Rise of the Drones - Page 2
Despite international questions and objections, the use of drones has continued unabated, expanding into Yemen. Some have claimed the strikes constitute murder but the secrecy and denials keep transparent moral conclusions out of reach. However, people are indeed starting to ask the obvious question: does the United States now have ‘a license to kill?’ This sophisticated weapons system has been placed under the control of the CIA – they have the power to strike who they want, where they want and when they want, without restraint. The New York Times published a story on May 29, providing an overview of Obama’s highly aggressive counter-terrorism policy, whereby Obama himself would oversee a list of individuals to be targeted. If the target’s family was in the area, the President would make the final attack decision. Such facts may seem disturbing, but the American government claims this is an absolute necessity to defend the country. Reaction to the New York Times article was mixed, indeed some media sources labeled Obama ‘America’s Executioner in Chief’.
Two types of drone stalk the Pakistani tribal regions – the Predator, which entered service in 1994 and the newer Reaper. The CIA were keen to arm the Predator in the late 1990s and Osama Bin Laden was even spotted on a drone’s video feed in 2000. After 9/11, the potential of armed drones was explored and today, the Reaper can carry hellfire missiles and 500lb bombs, a similar payload to an F16 fighter aircraft – at a fraction of the cost. The newest American fighter plane, the F22, costs a staggering $350 million. The Reaper on the other hand comes in at around $10 million and is much cheaper to operate.
The human cost is also important in warfare and with regard to drone usage, that’s zero for the Americans. The pilot visits an air-conditioned cabin/building in the Nevada desert and views the engagement on a monitor, filmed through the drone’s high-definition surveillance equipment. It is a comfortable way to fight, something the Pakistani tribesmen of North Waziristan do not understand. They accuse the Americans of cowardice, claiming they are afraid of casualties, afraid of a real fight. The possible political ramifications of captured American pilots in Pakistan or Yemen seem to provide enough justification for pushing forward with drones. The risks – financial, material, personal and political are much lower.
After a decade of warfare with thousands of lives lost, this seems to be the future for the Americans. Fighting from afar, without casualties. Some might call it cowardice, but it is highly effective. The drone offensive has plunged the Al-Qaeda leadership into chaos, with nowhere to hide from the soaring killing machines high above. Drone warfare is still evolving and the US Navy are testing a new device called the multi-mode sensor seeker which will be attached to a Firescout robotic helicopter. It is hoped this technology will assist in the fight against pirates off the Somali coast. The Firescout would autonomously seek out pirate targets using high definition cameras and infra-red sensors, comparing them to a target database in its computer system.Continued on the next page