(click to right under ‘featured’ for a previous article)
The Pentagon is itching to sell armed drones to NATO allies, supposedly to spread the burden of reconnaissance and direct hits on terrorists in Afghanistan and future war arenas. The US already sells drones, also known as UNFs, for reconnaissance to many countries, but only the UK is authorized to receive the armed version. The stakes are enormous.
Drones don’t spell out a new area of warfare in the same way the atomic and hydrogen bombs ushered in a new arena of war and war lexicon. ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ is the key strategic ‘insight’ atomic powers developed, particularly the US and Soviets, to manage and prevent nuclear warfare. ‘Containment’ of another nuclear power became US policy against the option of appeasement of the USSR after WW2 or immediate preparation a new war over Europe.
If the atomic age made warfare too destructive for any power to unleash it, the drone age makes it more antiseptic and distant. Big land, air and sea battles were fought to take out enemy defenses, equipment and offensive capability, always measured in terms of infrastructure destroyed and enemy killed.
What will become the measure of successful drone warfare? So far, it’s been mainly used for assassination and highly targeted killings of individuals or groups of individuals without as much ‘collateral waste’ or civilian casualties associated with traditional warfare.
Does that mean that in the future the first goal in war will be cutting off an enemy’s head? Will the initial knocking out the Pattons and McAuthurs and Petraeus’s, then the next five layers of leadership spell quick victory? How would that reconcile with the truly vicious bombing of WW2 where high-tech equipment and distance from the target actually encouraged more carnage?
We don’t know the answers. We haven’t had much of a discussion. For the Defense Department to sell armed drone, even to allies would be premature and dangerous.
Of course, even if armed drone become popular in the future, no one should doubt America’s resolve or technical know-how to build even more lethal, hidden and sanitary methods to kill enemy forces to stay one step ahead.