Philosophy Paper


This paper should discuss the art of war, through the use of drones. How does the use of drones affect power? Stay pro use of drones while citing some slight negatives, but counter again with the benefits of drones. Use the attached thesis statement as a basis for where the paper will go, and feel free to change the thesis statement to better accommodate the paper. Also, use the annotated bibliography attached.


Art of War: Use of Drones


Introduction. 1

Advantages of using drones in military action. 2

How drones have transformed warfare. 4

Advantages of drone warfare. 7

Disadvantages of drones. 13

Conclusion. 16

Works Cited. 18


In recent years, technological advances have led to the development of new tools of war called drones. Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are aircraft controlled by either “pilots” from ground locations or autonomously using a pre-programmed mission. Drones may be put into two major categories: those that are designed to undertake surveillance and reconnaissance activities and those that are used to deliver bombs and missiles to war zones. Unlike manned aircraft, drones can fly non-stop for a longer time. More importantly, they address the problem of exposure to the dangers of warzones on the part of the flight crew; pilots operate them from remote locations, meaning that they do not have to worry about being killed by enemy fire.


Developers of drones are concerned that civilians typically have negative attitudes towards their use in military contexts. They are concerned that with the use of drones, soldiers do not view their targets as real human beings but rather as blips on a computer screen (Medes 31). Since they are completely withdrawn from the horrors of war, they may easily become trigger-happy. Many civilians are worried that drones may eliminate the deterrence that the horrors of war provide.

The thesis of this paper is that although civilians typically have negative opinions regarding drones, their use in military contexts is advantageous with regard to the operational aspects. This is because the use of drones has more pinpoint accuracy and significantly lowers operational hours of military personnel, thus reducing collateral damage to civilians. This paper highlights how the use of drones has been beneficial in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Advantages of using drones in military action

A heated debate has been triggered by the recent increase in the number of drones being used in warfare. During the war on terror in the early 2000s, the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan increased considerably. Today, the drone has become the latest symbol of the US war on terror. The unique capabilities of these weapons enable them to undertake concentrated strikes with precision, speed, and in near-complete anonymity. In many ways, the drone may be said to be an embodiment of the weaponry of today’s globalized world (Ahmed 4). This is mainly because of the advanced technology used to manufacture it, its sleek appearance, and global presence. Modern-day drones can fly at heights of up to 50,000 feet, meaning that they are invisible to their intended victims. Moreover, they can hover around for over twenty-four hours. Targeted enemies cannot escape their drones’ scrutiny, a crucial indicator of their effectiveness in reconnaissance and surveillance work.

In the United States, drones are increasingly being viewed as the ultimate weapon in the fight against terrorism and in ensuring that America is safe at all times. Americans who support their use are often considered patriotic while those who oppose them are seen to be promoting anti-Americanism. To promote their use, the US government has in recent years been allocating huge budgets to both the military and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

With the use of drones, the pilots who man them from remote location need not risk their lives. They report to work like any other office worker and leave work in the evening to rejoin their families. By 2012, the US had commissioned about 20,000 drones, half of which were already in use (Ahmed, 5). These drones are increasingly being used not just by the military but also by internal security agencies and police departments. The preference for drones by the US has triggered an arms race. Many foreign governments have started placing orders for unmanned aerial vehicles of different varieties. Some of the countries that are already using drones include the UK, France, Iran and Israel. Iran joined the league of “drone powers” in September 2012 by unveiling its own attack and reconnaissance drone with an impressive range of about 2,000 kilometers. A month later, France announced plans to send its surveillance drones to Mali in efforts to help the government repel aggression by Tuareg rebels.

The use of drones in Afghanistan has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. A notable development unfolded in October after the UK decided to double the number of armed drones operating in Afghanistan. The additional drones would be operated from an office in the UK. These developments have triggered a lot of talk in the media, with commentators anticipating that the next generation of drones will be nuclear-powered. In spite of this growing public interest, efforts have been made to ensure that drone operations are obscured.

The public is more interested in knowing about the sense of power that drones give the remote pilots and how this is likely to influence the conduct of war in the future. The amazing capabilities of the drones are simply electrifying to the pilots who man them from remote locations. The pilots are able to observe their targets in any part of the world. This means that if the pilots so wished, they can succeed in the goal of ensuring that maximum precision is achieved and collateral damage minimized. A major concern from the public is that pilots are likely to lose the human touch by perceptually reducing their human targets to inanimate objects. Since they are withdrawn too much from the horrors of war they may not think twice before hitting a target.


On the positive side, however, drones have made the war against terrorism more effective in terms of achieving its goals. In Afghanistan, the US military has had to endure long, torturous encounters with hostile local populations in the fight against Taliban militants. In some cases, the intelligence gathered from locals turned out to be misleading, thereby culminating in heavy casualties. With drone capability, the military does not have to rely on local people for intelligence and surveillance. All the surveillance work is done from the safe comfort of an air-conditioned office room in the US. The information received is not only accurate but is also received in a timely manner.

How drones have transformed warfare

            Drones have transformed warfare in many ways. To begin with, the high-tech appeal of drone technology has greatly contributed to the attainment of political consensus in America regarding their use. With this consensus, the CIA is able to deal with individuals and groups that are considered a threat to US security without having to go through the arduous process of political approval. For the first time, the CIA is able to undertake military action against foreign threats even when the US is not officially at war. By 2008, the CIA used drones to conduct at most five strikes in its war against terrorism. Today, this phenomenon has been transformed into a full-blown drone campaign in which as many as 34 strikes are being executed every year (Williams 65).

            The CIA has not always been supportive of the use of drones; in the past, it used to have deep reservations about their efficiency in dealing with elements that posed a threat to peace and stability in the US. Things have changed a lot within a short time to the extent that the CIA is now stepping up drone-aided campaigns against all manner of foreign and local security threats.

            One of the countries where drones have been used is Pakistan. In this country, the ongoing military campaign is exclusively aimed at pinning down Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Critics of this campaign argue that one percent of those killed so far terrorists while 99 percent are civilians (Williams 65). However, following a systematic analysis of the strikes carried out in 2008, it emerged the vast majority of the casualties were terrorists. According to Williams, it became increasingly evident that the drones had a unique capability to find all their targets with unprecedented accuracy and precision (65).

            At the start of the drone campaign in Pakistan in 2008, the first target was Abu Laith al Libbi, one of the top Al Qaeda leaders accused of directing a suicide bombing at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in which 23 people, most of them civilians, died (Williams 65). US intelligence reports had revealed that Libbi was a crucial contact person for Afghan Taliban fighters and provided a crucial link between Taliban and Al Qaeda. At one point, Libbi had released a video in which he advocated for the kidnapping of Westerners as well as an assault on Israel.

            When the US forces started targeting Libbi, they were fully aware of his growing importance to Al Qaeda. The drones finally caught up with him in North Waziristan, killing him instantly alongside 12 Turkmen militants and Taliban fighters. The concerted efforts of jihadist websites to hail Libbi’s martyrdom as a major success reflected his importance to Al Qaeda. The second strike took place in South Waziristan. According to Al Jazeera, the missiles destroyed a house belonging to local operatives with links to militants in the region.

            The third strike, which occurred in March 2008, was also targeted at a village in South Waziristan. In this strike, which killed 18 people, the US acted on information that foreigners with links to Al Qaeda and Taliban militants were residing in the compound of Noorullah Wazir, a Taliban supporter. The growing frequency of the drone attacks in early 2008 drew considerable attention within the US. All of a sudden, the pace of these strikes had increased, thereby fuelling controversy.

            One of reasons provided for the increase in the use of drones during the first three months of 2008 is the new understanding that Pakistani President Musharraf reached with top US officials. The US officials are said to have convinced President Musharraf that it was necessary to update targeting rules to reflect the growing threat posed by Al Qaeda and Taliban not only to the US but also to Pakistan. President Musharraf was convinced that a merger between Pashtun extremists and Al Qaeda had occurred. This created the impression that Taliban posed a serious threat to Pakistan. Consequently, Musharraf signed an agreement that significantly expanded the parameters of the American drone strikes. In the new agreement, the CIA was given “virtually unrestricted authority to target border areas with drone strikes” (Enemark 18).

            The important thing to note at this point is that drones have become a subject of debate in contemporary warfare. The future of war is one where unmanned aerial combat vehicles will be relied on to take out threats without necessarily engaging in an all-out military encounter. The developments in Pakistan demonstrate the extent to which the military strategy of a country could change positively in response to growing threats of terrorism in a foreign country.

Advantages of drone warfare    

            Unmanned aerial vehicles have numerous benefits over their manned counterparts. The most important advantage relates to their endurance, stealth, range, and precision. UAV designs give aeronautical engineers the freedom to come up with aircraft of different shapes and sizes in order to minimize drag, reduce weight, create lift, and streamline air flows, thereby contributing to the overall efficiency of the UAV. Because of these factors, drones can achieve up to double the endurance and range attained by a manned vehicle such as the Joint Strike Fighter. The performance of drones with regards to sensors and systems is also superior to that of manned aircraft. Drones possess advance forms of target acquisition and are able to self-generate very accurate waypoints. Many of them even have sensors for recording bomb damage for purposes of assessment and possible follow-up strikes.

            Another major advantage is reduced cost. Enemark estimates the cost of a drone to be 30-50 percent that of a Joint Strike Fighter (113). However, Enemark points that these numbers are likely to change depending on the willingness by leaders to invest in drones’ future capabilities. For example, the Global Hawk UAV was produced at a cost of $50 million, which is almost the same as that of the manned counterpart that it is seeking to replace, the U-2 (Enemark 109). Although this may not be viewed as a direct comparison, it gives an indication of how drones are likely to suffer from a cost creep that is almost similar to that of manned aircraft (Enemark 109). The most significant cost savings will occur because of reduced training, operating, and logistical costs. However, according to Enemark, military commanders will have to reevaluate the mentality of “expendability” that most people associate with today’s cost-efficient UAVs.

            While commenting on the Predator drone campaign inside Pakistan, former CIA director Leon Panetta stated that the use of drones is the “only game in town” as far as efforts to try and disrupt the leadership of Al Qaeda is concerned. This view is shared by many who support the ongoing aerial assassination campaign that is targeting both the foot soldiers and leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban. While making these comments, Panetta was being frank about the reality on the ground: drones are killing large numbers of terrorists while at the same time making it extremely difficult for them to reorganize and carry out attacks on US interests. The seed of fear is slowly being sowed among the leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban. Apart from saving many civilian lives, the attacks make it extremely difficult for terror groups to plan and execute mass-casualty attacks.

            The discovery of the drone as the ultimate weapon in the future art of war has heralded a new era in which terrorists are themselves being incessantly terrorized. According to Medes, the people of Pakistan have been subjected to too much suffering to an extent whether they are not opposed to the idea of hitting their neighborhoods with missiles launched from UAVs (29). Those who have suffered in the hands of terrorists in the past will appreciate the need to suppress terrorists by curtailing their movement, organization, and ability to interact with the rest of society.

            To appreciate the importance of drones, one may need to view them as a form of self-defense. In June, a drone strike killed a Pakistani terrorist mastermind by the name Ilyas Kashmiri. Kashmiri had been given the task of attempting to assassinate President Obama. From the perspective of conventional military practice, the military action taken against Kashmiri may be defined as “suppression fire” whose aim is to either pin down the enemy or kill him, thus curtailing his ability to fight (Williams 170).

            Proponents of the drone campaign are of the view that anyone in the West who is opposed to the idea of using drones in military action may be said to have a selective memory. Such people have chosen to deliberately overlook the numerous suicide bombings that have killed or maimed hundreds of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have also forgotten about the horrors of the 7/7 London bombings and the 9/11 terror attack. When discussing the demerits of drones, the anti-drone activists choose not to point out the fact that those who carried out these attacks were trained in Afghanistan’s tribal regions. According to Yenne, these activists seem to be living in an alternative world in which the idea of killing terrorists before they unleash terror on innocent civilians is not acceptable (72). Rather, the critics would rather focus entirely on the civilian casualties that may have occurred unintentionally in the process of pinning down bona fide terrorists. From this perspective, it may be argued that if one of the terrorists killed in the drone campaign had succeeded in blowing up a passenger plane, the anti-drone voices would suddenly fall silent.

            In Pakistan, Taliban has killed thousands of citizens. By targeting these terrorists, the US intends to protect not just its own interests but those of Pakistanis as well. The drones have been used numerous times to act as front lines in efforts to defend Pakistanis from further suicide bombings. Unfortunately, the anti-drone activists are often more concerned with the vexed relationship between the Muslim world and the US. They argue that the drone is simply a continuation of a US-led hate campaign against Muslims.

            One of the best examples of how drones have been deployed to save civilian lives is the one in which a Mumbai-style terror plot was thwarted. The plot would not have been disrupted if drones were not used. Terrorists affiliated to Al Qaeda had planned to detonate bombs to kill thousands of civilians in Germany, Britain, and France. Before their plot could materialize, they were hunted down and ultimately killed, thereby saving the lives of many civilians. Security officials in Britain were grateful that the precision with which the drones intercepted the terrorists decimated the senior leadership of Al Qaeda. They were also glad that the drones had led to a significant reduction in the level of terrorist threat in Britain without the need for the country to risk the lives of its military personnel through direct involvement.

            Of the many efforts made by the CIA to hunt down terrorists using drones, the case of Qari Hussain, the Taliban leader in Pakistan, stands out because of its significance to the global fight against terrorism. Hussain was notorious for brainwashing and training suicide bombers who would later on wreck terror in once-tranquil villages in the remote Pakistani border region of Waziristan. Pakistan turned to the US in desperation to seek assistance in killing Hussain. Eventually he was killed in a drone attack on January 2, 2011.

            Whenever such news breaks out, it seems hypocritical for some Pakistanis to stand up in protest. The critics tend to be silent whenever the terrorists slaughter civilians. It is common for the critics to point out that Pakistan’s sovereignty is threatened. This creates the impression that the objective of Americans is to cause harm to Pakistan. The media and public also tend to forget that most of the militant leaders responsible for planning suicide attacks within Pakistan were taught in seminaries operated by the very leaders who are now up in arms protesting the isolated drone attacks. Such leaders do not have the interest of Pakistan at heart because they do not speak up whenever the terrorists carry out suicide bombings.

            Perhaps the critics tend to get scared because of the use of the term “unmanned vehicle systems”, which may create the impression that human beings do not participate in the decision-making process. On the contrary, drones are said to be unmanned in the sense that they are piloted from remote locations, such that the pilot as well as those who control the weapons do not board the aircraft. In the case of “autonomous” firing systems, the issues that may arise are entirely different. In these systems, machines might be involved in the decision-making process to ensure that the right weapons are fired at exactly the right time.

            In the context of traditional battlefields, the use of drones does not raise much controversy. The legal issues arising from their usage are less complicated. This is because they are viewed as an integral part of ordinary roles relating to air power and air support. For example, from the point of view of the military officers taking part in traditional military operations in Afghanistan, drones serve the same purpose as missiles fired from fighter planes that are situated many miles away from the target. The only major difference is the precision with which the drones take out the enemy. This enhanced precision adds to the advantages of drone-launched missiles over their traditional counterparts.

            Those who control UAVs tend to have a better idea regarding which areas to target than a pilot who has to rely on limited input accessible only in the cockpit (US House of Representatives 3). From a legal perspective, there is no difference between a missile fired from an UAV and one fired by a manned aircraft. This is because the legal rules used for assessing whether the target was lawful and evaluating the anticipated collateral damage are similar.

            One of the areas where the biggest controversy has arisen relates to the drones being used in the border region of Pakistan. It is worthwhile to note that this is a perfect case of spillover of an ongoing armed conflict in the neighboring Afghanistan. Many Al Qaeda and Taliban militants are on the run and are looking for safe havens in border regions inside Pakistan. This is a common phenomenon in any international conflict, whereby an enemy hides in a neighboring country hoping that concerns over sovereignty will compel the antagonist to exercise restraint in terms of the amount of force used.  

            Both the US and Pakistan chose to allow the CIA to use drones because of the important international and diplomatic concerns that would ordinarily have been raised regarding cross-border use of force (US House of Representatives 3). These concerns would have been graver if the US had chosen to establish military presence on the ground within Pakistan. No new legal questions targeting the use of drones are supposed to emerge as far as the use of drones by the CIA. If anything, the questions should be restricted to the issue of legality of CIA’s presence in Pakistan under international law.

In the view of the Obama administration, the rationale to use drones to deny the enemy a safe haven is overwhelming. The precision with which the drones target terrorist leaders makes them feel unsafe, thereby disrupting their activities not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan but in Somalia and Yemen as well. In these places, the US has undertaken to use force either through drones or by human agents. The message being sent to terrorists out there is that they cannot be allowed to operate and coordinate attacks freely. As long as the intention to cause harm to innocent civilians is clear, the US military feels obliged to take all the necessary measures, including using drones to kill these bona fide terrorists.

Disadvantages of drones

            Several concerns have been raised regarding the appropriateness of the use of drones in modern warfare. The US has been criticized many times for undertaking “execution without trial” using drone strikes. The critics point out that the US is likely to gain lasting scars instead of strategic advantage in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. In these countries, some observers accuse the US of engaging in extrajudicial killings in the hunt for terrorists. They lament that the innocent civilians who happen to die in a hail of missiles fired from invisible drones are dismissed as collateral damage.

            However, some of the beliefs that are fuelling this discontent, particularly in Pakistan, are based on misleading information. For instance, there is a mistaken belief that most of those who die when drones strike are civilians. This perception greatly deepens the level of distrust of the US. These beliefs are based on misconceptions about the accuracy with which these unmanned aerial vehicles hit their targets. One of the enduring facts that can change perceptions for the better in areas where drone strikes have already been carried out is that the level of accuracy is normally very high. This means that the number of civilian deaths tends to be very low.

            In some instances, perception turns out to be more important than reality. In this regard, the US has an uphill task of managing perceptions in countries where it has carried out drone campaigns. In most cases, local media plays a crucial role in reinforcing the notion that drones can bring about indiscriminate execution of innocent civilians. If a campaign aimed at creating awareness is not launched in countries where drone attacks are carried out, civilians will continue perceiving drone warfare negatively. Such awareness campaigns should occur in advance of the drone strikes. However, the US military often operates in a dilemma because any efforts to sensitize local residents about an impending strike may raise a red alert to the terrorists, who may then go into hiding.

            In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, drone strikes have provided terrorists with one more reason for hating the US and the militaries of these countries. They feel motivated to take their war not just to the US but also to the national governments that authorize the use of drones. It should be noted that these misgivings arise not from the operational capabilities or weaknesses of drones but from the failure by the US to carry out an effective public relations campaign on the need to use drones. To demonstrate this point, it may be necessary to provide a brief background analysis on the development of drones and their integration into the modern art of war.

            The idea of unmanned aircraft first emerged during the World War I. It evolved during the World War II, leading to the introduction of the first-generation cruise missiles. During the World War II, flying bombs that could be remotely controlled were developed. During the 1950s and early 1960s, improvements were made to propulsion, mission parameters, and guidance systems of UAVs. The ongoing program of converting surplus aircraft into drones started during the 1950s. During the 1980s, some military commanders were doubtful about the usefulness of drones mainly because of reliability issues. During the Gulf War in 1991, UAVs were used for reconnaissance purposes. They performed roles that were previously the reserve of satellites.

            Since 1991, the use of UAVs resurfaced in the early 2000s during the US-led global war on terrorism. In 2002, a Predator drone successfully launched a missile in Yemen that targeted an Al Qaeda leader. Today, many UAVs ranging from helicopter-sized drones to insect-sized gadgets have been developed. Today, the practical limitations that used to hinder the development of this technology have been overcome. Consequently, one of the most crucial areas of aeronautic development today is the field of UAVs. In the US, plans are already underway to develop more UAVs for military purposes, a development that may lead to the phasing out of manned aircraft systems.

            In 2001, US Congress indicated that within ten years, one-third of the country’s military aircraft would operate as unmanned aerial vehicles (US House of Representatives 4). Congress added that within 15 years, one-third of the country’s ground combat vehicles would also operate as unmanned vehicles (US House of Representatives 4). This demonstrates the optimism of the US as well as the country’s decision to support unmanned aviation technology. This optimism came at a time when major developments were taking place in the development of Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS), thereby making UAVs a credible force in the conduct of war in the future.

            With this brief history in mind, one can begin to imagine how indispensable drones will be to the art of war in future. Their capabilities are likely to improve as more aeronautic engineers focus on improving the technology on which they operate. However, a major disadvantage is that the accomplishments made so far are being subjected to an inaccurate analysis of future employment leading to outlandish claims and limited expectations (US House of Representatives 4). This futuristic view of technology has been adopted in other technologies, whereby failure to establish a joint doctrine has culminated in fatal results. In Pakistan, this lack of a joint doctrine has already started bringing about negative consequences for the US. Efforts to create awareness about the implications of using drones in the country would have formed an integral component of this joint doctrine. If the US had taken time to launch a massive public relations campaign before launching drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, anti-American sentiments would not have reached crisis levels.


            Drones present the world with a unique opportunity to deal with the threat of terrorism. Most of the views being voiced by critics arise from misinformation regarding the usefulness, capabilities, and rationale for using drones. The most discussed case study is that of Pakistan, where a spillover of the ongoing armed conflict in the neighboring Afghanistan necessitated a manhunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who had fled into the border region of Waziristan. So far, the US-led drone campaign to hunt down these terrorists has drastically diminished their ability to plot and execute suicide bombings. However, the CIA has been accused of killing and maiming innocent civilians during these attacks.

As it turns out, allegations that an overwhelming majority of those who die in drone attacks are innocent civilians are false. These allegations have been promoted in the Pakistani media, thereby creating the impression that the country’s sovereignty is being threatened. These critics fail to report accurately on the targeted attacks that have been carried out with amazing precision and have led to the deaths of many suicide bombers who, if left unchecked, would have contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis.

            In conclusion, the use of drones is going to have a positive impact on military power in the future. The surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of these UAVs leads to precision in the way missile attacks are launched. Moreover, they solve the problem of exposure to the dangers of warzones on the part of flight crew. A major argument against the use of drones in military contexts is that they are likely to encourage war. Since pilots are no longer exposed to the horrors that have traditionally acted as a deterrence of war, care must be taken to ensure that they do not become trigger happy. Nevertheless, as more countries seek to acquire drones, one should expect the next priority issue to be about the establishment of a clear framework governing their use.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Akbar. The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam. Boston: Brookings Institution Press, 2013. Print.

Enemark, Christian. Armed Drones and the Ethic of War: Military Virtue in a Post-heroic Age. London: Routledge Chapman & Hall, 2013. Print.

Medes, Benjamin. Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Los Angeles: OR books, 2012. Print.

US House of Representatives. Rise of Drones: Unmanned Systems and the Future of War. Washington DC: Nimble books LLC, 2010. Print.

Yenne, Bill. Attack of the Drones: A History of Unmanned Aerial Combat. New York: Zenith Imprint, 2004. Print.

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