By Vladimir Gladkov
American scientists are working on new-generation nuclear-powered unmanned aircraft capable of staying in the air for up to several months.
While being able to tackle a wider range of more complicated tasks compared to their existing analogues, the new drones will not require a costly air base network for refueling and technical maintenance. What’s more, on February 14 President Barack Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that allows the use drones in U.S. airspace by both state-owned and private companies.
The CIA has often resorted to drones in its war on global terrorism. In the past decade, U.S. drones flew various missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other “hot spots”. Unlike manned warplanes, they offer considerable advantages and help avoid a diplomatic scandal that normally erupts whenever pilots are taken prisoner. In October 2009, the CIA reported that more than a half of 20 most dangerous Al Qaeda leaders were eliminated with the help of drones.
Despite being an effective anti-terror tool, drones have become a nightmare for local residents. Civilian deaths inflicted by drone strikes have repeatedly strained relations between America and Pakistan, one of its key allies in the crackdown on terrorism. According to a report published by the Washington-based Brookings Institution in 2009, ten times as many civilians as suspected terrorists died in U.S. drone attacks. Pakistan’s patience expired in November 2011 after a drone strike erroneously targeted Pakistani troops, prompting Islamabad to shut NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
The above Reauthorization Act approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama shows that no lessons have been learnt from that incident. While providing virtually unlimited opportunities for the use of drones in search and rescue effort as well as in battling wildfires, the document gives the “green light” for drone-based domestic spying.
A tandem of the Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman company is said to be the closest ever to creating nuclear-powered highly-maneuverable missile-carrying drones that can fly for months on end without refueling.
Analysts are warning that the improved drone technology has some major minuses to consider. Drones are not easy to control. Besides, the proliferation of drones in the sky may affect the safety of passenger planes and other manned aircraft. Human rights activists are also ringing alarm over civil liberties violations arising from drone spying.