One of the key concerns about the growing use of unmanned drones by the military is that as there is no risk to your own forces they make launching armed attacks much easier and therefore more likely. A separate but related concern is how drones are ‘expanding the battlefield’ into areas that would have previously, due to the presence of civilians, been considered off-limits.
Faith in hi-resolution cameras and conviction in the perceived ability of drones to hit targets with great accuracy is giving the illusion of control to military commanders and politicians, control that is simply not possible when firing missiles at, or dropping bombs into crowded urban areas.
The drone industry is of course seeing this all as a ‘market opportunity’ by developing smaller bombs and missiles specifically designed for use by drones in civilian areas.
Last month Raytheon announced that it had flight tested its smallest ever air-launched guided weapon aboard a small drone, while European missile manufacturer MBDA also sees a ‘bright future’ for its small missiles business, having recently bought the company that manufactures the Viper Strike missile. CEO of the American arm of MBDA, Jerry Aggee, said in a recent interview:
Defense budgets might be shrinking, but the drone business is growing. We see the same thing occurring around the world. It will take a few more years for some countries to get there, but clearly, unmanned platforms, with smaller, high-precision weapons have a significant place in the market, both today and years in the future. This is a market that is going to continue.
Perhaps even more scary is the news that smaller drones which up till now have only been used for surveillance are also being weaponized. The US Marines are now trialling an armed version of the small Shadow drone using a munition developed and fielded in secrecy.
“If it works,” AOL Finance Daily says cheerily, “and proves the concept that small UAVs like the Shadow can operate as armed drones in their own right, this should result in new sales opportunities for the major defense weapons makers.”
While the drone industry dreams of a bright and profitable future, the nightmare scenario of hundreds – or even thousands – or small armed drones flying overhead is fast becoming a reality.