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The Drone War Goes Global

U.S. airborne drones now striking in half-a-dozen countries. The world and future of drone warfare.

A U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. (AP)

A U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. (AP)

In the Hollywood version, the Star Wars version of war, the guys using drones to fire down on rebels are rarely the good guys.

Drones are too cold, faceless, lethal to win the crowd. But around the world, drones –- for reconnaissance and for lethal attack –- are increasingly the face of the U.S. military.

In half a dozen countries now, they can and do rain down sudden, devastating violence. They’re cheaper than “boots on the ground.” They’re easier and quieter to deploy. They’re the future, experts say.

And very busy right now. But where does drone war go?

This hour On Point: Drone war.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Peter Singer, senior fellow and director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is also the author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

John Arquilla, professor and director of the Information Operations Center, department of defense analysis, at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author of Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military.

Matt Martin, U.S. Air Force pilot, he ‘flew’ Predator combat and surveillance missions over Afghanistan and Iraq from 2004 to 2008. He now trains future UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] pilots for the Air Force. Author of “Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story.”

The New America Foundation keeps a running tall of reported drone strikes. You can see their work here.

Map of Af-Pak Drone strikes
View Map of Af-Pak Drone strikes in a larger map

From Tom’s Reading List:


More:

Here’s a report on drone technology from the Air Force.

Here’s a critical report on the nature of the drone campaign from Russian Television.

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  • Michael

    of course it will.

    Not threat or harm to the one flying it. since most if not all are unmanned, one..cough…cough…. can use them and claim there not in hostilities or war. Good PR for public consumption since no U.S. troops are dying(of course it totally terrible PR around the world and kills civilians as well as targets(targets aka assassination of people without the court system or requiring evidence or proof to back such claim.) It also detaches the person flying such drone from reality where as the people killed become faceless #’s.

  • Michael

    Also RT News is a pretty descent source where one can find a wide arrange of voices and information not to mention the reporters are often far better than much of the MSM. Funny since it’s Russian. You find on there, BBC, Euro News, RIA news, Guardian,Dem Now,the telegraph,al jazeera  that these drone attacks on civilians are often under reported in the U.S. or cleansed and sanitized before U.S. public consumption.

    L. Wilkson was a guest on Onpoint before  (which is being quoted in the second video). would be nice if onpoint had him on tomorrow.

  • Michael

    Also RT News is a pretty descent source where one can find a wide arrange of voices and information not to mention the reporters are often far better than much of the MSM. Funny since it’s Russian. You find on there, BBC, Euro News, RIA news, Guardian,Dem Now,the telegraph,al jazeera  that these drone attacks on civilians are often under reported in the U.S. or cleansed and sanitized before U.S. public consumption.

    L. Wilkson was a guest on Onpoint before  (which is being quoted in the second video). would be nice if onpoint had him on tomorrow.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDH4GYJMIUFU373W3XUQVD2V4E Patrick

    I’m sick of the loyal opposition.  Let’s stop asking if illegal raids of aggression are “worth it”  …. how about we ask if we should be doing it in the first place.  How about asking how disgusted our grandchildren will be with our foreign policy/

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    Jane Mayer at The New Yorker wrote an excellent piece on this:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2009/10/jane-mayer-predators-drones-pakistan.html

  • Jay

    I really like RT, they discuss lot of topics that On Point, Here & Now, and NPR REFUSE to cover, such as the A.T.F.’s:

                             Operation “Fast and Furious”

  • Cory

    Imagine another country sending robots to our country to kill their political opponents.  How would we feel/react?

    In the context of history, our behavior in this manner is absurd.  We will someday reap what we have sown.

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    The problem with drones is that they decontextualize killing: computer game whizzes are driving them sitting in a dark room in Colorado.

    People who get their hands dirty in war tend to return with a broader world view about its costs.

