New Drone Can Be Stored in Soldiers’ Backpacks

Drone technology is advancing and their use is proliferating exponentially, as the public and the law lag behind

Drone technology is advancing faster than the public or the legal system has time to catch up to their now ubiquitous use in America’s many war zones. US troops in Afghanistan will soon be able to deploy what’s called the Switchblade, a miniature drone that can be stored in a backpack and be launched from the ground to surveil or kill targets.

A California-based company, AeroVironment, Inc., developed the Switchblade to be fired from a small tube and can transmit wireless live color video, confirm a target, and arms itself at the operator’s demand, and shoot. The company’s website says it “is designed to provide the warfighter with a ‘magic bullet,'” that is “difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range.”

The U.S. Army awarded a $4.9 million contract to AeroVironment this past June for deployment, and it is to be used very soon on an upcoming mission in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Drones are fast becoming the weapons of choice for America. In the first nine months of 2011, US-led spy drones conducted nearly 23,000 surveillance missions in Afghanistan. At nearly 85 flights a day, that figure is almost double the daily amount from only two years earlier. The unmanned aerial vehicles are also used in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq and are being sold to various governments all around the world.

Part of the heralded appeal of the Switchblade and of drone vehicles generally is that they are precision vehicles that reduce the potential for collateral damage. But notably, two US soldiers were recently killed by a mistaken drone attack in a case of friendly fire.

Over the years, the drone war along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has killed literally hundreds of civilians, including at least 168 children. Investigative journalist Noor Behram, on the ground in Pakistan for years counting civilian casualties from drones, estimated that for every 10 to 15 civilians, drone attacks kill one militant.

Ominously, military drone technology is increasing for domestic use as well. Expecting budget cuts, the defense industry has begun to shift the sale of the high tech drones from the Pentagon to local police departments.

Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry in a debate this week urged for the use of Predator drones along the US border with Mexico. “You use Predator drones that are being trained right up here at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada,” Perry said, “to use that real-time information to give those boots on the ground that information, and they can instantly move to those areas. And that is the way to shut that border down, to secure that border.”

The use of drones has dangerously permitted the government to disregard the sovereign borders of other countries and skirt their legal obligations to inform the American people of their aggressive actions abroad. Drones have eased the process of making war, and it doesn’t bode well for targeted countries, or for the US.

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Author: John Glaser

John Glaser writes for Antiwar.com.