AI News, Who is Accountable when Drones Kill?
Who is Accountable when Drones Kill?
Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced a set of new US defense spending priorities (pdf) which would reduce defense spending by $259 billion over the next five years and $487 billion by 2023.
As part of the new priorities, the US Army and Marine Corps would see cuts of 72,000 and 20,000 service personnel respectively, some military bases would be closed or realigned, and the US Navy and Air Force would retire a number of ships and aircraft.
In his op-ed, Singer outlines the rapid growth in the use of armed drones to carry out US foreign policy without much debate in the US Congress or in the US public at large about the practice or its implications.
This shift affects everything from the strategy that guides it to the individuals who oversee it (civilian political appointees) and the lawyers who advise them (civilians rather than military officers).'
This change in attitude toward what constitutes war not only involves the use of unmanned systems, of course, but also government-sponsored application of cyberwar ops against another country's systems.
It is interesting as well as troublesome to note that increased defense funding is exactly in the areas where, to use Singer's words, 'short-circuiting the decision-making process' by the executive branch of the US government is possible.
Singer warns in his op-ed that the unfettered use of US unmanned systems outside of declared war zones invites the same types of behavior from other countries that are quickly building their own unmanned systems.
And I also don't see Congress wanting to challenge the executive branch on this issue, because it can blame the President for anything that might go wrong using an unmanned system, and take partial credit for anything that goes right.
In the final bit of unmanned system news this week, the US Air Force is planning to cancel the remaining purchases of Global Hawk Block 30 high-altitude surveillance drones due to cost and technical considerations.
A Revolution Once More: Unmanned Systems and the Middle East
Throughout history, from the wheels that powered the Pharaohs’ chariots to the early use of cannon to batter down the walls of Constantinople, the greater Middle East has long been a cauldron for military change.
Today, the latest revolution in technology and war is the growing use of unmanned systems, better described as the “robotics revolution.” And, whether it be the ground robots like the Packbot that search out roadside bombs in Iraq or the Predator drones in the air that shoot missiles into Pakistan, the Middle East is once again the location for a new wave of technologic and military change.
That is, they are distinguished from regular machines not just by the fact that there is no human inside, but also by the fact that they carry sensors that gather information about the world around them, processors that use that information to make appropriate decisions, and effectors that act to create change in the world around the machine, such as by movement or firing a weapon.
Indeed, the US military has already carried out more drone strikes into Pakistan (over 50 in the last year) than it did with manned bombers during the opening round of the Kosovo War, but unlike that conflict, its legislature had no debates and its media barely covers the operation.
Drones’ ability to hover over a target for many hours, without putting a pilot at risk, has improved the accuracy of many attacks and limited civilian casualties, especially compared to manned bomber or artillery strikes in the past.
For instance, as many as twenty-nine civilians, including eight children, were killed in what appeared to be six missile strikes by Israeli drones in Gaza in December and January, according to a Human Rights Watch report, while media reports claim the same of US strikes in Pakistan.
Do Drones Undermine Democracy?
For the first 200 years of American democracy, engaging in combat and bearing risk — both personal and political — went hand in hand.
newer models can take off and land on their own, and carry smart sensors that can detect a disruption in the dirt a mile below the plane and trace footprints back to an enemy hide-out.
There is not a single new manned combat aircraft under research and development at any major Western aerospace company, and the Air Force is training more operators of unmanned aerial systems than fighter and bomber pilots combined.
This shift affects everything from the strategy that guides it to the individuals who oversee it (civilian political appointees) and the lawyers who advise them (civilians rather than military officers).
President Obama’s decision to send a small, brave Navy Seal team into Pakistan for 40 minutes was described by one of his advisers as “the gutsiest call of any president in recent history.” Yet few even talk about the decision to carry out more than 300 drone strikes in the very same country.
The operation’s goals quickly evolved from a limited humanitarian intervention into an air war supporting local insurgents’ efforts at regime change.
When the administration was asked to explain why continuing military action would not be a violation of the War Powers Resolution — a Vietnam-era law that requires notifying Congress of military operations within 48 hours and getting its authorization after 60 days — the White House argued that American operations did not “involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof.” But they did involve something we used to think of as war: blowing up stuff, lots of it.
