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ETpro's avatar

Why are drones so scary?

Asked by ETpro (34600points) March 9th, 2013

I’m not sure I get the significance of the pilot being at a remote location. If a hellfire missile hits you, aren’t you just as dead when the missile is fired from a manned aircraft as from a drone. Maybe it’s like the radio announcer who botched a news report, saying; “Three people were killed in an accident on Main Street today, two of them seriously.” Are only drones able to kill you seriously? Can’t a crazed guy with a baseball bat do the job just as effectively as a drone?

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49 Answers

Pachy's avatar

GQ! I never thought about it. I guess it seems so personal—the difference between having a killer stalking me in my own neighborhood with a gun as opposed to some unknown enemy in a distant state or land threatening to kill me in some unspecified way. Not realistic, perhaps, but that’s how it feels in my head.

SavoirFaire's avatar

We kill so often because we can kill so easily. Most people just step on any ants they see crawling around their homes. You can’t step on a bear, though, so you have to consider alternative strategies if you run across one in the woods. It’s perfectly natural, from a self-defense standpoint, to want other people to be like ants rather than bears. Guns are less sporting than bare hands, but being sporting isn’t most people’s top priority when they are under threat. Still, I’m not sure I want anyone—particularly not the commander of the world’s largest arsenal—thinking of people like ants.

jonsblond's avatar

A drone came within 200 ft of an airliner over New York recently.

That’s kind of scary.

hearkat's avatar

I think the concern about the pilot being remotely located is that it might make the reality of the act of killing seem less personal, because it feels more like playing a video game than like destroying real human bodies and lives. Yes, to the victims, it doesn’t matter what the bullets or missiles came from, but perhaps the shooter with a direct line-of-sight to the target might be a bit more judicious in choosing when pulling the trigger.

dabbler's avatar

The remote-control aspect of armed military drones is frightening partly because there is not much hope of communicating with the operator, even if just to look him in the eye before he kills you. That’s also their most despicable and cowardly aspects if you ask me.
Another thing is that even though military drones have powerful cameras they just can’t reproduce the perception that a soldier/pilot in the same place would have. This decreases the certainty of target acquisition and increases the likelihood of homicides that will be called accidents and collateral damage.

@jonsblond the pictures supplied with that article are misleading. The pilot’s description was “about three feet in diameter” and “four propellers”. It’s highly likely that it was one of these hobbyist quadrotors
It could be either one that got out of range of its operator (happens a lot) or one that was pre-programmed with GPS and altitude coordinates to fly where it was.
You’d hope it was not one of these.

bookish1's avatar

Even more depersonalized warfare, following the precedents of civilian bombing and industrial death established in World War 2.
And it makes it more “painless” and easy for the U.S. to engage in warfare without widespread troop deployment, in view of the Vietnam Syndrome.

woodcutter's avatar

They are part of psychological warfare. There has always been some form of that since wars were first fought. There’s more to conflict than face to face brutality associated with combat. They can me miles away and out of earshot and still rain death down and that is the fear. The fear that the high powered cameras might be looking at you any time night or day. It keeps your enemy always afraid which will effect moral and their combat effectiveness.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Anything that is small, deadly, and feels no fear is freaking scary in my book!

majorrich's avatar

Drones; from a tactical and logistical perspective are great weapons for use on the modern battlefield because of their low cost, flexibility and ability to get very close to the enemy before they can be sighted. The Homeland Security drones are equipped to detect and track cellular phones by their identification number, meaning they can seek out an individual. Supposedly they can detect whether someone is armed (dunno how) and they can take very high quality photos and intercept communication that can be used for intelligence. In addition to their ability to open fire upon a target. Did I mention how quiet they are? They can scout out caches of material and personnel at night autonomously for targeting at a later time. Kind of like super duper Google streets mapping only at night when your guard is down. They give the government a tactical advantage in that they can have ‘first strike’ capability to knock out whoever they (or he) deems to be a threat. I guess that is the scary part. It is using bleeding edge battlefield tech on the very population that tech is supposed to be protecting with the very real possibility that someone might be killed without being arrested or even accused. Given the climate of mistrust between the population and the Government, it creates a climate of further mistrust and intimidation on the part of the government machine. (Leaning forward as Sec. Cheney used to say) Add to this an administration that appears to have no respect for the American People nor their Constitutional Rights, and you have a sure fire formula for some folks to be going coco-nuts.

ucme's avatar

They’re actually piloted by specially trained syrian hamsters…that’s scary all on it’s own.

Linda_Owl's avatar

The fact that Drones can be controlled great distances from where the actual killing takes place is very frightening to most people (& I think it makes the controller feel like it is a Video Game). The military & the DHS are working diligently on making the Drones smaller & all of these Drones include cameras, & soon most Law Enforcement agencies will have Drones in the air over our cities. So, we can kiss the idea of anything being private, good-bye.

dabbler's avatar

@Linda_Owl Partly because the camera systems work so well the drone pilots are far more engaged than one would be with a video game. They see the carnage they cause up close and personal and they suffer from PTSD more frequently than regular pilots.
Because drone pilots are not stationed in the combat zone, their downtime on or near a base somewhere in the U.S. is in starker contrast with their on-duty time tracking and ‘disposing of’ targets.

