Drones in na­tional se­cu­rity


Are­port from Stim­son Cen­ter has ex­am­ined three key is­sue sets in the un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle (UAV) de­bate: de­fence util­ity, na­tional se­cu­rity, and eco­nom­ics; ethics and law; and ex­port con­trols and reg­u­la­tory chal­lenges. The Stim­son re­port con­cludes that UAV tech­nolo­gies are here to stay. Used reck­lessly, UAVs can en­dan­ger US in­ter­ests and di­min­ish re­gional and global sta­bil­ity. Used wisely, they can help ad­vance US na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in the midst of a more ro­bust global com­mit­ment to the rule of law.

The de­bate on the Stim­son re­port iden­ti­fied mis­con­cep­tions about drones, ar­eas of con­cern, and also rec­om­mended a few ways to ad­vance the drone de­bate.

The most com­mon drone mis­con­cep­tions is the be­lief that most UAVs are weaponised when in re­al­ity less than one per cent of the Pen­tagon’s 8,000 drones carry op­er­a­tional weapons at any given time. The ma­jor­ity of US drone mis­sions has been for in­tel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, and re­con­nais­sance (ISR) pur­poses.

UAVs are of­ten thought to be cheaper al­ter­na­tives to manned air­crafts, but some UAVs “carry more sen­sors than their manned coun­ter­parts,” which may trans­late to higher cost for per­son­nel to mon­i­tor and process data feeds that do not ex­ist on manned air­crafts.

The Stim­son re­port notes that at times, the higher cost of manned air­crafts re­flects greater ca­pa­bil­ity. A manned F-16 fighter jet may have higher costs be­cause it con­sumes fuel more quickly than an MQ-1 Preda­tor drone, but the F-16’s greater speed gives it air-to-air com­bat abil­i­ties that cur­rent drones lack.

MQ-1 Preda­tor drone

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