On the current German drone debate

(This text was a hasty one, wasn't written well. Read it as a mere pointer at a single aspect of the debate only, please.)

There's now a discussion in Germany about whether to buy armed drones or not.
This was to be expected, as I had noticed anecdotal evidence for a widespread aversion to armed drones caused by their use as assassination weapons and civilian deaths producers by the U.S.military and the CIA.

The people who are now oh-so exasperated about the drone thing aren't exactly strong on details.

Just a few examples;
(1) The Bundeswehr invested much money into the development of an autonomous attack (kamikaze) drone, and its introduction was prevented more by the end of the Cold War than by anything else: Taifun/TARES.
There was a budget for this development for years, yet seemingly none of those who now complain about ethical or other issues are remembered as having opposed this.
(2) There are already armed drones in use with the Bundeswehr. Some naval mine-hunting drones drop demolitions or explode themselves.
(3) What about artillery? A drone operator does at least see whom he kills or what (s)he destroys - few artillerymen ever do so.
(4) What about GBU-54? It's a marvellous piece of ammunition*; inertial navigation system, GPS, semi-active laser seeker - all attached to a good-sized bomb and to be dropped from 15,000+ ft altitude.
Germany imported it years ago without a public debate. The Typhoon pilot dropping this would look at a screen just as a drone pilot would. And don't get me started on Taurus...
(5) Naval warfare in general. Quite some separation of decision-maker and target in there, too. So why is there no ethical problem if this disassociation is supposedly such a problem with armed drones?

That being said, the ministry of defence excuse that armed drones are necessary because of the fiduciary duty (~ don't expose men to risks if avoidable) is hardly a solid one. A Typhoon flying at 15,000 ft is safe in a war of occupation. A Reaper-like drone would not be of use in a real inter-state war. A Barracuda-like system might be survivable enough in a real inter-state war, but then the risks to 200 pilots are clearly overshadowed by the need for efficacy, as hundreds of thousands of troops and possibly sovereignty would be at stake.

I fear this is one of the many ill-guided anti-military fever attacks, similar to the silly campaign against small arms exports. They attempt to keep a Pandora's box closed that's not really closed any more, and has plenty substitutes anyway.
The whole military drones topic is a very mixed bag, and much could be said against the high endurance high altitude class which looks very much like an assassination- and occupation-only vehicle class to me. Some other drones make much sense.
Whatever anti-war energy is available should be directed better.



*: You could equip a combat aircraft with MICA IR and GBU-54 and would be able to fly about 90% of missions with just these two munitions.


  1. What about SEAD? And the fact the a flight hour of a drone is way cheaper than that of a Typhoon?

    1. The ability of drones to make do without SEAD or at least standoff jamming is extremely questionable.
      The cost effectiveness of a specialised drone in comparison to conventional combat aviation, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles is a tricky calculation with many unknowns.

      But nothing of this actually influences the debate so far.

  2. "The whole military drones topic is a very mixed bag, and much could be said against the high endurance high altitude class which looks very much like an assassination- and occupation-only vehicle class to me."

    Peace time monitoring as well, sit them on the land border, or at the 12mile sea border and look over.
    Not to mention follow ships/fleets around.

    But their use in a peer conflict seems deeply questionable, unless you count depleting enemy missile stocks.

  3. The real evil in war is made with the decision to go to war in the first place, after that, the "how it is done" is eclipsed by the "original sin" of the decision.

    The only pertinent argument vis a vi drones, is on effectiveness. If using a drone to deliver weapons is more likely to cause fratricide of civilians or friendly forces then it is a problem. Otherwise, the drone represents no detriment.