YARNLADY's avatar

I have wondered the same thing. Cars have killed far more people than drones and the death toll is largely ignored. We place our children in danger in cars every single day of the year.

flutherother's avatar

You can’t see them and you might not even know they are there and yet they can watch you and kill you whenever they want. That makes them scary.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The scary part is that somebody can see me, but I can’t see them back. May as well be lightning from the heavens directed by the will of gawd.

ETpro's avatar

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room Thanks. I guess you technically can kill the drone, but that’s not going to stop the people who sent it looking for you the way shooting them would do if they were hunting you on foot.

@SavoirFaire Stepping on ants. Yes, but I believe that those who pilot drones are painfully aware that it isn’t ants they are killing.

@jonsblond Indeed. And the certainty that someone sympathetic to al Qaeda and their Islamic Fundamentalist murder mission was even more unsettling.

@hearkat My impression is that drone pilots are well schooled in being selective about targeting. Every strike that kills innocent civilians is an international incident. Because of this, the bad guys often seek to hide among innocents. But they show no mercy in taking out innocents over here when they strike. We have to deal with the fact there are some truly hate-inspired people in the world today. If 9/11 didn’t show is that, I’m not sure what it will take.

@dabbler In what war did looking the enemy in the eye constrain the warriors? They have been killing each other since before the invention of the sword or javelin.

@bookish1 I hear you. I don’t like it either. But when you have people hiding in remote corners of the globe determined to rain death from the skies or via suicide bombers because you don’t worship the way they think you should, you pretty much use what’s available to you to fight back. Vietnam’s a perfect example telling us we can’t invade and democratize everywhere.

@woodcutter Absolutely true.

@fremen_warrior Yeah, if I thought that I was on the target list of an adversary with drones, I’d be terrified. Will that be enough to deter would-be terrorists from adding their names to the target list?

@majorrich Do you have evidence that the US military of CIA are flying armed drones over US soil and outside of military bases, which are restricted airspace in which such flights would be allowed for training purposes?

@ucme We’re talking about people being blown to smithereens from the sky by robots here. Is there nothing that can bring you to be serious?

@Linda_Owl I think that the info that @dabbler shared is accurate. There are a select few people chosen for piloting drones, and their training to prevent the unintentional killing of innocents is extensive. Still, they do feel the burden of what they are doing. They see the carnage on camera, and they know damn well it isn’t just a video game.

@YARNLADY Exactly. So far, I think exactly 0 Americans have been taken out by a predator drone.

@flutherother & @RealEyesRealizeRealLies Granted that. It’s part of their mission.

majorrich's avatar

@ETpro from the news this is the most publicized use against domestic personnel. Anything I might have direct knowledge of, if there was any, has to stay inside my braincase.

ucme's avatar

I can be serious about the word smithereens…no, i’m just kidding myself now.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@ETpro The pilots might, but I’m talking about the ones who give the orders. We have taken away their sense of risk. In any case, the reason that drones are controversial is not merely because they are “scary.”

Some object to the drone strikes on moral grounds. It’s not the drones, but the strikes themselves that are objectionable because they are clear manifestations of American hypocrisy: such attacks are perfectly acceptable when we or our allies perpetrate them, yet we would never consider them to be at all legitimate if our enemies did the same to us (even if they, like us, used the dubious justification that it was a matter of self-defense).

Others object to the strikes as being politically disastrous on the international level. This doesn’t effect President Obama one bit, of course. International fallout tends to be a long time in manifesting, and our Commander in Chief has enough popularity in Europe to mask even short-term drops in esteem for the US abroad. But anyone focused on a day other than tomorrow might be a little worried about the possibility that drones might very well be high velocity recruitment centers for terrorism.

These two reasons then come together in the fact that international law does not consider the United States of America to be a special little snowflake. If our actions are deemed legal, then North Korea gets to send missiles our way the next time it feels threatened. So does anyone else who can make a flimsy case for self-defense. We tend to forget about these possibilities, to our great cost. That’s the next guy’s problem, though, so who cares—right?

President Obama, in defense of the continuing Israeli genocides, once said that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders” and that “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.” Presumably, this principle should extend to every sovereign nation, yet he apparently saw no irony in making this statement while in the midst of raining down missiles on Pakistan and Yemen. Nor, at this time, has he recanted the statement to date. I don’t have to be afraid to think there’s something going on here that is worth questioning.

Ron_C's avatar

What is frightening about drone attacks are their cold blooded nature. I can understand that if we are at war, soldiers enter building and kill enemy soldiers, even ones without uniforms.

Drones, on the other hand are controlled from thousands of miles away. The operator comes to work on his shift, blows up houses with combatants and their family, then goes home for supper. That is cold and inhuman. Couple this with the fact that the only trial is the president’s or some CIA operatives decision that these people are against us.

Drone flights kill hundreds and create thousands of people that hate America and it turns the operators into cold blooded killers. That is just too much power in the hands of the military and the Executive branch. Even though I voted twice for Obama I don’t believe he should have this power.

woodcutter's avatar

soldiers enter building and kill enemy soldiers, even ones without uniforms

ever really tried doing that?

