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Armed UAS drones need no defending

Predator Unmanned Attack VehicleI was curious about the etymology of the term “drone” applied to military (& DHS) Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft, these days, mostly Armed. Obviously Armed UAS are not named after the stingless unproductive bees whose task it is to impregnate the queen, nor lazy idlers, nor clueless computer sales techies, nor thankless menial worker drones. Anyone who’s been around Radio Controlled model planes knows drones are named for the sound they make, a steady drone as they labor across the sky. While military aerial surveillance predates the Wright Brothers, and RC model airplanes have been around for half that time, it took the advent of asymmetric warfare to open the window to military drones. Their constant buzz offering the most intractable reason.

By “asymmetric” I do not mean the US intelligence code for off-textbook warfare, for counter-insurgency methods outside von Clausewitz etiquette. I mean the inherency they obscure, war between foes lopsided.

Look at a drone’s design. It’s more Gossamer Condor than military aircraft. Obviously an unmanned vehicle comprises fewer mechanical systems because it doesn’t need to propel, nor sustain, a crew of human beings. It might need less armature for the same reason, except of course, today’s drones are of high value in their own right. So why no armament?

Why too, no powerful jet engines or swept wings for aeronautic superiority? This drone looks about as robust as a paper glider. Laymen can distinguish bombers from jet fighters, as they can trucks from a race cars. I’d say the military drone resembles more a stick insect than its accidental namesake the bee. Do Armed UASs have no need for evasive maneuver capability?

I’ll ask another obvious question, why do drones carry no customary insignia designating to whose side it belongs? In particular this element would be of primary importance when encountered by other aircraft.

But a drone doesn’t encounter enemy aircraft, nor allied aircraft who might confuse it for belonging to an adversary, because drones operate where aerial supremacy is already absolute. The key to a drone’s military usefulness is that there is no opponent to shoot it down.

An Armed UAS can drone all it wants, taking its sweet time laying siege to defenseless objectives and other targets of opportunity. The US Predator or Reaper models can glide when they want to surveil in silence, although otherwise their motors project their presence with the deliberate imposition of a school hall monitor. It is more efficient to deter the placing of IEDs than to try to catch insurgents in the act.

Meanwhile all civilians are terrorized by the sound, associating it with sudden, unpredictable and often unjustified destruction and death.

The WWII German Stuka dive bomber had inverted gull wings which were thought to produce a horrifying wail as the notorious aircraft attacked city populations, Guernica among them. In fact the sound was produced by a siren the Nazis called Jericho’s Trumpet, mounted purposefully to spread fear on the ground. Like modern drones, the Stuka were not designed to fend off attackers from the sky.

Before the fighter planes of WWI, artillery spotters would rise in balloons to survey the enemy trenches. From these tethered balloons, artillery strikes could be directed with increasing accuracy. These remote eyes in the sky were the rudiments of aerial surveillance, the precursors to today’s Armed UAS. The balloons were manned obviously, and they weren’t armed, but the spotters they held aloft were despised much as drones are today. When WWI biplanes eventually came along to pick off the balloonists like sitting ducks, the soldiers in the trenches were jubilant.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban had been fortified by the US military. We’d helped the Taliban destabilize the region, to force Russia’s hand in rushing to restore order to its southern neighbor. We wanted to draw the Russian troops in before we assisted the Afghan insurgency with the real weapons it needed to combat their invaders’ superior fire power. When Bin Laden’s Mujihadeen and the Taliban got US Stinger Missiles, the Russians could no longer deploy their helicopter gunships with impunity and the end drew near.

Eventually whoever drew the US into its war on Islam, is going to start distributing the means to take the US out. It might be Stinger Missiles or a modern equivalent. Eventually someone will develop sympathy for the victimized Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza (add Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc) and help them flick the killer drones from the sky.

Would attacking the drones provide retribution enough, knowing that the real operators are safe in virtual cockpit command centers located safely within US homeland borders. Would it be sufficient to keep clearing the skies of drones, or will our victims have to weed US drones from the roots?

Will the drones prove as easily replaceable as GIs? The American Public keeps count of its lost soldiers, but in no way has this stanched the flow of fresh reinforcements. We do not count expended ordnance, or expensive equipment fallen casualty. Would such tallies discourage the war mongers or encourage weapons industry stockholders?

The American public has shown itself mostly contemptuous of the economic-draft soldiers who man today’s volunteer army, the deaths accumulate, but working poor are expendable. What about those who joined the military to clean up their act? We don’t want those back. After years of war, the public is already seeing too much PTSD, without contemplating bringing all of it home.

Perhaps instead Americans will react to a casualty list of aeronautic losses, maybe for reasons of pure economics. How many helicopters and jets we are losing adds to the federal deficit. But the losses of big equipment might offer the same decision making information we glean from the higher value chess pieces. Rooks and knights represent offensive capability. Hopes for victory or a draw hinge on which of those you have left. No one capitulates based on a count of their pawns. The cumulative tallies will reflect which way the tide is going. Military drones may be worth zero lives, but their destruction will signal an insurgence indomitable.

2 thoughts on “Armed UAS drones need no defending

  1. To confirm that the missiles have hit their respective targets, people will have to be there to confirm it, otherwise an aerial view no matter how accurate can still be deceptive. So the person responsible for relaying the information is a spy is in a very difficult situation. Once caught could stall more attacks, till a suitable replacement is found. It is not easy to find ‘traitors’.

    I wonder if so many missiles hit Isreal. over the years, would it have survived?

  2. To confirm that the missiles have hit their respective targets, people will have to be there to confirm it, otherwise an aerial view no matter how accurate can still be deceptive. So the person responsible for relaying the information is a spy is in a very difficult situation. Once caught could stall more attacks, till a suitable replacement is found. It is not easy to find ‘traitors’.
    I wonder if so many missiles hit Israel. over the years, would it have survived?

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