Robot Wars

What happens when other countries start droning?

In late 2011, China’s Ministry of Public Security began an international manhunt for a Burmese drug kingpin named Naw Kham, whose gang was accused of hijacking two Chinese cargo ships and killing 13 Chinese sailors.

The ministry tracked Kham to a remote mountainous region in northeastern Myanmar and considered how to deal with him. Among the options on the table was a drone strike. As Liu Yuejin, the head of the ministry’s counternarcotics bureau, told Global Times in February: “One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilograms of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive.” Kham was captured within six months of the hijackings, then tried, convicted and executed by lethal injection.

China’s public acknowledgement of the plan was unprecedented, and it raised an awkward question for the United States, which in recent years has made drones a centerpiece of its emerging national security doctrine for the robot era. The United States has asserted the right to use lethal force anywhere—“from Boston to the FATA,” as a senior Pentagon official put it during a Senate hearing in May—against terrorist organizations, some of which the U.S. government will not name, and outside the bounds of what the majority of the world believes is lawful targeting. But what happens when other countries start launching killer drone strikes? What will the United States do then?

We don’t have long to wait. Drones are quickly becoming a tool in just about every country’s toolbox. So far, only three countries are known to have conducted drone strikes outside their borders: The United States (more than 450 times across seven countries), the United Kingdom (300-plus strikes in Afghanistan using U.S.-provided Reapers) and Israel (reportedly in the Palestinian Territories and Egypt). But drones are spreading quickly. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the number of nations with drone systems grew from 41 in 2004 to 76 in 2012. In that time, global drone spending has more than doubled, from $2 billion in 2004 to some $5 billion today.

Most drones that other states develop or acquire will be unarmed—even in the U.S. arsenal, less than 5 percent of the drones can drop bombs—but perhaps a dozen other states could possess armed drones within the next 10 years. The United States has agreed to sell such lethal drones only to its closest allies, but countries are finding other means of acquiring them. “The United States doesn’t export many attack drones,” a representative of a Chinese aircraft manufacturer said in 2011, “so we’re taking advantage of that hole in the market.” Other countries are building their own drones. Take Iran, for example, whose defense minister in May announced that the country’s newly unveiled Hemaseh (or “Epic”) drone is “simultaneously capable of surveillance, reconnaissance, and missile and rocket attacks.”

Armed drones have certain advantages over all other weapons: They can hover over a target for a long time or attack almost instantaneously, and they present no risk to pilots. For the United States, these factors have lowered the threshold for authorizing force, with civilian officials choosing lethal strikes more often and against a broader array of targets. President Obama has reached for the weapons repeatedly, authorizing more than 400 strikes in his five years in office—approximately eight times as many as President George W. Bush did. The drone has been a game-changer for American national security planners, and it is inevitably going global.

To be sure, few other states will soon be able to conduct intercontinental drone strikes, which require bases in nearby countries where they can be launched, flyover rights, reliable access to satellite information and human intelligence networks on the ground to help identify targets. Where combat missions are concerned, most emerging drone powers will be limited to launching attacks in nearby countries. (Think Saudi Arabia in Yemen; Rwanda and Uganda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Russia in Georgia; or Pakistan in Afghanistan.)

But one truism about new technologies is that almost everywhere they are deployed, people find other uses for them. Countries might start to send drones to wage drug wars or fight pirates off the coast of Somalia. And we can be sure drones will be deployed in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Proliferation expert Dennis Gormley has warned that Americans view armed drones as incredibly precise, with low yields and limited consequences. But what happens the next time an embattled dictator like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad decides to use chemical weapons and finds that, as Gormley argues, drones are actually ideal delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction? The United States is going to demand a new policy—and quickly.

The White House claims that it has addressed Americans’ growing discomfort with the drone war; Obama announced in May that drone strikes would be limited to “continuing and imminent” threats, and that the Pentagon would gradually assume responsibility from the CIA for lethal strikes. Neither the president nor his deputies, however, have ever publicly grappled with the effect U.S. operations could have on other countries’ drone use—never mind addressing questions about the scope of U.S. targeting, which body of international law applies or what the United States does when civilians are inevitably harmed. And yet it was none other than CIA Director John Brennan, a lead architect of Obama’s drone war, who once noted: “If we want other nations to use these technologies responsibly, we must use them responsibly.”

