At some point folks need to realize this current policy of killing bad guys with rockets fired from drones is really not a good idea. The main reason being is because it is sanctioned assassination. Well this, if you don’t know, is illegal in pretty much every court in the world including the ones in the good old US of A. The problem is it continues with impunity. This is the result of terribly misguided people in Washington that forget they are there because WE trusted them with upholding the principles and edicts of the Constitution of the United States and the Rule of Law that makes the United States the great country it is. They have failed to do that and somehow, sadly, during the last election cycle we forgot that fact and re-elected them back into the seats of power…ignorantly. We failed. No passing the buck here .. we crapped out of the game.
Drones, contrary to some beliefs, have been around for more then half a century. They come in all sizes, shapes and functions. The only similarity is they are all pilot-less. This is a good thing when speaking of war machinery because you don’t win wars through attrition anymore. Back in the days of spears and arrows the bigger army had the advantage. Today, where conventional warfare is a thing of the remote past, mechanized warfare comes to the forefront where the lesser army may rule the day because they have more advanced weaponry. Case in point was the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s 3 million man standing army in twenty-one days by an overwhelming force of technology driven war machines. This display to the world put everyone on point as to the nature of future conflicts between nations. The drone revolution begins .. or so they would like us to think.
I first fired a rocket from a drone when I was fourteen years old. That was over 50 years ago and I distinctly remember saying to my flight partner that I thought this was pretty much going to be something the military would be doing at some point in the future. My friend remarked if what I said was true then war would change to a more mechanized force based on technology. Yeah, we were pretty smart kids. We were also driven by technology to push its limits. Both of us went on to become design engineers later in life and I went on to focus on aerospace engineering design. It was an interesting career and I got to actually see the technology I helped design in an actual war. Most of the work I was involved with had very short life spans but cost a bundle to make and the results of their usage always exceeded the cost of design, thereby, (forgive me here) realizing a very large return on investment.. I thought this to be a relative sad part of my work but it was also a source of gratification that the thing I worked on actually did what it was designed to do. Blow shit up. Elegantly, with no harm done to the good guys. I imagine many will read that and say .. this guys a serious hawk without soul. Well I am a serious hawk, but my soul has nothing to do with it. The drone age in my life had begun early and as the years progressed I witnessed what I predicted so many years ago, evolve into its current reality. Oh yeah, as a side note I managed to get myself in a boat load of trouble with the FAA for shooting missiles off of my radio controlled airplane (drone since it was pilot-less). Such is life.
The younger generation also do not realize Afghanistan is not the first country to see drones overhead. The UK saw drones overhead in WW2 over London. By today’s standards they were nothing more than very stupid hunks of airframe loaded to the gills with high explosives. The target was determined by how long that big roar in the back of the drone lasted, then the thing would fall out of the sky and hit something. Little regard or effort was made to limit collateral civilian damage as drones in those days were little more than instruments of terror for the UK populace. But as is and always has been British resolve won the day and many of the drones flown out of Europe towards Britain were destroyed over the channel or on the coast through some pretty remarkable marksmanship by pilots and anti-aircraft folks. Still, those that did succeed in reaching London proved to be successful in killing thousands and destroying much infrastructure in the wake.
The first time I came in contact with a military version of what I was flying off of my football field was in Thailand during the Vietnam conflict. I was in the Air Force at the time and sent on TDY (temporary duty) to a base in northern Thailand approximately 50 miles from the Chinese border. My assignment was to evaluate the usage of pilot-less aircraft to assist in the gathering of intelligence directly related to the Vietnam tragedy and provide proof positive that China was involved in Vietnam and Cambodia to a much higher degree then they had claimed at the time. Intel knew or strongly suspected China was sending supplies and support south to Vietnam through Cambodia and Laos. My mission was to prove it so that State could get them to stand down. This of course was mission impossible with a seriously high-profile priority. Keep in mind that this was an era when the computer was either a mechanical one or a computer that took up a city block and was run on vacuum tubes. What we came up with was a modified Cessna (O2 bird-dog) single engine drone that was entirely controlled remotely. It was a disaster. The technology needed was not yet there and the program provided little in intel but did give us the much-needed information as to just what was really necessary technology wise to make the drone concept a viable reality.