    A piece of me thinks politicians (Bush, Cheney, Obama and the louts in Congress) would not be so fast to get involved in wars had they been involved in wars themselves. Drones make war even more abstract and “easy” and because of this they’re as dangerous as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

  • Michael

    The great generational threat

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/07/09/terrorism/index.html

    In just the past two months alone (all subsequent to the killing of
    Osama bin Laden), the U.S. Government has taken the following steps in
    the name of battling the Terrorist menace: extended the Patriot Act by four years without a single reform; begun a new CIA drone attack campaign in Yemen; launched drone attacks in Somalia; slaughtered more civilians in Pakistan; attempted to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki far from any battlefield and without a whiff of due process; invoked secrecy doctrines to conceal legal memos

    Little by little the gov is stripping it’s citizens of both rights and morals. While some gladly throw such away for a fake sense of security.

  • Yar

    How would you react to the story:
    “The FBI has successfully used a drone to take out a truck traveling on interstate 75  the subsequent crash killed 7 in collateral damage?  Authorities feel sure they eliminated a truck load of meth.  Authorities decided to use the drone strike because budget cuts have made hiring additional  officers impossible.”

    If you are appalled at use of technology in your own nation then you should be equally upset with its use in a another country. 
    The escalation of war is is a real problem, when we attempt to use technology to our advantage we are countered with a more virulent form of hate rhetoric from the other side.  
    Did anyone ever stop to really think about why we are in these wars in the first place?  Way before 9/11, white man carved up the middle east into districts for the benefit of exploiting the people and their resources.  Our advantage in the world has come at the expense of world exploitation.  2 percent of the population using 20 percent of resources with an arrogance of entitlement.
    I don’t have an answer, but I don’t see us as a white knight either.  The whole world is past its carrying capacity  unless we all work together, and the most change will be required of those who use the most resources.  Understanding why we are hated is useful when looking for a solution,  if we put all of our war energy into reducing energy consumption and sustainable farming, could we destroy our enemies by making friends?
    I would like to see a grain program where we plow up or destroy opium crops and pay the farmer in a equal value of grain that will grow on the land.  If the farmer will plant grain for 3 years then we agree to help purchase harvesting equipment.  I like using in kind payments because it shows the value in the agriculture product we are trying to get the farmer to use instead of feeding the drug trade.  
    How many nuclear bombs have to explode before we seriously look for another way out?

    • Cory

      I love it when people say, “they hate us because of our freedom”.

  • Anonymous

    I find the use of drones a bit troubling as well. Is seems efficient, for military purposes, but at the same time, it seems like the worst use of technology. What happened to detaining suspected criminals and the rule of law? No need, when you can blow them off of the road by remote control plane. http://michaelmaczesty.blogspot.com/2011/06/non-talking-head.html

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

    If you saw the movie The Battle of Los Angeles and The Day the Earth Stood Still” they used drones to battle aliens. I like it, less expense in training military pilots and prevent pilots from dying. It’s a new techonology and there will be ups and downs but in the long run it will be a good investment. Drones are the future of military hardware and the private sectors. God Speed Virgin Galactic

    • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

      Actually the soldiers on the ground who Calls the air strikes are responsible for the strikes. it does not matter if it’s drones or real planes. Drone’s camera can ZOOM in at the target but air plance pilots cannot do that (except for Cobras and Apaches). they rely on ground surveillance.

    • Cory

      Let’s make waging war as antiseptic and comfortable as possible.

      • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

        Whatever you say War will always be with Us for it is the nature of mankind – said to say that. war against your neighbor, war against while driving (road rage), war with fellow workers (arguement) war with spouse (domestic violence) and the list goes on. Yes make believe movies are here with us right now. Touch screen computers when that started in the movies. Don’t be sa Naive about the history of technologies or Science.

        “Make believe are bound to happen”

    • Cory

      Soldiers dying while killing our opponents makes us contemplate whether or not war is worthwhile.  BTW, movies you mentioned are makebelieve.

      • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

        Really makebelieve? You are cute Cory. Where did they FIRST show touch screen computers? the Movies, right. You said are make believe but we are actually using them right now.

  • Revelz

    Just another example of putting the risk on one side and the decision-making on the other.

  • Bill

    I wonder what the US response would be if a country like Mexico launched drone attacks into the US to go after what they have determined to be legitimate targets as part of their war on drugs? And if they caused innocent civilian deaths here in the US?

  • Revfredj

    I’m going to be a little bombastic – but isn’t using drones cowardly?  It kills without risk of being killed.  Today is the anniversary of Aaron Burr’s defeat of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. I’m not saying dueling is right – but it isn’t cowardly.  Maybe Obama should duel Kadafi. 

  • john in danvers

    We’re already using them along the borders and law enforcement can’t wait to get their hands on them.  Where the rubber hits the road will be at the next political convention, where drones will likely monitor protestors, prove their worth, then we’ll have them everywhere.  

  • Vegidrew

    what about hacking a drone’s programing.  hen will this come back to haunt us.

  • Jay

    I find it very hypocritical for President Obama to be so adamantly opposed to school vouchers when he sends his own two daughters to an elite private school.

    It’s easy to understand why President Obama is so strongly opposed to school vouchers, the teachers unions (N.E.A.) is the single largest financial contributor to the democratic party.

    Follow the money, the teachers unions care more about their rich retirement programs, than educating students.

  • Vegidrew

    What happens when a lethal drone is hacked.  It’s just a matter of time before this comes back to haunt us.

    • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

      Terminator movies style of hacking?

  • Freeman

    Tom & Guest;
                      You and your guest should “step back” and analyze this whole military thing. Yes, Drones are a good technology; albeit they didn’t get Bin Ladin. And what about the “collateral damage” issue. Going to be really interesting WHEN your enemies have the same technology. Why is America becoming such a WAR nation. I implore you to re-read D.D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation. Look at the foreign countrys and what THEIR military do to their people. What about the military and the Bradley Manning situation; when the Military usurps the principles of a civilian government. Hmmmm

  • Seb

    Isn’t the increasing use of modern drones a direct translation of the lightning war which started 20 years ago ? Less ground forces, less humans directly risking their lives and more precise and devastating strikes. A “safer” approach to an unsafe business. Isn’t the genesis of warfare nowadays the true problem ? After all, a weapon that’s cold, faceless and lethal is answering warfare needs. Isn’t it a logic evolution of war equipment ?

  • JOE PATRIOT

    When I see film of the Islamic terrorist animals flying airplanes into our buildings on 9/11, it is quite enjoyable to see video taken from drones of Taliban and other vermin scurrying about a building like cockroaches, not aware of the fact that in a matter of seconds they will be blown to smitereens.

    • Psanta

      “Waxing hajis is like stomping cockroaches.  Gets me thirsty!”

      My favorite quote from this war and surprisingly relevant to your post! 

  • Sean

     Will Drones continue to be as relevent, since World War II wars have become increasingly asymetric. Will our enemies simply adapt to drone warfare, the same way heavy armor become obsolete in the dense jungles of Vietnam and large mountains of Afghanistan

  • Sean

    Tom

    Will Drones continue to be as relevent, since World War II wars have become increasingly asymetric. Will our enemies simply adapt to drone warfare, the same way heavy armor become obsolete in the dense jungles of Vietnam and large mountains of Afghanistan.SeanDes Moines

  • Bill

    So – how soon do counter-drone products come to market? There will be money in it so it is inevitable. When will we start hearing stories of drones designed to attack drones?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

      Up until now, drones have operated in relatively permissive environments. Curiously, in Iraq, Afghan, Pak and Africa there has been a strange absence of the shoulder fired rocket, that defeated the russians.

      In a real war, these drones will be sitting ducks from even high caliber weapons.  

  • Jay Thomas

    These drones will be utilized for questionable and unnecessary applications. Assassinations, coups, monitoring political opponents, furthering capitalistic interests (illegal), with no oversight! All funded by China!!!

    In the future, will we use the drones to monitor “issues” and “conflicts” in places like China… How does that impact their funding of our debt (our military).

    We’ve already slipped down this slippery slope.

  • Dpweber83

    All hail drones!

  • Phillip

    Hi, Tom:
    What goes around, comes around.  How soon before a single bad group or another nation gets drone technology sufficient to fly into another “good” country and kill people?

  • Dpweber83

    Who the H*&$^ let this caller on?

    The United States is straight up not committing genocide, and there have been lots of ways of targeting individuals throughout the history of warfare.  Heather would do well to look up the etymology of the word “assassin.”

    -dan
    Boston, MA

    • Psanta

      It’s a shame that our men and women are over their fighting for Heather’s right to dispense such blather!  We should send her over there so she can spend some “quality time” with those “poor people” who would sooner behead her than acknowledge her as a person, let alone a woman. 

  • http://users.rcn.com/freshlit Jim Smith

    Can there be any argument against the idea that the constitutional separation of powers, shored up for a new age by the War Powers Act, clearly places on congress the job (the authority, but also the dread responsibility) of using America’s coercive military might to compel international behaviour?  

  • Freeman

    Tom;
             Might be a good time to Re-read the “Unibomber Manifesto”.

  • Anonymous

    I think we are missing the forest for the trees: the CIA should only be doing *intelligence* work — and *not* carrying out physical actions.

    So, only the military should operate drones with weapons.  The CIA drones should only be capable of intelligence gathering.

    Neil

  • BHA in Vermont

    Does ANYONE believe that ‘bad feelings toward the USA’ are any different if the bomb comes from a drone piloted by someone in North America or a jet fighter or bomber?

    If the drones are immoral because there is no pilot physically in them, why is it not immoral to use a GPS targeted ship to shore missile? There is no one on the ship that can see the target.

    I would argue that a drone is more moral in that the pilot can see the target, as they used to in WWII. They can choose to NOT fire if what was expected to be found is NOT what they actually see. By far they have more knowledge of who or what is in the target area.

  • Mjbjr

    This is a small piece of the larger issues brought on by our quest for “progress” and technology.  Earlier someone on the show said something to the effect of “this isn’t terminator, yet”  I find “yet” to be a good place to pause and concept to sit with.  It is our nature to screw it all up.  The time for a great upheaval and restructuring of civilization is getting closer and closer.  The best hope we have is to emerge on the other side with a much more agrarian civilization connected to the world….not monitored and disciplined by drones….good luck to us all….

  • AC

    I’m sorry I missed most of this show, as I’ve always wondered who & how the rules of engagement are written??
    Since people seem to use ‘ethical/moral’ arguments around this type of warfare – I personally think ‘terrorism is the cheapest, dirtiest tactic to fight with and I can’t think how you can defeat it? Ideas? 
    All my ideas seem focused around educating their youth, but you’d have to go beyond that to disrupt what-ever fanatical brainwashing they’re already being fed. That leaves ‘mind-control’  -  which seems worse than using clones to try & hit specific targets only….so my idea stinks.
    I also don’t think we’ll ever see the end of ‘suicide bombing’ in my lifetime – it works, so any fanatic with a point has and will use it (foreign or not, btw)…
    That being said, I do feel kinda like the ‘bad guys’ in a movie using these things – it’s lacking the ‘balance’ of an honorable fight…..