When Chinese officials authorize their first drone strike against a drug kingpin in Myanmar or against Japanese citizens occupying a disputed East China Sea island, what will the White House say then?

Micah Zenko is fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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4 thoughts on “Robot Wars

  1. Drone Lands Dispatch

    December 9, 2013

    Letter from Pakistan

    Naheed Mustafa
    NAHEED MUSTAFA is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @NaheedMustafa.

    In the most heavily targeted parts of Pakistan’s tribal regions — the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in the northwest — U.S. drone strikes are but a single form of state-sponsored killing, alongside conventional airstrikes and ground operations by Pakistan’s military, insurgent bombings, tribal hostilities, and everyday criminality. But drones occupy a special category of their own. The strikes began in 2004; they have since killed a total of 2,500 to 3,500 people. Estimates suggest that several hundred of those killed were innocent civilians. Last May, U.S. President Barack Obama said that those deaths would haunt him and his advisers for “as long as we live.”

    In Pakistan, the strikes have been a source of bitter political contention from the very beginning. Broadly speaking, one side focuses on the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty while the other — a sizeable group — maintains that drone strikes are the least bad option for maintaining some semblance of security in a restive region. For their part, the country’s politicians hold up victims of drone strikes to serve their own ends — to illustrate the tyranny of the United States or the unfortunate sacrifices that must be made in the name of security.

    To find out how Pakistanis think about drones after living under their shadow for nearly a decade, I recently spent a month travelling to Pakistan’s large cities and small villages — places where most people’s concerns revolve around their day-to-day struggle to make ends meet. Talk to them, and you will find that the monolithic view in the West that all Pakistanis are enraged by drone strikes is inaccurate. In fact, further north — closer to the areas that bear the brunt of the strikes — it is not uncommon to encounter strong support for them.


    Karachi is a giant swirl of nearly 21 million people, all competing to get by in their various, overlapping versions of the city. Karachi is a kind of gold rush town: everyone constantly sifts through the debris hoping to spot a golden nugget and strike it rich. It is a paradise for the fortunate few with the resources and bank balance to live in a security bubble; for most of the rest, life is a desperate grind.

    Karachi is also a microcosm of Pakistan. Every ethnic and linguistic group lives here, and so all of the country’s political parties have a stake in the city. National issues are mirrored at the local level. Even armed non-state actors — be they the Taliban, sectarian extremists, or the armed wings of political parties — maintain an open presence. Although there is no reliable polling to gauge attitudes about drones, the city is simmering with resentment about strikes in the northwest. You see it in graffiti, you hear it from politicians, and you feel it among ordinary people in regular conversation.

    On a pleasant evening sitting in the garden and sipping tea among a group of friends and family, I asked whether drone strikes were a problem. Karachi has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Electricity is a problem, water is a problem, street crime is a given. Almost everyone has a story of being held up at gunpoint, and home invasions are like a rite of passage. Did the problems of the hinterland even seep in past the local chaos?

    The reaction to my question was swift. Drone strikes were a humiliation. Washington has been calling the shots in Pakistan since its independence. Didn’t I know that drones were just another means of subjugating Pakistan? The United States would never tolerate such a violation of its sovereignty. Criticism of Pakistan’s government and military flowed freely; they were complicit at every stage. It was the only way to explain why these strikes went on with no end in sight.

    That last part of the conversation, about Pakistan’s complicity in the drone campaign, was the thorniest. In recent years, some evidence of collusion with the United States has become all too clear. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted in an interview last April that he consented to CIA drone strikes “two or three times” during his time in office. And WikiLeaks disclosed in 2010 that former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani did not care about the damage of drone strikes, as long as they got “the right people.” There is a strong feeling that if Pakistan’s military and intelligence services aren’t directly involved in the minutiae of targeting, they are at least looking the other way. The only other option is to believe that Pakistan’s all-knowing intelligence agencies are incapable of standing up to the CIA. And few are prepared to believe that.


    Faisal Mosque, in Islamabad’s north end, is the largest mosque in Pakistan. It is also the final resting place of the country’s onetime military dictator General Muhammed Zia ul-Haq. I met Karim Khan, a journalist who works for Al Jazeera Arabic, in a small park tucked behind the mosque. Kahn divides his time between Islamabad and his village in North Waziristan. His brother and son were killed by a drone strike on his family home in a village called Machi Khel, in North Waziristan, in December 2009.

