I was in New Mexico during the early part of the aughties, the era that, starting in 2001, brought in 9/11, which spawned the War on Terrorism, then the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One thing these wars brought, along with the increased militarization of society, is the ways wars are being fought, specifically with a dependence on more high technology. This is exemplified by the increase of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), drone warfare.
Paying attention to these, I knew that these were the future of war, more low cost, and few casualties to bring about opposition. Some notes I have back from December 24th, 2002 bring indications about the future rise in drone warfare up to today. This was just before the start of the Iraq War in 2003, but the buildup was there. That day Iraq shot down an unmanned Predator drone doing reconnaissance flights in Iraq. A month before this they same type of craft, only this time armed with a Hellfire missile, conducted a targeted killing in Yemen of an Al-Qaida leader the United States government alleges was behind the attack of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. The extrajudicial assassination was such an affront to international norms that even Amnesty International condemned it. Both these events, for their supposed success and failure, bring attention to the role that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) were used in the beginning of the War on Terror after 9/11. More importantly, it is just a peak of how high-technology used for military purposes will help expand certain military agendas pushed by members of the Bush Administration.
Now, in the Obama era, it has proven true. Sometimes I hate to be right.
Drones were first used in the 19990’s in the conflict in the Balkans, flown into 550 missions Bosnia and Yugoslavia in 1995. The drones were controlled through an international network: the first European deployment was in support of the Joint Task Force Providing Comfort (JTFPP)in the Balkans, and the drones were based in Gjader, Albania, controlled through the Southern Region Joint Operations Intelligence Center in Naples, Italy, and aerospace coordination at NATO’s Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy. The second deployment was in Taszar, Hungary in 1996, called Nomad Endeavor, in support of Operation Joint Endeavor. They were flown in Kosovo in 1999, where they were used for tracking SAM sites for NATO planes to destroy air defenses, and tracking movements of refugees. They were also reportedly used in Iraq while the U.S. had their no-fly zone enforcement.
They were used for non-combat purposes. They were like radio controlled hobby planes, able to hover over different locations and could be steered in different directions while doing this. They had an advantage over satellites in that they can spy over small clusters of people.
Even so, their performance based on the military’s own studies was less than spectacular. Seven drones were shot down over Kosovo and Iraq, 12 others crashed due to mechanical failures, weather, or pilot error. In Bosnia nearly half the sorties were cancelled due to bad weather. A report states that the drones could not be launched in adverse weather, and were prone to icing. Nevertheless drones would continue to be popular, especially in the new type of war to come after 9/11.
Drones and the War on Terror
Even before 9/11 the military was looking into developing more high tech ways of war. The terrorist attacks changed many things, including the military budget, which ballooned to then $380 billion. Under the Bush administration, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was a champion of ideas launched by neoconservative intellectuals, and he brought many neoconservative aides into office who were also advocates of this Revolution in Military Affairs. The documents by many of these neocon thinkers advocating American global dominance is well known, and the tactics involved more high tech ways of war. It empahsized “high-tech warfare—communications networks, satellites, robot observation planes, smart bombs, night-vision instruments, highly mobile “light” armor, and global positioning system (GPS)-equipped soldiers—over old-fashioned heavy-weapons systems.” Their dream was of “quickly fought, technology-driven, low-risk wars, and though nobody imagines that the dream is fully attainable, it is being used as a vision to shape the future of the military” (2). They got what they wanted in the aftermath of 9/11.
Drones were first put into use in Afghanistan in October 2011, in Operation Enduring Freedom. The drones were first used for surveillance, but this theater of war put into use armed drones. Also during this time the CIA was given authority to use lethal force on terrorists, to physically eliminate Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaida network. The authorization of assassination by the CIA coincided with its operation of weaponized drones.
One of the first drones developed was the RQ-1 Predator, developed by General Atomics. A weaponized version, equipped with Hellfire missiles, were operative before this time. The CIA ran the surveillance program with drones in Afghanistan. and when they thought they had Osama Bin Laden under surveillance in Afghanistan, they pressed for a weaponized Predator to be used. This Predator model was designed for offensive combat, and was used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also in Pakistan. The CIA continued to use drones in combat in these areas. One mission they were involved in was in Kandahar, in a building where Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was seen. The supposed success of drones in these countries was due to the almost non-existent air defenses in the countries. Many drones have been shot down from the ground despite this.