  • AC

    I’m sorry I missed most of this show, as I’ve always wondered who & how the rules of engagement are written??
    Since people seem to use ‘ethical/moral’ arguments around this type of warfare – I personally think ‘terrorism is the cheapest, dirtiest tactic to fight with and I can’t think how you can defeat it? Ideas? 
    All my ideas seem focused around educating their youth, but you’d have to go beyond that to disrupt what-ever fanatical brainwashing they’re already being fed. That leaves ‘mind-control’  -  which seems worse than using clones to try & hit specific targets only….so my idea stinks.
    I also don’t think we’ll ever see the end of ‘suicide bombing’ in my lifetime – it works, so any fanatic with a point has and will use it (foreign or not, btw)…
    That being said, I do feel kinda like the ‘bad guys’ in a movie using these things – it’s lacking the ‘balance’ of an honorable fight…..

    • Mill

      “All my ideas seem focused around educating their youth, but you’d have
      to go beyond that to disrupt what-ever fanatical brainwashing they’re
      already being fed.”

      _

      What do you mean by education? Are you implying that terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri and Mohammad Atta were uneducated and/or illiterate?

      • AC

        interesting question. I’m pretty sure my own perspective on ‘education’ may be part of the problem by it’s definition.
        ‘Formally’ educated or not, their rational processes became corrupt. I guess I don’t believe you should spread intolerance and call for war/death based on ‘dreams’. Perhaps I’m mis-informed, but that is what I understood underscored his role as ‘prophet’ to his followers.
        I, perhaps I alone, do not approve of this and feel people should ‘taught’ to be wary of charlatans, which (again, personally), anyone who claims to have direct access to God and His plans is to me…..

      • AC

        also, i had a muslim friend from Nigeria in college and he spent some time in Afghanistan/Pakistan. He once told me (bitterly) that it was easier, as a student, to get a gun then a piece of paper….that’s always stuck with me…

  • Pingback: The Feds’ global drone war | Southern Nationalist Network

  • David Punia

    For as long as humankind has been fighting itself, one of the principle deterrents to war has been the cost in human life for the warring tribes. It is generally not the loss of life to the opposition that sways popular opinion, but the losses suffered by families and friends at home. 

    The automation of war and concomitant reduction of risk to our own greatly reduces the personal cost to the populous. It is then much easier for the military and political leadership to convince the people of the acceptability of war. Without personal cost, what is the disincentive for those who do not take a moral or philosophical antiwar stance?

    It just gets easier and easier to wage war, and easier to overlook the consequences.

  • mary

    Obama the war criminal.

    • Mill

      Sacrilege!! How dare you criticize a Democrat? We’re the good guys, and you need to criticize “them” not “us.” ;)

  • Ben

    I’m surprised no one is mentioning a SkyNet scenario.  Aren’t Drones the first step to being eliminated by our mechanical progeny?

    Also, on a less sci-fi note, the other nacent technology of cyber warfare seems to point to a major weakness of remote controlled warplanes.  How difficult would it be for a nation like China to make a Stuxnet-like virus to override our connection to the Drones and cause them to malfunction or worse, turn their guns back on us… ?

    Has Hollywood taught us nothing? 

  • twenty-niner

    Maybe another peace prize would curtail some of these bombing runs for a few weeks.

    • twenty-niner

       Obama’s new campaign poster:

  • Lars95028

    We should know by now that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle whether it is an automated loom or an atomic bomb technology marches on and drones are here to stay.  The question should be “what do we have to do or give up to live with this changed world?”  

  • Psanta

    I am disgusted by the comments of my so called “fellow Americans”.  The individuals being targeted by these drones are not innocent civilians or candidates for sainthood.  They’re TERRORISTS! 

    These are the same people who danced in the streets on September 11th when thousands of innocent American civilians were slaughtered at their desks! 

    These are the same people who build the IEDs that tear the arms off hundreds of our sons, brothers, fathers, friends and neighbors. 

    If we stop one bomb from being built, one American arm  or leg from being blown off, the whole program is a stunning success! 

    America needs to remember that war is, by definition, a collection of attrocities.   Unless and until we remember this and practice it as a strategy (like we did with the atomic bombs in WWII) we will not win another war.  Nor will we deserve to. 

