By Boris Volkhonsky
As reported by Reuters from the international aerospace exhibition at Farnborough, the US firm General Atomics expects to make first sales of an unarmed version of its Predator drones this year, with Latin America and the Middle East seen to be particularly fertile markets.
The drones have revolutionized warfare for the United States in the last 15 years, and the US has enjoyed almost unlimited monopoly. A handful of closest US allies like Britain, Italy and Turkey, were allowed to buy drones and use them – mostly alongside US forces, but the US rejected numerous requests from other sources.
The military doctrine adopted by the Pentagon early this year puts a special emphasis on the use of drones. Despite certain negative effects this type of warfare has produced in latest years (like indiscriminate killings of civilians, the spoilt relationship with former allies, including Pakistan), the Pentagon and the administration find it quite useful.
As for civilian deaths and other collateral damage, the Pentagon has never felt any concerns (less so, remorse) about it. If, say, guests at an Afghan or Pakistani wedding start expressing their joy by firing Kalashnikovs in the air, then, according to the US logic, it is totally their fault that a drone would react to the fire with a couple of missiles. And as for the risk of losing allies, the case of Pakistan shows that the US remains of an opinion that it is capable of buying out alliances – at least temporarily.
In fact, the monopoly on drone warcraft the US has enjoyed lately is something it would like to last forever. Indeed, this is a very convenient thing and quite becoming of the morale of US troops – sitting somewhere in a secured place and operating a deadly machine from a safe distance. Just another kind of computer game. And definitely, if it were in the US’ power, it would never allow anybody to get access to this kind of toy.
But as was demonstrated by science fiction writer Robert Sheckley almost 60 years ago, every watchbird has its limitations – or, if it does not, it becomes ruinous to its creator. Several latest developments have prompted the US to abandon its monopoly and explore commercial opportunities.
For one, at the Farnborough Airshow, almost every major international aircraft maker brought with them their own latest drones. Therefore, the US monopoly is doomed.
Second, the looming troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a temporary appeasement in the relationship with Pakistan mean that in the coming few years the demand for drones in the US itself will be limited. But this might mean that the drone makers might experience difficulties, and workers risk losing jobs. This is something the administration is not going to face in the election year.
Therefore, choosing between the two evils, it has made its choice.
What is alerting, though, is the fact that there are too many underwater reefs in the process. One of them being the choice of “particularly fertile markets” – Latin America and the Middle East.
In previous years, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have been among the most active applicants for the drone sales. Undoubtedly, the two countries are regarded as the US closest allies in the region. But remembering the nationality of 9/11 terrorists, one could only wonder for what end the two countries are going to exploit the advanced weapons.
As for the US “soft belly” – Latin America – with its unpredictable U-turns in politics, it remains totally at the administration’s and Pentagon’s risk to decide whether arming them with Predators is a good idea.
In any case, what has been demonstrated is a total change of approaches to modern warfare. It is starting to resemble a computer game more and more, giving the actors an impression that they are fighting with virtual monsters. And this is probably the most frightening thing about it – it shows that the value of human life is diminishing despite what the most liberal of all liberal US presidents Barack Obama might say.