many casualties, even civilian casualties. But drones are used to protect our soldiers and Marines. We send them into get Intel and wipe out the enemy. They should, however, keep the community of people who are actually controlling the Drone very small. They should have a much defined understanding of missions and how they will be implemented and used in any situation. When it comes down to it though, the cold hearted truth is I care more about my Marines and the lives of Americans then our enemies.”

Society’s Opinion

As a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people of America deserve to be heard on their opinions on their countries’ use of drones. In an unbiased interview, one civilian’s reply on the military’s use of drones by saying: “Drones are useful from what the media tells us. However, if people look in depth of the use of drones 2/3 of drone strikes U.S carries out are accurate while 1/3 of the strikes wipe out civilians. It is obvious U.S government hide their verifications on the claims of drones, there is no justification on how it helps besides it being a killing machine.”

Another civilian replied:

“They [pilots] need to stop firing missiles without making sure there are no children and women present. Children are dying and so are innocent people.” Although public views will certainly differ, media reporting has caused views to remain static. With better media efforts on the appropriate information, perhaps society can align their opinions with the military.

History of UAVs

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are relatively new developments in modern warfare, revolutionizing the way surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeted killings are carried out. Specialized UAV pilots on the ground manually control UAVs, more commonly known as drones. Drones combine reconnaissance capabilities with attack mechanisms in one vehicle, solving the problem of needing multiple aircraft to complete these tasks. Drone development in the United States began as early as during WWI where the first UAVs were tested, and has since expanded to encompass technologically advanced aircraft such as the Predator and Reaper drones. The development of drones has changed the way the military conducts both reconnaissance and attack missions, providing an alternative to sending pilots out in battle, and thus reducing the risk of pilot loss. Before UAVs, aircraft could only serve reconnaissance or attack purposes, requiring multiple aircraft to complete a single mission or assigned task.

Prior to armed drones, ballistic and cruise missiles were used to conduct attacks, however these vehicles cannot hover over targets or be recalled once they have been launched. Ballistic and cruise missiles follow set flight paths to strike their targets, and as such, have delayed the need for armed drones until recently. Manned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft such as the U-2 spy plane were used before reconnaissance drones, however there is a problem of pilot loss if the plane is shot down or experiences mechanical issues mid-flight. Additionally, manned planes have shorter flight times due to the limits of human endurance and the need to frequently refuel these heavier aircraft. MIT professor Mary Cummings notes “planes can fly longer, they can pull more Gs, they can be more precise when they bomb, if a human is not in the cockpit.” The military recognized the potential of UAV technology during World War I, when UAVs were tested for the first time in the United States. These early drones were highly unsuccessful in flight, crashing more often than successfully completing their missions. However, the military realized the benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles via these preliminary tests, and research and development of these vehicles began to increase.

Progressing into World War II, Nazi Germany created an unmanned bomber called the V-1, which was programmed to fly 150 miles before dropping a bomb on its target. This was the first instance of unmanned aerial targeted attacks against civilians, not military targets. These vehicles had the potential to reform warfare technology and strategy, spurring the UAV research and development program in the U.S. The 1970s marked a turning point in the United States for advancements in UAV development, with the invention of the “Albatross” drone by Israeli-born aviation engineer Abraham Karem. Karem became known as the “Father of the Predator” when he developed the Albatross, which was his first UAV reconnaissance prototype. This model was enhanced and refined for the next 20 years, and evolved into the modernized “Predator” drone in the 1990s. The Predator drone has a 20-hour flight time and the ability to fly up to 25,000 feet. It flies at about 84 miles per hour and burns approximately 300 times less fuel than a traditional fighter jet. The Reaper is a larger and more advanced version of the Predator, and will soon replace the Predator as the U.S. Air Force’s primary attack drone.