    Khan is tall and has a full black beard. His Urdu has a heavy Pashto accent, and mine has a hint of Canadian. He wore a dark turban; I wore jeans. We made an odd pair sitting under a tree in the park. Khan was not unfriendly, but he was blunt. And his style did not invite small talk.

    He told me that drones dot the sky over his village like clouds, enough that the United States’ ubiquitous presence above makes people in the tribal areas feel like they’re living in an American colony. The drones strike at will, and it seems that nobody can stop them — certainly not the Pakistani government, let alone the United Nations. “No one gives any judgment about them and no one makes any effort to stop them,” Khan told me. “For us, [it] is as though we are living at the mercy and generosity of the Americans. There is no force that can stop them or topple them.”

    Khan says that the anonymity of drone victims makes it easy to say that their deaths were a sad but necessary sacrifice. The majority of U.S. drone strikes have hit North and South Waziristan, part of FATA, which serves as a buffer of sorts along the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani government keeps tight reins on movement in and out of the tribal areas, and information travels slowly. As a result, the region’s reality is obscured from most Pakistanis. Their inability, and sometimes unwillingness, to consider the experience of those who actually live in the FATA has further strained Pakistan’s public discourse.

    It has been four years since Khan’s brother and son were killed. “They say they are killing terrorists in my area. But what if I was to tell you that my brother had a master’s degree?” Khan says. He points out that the media often misreports who dies in the strikes. “My brother worked for the education department as a teacher and my son worked as part of the security staff in a school. What could they possibly have to do with the Taliban or with terrorists?”


    Quetta, in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, sees some of the most insidious violence in the country. The complex web of criminal, tribal, and military actors can leave even the most experienced Pakistani analyst struggling to explain events.

    On my drive from the airport, my hosts pointed out the spot where a car was recently shot up in a targeted killing; the roundabout where the local paramilitary force claimed it killed a group of Chechen suicide bombers who turned out to be neither Chechen nor suicide bombers; and a hospital that was attacked by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia al Qaeda affiliate.

    During my time in Quetta, I asked Qadir Nayel, a local journalist working for a national Urdu newspaper, whether drone strikes were a big discussion in his circle. He said that strikes are dutifully written up in the papers — of course they make the news — but that they are not really an issue of general concern among the local population. It was not just that Balochistan had its own vortex of violence that kept people busy but also that there was a sense among locals that strikes in FATA might ease at least the portion of the violence that is linked to the Taliban.

    There is certainly sympathy for the ordinary inhabitants of FATA who are caught up in the strikes. Over the course of many interviews, I’ve never heard anyone doubt that civilians are killed when Hellfire missiles come raining down. But there is a feeling that things are tough all over, and that as the security situation has turned dire the tradeoffs have naturally become starker.

    It was a sentiment I heard repeated in the city of Peshawar as well. Adil Zareef is a doctor who teaches at the city’s medical college. He has a keen interest in climate change and the preservation of local heritage, but said that most concerns have become subordinate to the security problem. “Security issues have overtaken us. The environment, human rights, and health have all become secondary. Security comes first and the state has put them first; it has subsumed all other issues,” Zareef says.

    Peshawar is the closest settled area to FATA. There are now regular reports of Taliban foot soldiers patrolling city neighborhoods at night. I talked to a man hosting guests from a nearby village who had come to Peshawar to have their case heard in a Taliban court. Justice may be harsh in those courts, but, unlike Pakistani courts, it is also swift.

    Zareef was born and raised in a different Peshawar. When we spoke, he reminisced a great deal about the Peshawar of the past — the liberal culture, the parties, the foreign tourists. Today, the constant killing, the suicide bombings of markets, and mosque and church attacks have left him a wreck. He is on antidepressants and focuses mostly on muddling through the day.

    “Our best friends, our kin, and the most beautiful and brightest have been killed. Tribal leaders and ordinary people in FATA are being killed. I think the militants are a bigger threat to us than the drones,” Zareef says.

    Zareef is not unbothered by the deaths from drone strikes in FATA, but he says that the people of his province are facing a choice between survival and extinction. “After the last blast in Sher Ghar, I received a message asking me how many more were we going to bury,” he says. “Every time someone dies, we say, ‘Are we next?’ We’re on the firing line.”

