"There is value to having an unmanned aerial system teamed with a manned system," Gen. James McConville, Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, said at the National Defense Industrial Association's 2018 Army Science & Technology Symposium and Showcase in Washington, DC, Tuesday. But, he warned, "it's not a panacea."
McConville noted during his presentation that watching a screen from inside a tactical operations center is "not the same as actually being there… When you are working with unmanned systems, you've got to be careful that you don't believe that you know everything that is going on."
Activist Leah Bolger agrees with that: drones allow wars to be conducted without the combatants actually facing each other, and that's no good thing. In drone warfare, "we don't really know who we're killing. We don't know what the damage is. We don't know who those people are, or all the 'collateral damage,' as they use that euphemism — the people who are actually killed," she told Sputnik Thursday.
"Drones are a really good example of something that's not just ineffective, it's countereffective; because every time you kill a person… then his extended family and his children's children are also going to become, now, your enemy," Bolger, chair of the coordinating committee of World Beyond War and retired military officer, said. "So it creates enemies faster than it can kill them. It's illegal, it violates all kinds of international law about Geneva conventions and the UN charter, and it costs so much money that could be spent on human needs. So it's inhumane in that way too." Bolger has spent time researching US drone strikes and speaking with victims of US drone warfare.
According to McConville, "You still need soldiers on the battlefield; drones don't smell, they don't feel. If you are watching me here on video, you don't get the same feeling as if you are in the crowd, and it's the same thing in combat."
Bolger would argue that no, the US doesn't need soldiers on the battlefield. "There are several reasons to oppose war in general, and the same reasons apply to drones, and the first one in my mind is the immorality of it… to kill each other in order to resolve differences is absurd and it's obsolete, and that's why we don't have duelling anymore, because it's idiotic to think that that's how you're going to solve a problem. So it's immoral, it's ineffective, it doesn't solve anything." But as the Department of Defense continues to make war, it will certainly continue to make drones, McConville's statements notwithstanding. "I don't think it is something that anti-drone activists should see as a real positive sign," she said. McConville's not calling drone warfare immoral or illegal, simply not a be-all, end-all.
The Department of Defense loves drones "because American lives are not at risk… The only thing that resonates with the American public is if American lives are lost." Bolger said. "And with drones, that's why everybody loves them. The DoD loves them, the White House loves them, and that's the wave of the future."
She noted how Defense Department officials boast that "we're going to spend a lot of money, this is the future of warfare, we're going to use these unmanned systems, working with manned and unmanned together, and maybe unmanned and unmanned together."
"Congress just approved a 700-plus billion dollar 'defense' budget and a lot of money for drone technology, and all the drone manufacturers are now getting richer and richer. And it's not just the United States — dozens of countries have drones, many countries have armed drones, and it's just — it's a Pandora's box." And with the US using drones to drop bombs on countries it's not even technically at war with — Pakistan being one example — how long will it be before this practice spreads?
"I don't see a closing of that Pandora's Box at all," Bolger said.