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The History Behind and Future of Drone Warefare

by Lexy Leuszler

Commonly referred to as “drones,” the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by both the US military and government organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) have sparked controversy around the ethics and cost of the use of such vehicles. Originally constructed for surveillance purposes only, the first unmanned aerial vehicle called the Firebee was used by US forces in Vietnam. Military officials were incredibly successful in tracking and viewing potential surveillance targets with initial drone types but soon grew frustrated with the inability to fire weapons from the drones. In response to these frustrations, in the 1990s, the popular Predator drone was developed with the ability to launch highly explosive Hellfire missiles (used to destroy heavy tanks and artillery) at specific targets. On November 3, 2002, the first recorded targeted drone strike by the CIA killed six targets suspected of participating in al Qaeda and posing a US security threat in the country of Yemen. President Obama recently admitted to civilian deaths in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan attributed to drones. From 2004 - 2013, there have been 455 estimated strikes in those countries resulting in an estimated 4,061 deaths of both civilians and enemy combatants. In coming years, drone warfare may begin to look like something out of a science fiction novel or mimic the advanced technology available in popular video games. Political scientist and video game consultant P.W. Singer was recently approached by military contractors for the designs to his Charlene drone, a fictional weapon developed for the popular video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The future of drone development means faster, stronger, stealthier and possibly invisible drone vehicles. The use of drone technology changes the face and nature of warfare on many levels from the ethics around a soldier conducting combat thousands of miles from the actual frontlines to the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder many soldiers face from flying drones and facing the risk of killing innocent civilians in addition to enemy combatants. In Leveling Up, much like real-life Air Force drone operator, Brandon Bryant, Ian struggles with his culpability in flying unmanned drones, far removed from the impact. Bryant told NBC in an interview in June 2013 that after quitting his job with the Air Force, he became “troubled by the physical disconnect between his daily routine and the violence and power of the faraway drones.” He explained, “You don’t feel the aircraft turn, you don’t feel the hum of the engine. You hear the hum of the computers, but that’s definitely not the same thing.” Although Bryant and his team did what they could to avoid civilian casualties, he is still haunted by the alleged 1,600 people he helped kill as a part of his job from 2006 to 2011 where he guided unmanned drones over Iraq and Afghanistan bases from far away in Nevada and New Mexico. “(To Ian) Look, this job–I’m sure you’re great at it, but it’s not worth it. It’s not healthy. And you could do anything. You’re smart, you’re capable... I can’t imagine what you’ve seen. So awful. And even if it is, you know, the ‘bad guys,’–to have to kill them... I mean, they have lives too. Mothers and sisters and girlfriends…” —Jeannie, Leveling Up QUICK FACTS ABOUT DRONE WARFARE 1.The term “drone” is a simple, shorthand way of referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle or any aircraft that flies without a pilot aboard the vehicle. 2. Drones offer two main advantages to the military: a pilot does not have to risk his life flying over enemy territory and they can fly for hours on end with no need to rest. 3. Drones can be as small as an insect or as large as a commercial airplane. 4. Unmanned aerial vehicles are used on a daily basis by the US Coast Guard to monitor coastal waters and major gas and oil pipelines. 5. It can take up to 170 people to operate and maintain one unmanned aerial vehicle. 6. It costs $103 million to build one Global Hawk drone. 7.There are currently more than 8,000 drones used by the United States 8. The CIA conducts covert drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan while the US military largely conducts strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq. 9. Civilian death totals due to drones strikes are nearly impossible to calculate accurately but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that potentially 1,200 civilians have been killed by drones in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan alone in addition to the deaths of enemy combatants. 10. More than 43 other countries in addition to the United States operate unmanned aerial vehicles .