#AceNewsReport – Feb.27: A drone loiters in the sky. A crew controls from a distance, hunting for targets. A strike is launched, the explosion tearing apart buildings, vehicles and people with shocking ease:
‘Military drones are changing, as are the wars they’re fighting. Here’s what’s happening now: A US crew on the ground in the United Arab Emirates might launch a Reaper drone into the air, but then hand control over to a different crew located at Creech Airforce Base just outside Las Vegas’
Posted Yesterday at 8:00pm
But that familiar picture is changing fast. Here’s what you need to know.
Hold on, how does drone warfare work right now?
The first thing to know is that the drone — the unmanned aerial vehicle — is only one part of the system.
These crews work out of ground control stations loaded with screens and computers, but also depend on a massive network infrastructure of satellites, data centres and optical fibre cables.
But aren’t drones just remote-control aircraft?
Sort of, but drone crews include more than just pilots.
Depending on the mission, dozens of image analysts might be involved. If a lethal strike is on the table, the so-called “kill chain” brings military lawyers and commanders into the process.
In short, a huge amount of equipment and labour goes into operating military drones. That’s one reason why militaries prefer terms like “remotely piloted aerial system” (RPAS) to “drone”.
Sounds complicated. Are drones really worth the trouble?
It depends who you ask.
Military strategists around the world see drones as game changers.
Large drones like the Predator and Reaper help the US exert power across the globe.
Equipped with high-tech surveillance gear, these drones can provide support for soldiers on the ground as well as launch their own strikes. And they can do all that without exposing their own crews to danger.
Supporters also claim drones make war safer for civilians and soldiers by making it more technical and precise. What is it like to be a military drone operator?When waging war becomes more like a game of Pacman, what does it do the minds of the people joggling the joysticks in front of computer screens?Read more
But thousands of civilians have been killed in American drone strikes alone.
People living under drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere report constant anxiety, never sure when the next strike will come.
So what’s changing?
The world’s most iconic military drones are on their way out. The US officially ended Predator operations three years ago and last year announced it would wind down production of Reapers faster than expected.
That’s partly because the technology is getting old. But it’s also because future wars may be very different to the recent American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
These wars pitted an advanced military machine against poorly equipped armies, insurgents and terrorist groups. Now, ISIS is largely defeated and hunting terrorists across the planet has lost its lustre.
Military planners are looking to the conflicts of the future. For the US and allies such as Australia, this means potential war with Russia or China. How Reaper drones really carry out airstrikesThe US and other militaries that use attack drones are generally very secretive about their operations. So what does such an operation actually involve? Read more
The classic Reaper drone is basically a huge glider with a fancy lawn mower motor strapped to the middle. That makes them target practice for an advanced air force like China’s or Russia’s.
Old school drone war will still happen, but it won’t be the on the main stage.
Out with the old, in with… what, exactly?
New drone technologies come in lots of different shapes, sizes and flavours.
Most are powered by breakthroughs in computer processing and artificial intelligence as much as by aeronautical design.
At last year’s AlphaDogfight Trials in the US, an AI-controlled drone repeatedly beat one of the Air Force’s top fighter pilots.
Because AI-powered drones don’t feel G-force or experience the same desire for self-preservation, they can take risks and do manoeuvres even the best humans can’t or won’t.
This kind of AI control allows for swarming drones — which have been hyped for years but are now being tested in the field.
Swarming? Like robot bees?
Kind of. Swarms rely on drones communicating with each other to achieve a mission — a swarm could be as few as half a dozen or as many as a thousand drones all working together.
Lose one or two drones and the swarm can self-heal by adapting to the loss or calling in a replacement.
A huge area of research and development is human-machine teaming, which could transform warfare on the ground and in the sea, as well as in the sky. Youtube Boeing Australia unveils the Loyal Wingman.
For example, an Australian collaboration with Boeing called Loyal Wingman gives human fighter pilots a team of aerial combat drones. These drones can be used to divert enemy fire or increase attacking capability.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also developments in the world of nano drones.
Like something out of the dystopian TV show Black Mirror, these tiny devices can infiltrate all sorts of inaccessible places without being seen and could be the future of surveillance.
So yes, like robot bees. Sounds like science fiction.
Some of it is — for now.
But lots of these technologies are under development or testing, with deployment not far over the horizon.
Small drones are already more common than their larger cousins. Today, almost every US ground operation brings along a tactical Raven drone that can be launched by a single soldier to give officers on the ground a view from above.
Soon, they might carry a kit of swarming nano drones for urban operations.
This is all scaring me a little
You’re not alone. These new drones also raise the stakes for questions of transparency, accountability and responsibility that were never properly resolved in the old kind of drone war.
With Australia more invested than ever in military drones, these are questions that need asking and answering.
We need a true debate about the future of war and the kinds of weapons we are willing to have used in our name.
Dr Michael Richardson is a senior research fellow at the University of New South Wales specialising in the relationship between drone technology and how drones witness the world, and an ABC Top 5 humanities scholar for 2021.
#AceNewsDesk report ………….Published: Feb.27: 2021:
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