Stumbling around in the Internet cellar a few days ago, I tripped over a seemingly endless list of sites offering drones for sale. I was not unaware the recreational flying missiles had become popular. Nor was I unmindful of the fact that the stupid among us have already created some serious concerns flying them near airports or busy highways. But, I wasn’t prepared for dozens of ads offering “APEX Warhawk drone with HD Camera for less than $150 – and free shipping” or “drones for kids” at $32 and with half a dozen different sizes and styles to choose from.
It set me wondering how long it might be before the ungodly chorus that chants “guns don’t kill people” after each mass murder by firearms expands its embrace to include a weapon that can kill from a distance. “Drones don’t kill people” doesn’t have a familiar ring yet, but the way things are going it won’t be long.
Already on the debating table is the phrase “targeted killing” coined by USA forces battling ISIS in the Middle East. One side argues the drone is a fair weapon of war because it is actually “piloted” by a human being working a computer joy stick, hundreds of kilometers away. Non-military minds argue that killing by an explosives-loaded drone directed to destroy a specific individual or small group suspected of terrorism is an “assassination” and should be classified as murder.
The debate continues as drones become more readily available in size, payload capacity and cost and with many available as do-it-yourself kits ready for assembly. The “civilian” models now being offered with fast free delivery, and the pun probably intended, are specifically designed to carry cameras.
A few years ago, even the most modest mechanics found it easy to use camera mounts as mini-bomb holders. They became popular with terrorist organizations with the larger models quickly nicknamed “kamikaze” because they looked like a fixed-wing aircraft and carried an explosive warhead. They were relatively cheap to buy or build, though not known for accuracy; but like the first home computers purchased only by science class geeks, the early generation of drones moved quickly from being an interesting new toy to essential streamlined battlefield equipment.
In the forefront of invention were Israel and the USA. Both now have drones easily carried, launched and controlled by infantry and can be fired kilometers from their targets. The US model is called Switchblade, the Israeli – Hero-30. They boast advanced warheads and a communications system that cannot be jammed. It should be noted that the USA Central Intelligence Agency has long boasted about the accuracy of its computer-guided and controlled drone and smart bomb strikes, but has never been too convincing when explaining its “misses” or “collateral damage,” which is politely defined as “damage to other than the intended target.”
Media and humanitarian organizations tend to go high end when totaling the dead. The CIA tends to classify any casualties not in uniform as “tribesmen,” thus inferring they were really militants. Other observers list them as “civilians” – collateral damage. The CIA and military officials say “regrettable but acceptable.” Humanitarians say “regrettable and unacceptable” because the drone pilot cannot be absolutely sure who is in the target areas and, and if he or she kills only one innocent is guilty of assassination.
The latest drone unveiled a matter of days ago and probably already “improved on” is equipped with something called Vanomap. It enables the drone to navigate through a forest at 32klm an hour from launch point to target. It claims 99 percent accuracy in weaving around trees and finding its target but the “pilot” pulling the trigger has no way of knowing if the people milling about on his video monitor are terrorists or a family celebrating a wedding.
In the blink of an eye death comes calling in a modern acceptable military victory – or the assassination of innocents which has gained in acceptance in every war fought since “total war” and collaterally damaged civilians became the norm.