    Pakistanis know that the United States will not end its drone program in Pakistan anytime soon. And so the polarized debates will continue. But for those who live the closest to the strike zones, drones are not some abstract talking point. Just getting through the day has become a high-stakes game. Adil Zareef feels that each day could be his last. And for Karim Khan, the possibility of dying in a strike, like his son and brother before him, remains all too real.

    Copyright © 2002-2012 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.


  2. Drone Decrees
    Setting Rules For Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
    By Aaron Stein

    The United States has never had a monopoly on drones. It was the Israeli Air Force’s use of drones during its war in Lebanon in the 1980s that first prompted a skeptical U.S. military to support fully the development of remote-controlled systems. The decision to arm them came later, during the hunt for Osama bin Laden after 2001 and the war on terrorism. By now, U.S. drone strikes are a regular occurrence in areas where terrorist organizations have taken root.

    Drone technology and drone use have also proliferated in other countries. And even more are seeking to develop their own systems. These systems are likely to be more local affairs than those of the United States. Most of the emerging drone states — including China — lack the United States’ worldwide network of military bases and satellites, which allow it to operate drones far from its own borders. And, like the United States, emerging drones states are eager to develop armed drones for counterterrorism operations and surveillance. With more drones in more places come more security and policy challenges for the United States. To deal with them, it will have to come up with a new drone policy.

    The tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands are a good example of how drones introduce new diplomatic questions. Chinese manned and unmanned surveillance flights routinely violate Japan’s 12-nautical-mile zone around the islands. Japan has dispatched fighter jets to intercept a Chinese manned surveillance plane and is reported to have even contemplated shooting down Chinese drones. In response, Wang Hongguang, the former deputy commander of China’s Nanjing Military Region, wrote in early November that China should attack Japanese manned planes should Japan shoot down Chinese surveillance drones. Things have become even tenser since China declared a so-called Air Defense Identification Zone over part of the East China Sea. Japan’s Nikkei reports that the United States plans to use Global Hawk drones for surveillance in the area in conjunction with increased Japanese manned E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft.

    Although there has always been a risk of unintended escalation in the East China Sea, the emergence of unmanned systems adds a new twist. For example, the 2001 aerial collision near Hainan Island in the South China Sea involved manned aircraft operating in international airspace. The American plane was flying a surveillance mission when two Chinese fighter jets began to tail it. One of the Chinese fighter jets accidently bumped the U.S. plane, prompting an emergency landing at a Chinese military facility on Hainan Island. China then detained the U.S. crew and inspected the plane, despite warnings that the aircraft was U.S. sovereign territory. The incident touched off a diplomatic row between two great world powers and was an early diplomatic test for the recently elected George W. Bush administration.

    The rules of engagement are relatively clear for the intentional downing of a manned aircraft, but the potential response to the shooting down of an unmanned system — as Japan seems ready to do — is far murkier. On the one hand, such an act could escalate and lead to a conflict. On the other, since downing a drone would pose no danger to human life, China or Japan could conclude that the provocative use of drones — or the intentional targeting of U.S. drones — carries less risk of retaliation and is therefore a low-stakes means of coercion.

    That idea is not so far off base: In the Persian Gulf, Iran has fired on U.S. drones and was even successful in spoofing the Global Positioning System (GPS) signal of the advanced RQ-170 drone flying over its territory. An Iranian engineer told The Christian Science Monitor, “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office has acknowledged the risk of GPS spoofing and recommends the introduction of spoof-resistant navigation systems on drones.

    In the Gulf, the United States has sporadically opted to escort its surveillance drones with manned fighter jets, which raises the cost of such operations as well as the risk of escalation. Absent a clear norm on the response to shooting down an unmanned system, incidents involving drones could snowball quickly. And that is why the United States should develop a clear policy about the targeting of drones. It should be designed to prevent unintended escalation by defining the cost of provocatively using or targeting unmanned systems. These rules would need to apply to all parties, including the United States.

