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Unmanned Warriors: The Evolution of Drones in Modern Warfare

by admin

Transforming Warfare: The Role of UAVs

When Admiral Eric Olson, the former leader of U.S. Special Operations Command, talks of the challenges facing our nation, he pulls up a photo called “The World at Night,” which is dotted with specs of light in urban, stable regions of the globe, amid swaths of dark spots representing the dangers — often impoverished, third-world territories overrun with terrorists.

Over the last decade, and especially the last few years, special operations forces have depended on unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to help fight in the shadowy spots. Whether a night raid to free humanitarian workers in Somalia, or surveillance footage amid the daring Bin Laden raid in Pakistan, drones — built with visual sensors, navigation and often weapons systems — have transformed the landscape of warfare, providing reconnaissance and first-strike capabilities in the most remote, and hostile, regions of the world.

Evolution of UAVs: From Surveillance to Lethal Strikes

The U.S. Air Force began flying surveillance drones over Afghanistan in 2000, and armed vehicles shortly after September 11. In late 2001, the military leaned heavily upon UAVs during the war against the Taliban, and in a little more than a decade, CIA and military personnel today work side-by-side to launch strikes in countries from the Middle East to East Africa. In fact, according to PBS, the Pentagon alone has a cache of over 10,000 drones, usually used to spy, but also sometimes to kill.

The Historical Context of UAVs

During both World Wars, rapid advances in manned aviation and military aircrafts refueled the idea of armed drones, prompting the government to enlist scientists like Thomas Edison to explore ways to use technology to improve pilotless aircrafts for the Naval Consulting Board. Those early models — small, explosive-laden planes — flew until their engines stalled after a predetermined number of revolutions, then headed into a terminal nosedive before exploding on the target below.

During the Cold War, a breed of smart robotic spies joined the military and intelligence arsenals. As ground troops fought in Vietnam, UAVs supplied important aerial surveillance of enemy positions and battlefield conditions, underscored by airmen awarding “purple hearts” to damaged or lost drones.

But it wasn’t until 1991, amid the closing days of the Gulf War, that UAVs hit its current critical milestone. “The aptly named ‘Pioneer’ provided live television surveillance of the battlefield and made history when Iraqis surrendered to one of the unarmed drones,” Kenneth Hough, a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote in an article. “[It was] the first time a robot had ever captured humans in war.”

Types and Contributions of Drones

Various types of drones are used in missions. Lethal “Predators” and their larger, more powerful “Reapers” hunt for suspects, flanked by a support of “Ravens” — a three-foot drone that fits in a soldier’s backpack — and high-flying “Global Hawks,” which can stay aloft for up to 35 hours.

Impact of UAVs on National Security

Having flown thousands of missions over the past decade, drones today form a valuable part in the nation’s arsenal, having helped to find and eliminate around 70 percent of the top leadership of Al-Qaeda, according to PBS.

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