And like it or not, the new standard we’ve established for them is that presidents need to seek approval only for operations that send people into harm’s way — not for those that involve waging war by other means.
drone strikes outside of declared war zones are setting a troubling precedent that we might not want to see followed by the close to 50 other nations that now possess the same unmanned technology — including China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran.
UAVs in the U.S. military
People are showing up dead, or disappearing.' By October 2009, the CIA claimed to have killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in targeted killings using UAVs. By May 2010, counter-terrorism officials said that UAV strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas had killed more than 500 militants since 2008 and no more than 30 (5%) nearby civilians – mainly family members who lived and traveled with the targets. UAVs linger overhead after a strike, in some cases for hours, to enable the CIA to count the bodies and attempt to determine which, if any, are civilians. A Pakistani intelligence officer gave a higher estimate of civilian casualties, saying 20% of total deaths were civilians or non-combatants. In February 2013, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham stated that 4,756 people have been killed by U.S. UAVs. CIA officials became concerned in 2008, that targets in Pakistan were being tipped off to pending U.S. UAV strikes by Pakistani intelligence, when the U.S. requested Pakistani permission prior to launching UAV-based attacks. The Bush administration therefore decided in August 2008 to abandon the practice of obtaining Pakistani government permission before launching missiles from UAVs, and in the next six months the CIA carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined. One issue with using armed drones to attack human targets is the size of the bombs being used and the relative lack of discrimination of the 100 lb (45 kg) Hellfire, which was designed to eliminate tanks and attack bunkers. Smaller weapons such as the Raytheon Griffin and Small Tactical Munition are being developed as a less indiscriminate alternative, and development is underway on the still smaller Israeli - developed Spike missile. The payload-limited Predator A can also be armed with six Griffin missiles, as opposed to only two of the much-heavier Hellfires.
However, others maintain that drones 'allow for a much closer review and much more selective targeting process than do other instruments of warfare' and are subject to Congressional oversight. Like any military technology, armed UAVs will kill people, combatants and innocents alike, thus 'the main turning point concerns the question of whether we should go to war at all.' In 2012, the USAF trained more UAV pilots than ordinary jet fighter pilots for the first time. Unlike other UAVs, the Predator was armed with Hellfire missiles so that it can terminate the target that it locates. This was done after Predators sighted Osama Bin Laden multiple times but could not do anything about it other than send back images.
Insurgents in the open for more than a few minutes at a time fear UAVs locating them. In the U.S., thousands of civilian UAV operators work for contractors, piloting and maintaining UAVs. Up to four UAVs and about 400 to 500 pilot and ground support personnel are required for a single 24-hour-coverage combat air patrol (CAP). A 2011 study by the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine indicated that nearly 50% of spy UAV operators suffer from high stress. The president of a civilian UAV operators' union, the Association of Unmanned Operation (AUO), cited long working hours and decreasing wages as U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was reduced and as a result of the U.S. government's budget sequestration. Given the increasing military use of cyber attacks against Microsoft software, the United States Armed Forces have moved towards Linux ground control software. An August 2013, Brookings Institution study reported that in the U.S. Air Force there were approximately 1,300 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) pilots, 8.5 percent of total Air Force pilots, up from 3.3 percent in 2008. The study indicated that the U.S. military's combat air patrol (CAP) daily missions requirement is growing at a faster pace than RPA pilots can be trained, with an attrition rate during RPA flight screening being three times that of traditional pilots and a 13% lower promotion rate to Major than other officers. As of January 2014, the U.S. military operates a large number of unmanned aerial systems: 7,362 RQ-11 Ravens;
This has caused United States Navy UAV programs to increase in cost from 0% to 5%, while United States Air Force UAV programs have increased from 60% to 284%. The USAF said in 2012, that it will focus development of UAVs to be collaboratively networked with manned aircraft in 'buddy attacks,' while continuing to be able to fly as standalone systems. The U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) planned in 2014 to award grants and contracts up to $5.5 million each, for its Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) program, which specifies UAVs capable of traveling 60 feet per second to include autonomy algorithms for quickly and autonomously navigating indoor obstacles and learning from past travels.
- On Tuesday, March 19, 2019
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