Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or what is popularly known as drones have been receiving a lot of attention from not just the citizens but also the militaries. Drones have been used for photography, filming, monitoring wildlife, and quite recently a drone was even used to deliver a heavenly pizza right to a doorstep (could this be the future?). As far as military and intelligence purposes are concerned, drones are being increasingly deployed in modern warfare because of its potential which is raising severe ethical questions in the minds of some, the most significant one being, should drone be used in modern warfare in the future?
Let us look at some advantages of drones and why they are used in warfare:
Advantages of Using Drones in War
- Detailed Surveillance: Drones can slip across international borders with relative ease without putting human personnel at risk. They are capable of lingering at high altitudes over potential targets for days without being noticed. Drones are exceptionally efficient to know the ‘daily patterns of life’ and provide 24*7 surveillance of the target before their confirmation and decisions to strike with lethal force.
- Reduced Collateral Damage: The traditional weapons of war like mines, bombs, artilleries, etc. cause more collateral damage to people and property than when you use drones. This is because, with drones, the computer software that models the blast area of the proposed strike and the missiles to be launched is so accurate that there are very few civilian casualties. It is estimated that ever since US began conducting drone strikes post the 9/11 attacks, 174 to 1,047 civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. This accounted for around 8%-17% of all deaths from US drones. When you compare this with casualties of World War II which had 40% to 67% fatalities, there is clear evidence how drones help save lives of the innocent.
- Make Personnel Safer: Drones are cheap, soldiers’ lives are not. As simple as that. Drones are operated from offices that are well removed from where the war or war-like situation is. More often than not, these places are extremely dangerous, remote, and environmentally unforgiving. To make things worse, there are added layers of threats like landmines, suicide bombers or other explosive devices that can pose a serious risk for a military personnel. Drone strikes can eliminate all these risks.
In spite of these advantages, there are certain limitations of using drones.
Disadvantages of Using Drones in War
- Drone Strikes Create More Terrorists: Civilian opinions about drones are mostly negative as drones are considered to be intruding into their personal lives and pose a constant threat to their safety. People who witness their family or loved ones get injured or killed in drone strikes just because they happened to be in the same zone as a terrorist, get agitated to the point that they become motivated to join hands with terrorists. The number of core members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula grew from 300 in the year 2009 to 700 in the year 2012 because of an increase in drone strikes by the US. Drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia were the motivation behind the ‘Times Square Bomber’ who tried to set off a bomb in 2010 in New York City.
- Emotional Disconnect from War: As the military personnel are physically miles away from the horrors of war, there is a possibility that they may become emotionally disconnected. Killing a terrorist would be reduced to the press of a button and the loss of a life would merely be a blip on the screen. Those who are against drones being used in warfare argue that drone strikes are a lot like playing video games. In a 2012 interview with New York Times, drone pilot D. Scott Brenton acknowledged this by stating that fighting away from the war land was a lot like fighting a “telewar with a joystick and a throttle”.
- Drone Strikes Eliminate Interrogations: Useful and confidential information or secrets of national importance can be obtained from terrorists when they are captured in a war. However, killing a target using a drone, completely eliminates this possibility and the opportunity to recover any documents of great strategic value are totally lost. Thus, drones may not always be the best choice when long-term wars are being fought.
Despite growing concerns surrounding the use of drones in modern warfare, the fact cannot be denied that drones have and will contribute a lot to the advancement of national security objectives. Although there are a lot of areas that need to be worked upon to eliminate the limitations of drones, there is a definite possibility that such drones would be able to work in complete harmony with the military bases and ground forces near the war site.