At a pre-Paris Air Show briefing this week, BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation could hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of being awarded a contract to develop a new armed drone. The companies say they expect a government decision on the new joint UK/France drone programme in the very near future. The MoD have estimated the new programme to total around £2 billion.
Development of a new armed drone is one of the ‘first fruits’ of a military co-operation treaty signed by France and the UK in November 2010. BAE and Dassault signed an agreement to work together on the proposed programme in February, with BAE’s Mantis drone expected to be the basis of the new development.
Ian Fairclough, BAE’s Director of Strategic UAV’s stated: ‘We believe we are ready to begin the programme now. We have got some fairly mature plans in place for BAE Systems and Dassault to go ahead with this and we have also mobilised a joint team to work on this.’
Meanwhile, the USAF has just released a new video game on its recruitment website aimed at teenagers that enables young people to play at being a drone pilot and carry out drone strikes. Many have already pointed out the similarity between video games and the operation of drones, and indeed how drones can blur the distinct between the reality of warfare and gaming.
Although supporters of drones technology refute any such connections, their denials are undermined by reports showing that gaming software and hardware are being used to control UAVs. Wired.com quotes Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon’s tactical intelligence systems as saying: “Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]?”
What cannot be denied, is that the rapid increase in the use of drones has led to a shortage of drone pilots and hence the need to boost recruitment.
Enticing young people to join the military with video games – with the idea of then moving them on from playing at drone wars to actually undertaking drone strikes – is, disturbing to say the least. When CIA Director Leon Panetta called drone strikes “the only game in town” little did he know how prescient his words would be.