My next exposure to drones came in Germany after the Vietnam conflict had ended. By this time the drone vehicle had moved off of a standard aircraft frame and more into a flying missile that to me resembled what we know today to be called a cruise missile. It was pretty much the same shape and size, just not as smart. In fact, it was a down right dumb ass contraption launched off the wing of a specially equipped C130 Hercules mother ship and captured after its flight by a highly modified HH53 helicopter. This spectacular display of technology was interesting to the German (West) Air Force in that they could use it to look over the wall and see what the neighbors were up to. Brilliant .. unfortunately the program was wrought with bugs and mechanical issues and our grand display of military ingenuity ended up in some lake in the Ukraine because we lost our radio feed. The Germans were not all that impressed and the AQM project quietly went back into the R&D world.
There lays the foundation of my droneness from a technology history standpoint and you will undoubtedly notice I made no mention at all about the legality or morality of drones. I also avoided giving anything away that could be useful by some idiot that might think I’m spilling State Secrets. I have a good attorney friend that keeps an eye on me. Today’s drone histrionics though has caused me to try and put this mess into some sort of perspective as to the need for such technology and hopefully voice my opinion on the consequences of its use. The need is great, the consequences are varied and explosive.
The single most prevalent need is to limit the exposure of the human element in weaponry that is designed to kill bad guys. We fly jets and bombers all the time, drop bombs, shoot missiles, and kill the enemy with typical war machines. We also kill the innocence through collateral damage. It is an unfortunate part of war that has been a part of every war ever fought by man. I do not condone the killing of innocent people. Let’s make that perfectly clear. It happens. It’s unfortunate and it will continue to happen as long as we (humanity) continue to fight each other over everything under the sun. To stop it is not simply to stop flying drones, but to stop all war. Right, like that is bound to happen. So we are stuck with the war machinery and its non-benign usage that will kill innocent folks as well as the bad guys. There is no such thing as a clean war.
That then leans to the discussion we are having today over the killing of supposedly bad guys living in heavily populated areas and using missiles fired from drones to remove them from further participation in the terrorist war. All fine and dandy except for the fact that no one other than an intel analyst at CIA or DOD have determined that so and so is a terrorist planning to blow shit up and therefore must be eliminated to keep him (or her) from actually carrying the plan out. The name then shows up on a “hit list” and I call it that because that is exactly what it is and sooner or later the name on the list gets crossed out because hell from above came to visit and those he lives with or is gathered with ends up dead or seriously injured as well as himself. Maybe, if he was actually present. Sometimes it is only the innocents that die from such strikes.
This current state of thought in drone usage by the powers that be is illegal. They can paint the picture any way they wish but when you get right down to it firing missiles from a pilot-less aircraft is sanctioned assassination of someone yet proven to be a bad guy according to the laws of the land and the world courts. A sixteen year old kid living with his terrorist Dad in Yemen to me is not much of a threat and certainly not worthy of the expense of blowing up a perfectly good missile that cost a boat load of bucks to produce. In other words, whoever made that decision is an idiot. The conversation is, we targeted an American citizen, assassinate him by missile because he was in the planning stages of some form of terrorist activity to take place on American soil. Well the kids not Dad, though he shares his name, and I seriously doubt any concocted plan by him would have ever been realized, never the less he was droned. That shows to me the decision process for targeted individuals involved in terrorist activity against the US or our friends is in serious need of restructuring and rethinking. It’s not working and innocent lives are being taken which to the rest of the world is unacceptable. I fully agree with that feeling. It is not acceptable from a nation of law to be a nation of lawlessness. That makes us no better than the terrorist we fight.
