This is the second of a multi-part series on drone warfare (Part One here). Today’s post examines why drones have become so popular in the military, as well as what role unmanned aircraft will play in the military’s future.
Why Drones Are So Popular with the Military
1. Hovering Ability – Drones such as the Predator and Reaper can hover over a target for hours, gathering intelligence and waiting for the opportune moment to strike. This ability to linger over a target is a new one for the military, one that has greatly increased the range of possible targets.
2. Covert Nature – The new generation of drones will possess stealth technology as well as the ability to launch from carriers. This combination will enable the United States to conduct strikes in almost any country in the world, friend or foe.
3. Low Cost – Cuts to the defense budget are likely as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq draw to a close, causing much stress for the top military brass. Weaponized drones are the most cost efficient way to prosecute Obama’s counterterrorism strategy, as a Predator costs only around $4.5 million.
4. Low Casualty Risk – Democratic nations are increasingly hindered by the increasing unwillingness of the general public to bear casualties. The negligible risk to American lives in unmanned warfare, combined with the low cost of unmanned equipment in general, makes the cost-benefit ratio inherently attractive to the military. The complete lack of risk and immense reach of drones makes drone warfare incredibly attractive as a tactic for policy makers.
5. Increasingly Unfit Population – The American population has become increasingly unfit for military service, leading to a reevaluation of the military’s approach to war. A shortage of competent soldiers provides a significant incentive to ramp up drone warfare.
The Immediate Future of Drone Warfare in Pakistan
Drone operations are likely to continue indefinitely in Pakistan because the military has no other palatable options for conducting operations against Taliban/al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Any positive effects that the United States gains out of the drone program, whether it be a decreased capability for the Taliban/al-Qaeda to do harm to US and NATO assets in Afghanistan or merely the perception of it through killing militant commanders, reinforces the value of drone warfare irrespective of collateral damage.
Future Drone Use
The ease of use for drones also enables the United States military to extend its reach further than was previously possible, striking at targets that were previously too risky or far away for manned aircraft. The perceived advantages of using drones likely means an expansion of theaters, meaning more wars of choice. Recent drone strikes in both Somalia and Yemen are indicative of the low price and long reach of drone warfare. As more strikes occur in places where the United States is not technically involved, the lines between intelligence and military options will continue to blur. Drone strikes could eventually not even be associated with the military in many instances: “‘The CIA’s role could very well expand over the coming years as the government deals with emerging terrorist threats,’ said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.” The increased reliance on unmanned vehicles, which coincided with President Obama’s accession to the presidency, indicates a strategic shift from counterinsurgency attempting to win a population over through protecting it to a more limited counterterrorism strategy that focuses almost exclusively on targeting militant and terrorist threats.