Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blowback - Drone Warfare

Send in the drones.   Few grasp the significance of drone warfare.   We don't see them.  Our people don't get killed.   We rarely know who does get killed and when, infrequently, we hear anything about it at all it's the announcement of some terrorist leader expunged from the face of the earth.

What we don't understand is that drone warfare has also ushered in an era of permanent warfare of an entirely different paradigm, utterly alien to our notions and laws of war sculpted over the past several centuries.  We cannot foresee the scope, range and geopolitical fallout that drone warfare will bring to the world stage.

The Royal Institute or Chatham House has published a couple of insightful evaluations of the risks and benefits of drone warfare including Michael Boyle's detailed examination, that conclude drone warfare isn't particularly effective, incites retaliation or "blowback" attacks, and will lead to new and highly unstable arms races.

Across Asia, nations are rushing to "drone up."   China is deploying its own drones that look remarkably similar to U.S. designs.   South Korea and Japan are placing orders for the latest and greatest American drone technology.   India is said to be developing its own arsenal of UCAVs or Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles.   France and Britain are developing stealth UCAVs.  It's even been speculated that war between China and Japan over contested islands could begin with an air-to-air drone exchange.

For the West, and particularly Obama, drone warfare is a dandy way of dragging out wars that are already lost.   They're bloodless for the home team and only look like murder to those on the receiving end.

It's this same lack of accountability, lack of transparency and apparent immunity to consequences that can lull nations into complacency and dangerously lower the threshold of drone warfare sparking a much greater, direct and perhaps even unforeseen conflict.


Purple library guy said...

It's not really that different. Thus far at least, a drone is a bomber with a relatively long hang time but low payload and fewer missions per week. They're deployed against countries that can't shoot down bombers anyway. And the latest generation ones are, honest to God, more expensive than A-10s and have much higher support needs.

And the tactical vs strategic implications are similar: They're useful tactically if you have some idea what you want to target, but if you rely on them extensively you probably have little idea what you want to target. Strategically, if used against an insurgency any gains from killing insurgents tend to be more than overbalanced by the inevitable "Everyone hates you because you're bombing them" thing. It's not really so different from Vietnam, just slower and lower intensity. Win battles, lose the war.

Not that the arms contractors care in the short term. They don't really care if the war is won as long as they sell more weapons systems. Of course an empire that can't fight well will eventually go down; this kind of policy against national interests for the sake of private gain is called "decadence" and it regularly leads to downfalls.

The Mound of Sound said...

PLG, you should take the time to read Boyle's report and a couple of other recent analyses of the impacts and risks of drone warfare.

LeDaro said...

Americans buy guns aplenty. Rich have their own airplanes. What if a citizen acquires a drone? What may follow?

The Mound of Sound said...

Drone technology is available to the public and for as little as $300. There's one called, I believe, Parrot AR, that can be controlled from an iPhone, iPad or Android tablet at what would be considered tactically significant ranges. It comes complete with an onboard, full HD video camera.

In Afghanistan U.S. forces are deploying a variety of hand-launched mini-drones, either remote controlled or pre-programmed that look for a specific "target" profile and then dive to attack. Those that can't find anything to attack simply dive and explode.

Some of those are bound to be duds and fall into enemy hands. They'll be easily copied, probably even improved, and then made available as very cheap weapons for terrorists. It was one of the stupidiest ideas the Americans have come up with in the past decade.