    First, the United States should signal that it would hold the operator responsible for the actions of unmanned systems. Any retaliation need not target the actual operator, given the complexity of locating the pilot, but could include the air base from which the drone was launched. The goal would be to reintroduce the prospect of casualties and escalation into the drone equation by clearly laying out the potential American response if an adversary considers using unmanned systems in a coercive way against the United States or its allies and partners. In short, U.S. policy should be to treat drones like their manned cousins. Similarly, in the cases where a potential adversary targets a U.S. drone, Washington should make clear that it regards such an act as akin to the downing of a manned aircraft. The response, therefore, could include the use of force or strong diplomatic action.

    In setting out this policy, the United States would tacitly accept that its own drone program could invite retaliation and that bases from which it flies drones could be targeted. Yet in most cases, the United States receives overflight rights for its drone operations, which should thereby protect the United States from potential retaliation from the countries in which it currently uses drones. The policy would, therefore, weigh more heavily on new drone-operating nations while keeping in place many of the United States’ own drone programs.

    Holding drone bases responsible could help minimize the ways in which emerging drone states use drones coercively against U.S. interests, as well as push them to reach similar overflight arrangements to those that the United States keeps with its partners. The new policy would not address the legality of targeted killings, but such legal questions can be dealt with separately.

    The United States should begin to prepare for a world in which it no longer has a monopoly on drone technology. Still, it should do so knowing that, for now, it will retain the unique capability to use military force on a global scale. For the foreseeable future, potential adversaries will mostly use unmanned systems locally and in ways that affect the security of U.S. allies. As the United States increases its own use of drones, it should be taking steps to map out a strategy to respond to provocations. Doing so would help establish new norms for everyone.


  3. The Rules of Drone Warfare: Sometimes What’s Written Down Isn’t Always What Happens
    By Mark Thompson
    Dec 29, 2013

    Here’s a pair of perspectives on the military utility—and accuracy—of U.S. drone attacks, which have become an increasingly common tool in the war on terror since 9/11. The good news: they don’t put American pilots at risk. The bad news: a lot of people on the ground, some of them innocent, are in danger.

    Whenever war is waged from a distance, killing isn’t black and white. The question—for the military, and for Americans in whose name it strikes—is how much gray to tolerate.

    The bold-faced comments that follow come from a Sunday column in the Guardian newspaper by Heather Linebaugh, who says she served as a drone-intelligence analyst for U.S. Air Force strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2009 to 2012.

    Those in italics come from the NO-STRIKE AND THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE ESTIMATION METHODOLOGY drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year to guide such drone strikes. The independent Public Intelligence website recently posted the document on its website.

    I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on. Few of the politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue how it actually works (and doesn’t).

    Purpose. The purpose of this instruction is to document the Department of Defense (DoD) policy governing the No-strike process, management of No-strike entities, treatment of collateral objects, and the logic, processes, and procedures of the collateral damage estimation (CDE) methodology (CDM).

    Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions.

    This instruction is approved for limited release and contains information exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

    I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?”

    Prior to striking a target, commands should ensure imagery used to support CDE Analysis is not older than 90 days. This may be waived to 180 days if there are no indications of change in the area of interest.

    And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?”

    Supported by the IC [intelligence community], geographic CCDRs [Combatant Commanders] are responsible for identifying, developing, maintaining, and distributing to subordinate and supporting commands and supported functional commands a list of No-Strike entities (known as the No-Strike List (NSL)) for operation-specific assigned areas of operation and for those countries within their Unified Command Plan assigned area of responsibility (AOR) for which there is Guidance for Employment of the Force documentation (formerly known as Contingency Planning Guidance) or Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP) directed plans and/or operation orders (OPORDs).

    Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

    Due to the nature of operations and the potential strategic risk posed to the U.S. Government, due diligence is critical to ensure personnel are trained in the CDM.

    Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.

    It is an inherent responsibility of all commanders, observers, air battle managers, weapons directors, attack controllers, weapons systems operators, intelligence analysts, and targeting personnel to:

    a. Establish positive identification (PID) and to accurately locate targets consistent with current military objectives and mission specific ROE [rules of engagement]. For purposes of this instruction, “PID” is defined as follows: “The reasonable certainty that a functionally and geospatially defined object of attack is a legitimate military target in accordance with the LOW [law of war] and applicable ROE.”

    b. Identify potential collateral (i.e., No-strike) concerns in the vicinity of the valid military target prior to munitions release and target engagement (provide function and geospatial delimitations if able).

    c. Apply the CDM with due diligence within the framework of the operational imperatives of accomplishing mission objectives, force protection, and collateral damage mitigation.

