Drone Ownward

February 14, 2009

The future is still herethe first time a combat vehicle has used a laser to shoot down a UAV.”

UAV (Illustration of General Atomics Predator UAV found here).

This morning another report of yet another unmanned aerial vehicle — UAV, or “drone” — attack on a suspected insurgent hideout in Pakistan.
From the New York Times:

  • Two missiles fired from American pilotless drones killed up to 32 people, including Arab and Uzbek fighters of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in South Waziristan on Saturday morning, according to a Pakistani intelligence official and local residents.

    The exact name of the village hit on Saturday is not clear. But according to some locals reached by telephone and the intelligence official, the village is known as Shwangai and is a gathering place and a base camp for Pakistani and foreign fighters loyal to Mr. Mehsud. (Reported leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud).
    The village is about 60 miles from the Afghan border.
    A local resident said that 25 coffins had been taken from Makeen and dead bodies were still being recovered from the debris hours after the attack.
    “The bodies of the dead were charred beyond recognition,” said Khan Zaman, a resident from Makeen reached by telephone.

The big, shocker news, however, came 5,000 miles away from that Pakistani village.
From the same Times story:

  • The attack followed the statement in Congress on Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the pilotless aircraft take off from a base inside Pakistan.
    “As I understand, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” Ms. Feinstein said during a hearing attended by the director of U.S. national intelligence, Admiral Dennis C. Blair.
    In his testimony, Admiral Blair said that the drone attacks had achieved their goal.
    “Al Qaeda today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago,” he said.
    The drone attacks, especially in the last six months, have increased anti-American sentiment in Pakistan to very high levels.
    Ms. Feinstein’s acknowledgment that the flights have the tacit support of the Pakistani government is likely to further inflame the protests over the flights. Her statement was prominently covered the Pakistani press Saturday morning.
    Since the beginning of 2008, the American drones have launched nearly 30 missile attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas, according to a compilation by the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington.

The coldness of modern life.

These drones have been used by the US military since the 1950s, mostly in reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering, but in modern times, UAVs have come in handy once cameras, bomb racks and endurance were added to the machines.
The problem: Where is this unmanned aerial war front in Pakistan headed?
From NPR earlier this month:

  • Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international affairs at Boston University, says the U.S. needs to admit it’s opened another front and another war.
    “This is a war that is mostly conducted by remote control, unmanned aerial vehicles launching missiles at targets on the ground,” Bacevich says. “But it is a war … that deserves very critical scrutiny by the new administration.”
    Bacevich says there’s been very little debate or dialogue about the growing U.S. military offensive in Pakistan — whether in Congress, in the public realm or the UN. For the most part, the aerial attacks on Pakistan’s soil are still seen as an appendage to the Afghan conflict, rather than an independent issue.

    Some analysts say the problem is the longer the U.S. continues its military action in Pakistan — using Predators — the greater the chances of becoming embroiled in a much broader conflict in Pakistan.
    Nawaz, with the Atlantic Council, says militants have already started moving from the remote border region into more built-up areas of Pakistan.
    “What would happen when the next drone attack occurs on a city or a town or a village inside the Northwest Frontier province? Or inside central or southern Punjab? What then?” Nawaz asks.

Yesss, what would happen?
And what would happen if insurgents got a hold on one of these?

  • Boeing is seeing a glimmer of progress in its work toward fielding laser weapons.
    The defense industry giant on Monday said tests of its Laser Avenger system in December marked “the first time a combat vehicle has used a laser to shoot down a UAV,” or unmanned aerial vehicle.
    In the testing, the Humvee-mounted Laser Avenger located and tracked three small UAVs in flight over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and knocked one of the drone aircraft out of the sky.

Drone on and upward.

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