Contrary to current usage of drones for attack purpose, the original intention of Karem’s UAV research and development was for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes, not for armed attacks. He initially built drones for Cold war espionage and intelligence gathering, however with the unfortunate atrocity of the 9/11 attacks, his Predator drone evolved to incorporate attack capabilities with its existing reconnaissance and surveillance functions. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, Predator drones were not armed and were used for reconnaissance purposes only. However in October 2001 the Predator flew armed for the first time, which was a turning point in drone development. In February 2002, the CIA carried out its first targeted killing using the Predator, with an intended target of Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, the drone strike killed several civilians gathering scrap metal instead of the perceived target of bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda, but it set a precedent for armed drone usage. Since 2002, there have been hundreds of military and covert CIA-operated drone strikes carried out against four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Additionally, electronic warfare drones such as the “Shadow” have become increasingly useful for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions.

Today, drones are used for multiple purposes including surveillance and targeted attacks because of their advanced delivery systems and their ability to provide more precise intelligence on targets. Compared to manned aircraft, drones are easily maneuverable and can be operated from anywhere, regardless of national boundaries. They provide greater visibility for the pilots operating them because they are guided by satellites and have highly advanced cameras. Once a target is found, “hellfire” seeker missiles are guided by lasers, which provide an efficient and accurate way to “find, fix and finish” targets. Additionally, training for UAV pilots takes one year to complete, whereas fighter pilot training takes two years, making UAV pilot training more fiscally and logistically desirable. Drone technology is advancing every day, becoming increasingly efficient and revolutionizing signals intelligence and military strategy both in and out of warfare.

Public and Government Agency Support for Drones

According to the Obama Administration’s defense plan released shortly after Barack Obama won his second presidential election, an increase in the presence of drones would be their goal during times of warfare abroad. One of the pro arguments for this case lies with the number of troops, ships, and planes that drones can replace. Having fewer troops on the ground would mean that the administration has the power to put less people in harm’s way, in turn saving lives while appeasing a large anti-war population on the home front. The new focus would be to concentrate funding on technology, cyber warfare, jammers, and special operations forces. In the two years since Barack Obama’s reelection, we have seen these goals become a reality. Many members of the public doubt the technological ability behind drones when it comes to effectiveness and morality. The Economist brought up the point that if, by drone usage, we are able to fight a war without the loss of life to our combatants, a vital form of restraint might be removed. In other words, what is holding us back from taking more drastic action against the people or country we are fighting.

However, though the public opinion that the technology is new, or at least the advances we have made thereof, are forgetting that there has always been the desire to win a war and take out the enemy from a safe distance. That goal is thousands of years old, and in recent times, no country would try to win a war without using the technical advances available to them. The replacement of the bow and arrow for guns highlights a similar point. The use of guns became popular not only because of its efficiency, but because it could keep our troops at a greater distance from our enemy. A point argued by both government and public proponents for the use of drones is that they are relatively cheaper than having troops on the ground. Drones can fly for much longer periods of time than more traditional forms of military aircraft. Again, drones also help to appease the public’s demand to keep troops safe with the ability to operate the drones from safety abroad. Drones also help to ensure that troops on the ground during warfare are more protected and in many circumstances helps them be more efficient. Armed drones are mainly used to provide close air support, eliminating specific targets, and for surveying an area to allow suspected targets and objects to be attached within seconds.

Supporters of armed drones argue that the drones allow for an increase in the amount of control they have over when and where to strike which in turn decreases the risk of collateral damage. To most, drones are synonymous with warfare, but in the next couple years they are to grow exponentially within our domestic borders. These drones will be used to civilian applications including police and fire surveillance and aid, research, and aerial photography. Opponents of domestic drone use sight fear of privacy violations as well as safety concerns in regards to aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration is already working to develop safety regulations and in addition, the government is also developing further domestic drone protocols and rules. Perhaps the most advantageous gain that may come from domestic drones is large economic impact it will have on the United States. It is estimated that Drones could generate $10 billion a year by the year 2025 and $82 Billion from 2015-2025.

