Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Wings of death: How availability of combat drones will change war forever — RT Op-ed

Posted by M. C. on November 5, 2021

While no one doubts the efficacy of either Russia or the US when it comes to waging war, the ability of their respective foes to employ lethal drone technology serves as a short-term battlefield equalizer that not only must be respected by military commanders on the ground, but also by policy makers back in Moscow and Washington, DC, who can no longer be assured of technological supremacy on the battlefield.

Scott Ritter

is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of ‘SCORPION KING: America’s Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump.’ He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector. Follow him on Twitter @RealScottRitter

Drones used to be the exclusive purview of advanced military powers. Today, almost any military can afford cheap drones with high-quality sensors and lethal munitions, and, in doing so, change the course of any future conflict.

The proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, commonly referred to as drones) has brought about a sea-change in the way nations wage war today, ranging from the ability to gather intelligence in ways unthinkable using manned aircraft, to the discreet and precision employment of lethal weapons in a way which delivers a bigger bang for the buck when it comes to battlefield impact. While this technology is well known to the professionals who employ it daily, it remains a relatively obscure capability for the layperson, who often sees the term “drone” used without fully comprehending its implications.

The US military has long had an interest in the potential of remotely piloted unmanned aircraft. During the Second World War, Operation Aphrodite employed modified B-17 bombers which were taken off by an aircrew, who then bailed out of the aircraft. The bomber was then taken over using radio-control by a crew in a following B-17, which then used on-board television cameras to guide the crewless B-17 filled with explosives to its intended target, which it would then crash into, destroying it in the resulting explosion. The program had poor results and was scrapped after a number of missions went astray.

During the Vietnam War, the US Air Force made extensive use of the Ryan Aeronautical Model 147 Lightning Bug subsonic drone to perform pre- and post-strike reconnaissance missions over heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. A more advanced version of the Lightning Bug, known as the Firebee, was flown over North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union to collect both imagery and signals intelligence. This use of drones saved the lives of scores of US crewmen who otherwise would have been killed had these missions been performed by manned aircraft.

I had the opportunity to get in on the ground-floor of modern drone technology in the 1980s, when the US Marine Corps adopted the Israeli-made Pioneer UAV, helping transform a technology which had previously been limited to strategic-level missions to one with practical tactical application on the modern battlefield. The techniques and procedures that the Marine Corps perfected in the deserts of 29 Palms, California, were later used in the Gulf War, in 1991, where Pioneer drones were used to collect intelligence and coordinate fire support against Iraqi targets.

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