    • Michael

      You forgot to add

      “They hate us for our freedoms”

      13 militants, 7 civilians35% percent civilian death rate in this case. so 35% of the people killed by the drone attack were in fact innocent civilians or aka candidates for sainthood.  One thing is for sure is those 7 innocent civilians killed families aren’t praising the us and may have increase the # of new militants.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/23/AR2010082305107.html

      P.S. the U.S. have not won a single war since WW2

  • Romanstoad

    Drone war should be against the geneva convention.  There is no risk for risk. When the drones are used against us we will call it  unfair, we might even call it terrorism.   Bombs that can strike out of nowhere, you can’t see them, you don’t know they are there. Its a futuristic nightmare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charles-Zigmund/100000590089238 Charles Zigmund

    Tom Ashbrook said that in the movies the bad guys use drones, but here we are using drones ourselves. Hey Tom, haven’t you figured out yet that we ARE the bad guys? If you took a world survey how would we come out, as the bad guys or the good guys? And if we shrug it off and say opinion polls don’t determine right and wrong, well, wouldn’t the Nazis have said the same?

  • Jjmcmillin

    We are literally creating our own demise.  Our military industrial complex of industries is devising weapons which will eventually be sold to our enemies, if they have not already.  The next 9/11 will be carried out by drones or our own design, with no need for those willing to sacrifice their own lives by hijacking an airplane.  Just as civilians are fair game in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and who know where else, Americans will no longer be any safer than those in the World Trade Towers on 9/11.  Our President has already used the powers Congress awarded Cheney/Bush to go to war, without calling it war.  Drones are not “boots on the ground” so, “technically” we are not at war!!  And Americans are totally out of the loop because most of us do not know or care what the CIA is doing in other nations.
    We are financing all this as a pretense of “defense” and it is in reality occupation of other nations and breaking our economy because Congress and the Administration WILL NOT TALK ABOUT DEFENSE SPENDING, except TO SIMPLY INCREASE THE MILITARY BUDGET YEAR AFTER YEAR, literally without debate.  Congress even funded weapons the military DID NOT REQUEST this month.  Instead, we have a President who is allowing Congressional small minds to force a government shutdown.  They do this by focusing on cutting essential social services and secretly maintaining war status spending on Constitutionally illegal wars in five nations. Having war and NOT PAYING FOR IT.  IF WE MUST HAVE WAR, THEN WE MUST BE WILLING TO PAY FOR IT.  IF CONGRESS WERE TO ASK AMERICANS HOW MANY WERE WILLING TO PAY FOR THESE WARS, OUR TROOPS WOULD BE HOME.

  • alan

    better to use drones than to put american soldiers at risk.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LE4UIHMZ5O74TQG2MYEEPFTWEI Shawn

    If Americans don’t develop and use drones, the enemies of America will develop and use drones against us.  Do we really want a world controlled by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose freedom of religion.  Americans are the good guys because we support the rights of women, religion, speech, etc.  Anyone who wants Islamic law across the world should go ahead and denounce the drones.  To me, drone pilots are the best defense against a world where Islamic leaders run every country… a true nightmare scenario.

    • Ldjfdsl

      Your arguement is based on fallacies and unreasonable fear but i think that you know that. The war on “terror” should be fought by gathering intel on specific high value targets and then engaging those targets with special forces and close combat NOT by occupying entire countries and then holding their population accountable to indiscriminate airstrikes carried out from a base in Texas or where ever. If a forgein power was operating in such a way in America’s back yard we would surely fight against it, but we would be defending our freedoms whereas they are now “terrorists.” I believe that the nature of our occupation in iraq and afganistan has created more  “terrorists” than it has prevented and that the use of drones is a part of that misguided attempt to strike back at an enemy that we are creating. Our forgein policy has created a positive feedback loop of “terror” and its time we re-evaluate our strategic method.

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