A brief history of drones [2 of 3]

Ten years later, the CIA works side by side with the military, launching kinetic strikes from Pakistan to Somalia. Few concerns are raised anymore, except by a handful of academics and activists who worry that the CIA is less accountable than the military for its targetting (and, as we saw in Zhawar Kili, for its mistakes). Still, many people seem to be leery of drones in the abstract—whether they are used in armed conflict or in targeted killings.
·

FROM DEVELOPMENT OF LETHAL WAR PLANES TO OUTRIGHT ASSASSINATIONS

·

by John Sifton

·

Air warfare has been with us for a hundred years, since the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, and the development of drones was in the works from the start. The reason is simple: even with all the advantages offered by air power, humans still needed to strap themselves into the devices and fly them. There were limits to the risks that could be taken. Whatever an airplane was used for, it ultimately had to return to base with its pilot. Not surprisingly, from the start of the development of airplanes for use in war, engineers labored to circumvent this limitation.

During World War I, the Navy hired Elmer Ambrose Sperry, the inventor of the gyroscope, to develop a fleet of “air torpedoes,” unmanned Curtis biplanes designed to be launched by catapult and fly over enemy positions.

A secret program was run out of a small outfield in central Long Island, New York. A New York Times report from 1926, when the secret was revealed, said that the planes were “automatically guided with a high degree of precision” and after a predetermined distance were supposed to suddenly turn and fly vertically downward, carrying enough TNT to “blow a small town inside out.”

The program ran out of steam because the war ended in 1918. In reality, according to a Navy history, the planes rarely worked: they typically crashed after takeoff or flew away over the ocean, never to be seen again.

In World War II a different approach was taken: the Navy launched a new program, called Operation Anvil, to target deep German bunkers using refitted B-24 bombers filled to double capacity with explosives and guided by remote control devices to crash at selected targets in Germany and Nazi-controlled France. Remote control technology was still limited—involving crude radio-controlled devices linked to motors—so actual pilots were used for takeoff: they were supposed to guide the plane to a cruising altitude and then parachute to safety in England, after which a “mothership” would guide the plane to its target. In practice, the program was a disaster. Many planes crashed, or worse. John F. Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph, was one of the program’s first pilots: he was killed in August 1944 when a drone-to-be that he was piloting exploded prematurely over Suffolk, England.

And here lies a small irony in history. The target of that particular mission of Kennedy’s was a Nazi site where scientists were working on technology in the same vein, the remote delivery of explosives: the world’s first military rocket program. Indeed, German engineers had switched to rocketry, given the difficulties in building full-scale pilotless airplanes. They worked extensively on rockets during the war, and after the war US and Russian governments carried on their work. (In the late 1940s and ’50s, hundreds of former German rocket engineers and other Nazi scientists were brought to the United States and granted citizenship in exchange for their help on rocket engineering efforts—some despite clear ties to Holocaust-related atrocities. Stanley Kubrick’s character Dr. Strangelove was a caricature of an expatriate Nazi scientist.)

The development of drones stagnated for decades because there was little need for them, thanks to developments in rocketry. By the late 1950s, the US military had developed, in addition to many rockets, a slew of slower but more guidable “cruise missiles”—which, in their own way, were like little airplanes. Cruise missiles maintain airplanelike “lift” on stubby little wings, unlike ballistic missiles, which move through a long curve of flight comprising a launch and rise followed by a guided fall.

Cruise missiles were, in a sense, proto-drones, miniature versions of what the military had attempted as far back as 1917.

They could be dispatched and guided in flight; some had cameras; and, in some incarnations, could even change target midflight. But cruise missiles could not linger over a battlefield in the manner of a holding pattern, nor could they return to base. And their weapons delivery was blunt and inflexible; the delivery was the missile itself, its single warhead. So in the 1960s and ’70s, Air Force engineers continued to tinker with unmanned aircraft—in particular for use in surveillance flights, which don’t engage in complex flight maneuvers and require less sophisticated piloting. Only with major improvements in computing and electronic controlling systems in the 1980s and ’90s were modern-day drones made possible. And it wasn’t until the late ’90s that the Air Force began working on the technical aspects of arming unmanned aircraft with missiles.

The CIA, which had been using the drones for surveillance, became involved with the military effort to arm them after September 11. Although the agency had been authorized to support military operations even before the attacks, the legal parameters governing its involvement in military or paramilitary operations were murky, then as now. There were questions about who was allowed to “pull the trigger” and in what settings. Outright assassinations were illegal under a presidential executive order in the wake of CIA scandals from the Nixon period, and the laws of armed conflict contained complicated provisions on the circumstances in which civilian personnel—CIA officers not in uniform—could use lethal force.

So government attorneys worried back in 2001.

Ten years later, the CIA works side by side with the military, launching kinetic strikes from Pakistan to Somalia. Few concerns are raised anymore, except by a handful of academics and activists who worry that the CIA is less accountable than the military for its targetting (and, as we saw in Zhawar Kili, for its mistakes). Still, many people seem to be leery of drones in the abstract—whether they are used in armed conflict or in targeted killings.

Contd…

Next: Drones: A word for you – NO joke -They provoke counter attacks seen as legitimate defense

Previous 1    2    3

Source  Title image
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author (s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statement / s contained in this post.

YOUR COMMENT IS IMPORTANT

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR COMMENT

Wonders of Pakistan supports freedom of expression and this commitment extends to our readers as well. Constraints however, apply in case of a violation of WoP Comments Policy. We also moderate hate speech, libel and gratuitous insults.
We at Wonders of Pakistan use copyrighted material the use of which may not have always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We make such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” only. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/a-brief-history-of-drones-2-of-3/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: