Drones as a murder weapon – the evolution of military ethics and morals


Many inventions in the history of mankind appeared for the first time as weapons and only then were used in everyday, peaceful life. The advent of drones became possible with the development of electronics, but the theory of such remote-controlled devices appeared long before that. For example, Zvorykin described airplanes that, without human intervention, transmit a picture to the TV and allow assessing the situation somewhere far away without risking the life of the crew. The inventor of the TV was right that drones would appear, and he also foresaw the main directions of their use.

The first country to start creating and mass-producing drones was Israel, such devices acted as scouts, and also made it possible to direct combat helicopters to the target. Since its inception, Israel has existed surrounded by hostile states, as a result, the state has adopted the doctrine of killing its own enemies without trial or investigation anywhere in the world. Some of these enemies fall under the concept of terrorists, some are not. It is necessary to realize that Israel in peacetime used violence outside its own territory, did it constantly and on a large scale, regardless of the number of civilians injured, these were collateral losses. Targeted assassination operations were often complex, involving both the security services and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), resulting in casualties. Israel actively sought means to ensure that the killings were carried out without a threat to personnel, as well as to make them difficult to directly link to the country. The solution was to develop a drone program.

The first Israeli drones were military equipment, they were copied from American prototypes, but following the results of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the IDF command considered them insufficiently functional. The Israeli Air Force received huge budgets for development, and the losses in this war were catastrophic for all parties to the conflict. In fact, Israel won, but paid a high price for it, many considered this victory to be Pyrrhic. The development of drones got a second wind, and by 1982 new drone designs were widely used in reconnaissance operations. A small drone was equipped with cameras, controlled from the truck, in which the operator was located, and a picture was transmitted to the monitors in real time. Such drones did not have any weapons at that time. Zahavan drones (known as Scout in the west) were created by Israel Aerospace Industries and became the basis for subsequent modifications, they proved that this direction could become promising.

Drones as a murder weapon - the evolution of military ethics and morals

Israel did not have enough funds to develop drones, so the IDF tried to get the United States involved. During the visit of US Secretary of Defense Kaspar Weinberg, video footage of his trip to Beirut was shown, the cortege was filmed by drones. The drone operation over foreign territory impressed the military. The result was that 175 drones were purchased by the US Army, they were in service with the Marines, Navy and Army until 2007, we know them as Pioneer.

By 1990, Israeli drones received lasers, they can illuminate targets. At the same time, Apache attack helicopters were equipped with Hellfire missiles, which can be aimed at a target using a laser beam. Lacking their own weapons, drones have evolved from an observer to a gunner who can indicate targets. From the end of 1991, training flights began, drones and helicopters worked in tandem to learn how to find targets and destroy them. The innovation was not perceived unequivocally in the Israeli army, many considered it a toy that is not applicable in real life. But critics of the use of drones did not know that in February the army carried out an attack on foreign territory, a motorcade of several vehicles was destroyed by fire from helicopters, and target illumination was carried out with the help of drones. This proved that the technology works and is promising. In that targeted murder, in addition to the target of the Israeli intelligence services, family members were killed who, in theory, should not have been harmed. But few people paid attention to this, since during targeted killings by Israel, civilians constantly died, and representatives of the authorities of other states, no one considered it important. Israel is the first country in the world that has elevated murder without trial and investigation into the prerogative of the state, and when this murder concerns any citizen of another country, whom Israel considers its enemy. And the accompanying victims were never taken into account, as well as mistakes in identifying victims, for example, a man was killed in Switzerland, he was shot in cold blood in the presence of his pregnant wife. The operatives confused him, and it was a mistake. The reasons that prompted Israel to use terrorist methods may have been good, but the state actually adopted similar methods and denied citizens of other countries the right to defense or even the semblance of a court. For most people, all this seems impossible, sometimes incredible, but these are the facts. I highly recommend Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First, a detailed listing of targeted assassinations committed by Israel over the years and around the world. The work is not only meticulous, but showing the people behind these decisions. And showing that the system itself has many flaws, which leads to the death of civilians, who are considered simply attendant victims. For those looking to gain a little better understanding of the origins of the Middle East conflict, this is a wonderful piece of work, with many details that are not usually highlighted in literature.

Israel inspired the US Army to use drones, gave impetus to the development of this direction. But in addition to technology, America also borrowed many ideological moments, the right to destroy its enemies in any territory. The use of drones is not a matter of technology; it is a matter of military ethics and morality. Is it possible to violate the borders of another country in order to strike at military or peaceful targets on its territory? We all know the formal answer, but in reality the answer sounds much simpler – it is possible if this country cannot retaliate against your facilities. The right of the strong presupposes that any action against a country that cannot fight back is justified. US Air Force Officer David Deptula describes the drones as follows: “The real advantage of these drones is that they allow you to project power without projecting vulnerabilities.” That is, an operator located at an Air Force base near Las Vegas kills enemies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world, but even a potentially enemy cannot answer him.

Who are the enemies for this operator? These are the targets that other people give him, he knows absolutely nothing, his task is to press a key so that the Hellfire rocket hits the target, and there are no civilians nearby, if possible. But how are goals selected? Someone is keeping track of the list of those who need to be hit with fire from heaven.

The American army uses a profiling method, a person is put on a list for murder or capture, and then technical means begin to track his contacts, calls and movements. If a “rebel” communicates with other people, then they fall into the circle of suspects, communicates often – they are automatically included in the list for murder (capture for such people is not used). The flaw with this approach is that no one checks who is actually on these lists. Imagine that someone named you “bad” and added you to the murder list. Your entire inner circle, everyone with whom you communicate more or less constantly, also become “bad”, with a high probability they will fall on the same list and will be killed, but only later.

Big data analysis does not include trying to understand the lives of real people; programs analyze phone calls, your communication, and build connections. And then drones take off, systematically killing those who are on the list for destruction. These are often erroneous goals, since software does not know how to draw conclusions, it is written by people, and algorithms often miss the mark.

Drones as a murder weapon - the evolution of military ethics and morals

On March 17, 2011, the Americans attacked a group of “rebels” in the Datta-Khel area, killing 19 to 30 people, and the strike was deemed successful. The drones identified the location of the people on the ground as resembling a rebel camp, a template laid down in their program. The operator confirmed that the target was legitimate and could be hit.

In reality, it was a meeting of the villagers, they were discussing common problems when they were hit by a missile strike. The meeting of the villagers was like a meeting of the rebels, there was no difference in the template. I do not think that the programmers who trained the algorithms felt remorse, because it was not they who made the decision to destroy the “rebels” on the other side of the world. It turns out that drones in this case are a weapon of state terrorism and intimidation of the population of other countries, which is equated to terrorists by default and can be destroyed without trial or investigation simply because of this possibility.

I will quote Gregoire Chamaya about the moral aspects of what is happening: “Before our eyes, there is a conscious transition from one official ethics to another, from the ethics of self-sacrifice and courage to the ethics of self-preservation and more or less openly acknowledged cowardice. In this great process of reappraisal of values, we must now trample everything that we once worshiped and exalt what we once held with contempt. What was previously called cowardice becomes courage, what was called murder becomes a battle, and the spirit of self-sacrifice, which condemned the enemy to certain death, causes only disgust. Baseness is elevated to the rank of greatness. In this sense, we are observing not so much the spectacle of a “war without valor” as the enormous work of re-evaluating military valor ”.

Until American drone pilots were banned from publicly commenting on how they viewed the killing of other people, they were frank about it:

  • Oh, this is a real thrill for the player!
  • It’s like playing Civilization where you command units and units in battle.
  • It’s like a video game. It can get a little bloody, but damn it, how cool!

These are the statements of three pilots, and dozens of them can be cited, people perceived the killing of other people as a game on their monitor screen.

In the United States, for the past ten years, there has been a campaign in which they try to present drones as humane weapons, as if they can distinguish enemies from ordinary civilians. Considering that the radius of destruction of the Hellfire missile is 15 meters, and people are injured at a greater distance, it is impossible to call this weapon a pinpoint weapon. Innocent people are constantly dying from drone fire, including in countries where there are no wars, and the United States simply considers them its targets (the same Pakistan, where in some years there was one drone strike every four days!).

In 2011, the problem of the accuracy of the strikes was radically solved, the statistics of the US Department of Defense showed that all the targets hit were enemies and not a single civilian was injured. And all thanks to the dedication of drone pilots, HD video and other technological gimmicks. It took several months to understand the reasons for such a sharp change in civilian casualties, an article in the New York Times put everything in its place. The US Army considered “anyone of a male and active age in the affected area to be a combatant … unless there is clear posthumous evidence that he was innocent.”

You were killed, considered an enemy, but if you wish, you can prove that this is not so. You are simply unlucky enough to find yourself in a zone that the US Army has considered a war zone. Let me remind you that the US drones are used in exactly the same way as Israel, outside their territories, outside the combat zones, that is, in any place that the army considers to be a zone of its interests. Reading the Military Review, I often come across the regrets of the American military that there are countries in the world with effective air defense systems, which creates difficulties for resolving military-political issues. Pay attention to the news when America is trying to create problems for any country that buys foreign non-disconnectable air defense systems that are effective against drones and aircraft. The reason is exactly the same, in this case the projection of power to other territories fails, cannot be used to destroy “enemies”.

In the description of drone tactics, I was struck by one of the techniques, the conditional territory is divided into “kill zones”, that is, the battlefield. All targets within this battlefield are considered legitimate and can be destroyed without any additional request. The destruction of one target leads to the fact that the rank of others rises, that is, the death row is replenished with new unknowns. This is a bloody meat grinder, in which other people’s lives are simply grinded, indiscriminately and trying to understand who it was. On the other hand, the algorithms that populate the kill list work exactly the same way. And this is the difference between the approach of the United States and the same Israel, they highlight the key goal, they know the name of the person, understand why they want to kill him. They don’t take into account the losses that happen because of this, but the goal itself has at least some meaning in their coordinate system. In the tactics of American drones, the goal is primary, and who it is is not so important – the person got to the wrong place at the wrong time. This makes me jar, because the state acts in this case as an authority that assumes the right to deprive citizens of other countries of life, and on a massive scale and without any kind of court. On someone else’s territory and without regard to any laws, except for the law of the strong. In the legal aspect, drones are outside the legal field, their use is not regulated in any way, and they are trying to leave this situation as it is, since it provides ample opportunities for interpretation in their favor.

The use of drones also shows that a person’s life is worth very little, especially where states cannot protect their citizens from death, which is sent from the sky when the operator presses a button thousands of kilometers away. This is how our world works, it just needs to be realized and understood, no international law in this case works, it simply does not exist. In several countries, the season of hunting for “enemies” is open, and as you saw above, it is quite easy to get on this list. It’s just a meat grinder that doesn’t care who gets into it. And the more terrible the weapon, the more humane they try to present it.

Drones continue to evolve, they have received not only weapons, they are becoming autonomous combat modules. The weak link in the control of the drone is its pilot, he may flinch, not press the button, he may be disturbed by victims who accidentally find themselves in the place of impact. The refusal of the operator is logical, since the decision can be made by the machine, and the programmers will nest various templates to make the drone more humane than a person can be. This is another final decision on the question of choosing whether to kill or not. The algorithm has no emotion and it will just work as programmed. And something tells me that this will lead to the fact that the meat grinder will work constantly and non-stop.

For those who are interested in this question, I highly recommend the book by Gregoire Chamaiu “Theory of the drone”, it raises questions of ethics, morality, the use of drones in war and examples of how the United States made killing with drone massive and does not bear any responsibility for it. This is not an accusation against the United States as a country, but rather an examination of the whole situation, different aspects of technology. The book is small, but you will enjoy reading it immensely.

Drones as a murder weapon - the evolution of military ethics and morals


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