"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it." -- Robert E. Lee, observing the aftermath of the Battle of Fredricksburg where the Union Army, twice as strong as the Confederate forces, took twice the casualties before retreating
I wonder about the use of drones in warfare. I understand their utility at a basic level. Many of them can stay for a day or longer, loitering until a target comes along. They're relatively cheap and easy to maintain in no small part due to the lack of a crew; they're easily replaceable; and training is much simpler. They are almost a perfect weapons platform, especially as the Small Diameter Bomb and other limited-radius weapons come into use to limit collateral damage.Baron Munchausen: What's this?
Vulcan: Oh, this is our prototype. RX, uh, Intercontinental, radar-sneaky, multi-warheaded nuclear missile.
Baron Munchausen: Ah! What does it do?
Vulcan: Do? Kills the enemy.
Baron Munchausen: All the enemy?
Vulcan: Aye, all of them. All their wives, and all their children, and all their sheep, and all their cattle, and all their cats and dogs. All of them. All of them gone for good.
Sally: That's horrible.
Vulcan: Ahh. Well, you see, the advantage is you don't have to see one single one of them die. You just sit comfortably thousands of miles away from the battlefield and simply press the button.
-- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, discussion between the protagonists and Vulcan in his weapons factory
But at the same time, one of their major successes, that of removing the risk to US forces, is perhaps also their major failure. A drone is a simple thing, mostly an airplane with a radio remote control. Even small countries are now fielding them for reconnaissance, and soon many will have them armed. And all it takes to kill a blotch on a screen is to press a button. The pilot watches on the screen until there's a puff of debris, and it's done.
It started, of course, in Afghanistan, expanded in Iraq, and has been used most frequently in Pakistan. But that's not the only place it's been used. US drone strikes have been all but confirmed in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and are suspected in other countries.
The US public supports the strikes overwhelmingly, with more than 80% approving. Even I am in that category, though for more complex reasons than the most common one, that no US personnel are at risk.
But with this removal of risk and the ever-expanding capabilities of drones (the F-22 and the F-35 may be the last completely manned fighters in US inventories), do we risk turn war so bloodless for our side that it becomes the default option, a cudgel with which to beat down anyone who disagrees with us?