Ethically Right

An international framework on the use of drones during conflicts should be worked out

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Pilotless combat aircrafts will certainly be the future of aerial warfare. Western militaries, particularly the United States and United Kingdom, had already committed their vast resources to the development of armed combat drones. Other developing countries are catching up too. So, whether one likes it or not, use of drones is going to be a real thing in future military conflict.

An international framework on the use of drones during conflicts should be worked out

With that in mind, the debate should now move to the ethical practice of unmanned combat aircrafts in conflict regions that could reduce damage to civilian lives. Pilotless mission dropping bombs has always lead to disastrous results. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes by CIA and Pentagon’s secretive special services outfit, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) killed at least 2,500 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in the last six years, most of whom were civilians.

It is, therefore, in the best interest of the nations to evolve an international framework on the use of drones. It is known that the US has gained a considerable monopoly over the use of drones in the last few decades. Apart from the US, countries like the UK and Israel have been using advanced drones in conflict areas. The monopoly over these aircraft is slowly fading away and more countries are developing stealth drones. And before these developments escalate disputes, it would be better to come up with an international strategy.

In order to minimise the damage and undertake precision strikes, armed forces could integrate the manned and unmanned combat aircrafts. The US Army and Boeing company are studying a unique manned/unmanned vehicle teaming concept that could enhance the tactical advantages in the battlefield for the future US Army combat helicopter pilots. The teaming concept will allow helicopter pilots to obtain valuable information transmitted from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to locate, identify and target the enemy, and share that information in real time with friendly forces.

Validation of the manned/unmanned vehicle-teaming concept could lead to its use throughout the army’s aviation fleet. This programme worth USD 1.2 million was recently awarded to Boeing Phantom Works by the US Army Aviation. The programme, Airborne Manned/Unmanned System Technology Demonstration (AMUST-D), nicknamed ‘AMUST-Baseline’, will team an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter with a Hunter UAV developed jointly by TRW and Israeli Aerospace Industries. Boeing will perform the required engineering, logistics support services and analysis, while TRW will adapt existing Hunter UAV control software to interface with the Apache Longbow. The Hunter UAV can be equipped with a variety of sensors and cameras to provide day/night reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition support in field operations.

The UKs Taranis programme also aims at the effective integration of unmanned and manned aircrafts in conflict scenario. Taranis, a top secret UAV, which is believed to be the most advanced aircraft ever built by British engineers, is planning to undergo the final round of test flight later this year. The tests will include simulated weapons release to test its air strike capabilities. The UK ministry of defence (MoD), along with the manufacturer BAE systems, released the information. “The UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected,” said a statement from BAE systems. “The technological advances made through Taranis will also help the UK MoD and Royal Air Force make decisions on the future mix of manned and unmanned fast jet aircraft and how they will operate together in a safe and effective manner for the UK’s defences”.

Funded jointly by the UK MoD and the UK’s defence industry, Taranis programme is reported to have cost GBP 185 million approximately. And the aircraft, under the control of a human operator, can undertake sustained surveillance missions, mark targets, gather intelligence, deter adversaries and carry out strikes in hostile territory. Apart from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, the Systems division of GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Aerospace) and QinetiQ are working alongside the UK MoD military staff and scientists in this Taranis programme.

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