Between January 2008 and April 2009, 60 drones strikes in the Pakistan tribal areas have caused the death of 701 civilians: among them, only 14 were suspected Talibans. These so-called “targeted executions” started in 2004 under the Bush administration but have drastically increased with President Barack Obama.
For the whole year 2008, there were 36 Predator strikes, with a death toll of 317. Since the beginning of 2009, the number of attacks has reached one per week, and the death toll for 2009 reached 432 in September and might be “improved” by the end of the year.
The unmanned aircrafts are based in Kandahar airport, but operated from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, by pilots sitting behind video screens and joysticks, who just have to press the trigger to launch deadly Hellfire missiles on their target. Seen from this side, war may look like a banal office job or worse, a video game, distorting the psychological perception of the killing act and its moral accountability.
But on the field, that’s a whole different story.
For 2010, President Obama has budgeted US$3.8 billion for development and aquisition of new UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), including 24 MQ-9 Reapers and 5 RQ-4 Global Hawks for the US Air Force.
Will the drones replace Air Force planes? That’s possible: cost of training a US fighter pilot is estimated around US$2.6 million, while training a UAV operator only costs some US$135,000.
An MQ-9 Reaper, the last drone generation, costs some US$8 million compared to the US$142.6 million of an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft.
In an unclassified report the Air Force explains how ever-larger and more sophisticated flying robots could eventually replace every type of manned aircraft in its inventory.
- C.I.A. to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan
- The Pilotless Plane That Only Looks Like Child’s Play
- Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
- The Problem With the Predator