It has been a year since I first wrote about the drone program, part of an enormous funding bill passed by Congress last year which authorized the FAA to conduct test sites around the country, and, see how this technology fits in with everything else that fly’s over our heads daily. Rules needed to be established and set in place before the practice of wholesale drone flying became an everyday occurrence. I have yet to read anything from the FAA pertinent to this. But they probably did come up with something and it was benignly buried in some report sent off to a Washington bureaucrat who rubber stamped approval. Which unfortunately is the way bad law gets put on the books. Drones have many uses outside of the military in the civilian world, and as such, are not entirely an evil technology. The evil bits come from the human element, not the technology, therefore very strong, enforceable laws must be in place before they are allowed to take to the skies like Icarus. I speak from experience, remote flying is not as easy as falling off a log, but, has deadly consequence if improperly done. Therefore we must make damn sure the person flying the thing is as qualified to do so as an airline pilot. Licensed and tested by the proper air authority and limited in scope. The last thing we want is to have some Rambo SWAT guy flying a missile loaded drone over a crack house in South Central L.A. I predict that is exactly what will happen unless we establish not only the qualifications of the drone and it’s systems but also of the pilots flying them and the legality of the actions allowed for the drone deployment. Surveillance drones are also included in that mix as I don’t know about you, but, if I’m in the back yard naked as a jay bird chasing the dog around because he has my shoes, I really don’t want the local cop shop watching, or, have my abundance show up on YouTube as a virile video. Therefore limitations to airspace must be part of the legal dialog. Before anyone get’s too excited about civilian drones firing missiles in populated American cities by the cops, that’s just not going to happen. The cost of such a platform and it’s subsystems is so out of budget for anyone but the military, would, and will, prevent it. Police usage of drone technology will be limited to very small lightweight platforms carrying surveillance cameras. Am I concerned about privacy? If I was I would have spoken out 20 years ago when NASA put the K12 systems into orbit that look down upon us from high above with the capability of reading your license plate from geosynchronous orbit. I also would have bellowed out about the use of surplus Vietnam era helicopters purchased by police departments to keep an eye on the law and order aspect of the civilians. We did bitch about the hovering noise however which to me brings back not so fond memories of Vietnam.
Then let’s now focus on where the real discussion about drones should be. The dialog must without a doubt be the sanctioned assassination of bad guys without a day in court or the legal basis to do so. 9/11 was a long time ago. The so-called “War On Terrorism” continues and does not seem to have an end game. Lately it appears to some that a radical Muslim is immediately tagged a “terrorist” because of his or her beliefs in their religion. We Christians tag our radical Christians as ill-informed idiots with a personal agenda. Why is there a difference? There shouldn’t be, one mans radicalism, is another man’s attempt to change things. I’m a Minister of the teachings of Christ and my radical view on Christianity has landed me the tag “heretic” by the mainstream. Well so be it. Just don’t drone me because I teach differently then you. Same holds true for my Muslim brothers and sisters. Because you do not think along the same lines as the mainstream, does not make you a “terrorist”. It just makes you different and diversity is good. Life is less boring with diversity, keeps us on our toes as we move along in life. This is why we must turn to the dialect of terror. What constitutes a terrorist? Ask that question in any gathering and the answers will be so varied one could only ascertain that we really have no definitive answer. A bunch of generalities, a bunch of useless tags and most importantly a complete lack of any sure form of intelligence currently points to the bad guy. So how do you justify who is a terrorist that would give you the power of God to end his life with a missile shot from a drone? Yeah, tough one to answer huh? Some will say “Well the CIA knows for sure.” . I remember in Vietnam we called the CIA intel we got on the enemy before a mission “Completely Idiotic Assessment” and more often than not we were right. Intel is only as good as the analyst and the information provided. It is anything but 100% accurate. The best that could ever be attained would be a high degree of “PROBABILITY” . To me, that is not justification for murder by drone.
We then must insure the bad guy is really a bad guy and we must do so based on reality, not probability. The guess-work and “probability” factors must be eliminated before the action being taken could be considered lawful to the land and to the worlds courts. Wholesale drone killings must end. Congress must strip the presidents and the CIA’s power so as to end this drone madness and make everyone playing this game answer to the same rules we have embedded in the Constitution and in the laws of the land. They are in place for a reason and no amount of dissociative reasoning will negate them.
That is all….
This one definitely flies Anonymously