The rise of the drone seems to know no bounds. Just months after David Cameron’s pledge to double the UK’s Reaper drone fleet, the latest US military aircraft procurement plan shows that the Pentagon is also planning to double number of large US military drones over the next decade.
According to the document “the number of platforms in this category — RQ-4 Global Hawk-class, MQ-9 Reaper, and MQ-1 Predator-class unmanned aircraft systems — will grow from approximately 340 in FY 2012 to approximately 650 in FY 2021.” Danger Room reports that
“the U.S. aerospace industry is scrambling to meet the Pentagon’s huge appetite for unmanned planes. In the last two years, no fewer than three new killer drones have begun flight testing. Boeing’s X-45C , Northrop’s X-47B and General Atomics’ Avenger are all vying for new Air Force and Navy contracts. Northrop and Boeing also recently unveiled new, high-flying, long-endurance spy ‘bots”.
It’s not only the major military corporation working on drones. Many smaller companies are also working to develop small, weaponised drones such as the Arcturus T-20 UAV. And, of course, it is not only the US and UK developing new drones with China recently testing a new unmanned helicopter, the V750.
Meanwhile drone strikes continue in Pakistan. A drone strike on a compound on Friday 3rd June killed nine people allegedly including Ilyas Kashmiri, a key al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. However Kasmiri was previously announced to have been killed in a US drone strike in 2009 and the Long War Journal has raised serious doubts about the announcement of his death this time. On Monday 6th June three separate drone strikes in North Waziristan in one day killed between 19 and 24 people.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported this week that “fissures have opened within the Obama administration over the drone program targeting militants in Pakistan.” However it seems that while “a slowdown in drone strikes was debated [at] a meeting on Thursday…. CIA Director Leon Panetta made the case for maintaining the current program.” The WSJ report continues that the result of the meeting was “a decision to continue the program as is for now.” Hardly, a fissure then.
An excellent Channel Four Dispatches documentary this week looked at the targeted killing programme in Afghanistan and Pakistan being undertaken by the US military using special forces and drones. It can be viewed here: America’s Secret Killers