Battleland

Drone Monopoly: Hope You Enjoyed It While It Lasted

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Air Force & Battleland

This illustration is not meant to imply Pakistan is operating Predator drones.

Shortly after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency began secretly killing suspected Taliban and al Qaeda militants in western Pakistan with Predator drones. The Pakistani government was so eager to hide the CIA’s fingerprints that it said the attacks were the work of the Pakistani government.

After years of such mysterious strikes, it became increasingly clear that it was the U.S. government that was conducting them. As that truth became increasingly undeniable, Islamabad began complaining ever more loudly about the Americans infringing on their national sovereignty.

A pair of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt last month killed nine people, including a pair of senior al Qaeda leaders. Pakistan made its rote complaint to the U.S. embassy.

But the U.S. says – although you should take this with a grain of saltpeter – that it hasn’t launched any drone attacks in Pakistan since January.

The New York Times reports from Islamabad Tuesday that at least one, and perhaps both, of the strikes were most likely carried out by…the Pakistani government. Pakistan is known to have been working on drones capable of firing weapons; Pentagon officials say they do not know what kind of weapons might have been used in the February strikes.

This is all, of course, a part of the slipperiness of drone warfare. It could be a sign that the virtual U.S. monopoly on armed drones is eroding. It is going to happen; the only question is when.

Screen shot 2013-03-05 at 8.16.52 AM

Long War Journal

The number of drone strikes in Pakistan attributed to the U.S. by the independent Long War Journal has dropped sharply in recent years.

Beyond that, it’s important to note that Washington and Islamabad have different enemies in Pakistan’s tribal regions. There’s long been a tug-of-war that sometimes has boiled down to this: Pakistan winks at U.S. drone strikes on its territory against targets the U.S. wants taken out, in exchange for the U.S. hitting targets selected by Pakistan.

The U.S. targets insurgents dedicated to retaking Afghanistan, while Pakistan goes after those more interested in taking over Pakistan. They are not the same. (Think of it as a new form of literal takeout: I’ll have one from Column A, and he’ll have one from Column B.)

More important, in the long run, is determining the paternity of the trigger-puller. When the U.S. was the only nation flying – and firing – drones, it wasn’t hard to figure out who was doing the shooting. But we’re moving quickly into more complicated airspace, where unmanned aircraft, capable of remote operation from hundreds of miles away, are going to make it tougher to know who’s the killer.

9 comments
drudown
drudown

It "ends" as soon as the US firm sells them to our enemies. Nice reporting!


kathy
kathy

It's worth watching Nova's program on the drones.  It's clear that just about any country that wants them will have them soon if they don't already.  At least for spying, if not for weaponizing.  You can make your own to spy on your neighbors, if you want.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

*shrugs*

So dictators and other oppressive regimes are going to have more tools in their arsenal, as always, and Drones remain manually controlled so they will remain inherently inferior to their manned equivalents, drones have the same limitations to anti-air (and possibly greater) than manned aircraft, and the US will retain a diverse and large drone fleet keeping an asymetric advantage for the foreseeable future.  So National Security wise....no change.  Sure, it's nice to know who's attacking who but I don't think that's going to be the biggest problem

MrObvious
MrObvious

The funny part about that graph is that it looks like a hand forming a specific finger; as to tell us that someone is giving us a finger for flaunting what used to be an technological advantage and it's now something other countries will use, possibly against us.

Think about it; it's cheaper to have a fleet of drones with trained 'pilots' then it is to have an experienced air force.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Did we supply Pakistan with drone technology or did they develop it on their own?



 

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@kathy You would never suggest that if you had ever clapped eyes on my neighbors. *shudder*

MrObvious
MrObvious

@sacredh 

I bet this was exported to them. I doubt Pakistan have the resources to field their own drone technology and remote location to fly them from. I suspect the first other nations to make their own would be something like China and Russia and I'm sure they're already working on them. But Pakistan? I smell CIA.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@MrObvious

I could easily see either way.  It's been a decade already so unless it took them half the time to recognize the value of the drone program, I would expect that any nation could've built usable drones in that time frame - after all, several private companies have developed their own drone programs in that time frame as well.  Plus, just because Pakistan is the first non-American country to use a drone doesn't mean they're the first to have a drone - I wouldn't be surprised if China and Russia have drones but haven't been using them.

I doubt the hardware is that hard to put together into something usable (not ideal, but usable) - until recently, the biggest advantage the US military had was that they likely had more advanced communication technologies and could transmit much higher bandwidths wirelessly (which I actually think is the biggest technological barrier).  After that, the next biggest problem is actually missile technology - do you have effective missile guidance systems (which the US has boasted since the Gulf War) - but even that, you could conceivably buy the missile from the US and work with an appropriate API to tie your software in making the next step just writing the code.

All of which is to say: the drones could easily be 100% Pakistani.

notsacredh
notsacredh

That's what I was thinking. I also think that giving Pakistan drone technology means that it's now available to any nation with the cash to buy it.