Most significantly, as mentioned above, it was used in Yemen in 2002 to kill suspected Al Qaeda operative and USS Cole bombing suspect Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi. This was in a country the U.S was not at war at. This last act was a vision of what was to come for the future of unmanned assassination drones.
The appeal of drones is many. One, there are less troops and pilots to train, and less casualties that drive public opinion against wars. Second, the drones can stay in the air longer, able to hover around targets virtually undetected. The financial costs are lower as well as the political costs, as the loss of a drone is far less than the loss of an aircraft. Another is that the vehicles are more autonomous, increasingly able to operate without manned controls, taking less human controls to work.
The money going into drones increased during this period. It was admitted in late October 2002 by Dyke Weatherington, unmanned aerial vehicle planning task force deputy leader at the Department of Defense, that the budget doubled for UAV/UCAV’s between 2001 and 2002. It was set to double again in funding from 2002 to 2005, and triple from 2002 to 2007. At least 1.8 billion was spent on the programs in 2003. The costs today are likely more as their use has increased. (1)
Along with the Predator, other drones include the RQ-4 Global Hawk by Northrup Grumman. Boeing’s Phantom Works developed the X-45A, programmed to be completely autonomous, designed to be programmed to fly itself without any remote pilots. There is the X-47A by Northrup Grumman, designed to land on aircraft carriers.
Other areas of the military besides the Air Force were exploring the use of unmanned machines. The Navy is looking for craft that could be engaged in air to surface combat. Designs for unmanned submarines are in the works. The Army has plans for unmanned rotorcraft, helicopters without pilots. The Marines have the A160 Hummingbird unmanned chopper. There is also the designs for the Organic Air Vehicle, which would have a 9 inch diameter. Other plans for UAV’s include equipping them with directed energy weapons such as microwave bursts and solid state lasers. These would be used for electronic and information warfare, taking out computer and communication networks.
Drones were also planned for uses in Homeland Security. Drones to patrol the border, and in domestic law enforcement. This has also come to pass.
The drones continued to be used under Bush, and were greatly expanded under Obama.(3) There are two drone programs, one run by the military and publicly acknowledged, and the other run by the CIA and classified as covert. First set up under the Bush administration, it was continued under the Obama administration. The first drone strike of Obama took place three days after he was inauguarated, in South Waziristan in Pakistan. Drone strikes increased rapidly under Obama. Many of the victims have been civilians. It was brought to attention in the news more widely when Obama ordered the strike of a U.S. citizen in Yemen. Obama has a kill list of extrajudicial targets to be killed by drones.
This type of warfare,which is insulated from the public eye, will continue in the future. It will also make resistance to war and militarism less effective, as much of it is based on the American population’s revulsion of casualties of their own troops. The less there is of this, the less opposition to U.S. wars that kill other people around the world.
A lot of this type of exotic weaponry is developed and produced in New Mexico, and I have recounted some of it here on this blog. Holloman Air Force Base, which I have mentioned before, was hosting Predator drones for a while. In fact, some drone training is happening here in New Mexico. A large part of the state’s economy is devoted to this development of weapons of war. No questions are asked about whether this economy is good for the sustainability of the state and its people, not to mention the effects it has around the world. There is many words to describe it, such as Eisenhower’s phrase the Military-Industrial-Complex. Many other areas would be covered, like Academic, in this Complex. A just world would be one with a completely transformed economy for New Mexico. We need to start imagining one, and bring it about.
1. Cook, Nick. “Diamond on the rough: Coming to grips with the rise of unmanned combat aircraft.” Janes Defense Weekly. January 8, 2003. Vol. 39 Issue 1. pp. 22-27.
2. Brzezinski, Matthew. “The Unmanned Army.” New York Times Magazine. April 20, 2003. pp. 38-41, 80.
3. Mayer, Jane. “The Predator War.” The New Yorker. October 26, 2009. pp. 36-45