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So what's wrong with drone strikes?

Drone strikes look like the perfect solution: clean, low risk, inexpensive, and only the target, and possibly the weapon, gets hurt. At first glance it looks like the absolute perfect military device. And of course in many ways it is the perfect military device. It strikes from afar, it's highly accurate, there is little or no risk of life on our side, and it's extremely effective.

Drone technology evolved from model air plane technology. The servomotors that drive drone control surfaces are very nearly the same servomotors that drive model aircraft control surfaces. The technologies that made military drones possible were satellite-based transmissions and digital encoding of the signals. The satellite enhancement made long-range control a viable option. The digital encodings made it significantly more difficult to crack the signal and take over the drone. Of course that didn't make it impossible to take over the drone, a fact which was driven home by Iran's theft of a drone not very long ago. But they're easily replaceable so that is not the problem with drones.

The real problem with drones is also one of their advantages. That problem is that no one is exposed to danger when they are used. This makes an act of war too easy, and far too cheap.

War is the last resort of diplomacy. Everything else should be attempted first, and because of the cost of going to war is (was) so high, everything else has usually been attempted first. With drones however, since there is no possible loss of life on “our” side, drones are easily deployed and there are minimal political repercussions because all of “our boys” come home each night. For me, this is the most troubling aspect of drones, but for some this will be a mere sideline. The other trouble with drones is the ease with which they can be reproduced by other, possibly unfriendly organizations. Let me give you an example.

Nearly every army worthy of the name has access to rocket-propelled grenades. They are a man-fired high explosive device. That device can easily be mounted on a large scale model aircraft. That aircraft can purchased, in kit form, at any hobby shop, anywhere in the world along with the controlling electronics. Next, you need eyes on board the airplane. Since our controller can’t reach half way around the world, our eyes don’t have to either. A wireless enabled webcam should do the trick. Would you like more range so that you can fly the bird beyond your sight? No problem. Just do a little preparation work to find and crack into wireless networks along your planned route. Now you can use the internet to control your aircraft from afar. Another option would be to setup a wireless network at the target location and launch from there using a virtual private network (VPN) from half way around the world.

We can launch our drone from the roof of a building. Maybe it’s a building overlooking Central Park. Perhaps we can see the Pentagon or the White House, or the Capitol Building from our rooftop. Pick a target. And when the grenade goes off, we can take what pride we will from knowing we showed them how to do it. No, it won’t be destruction on the order of 9/11, but it might well be a very high value target. It could be a specific general, a particularly powerful politician or media personality. As I said, pick a target.

Are you nervous yet? If you aren’t you need to re-read this article, pickup a model airplane magazine and then go talk to a computer geek about how hard it is to setup a VPN. Once you’re nervous about others doing it is us, perhaps we should rethink the morality and wisdom of us doing it to others.