    I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road.

    No-Strike entities (NSEs) are those designated by the appropriate authority upon which kinetic or non-kinetic operations are prohibited to avoid violating international law, conventions, or agreements, or damaging relations with coalition partners and indigenous populations. NSEs are protected from the effects of military operations (i.e., they have a “protected status”). The infliction of unnecessary suffering or damage to civilian persons or property that is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated is inconsistent with international law and is contrary to DoD policy outlined in this document…

    I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

    Collateral objects are functionally defined NSFs [No-Strike facilities] that have a geospatial relationship to a target and may be affected or potentially affected by target engagement. Knowledge of the location and function of collateral objects is essential to target development, the No-Strike process, and the CDM. Treat collateral objects in accordance with policy and guidance prescribed in this instruction and operational ROE.

    The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs.

    Dual-use facilities are defined as those valid military targets characterized as serving both a military and civilian (i.e., noncombatant) purpose/function. In many cases, dual-use facilities are associated with senior governmental level command and control; national communications infrastructure; media centers; national power and petroleum, oil, and lubricants infrastructure; industrial facilities, and public utilities providing support to both the civilian population and the military effort. Dual-use facilities may also consist of NSFs occupied by combatants. NSFs occupied by enemy combatants for the purpose of advancing military objectives lose their LOW protection and are not classified as dual-use.

    What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure.

    Commanders are responsible for determining the predominant function of an NSF, based on current intelligence, and deciding if the target has lost its LOW protected status and is a valid military target, is a dual-use facility, or is an NSF.

    One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts.

    Human shields are civilian or noncombatant personnel placed in or around a valid military target to hinder attack of that target. In some instances, human shields are willing accomplices who support the belligerent nation and in this case they lose their protected status. In other instances, the belligerent nation may either forcibly place (involuntary) or deceptively encourage (unwitting) civilians or noncombatants to be present at valid military targets, and these personnel are considered protected persons. Involuntary, unwitting, or status unknown human shields must be accounted for in CE [casualty estimation].

    We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

    No-Strike entities require the same accuracy in location and geospatial definition as that of lawful military targets.

    I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it.

    Accurate positioning and geospatial development of No-Strike entities and identification of collateral damage/effects concerns is part of both the deliberate and dynamic targeting processes and is a continuous process that does not end when military operations commence.

    And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience.

    The continuous identification and development of NSes, well in advance of and throughout military operations, is critical to campaign success.

    UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

    Deliberate and dynamic targets must be verified against the latest NSL prior to attack.

    The number of civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes since 9/11 is difficult to ascertain. Even the locals can’t agree: conflicting reports from Pakistan, where such strikes are secretly carried out by the CIA, put the number as low as 67, and as high as 400, among 2,000-plus killed (although such accounts often cover different timespans). The strikes’ clandestine nature—and isolated targets, many at odds with Islamabad—make such tallies questionable.

    The bottom line seems pretty clear: both ex-Senior Airman Linebaugh and the Joint Chiefs are trying to do the right thing. Just in different ways.


  4. National Security

    The Future of the Military is Robots Building Robots
    Why tomorrow’s arsenal can’t be created with the tools of the past.

    BY Aaron Martin & Ben FitzGerald

    2 January 2014

    From the B-2 bomber to the M1 Abrams tank, the United States has for decades developed, built, and fielded the most advanced and capable weapon systems in the world. That’s changing because of declining budgets, emerging technologies, and global competition from rising powers like China. Today, for the first time in recent history, the Pentagon is in danger of losing its vast technological advantages over potential adversaries. And the evolution of the Air Force’s most recent warplane provides a cautionary tale of what may lay in store.

    The development of the F-22 — a next-generation fighter with advanced stealth and electronic warfare capabilities — took 22 years and cost, in constant dollars, roughly 60 percent more than the Manhattan Project. Building each aircraft also took several years, and today, with production complete, the U.S. Air Force has roughly 187 F-22s. The aircraft is expected to stay in service through the 2040s, up to 66 years after engineers first began developing the plane. By comparison, the development of the F-4 in the late 1950s took about 6 years and cost nearly 95 percent less, in constant dollars, than the F-22.

