Student Op-Eds

An Inside Look at Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Conor Barry ’16  Inside Politics

Since the new millennium has started, the United States and countless other nations have witnessed and fallen victim to heinous acts committed by transnational terrorist organizations. In the United States alone, citizens have seen the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attacked by commercial aircrafts, a bombing of an embassy in Benghazi, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Citizens are asking, when does it stop? The government is asking, when will citizens give us the opportunity to try to stop it? The United States government has been utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for over a decade. Currently, certain UAVs are operationally capable of firing various types of munitions to strike a target. These are the operating systems that are used in America’s targeted killing of high value targets and other suspected terrorists.

Since 2003, the United States has been involved in the War on Terror. Now, ten years after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has removed nearly all troops from both countries, and American citizens no longer welcome the idea of putting “boots on the ground” to conduct national security operations when troops can be substituted with something equally as effective for the task at hand. This notion of replacing troops with UAVs does not apply to all situations. Fortunately for the United States, the task of removing high value targets and other suspected terrorists can be completed accurately and with precision, via a delivery mechanism like an unmanned aerial vehicle.

UAVs are aircrafts that are piloted without the operator present in the aircraft during flight. UAVs can operate autonomously via computer programming, or by a pilot using a remote control. These systems have commercial and military capabilities. As far as the military is concerned, the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have made UAVs a mainstay in their day-to-day operations, especially because some have been transformed into platforms to launch munitions such as the Hellfire missile. With this new offensive capability found in the Hellfire, UAVs can lower the cost of delivering lethal force to selected targets more effectively than manned aircrafts.

The U.S. government currently operates two different UAV operations. The U.S. military branch of these operations is recognized publically and operates in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are stationed and fighting. This would be considered a form of conventional warfare.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operates a covert UAV program, serviced and maintained by employees of Xe Services that is, “aimed at terror suspects all over the world, including in countries where U.S. troops are not based”. The CIA is suspected of operating UAVs outside of combat zones in the sovereign airspace of countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, to name a few. After the United States realized the potential of these weapons systems, Presidents Bush and Obama both made a determined effort to implement them into battle plans and national security policy as often as they could.

Most recently, Obama has sought to further the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and use them to take out not just high value targets, but also, targets of opportunity. In Pakistan alone, there have been 317 UAV strikes since 2008. Following suit, in Yemen, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), “reports 40-50 confirmed US UAV strikes during this eight year period [2004-2012]”.  Similarly, Somalia has seen, “between three and nine drone strikes” in this same timeframe. In total, there have been an estimated 360-376 UAV strikes in non-combat areas in the last eight years, and this does not take into consideration the strikes in Afghanistan or Iraq.

This is the point in time where finding a solution to this problem is turned over to the public. This is an issue that needs to be addressed in some type of public forum. The people of the United States need to thoroughly research this topic and address it. Is the United States government using illegal practices to advance its foreign policy agenda? Is the United States unjustly killing its citizens like in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki? I have my own personal opinions on this issue and I could discuss at length the pros and cons of the use of drones in national security measures, but are they the best solutions to our counterterrorism needs and are they legal?

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