Arguments against the Use of Drone Strikes

Drone Strikes Kill Large Numbers of Civilians and Traumatize Local Population According to a meta-study of drone strikes, between 8 to 17% of all people killed in drone strikes are civilians. According to 130 interviews with victims and witnesses of drone strikes by researchers from Stanford and New York University, people who live in the affected areas experience harm “beyond death and physical injury” and “hear drones hover 24 hours a day,” and live with the fear that a strike could occur at any moment of the day or night. According to Clive Stafford Smith, Director of human rights organization Reprieve, “an entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups”. Yemeni tribal sheik Mullah Zabara says “we consider the drones terrorism. The drones are flying day and night, frightening women and children, disturbing sleeping people. This is terrorism.”

Drone Strikes Violate International Law

Under international humanitarian law, the targeted individual must be directly participating in hostilities with the United States. Under international human rights law, the targeted individual must pose an imminent threat that only lethal force can prevent. Simply being suspected of some connection to a “militant” organization or, under the CIA’s policy of “signature” drone strikes, fitting the profile of a terrorist in an area where terrorists are known to operate – is not legally sufficient to make someone a permissible target for killing. Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations, states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life,” even in times of armed conflict. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force by one state against another, with the exceptions of (1) the consent of the host state, and (2) when the use of force is in self-defense in response to an armed attack or an imminent threat, where the host state is unwilling or unable to take appropriate action. Members of militant groups with which the United States is not in an armed conflict are therefore not lawful targets. Amnesty International says drone strikes can be classified as “war crimes” or illegal “extrajudicial executions.” Drone Strikes are Secretive, Lack Sufficient Legal Oversight, and Prevent Citizens from holding Their Leaders Accountable.

Drones are used in conflicts where war is not openly declared and authorized by Congress, allowing the executive branch to have nearly unlimited power over secret wars across the world. Strikes by the CIA (responsible for approximately 80% of all US drone strikes worldwide) are classified under US law as Title 50 covert actions, defined as “activities of the United States Government… where it is intended that the role… will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.” As covert operations, the government cannot legally provide any information about how the CIA conducts targeted killings. The CIA has yet to officially acknowledge its drone programs anywhere in the world, let alone describe the rules and procedures for compliance with US and international law. The administration only gives drone program details to members of Congress whom it deems “appropriate,” and it has sought to prevent judicial review of claims brought in US courts by human rights groups seeking accountability for potentially unlawful killings.

Drone Strikes Violate the Sovereignty of Other Countries

Strikes are often carried out without the permission and against the objection of the target countries. Pakistan’s foreign ministry on June 4, 2012 called drone strikes “illegal” and said they violated the country’s sovereignty. On Oct. 22, 2013, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the “use of drones is not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve at efforts in eliminating terrorism from our country… I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks.” The United Nations’ Human Rights Chief, Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, have all called US drone strikes a violation of sovereignty, and have pressed for investigations into the legality of the attacks. In a July 18, 2013, 39-country survey by Pew Research, only six countries approved of US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Executive Summary

In our best estimate, we believe that drones should remain as a tool for intelligence gathering, and strategic attacks. However, we do believe that in order to enhance their use, reforms must be made to the operation and designated use of their design. With the reforms we propose, we believe that the use of drones will gain more support in the eyes of the public, as well as the eyes of other nations.

To start, in order to avoid civilian casualties, drones should be operated by a condensed team of highly skilled pilots. To further enhance this notion, the perimeter around the target should be calculated in order to improve the strategies of the strike. Furthermore, the procedure in which a strike is approved should become more transparent with not only government officials, but with the host country as well. By doing this, we will not be violating nation sovereignty. Transparency with drone procedure would also avoid human rights violations because the reason for the target to be attacked will be evident, and could also be reviewed by International courts.

Most importantly, it should be emphasized that the use of drones prevents military casualties. Drones offer the unique advantage of unmanned warfare, which keeps our military personnel safe. Not only in the case of strikes do drones do this, but also in the case of intelligence gathering. Drones should be further utilized for intelligence purposes, which can help prevent further conflicts in the future

With these reforms in mind, we summarize that drones inherently are here to stay, and that as the technology race continues, drones will continue to evolve as weapons of war and intelligence. Therefore, we can improve their function and their reputation as machines for the greater good.


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