    Of course, there is really no comparison between the quality of an F-22 and an F-4 — they operate in different eras and face different threats. There is also no comparison between an F-22 and most current combat aircraft around the world. A recent RAND study anticipates an “exchange ratio” wherein the United States would down 27 adversary aircraft for each F-22 lost in combat. However, with such a small fleet, each aircraft becomes increasingly valuable. And in some operations, the loss of even one aircraft could turn into a public relations or strategic victory for an adversary — even if that enemy cannot defeat U.S. forces outright.

    We don’t need to accept this situation as our future. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, argues the value of “payloads over platforms.” Given the time and cost issues of developing platforms like aircraft and ships we should instead focus our innovation efforts on the equipment they carry like weapons, sensors, and communication gear. Admiral Greenert makes a valid case, but what if the process used for aircraft design, production, and fielding could provide us similar flexibility and innovation?

    Taking an approach of process over platforms could maintain U.S. advantage by building unmanned aircraft using short development cycles and accelerated production schedules that would lower both the overall cost of the program and the cost of building each individual aircraft. A fleet of such aircraft could be developed and produced adaptively, changing and growing to address threats as they emerge. A vision for this approach involves using advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) and integrated robotic assembly, to rapidly produce unmanned aircraft systems.

    Making that vision a reality will mean using digital technology — data files for the production of aircraft components, software-driven assembly using robotic builders, and computerized remote piloting — to generate a paradigm shift in the development of combat aircraft.

    The ability to produce unmanned aircraft more quickly and add new capabilities rapidly will unleash the potential of these systems.

    The ability to produce unmanned aircraft more quickly and add new capabilities rapidly will unleash the potential of these systems.

    3-D printing was formerly a technology reserved for building prototypes and models, like machine tools or topographic models; but recent advances, including the ability to produce higher-quality products using a variety of materials, are opening entirely new frontiers in rapid design and production. The technology has the potential to reduce the amount of time and money that go into producing new aircraft. All defense contractors that build U.S. military aircraft currently use 3-D printing to a modest extent, but a significant expansion of these efforts could see production move from parts to entire systems.

    Robotic assembly is neither new nor unique to manufacturing. Car companies like Toyota and General Motors have extensively used robotic assembly for flexible manufacturing for years. Using this type of automated assembly to build planes would mean they could be finished in weeks or months — not years. In a crisis, robotic assembly would also allow contractors to build more aircraft in a hurry: instead of training highly skilled workers to man additional shifts or facilities, an automated assembly line could operate around the clock when needed with reduced manpower.

    Unmanned aircraft have proven to be a game changer in recent military operations because they can stay in the air longer than human-piloted aircraft and cost far less to use. Newer generations of unmanned aircraft will be able to fly further, take off from aircraft carriers, and fight alongside F-22s and F-35s. And they’ll be able to fly themselves so effectively that human operators can be trained faster and potentially fly multiple aircraft simultaneously.

    Using automated production lines to build unmanned aircraft would allow defense contractors to move new aircraft models from development to production to operation faster and more cheaply than is possible today.

    That would allow us to experiment with a variety of unmanned aircraft, from a model that specializes in aerial combat to, say, a model focused on suppression of enemy air defenses — even though some wouldn’t make it to large-scale production.

    Rather than trying to predict combat needs 50 years in the future, planners would focus on near-term, clearer needs.

    Rather than trying to predict combat needs 50 years in the future, planners would focus on near-term, clearer needs. We would build aircraft that last just 5 or 7 years, not 40 or even 70, and the military could update new models quickly, with improvements in communications or electronic warfare. In times of peace, that would keep potential adversaries guessing about what the Pentagon was actually moving into wide-scale production. During times of war, we could take the best prototypes and build whole fleets faster and cheaper than could be done today.

    The current acquisition process is optimized for 20th-century threats, and therefore is not suited for the rapid pace of technological change that we now face. Digital, adaptable, and automated production can take advantage of rapid change, and would force adversaries to try to be more innovative and fast-paced, an inherently cost-imposing strategy. That would be more valuable than any one-weapon system.

    Unmanned combat aircraft and advanced 3-D printing haven’t fully arrived, but they’re not as far away as many people think. More importantly, experimenting with these technologies could significantly change the national security dynamic. Now is the time to change the game — if we don’t, someone else will.

    Official U.S. Air Force / Flickr Creative Commons

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