The Drone at the Door

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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21 Responses

  1. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Agreed in full.Report

  2. George Turner says:

    I don’t think drones change very much in terms of what we could’ve done with conventional aircraft, it’s just that we were designing our aircraft for speed or payload instead of extended loiter. Certainly the pilot puts a lower limit on aircraft size while penallizing payload and endurance, but if you’re will to accept a larger aircraft, almost any drone mission could be done with a pilot and a weapons operator panning a camera platform. They could perform such a mission in anything from a motorized sailplane mounting Maverick missiles to a Cessna, King Air, or Gulfstream.

    I’d argue that the innovation that makes drones seem like a game-changer comes from the camera and guided missile system that allows precision targeting and attack from cruising altitudes, essentially aerial sniping with an explosive warhead, and the aircraft and tactics that were optimized for this role, not whether the pilot sits in the cockpit or on the ground. I’d also venture that the legal and ethical problems arose because we’re using drones for missions where we wouldn’t justify risking a flight crew, even though we could. Perhaps the technology lowered the ethical bar for the decision makers (it removed the risk of pilots killed or captured, especially while violating sovereign airspace), but I don’t think it changed much for the trigger pullers.

    If we had unkillable, uncapturable super-snipers (perhaps robots) armed with recoilless rifles or guided anti-tank missiles, the same problems would exist.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to George Turner says:

      Yes, this is the quibble I have with ‘the ability to kill “bad guys” without declaring war, putting American lives (well, most American lives) at risk;’.

      This precise power has been around since (and used since) Clinton – the TLAM strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the African embassy bombings are, as pointed out on another thread, drones by another name. (and apparently, the Libya strikes conducted by Reagan in the aftermath of Locherbie was supposed to be done by (the first ever real world use of) Tomahawks, but something had gone wrong with the ship that was supposed to launch them right before the operation, so it wound up being an F-14 air strike)Report

      • George Turner in reply to Kolohe says:

        Yes, and we lost an F-111 crew in the Libyan strike. Kadaffy toned things down after that, whereas Bin Laden ramped up, which raises the question of whether a drone strike fails to convey the same seriousness of intent, the difference between “We will shoot at you” and “We will send highly trained people to kill you.” Perhaps that’s a subtle distinction, but it still might be important.

        And rarely do I see the argument that Clinton essentially set the stage for 9/11 by burning “shocking surprise kamikaze attack carried out by jets flying into buildings” into their brains. From that perspective we’d perhaps be better off not using methods that can be duplicated fairly easily with commodity items, old artillery shells, and access to a bit of aeronautical engineering and video games.Report

    • bookdragon01 in reply to George Turner says:

      We discuss drones as though they are something new, but the basic tech to make a surveillance drone has been around since at least the 80s and with the miniature recording and transmitting devices available today to anyone with a modest budget, any kid who can assemble a radio controlled airplane could make one (adding a payload is more difficult, but not impossible). I say this, in part, because there is no reason to believe that a terrorist would never have used that sort of device against us regardless of whether or not we used it first.

      And, yes, if we had ‘battledroids’ someone (almost certainly someone who had never served in combat) would complain that they were immoral.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    America’s version of suicide bombers.Report

  4. Wardsmith says:

    We’ll be /much/ happier with drones once they’re properly under Skynet’s exclusive supervision.Report

  5. Roger says:

    Awesome piece, Elias.Report

  6. Chris says:

    Drones make me think that Jean Baudrillard is a genius.

    Constant war without ever actually fighting a war.

    Plus, everyone who’s ever flown a Stuka in Battlefield 1942 is sufficiently trained to fight a war.Report

  7. Tom Van Dyke says:

    It’s worth noting, however, that calling Living Under Drones (LUD) a “report,” while strictly accurate, is possibly somewhat misleading. The word implies a level of objectivity, an empiricism, that LUD quite consciously rejects. The authors of this document are making an impassioned, thoughtful, rigorous but ultimately political argument. In my eyes, there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s impossible to discuss policy intelligently without inevitably bringing politics into the conversation. But understand that LUD is not the equivalent of a report from the Rand Corporation. (For more on the report’s biases, check Joshua Foust’s latest in The Atlantic.)

    300 cheers for this model proviso, Elias. Respekt.Report