The coming drone wars

Iran reports that it too has developed unmanned drones with the same range (1200 miles) as the US Predator drones. Earlier this year, China announced that it now had powerful new attack drones.

This should come as no surprise. The US use of such drones all over the world, with uses ranging from just surveillance to killing machines, was bound to trigger efforts by other countries to match that capability. Iran was undoubtedly helped by the capture of an intact US drone some time ago, enabling to do some reverse engineering.

And now that the US has unilaterally claimed that it has the right to use these unmanned vehicles to invade the airspace of other countries, other countries will doubtless also find the idea of being able to monitor the actions of its perceived enemies in other countries and even murder them highly attractive, because the risk of having a pilot captured has been removed. Drones offer the benefit of carrying out offensive missions with no risk of losing personnel, and thus the public seems to be more accepting of it.

Recall back in the 1950s, the US had stoutly denied that it was spying on the Soviet Union using high altitude U2 planes. But the Soviets managed to shoot down such a CIA spy plane in 1960, while leaving it almost intact, and capture its pilot Gary Powers and president Eisenhower had to concede that he had lied and negotiate a spy exchange in 1962. The lack of pilots in drones reduces inhibitions about using such vehicles.


  1. colnago80 says

    and president Eisenhower had to concede that he had lied and negotiate a spy exchange in 1962.

    Actually, Eisenhower was no longer president in 1962. It was Kennedy who negotiate the spy exchange.

  2. says

    Also, it’s not just pilot deniability; if you build the drone and its weapons right, or buy them in the right way, you may have complete deniability, even if the drone is shot down. The technology isn’t really that complex, and I would suspect you could build some fairly competent drones in a reasonable-sized lab with a clean room and off-the-rack parts, or parts custom-built by governments to not have identifiers on them. There’s also no particular reason that such a drone couldn’t carry dirty bombs, or be deployed by a well-funded country with a beef through terrorist proxies.

    The good news is, for the foreseeable future, anyway, the kind of drone that could possibly deploy a Tomahawk-style missile with a nuke tip is a lot more vulnerable and obvious, and building even a tiny nuke is an Extremely-Hard DC roll to make for even governments, with several adverse condition modifiers.

    Pandora’s coming out to play, and I don’t honestly know of any way to nudge her back into her box of nasty playthings.

  3. elpayaso says

    meh. national governments are the least of it. just wait til private industry and local cops all have these. the hills of Medocine county will all be “abuzz” every fall. and then there are the small ones they could deploy to follow people around……not sure the USSC holding on GPS tracking will help us much in that case. i foresee an increase in the sales of large-bore shotguns…..

    eventually, the 1%ers will all have one of these following them from their domed communities to their heavily guarded office complexes. i should try to trademark the name “Guardian Angel ™ drone” now, to provide for me in my old age…..

  4. Wylann says

    There was a sci-fi show not too long ago that had this same theme. Guess what happened when the AI got a little glitch?

    Yeah, semi-autonomous drones, armed, flying around large civilian populations. What could possibly go wrong?

  5. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Just a question about word use. Is it reasonable to ask your readers to recall an event that occurred before the majority of them were born? Is there a better and also reader friendly way to restate that? “History tells us”, or just ” In the 1950s…”? Sorry to be a pedant and grammar nazi.

    For a science fiction take on the drone wars, I refer you to Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age where in the near future, nanotechnology will enable nanodrones with ai and lidar that are present everywhere in the air such that one can tell what the current state of nanowarfare is by cupping one’s hands and holding it to their eye and peeking into the darkness and counting the flashes as little nanobots fight it out with each other.

    For another take on drone warfare, see Terminator, The, a powerful 1984 documentary describing the rise of the machines including drones that have been given the role and special abilities to perform as “HK”, Hunter-Killer.

    I say we all get shotguns and keep looking up.

  6. trucreep says

    The same scenario is playing out in terms of “cyber warfare.” The US releasing Stuxnet was a Pandora’s Box in it’s own right.

  7. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Good point. And I am certain NSA spying on US citizens will be used by NK and many other regimes as defense of their spying on their citizens.

  8. Nihilismus says

    Is it reasonable to ask your readers to recall an event that occurred before the majority of them were born?

    Yes, if you take into account that the readers may “recall” what they previously learned (during their lives) about historical events (before their lives).

  9. corporal klinger says

    “… Sorry to be a pedant and grammar nazi. …”

    Could we all agree, please, to limit the use of “nazi” to the atrocious things that were carried out by actual nazis and their heirs today who would like to pick up where it ended (never ended) for a short while in may 1945 , you know, things like genocide, extinction war, concentration camps, persecution of eveybody and everything not in line with the nazi ideology, destruction of whole nations incl. their own, countless millions of refugees, displaced and homeless people, orphans and widows. The almost complete and utter corruption of almost every aspect of life (medecin, arts, jurisdiction, science) and the almost complete brainwashing of a whole nation of people just like you and me, into support for this insane ideology until the bitter end.

  10. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    The whole drone evolution reminds me very much of the skies above France in the second decade of the last century. In The Great War, aircraft were first used for intelligence and spotting troop movements. Next, enterprising pilots started dropping grenades and small bombs on targets which led opposing pilots to take to the air with pistols to shot at the enemy pilots dropping bombs.

    The technology quickly advanced, as it is always does in wartime, and we very shortly had three classes of aircraft: spotters, bombers and pursuit aircraft or fighters.

    I see the same evolution occurring nearly a century later and we will soon hear of the first drone shooting down another drone.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess

  11. thewhollynone says

    Ooh, way cool! Is a drone an “arm” and does the Second Amendment guarantee that I can have one of those?

    We have a group here in south Mississippi whose members build and fly remote controlled model airplanes of all shapes and sizes, and said members are getting worried that the federal government is going to severely regulate their hobby– maybe out of existence.

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