A quick Google search for drones will lead to toy-like airplanes, heavily opinionated articles that claim pentagon mad scientists are launching a drone war, the now infamous killings in Pakistan and my personal favorite, an artist who made a bedazzled drone replica as part of an upcoming exhibit. Clearly the web is the host to vastly different opinions about drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
To understand why drones are receiving substantial coverage in the news, it is important to understand what drones are and how they are being used. The website diydrones.com says that, “an UAV is an aircraft that has the capability of autonomous flight, without a pilot in control.” This means that any sort of flying vehicle that is controlled remotely, be it a plane like the Predator, helicopter or multicopters (think helicopter with lots of rotors), can all be considered UAVs or drones. Many people enjoy building their own small personal drone and controlling it from their smart phone or laptop and most of them are perfectly legal. But most of those personal hobbyhorses are not what land drones in the news.
Drones find themselves in the hot seat of American controversy because they are a low risk and quick and affordable way to spy and potentially kill someone. About.com states that a Predator drone costs about $22 million, contrasted with $100 million for the F-35 fighter jet and training people to fly a drone costs significantly less than it does to train a traditional pilot. From a military standpoint, drones make prefect sense. They have the power to kill without placing the person doing the killing at risk. No matter the angle taken, the drone pilot is safe while the other people, including civilians, are not.
Drones are the sort of weapon of the future that make the Terminator or the Matrix universes where the machines fight the humans seems less like science fiction and more like a terrifying version of reality. In the novel “1984,” George Orwell created a fictional world where Big Brother, or the government, watches citizens, and with the cameras on drones, Big Brother is in fact watching people who are deemed threats. The human element of war where you had to look your attacker in the eye and where both sides suffer losses is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
The Obama Administration has received criticism for the use of drones in the war in Afghanistan and authorizing drones to kill American citizens, but drone use is unlikely to subside anytime soon. Military drones take the human element out of war and make violence and spying an industrialized task. Drones might seem like the ideal militaristic weapon, but consider what lasting impact they could leave before voicing your support.