ETpro's avatar

@hearkat The survivors always have that option. If the deceased were in Yemen with people actively plotting to attack and kill innocent US citizens, then I wouldn’t expect them to prevail in court, though.

@bookish1 Not so, according to the Attorney General’s reply to Senator Rand Paul’s challenge about that.

@majorrich I see why the Attorney General specifically excluded American Citizens on our soil but engaged in acts of war against us.

hearkat's avatar

@ETpro – I was posting that more to counter your comment to Yarnlady that ”exactly 0 Americans have been taken out by a predator drone.

bookish1's avatar

@ETpro: Thanks for the link. Do you give any more credence to the Attorney General now than you would have under Bush II? If so, why? I don’t trust any of those fuckers to tell the truth when it comes to expanding secret federal power. Why should they?

PS: Note that the letter says only “on American soil.”

ETpro's avatar

@hearkat, my answer was in the context of kills on US soil.

@hearkat & @bookish1 No American citizen should expect immunity from attack if they leave US soil and join a foreign military or paramilitary force intent on and in the act of waging warfare on the USA. During WWII, would it have made good sense to never shoot at or engage the enemy with deadly force till we had hiked over and kindly requested to see their papers proving Axis power and not US citizenship.

@bookish1 As to trust in any government, Доверяй, но проверяй

hearkat's avatar

@ETpro: If you specified “on American soil” somewhere, I must have missed it.

I don’t disagree; if the person of any nationality is proven to be plotting terrorism, then the government is in a position to protect their citizens.

But what if Tim McVeigh were in the present day plotting to bomb a federal building and the government found out and they hit him with a drone strike? People would have freaked out, and others who shared Mr. McVeigh’s views would have even more justification to carry on such missions.

Pre-emptive drone strikes on our own soil seem like they would not be necessary, since it would be easier to raid and capture dissidents within our own borders and follow due process, than to have to back-pedal to convince the public that lethal force was justified.

Outside of our borders, it becomes a greater challenge to capture those plotting against us – even moreso when the culture is so different than ours, and the population has widely varying political and religious views. We can only hope that the powers that be are targeting only those who are very well documented to be enemies of the state.

flutherother's avatar

Hoping that the powers that be will target the right people and do the right thing isn’t good enough. We don’t just vote the government in we have to keep a close eye on what they do as well. We are not at war with Pakistan and the drones aren’t operated by the DOD but the CIA.

As someone said “Contemplating the Senate Intelligence Committee’s past oversight of the drone strike policy evokes the quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”

Linda_Owl's avatar

Whatever I believe (or disbelieve) about the use of Drones, it makes the infliction of DEATH far too easy & it leads to the deaths of far too many civilians (many of whom are women & children). And the use of Drones is destroying the homes of the people that they kill. I realize that both the military & the various branches of Law Enforcement will continue to use Drones – there is no way to put this particular ‘Genie’ back into the ‘bottle’ from which it sprang. But I think that living in fear of Death killing you from the skies is something that humans should not have to live with…. especially the children who had NO say in declaring a WAR. It sounds like something straight out of the Christian Bible when ‘God’ commanded that EVERYONE be killed, including new-born children. With Drones, human enslavement is complete & the corporations who have taken over our governments can declare victory.

majorrich's avatar

We can take solace in that unmanned surveillance has only been used for intelligence gathering. So far. Drones are actually a family of platforms ranging from the big guys you all are probably used to seeing and as depicted on the news, down to really tiny ‘bugs’. So far as we know, none of the domestically deployed drones capable of carrying hellfire missiles are equipped as such.

ETpro's avatar

@hearkat Using armed drones on criminals or even terrorists within our own borders is counterproductive. We have far more to gain from taking them prisoner alive, and here on our own soil, that’s a real possibility. It’s not a reasonable approach when someone is in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia.

@majorrich Do I detect an unstated “yet” hanging at the end of that last sentence above.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

From lab to reality. It always happens way too fast for me. These things out of U of P can slip through a partially open window or door, surveil, remove a flash drive from a desk or computer, or even drop something into a glass of iced tea. They don’t have to carry Hellfires. They can also be invaluable in humanitarian work.

ETpro's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus As robots get closer to human capabilities, we should expect that, like humans, they would have tremendous capacity to do good or evil.

dabbler's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Indeed, I’ve been following the evolution of swarmed quadrotors from the point of view of a geeky gearhead, and that sort of capability is amazing.
And the possibilities for search and rescue operations are very interesting.

On the other hand if you put yourself on the receiving end of a bunch of autonomous machines in a hostile situations it’s sort of diabolical. I would not want to be facing a squad of semi-autonomous Big Dog robots. Even if you’re on the same side you’d hope the damned robots figure that out before their destroy-the-enemy algorithms kick in. There is every reason to think that project is heading toward nearly autonomous, armed-and-dangerous models.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Big Dogs, hell! Those are freaking horses. They prance, canter, and stumble downhill just like freaking horses. Amazing.

Well, I don’t think we should ever want to stand in the way of these developments, or fear them or wish them to go away. They will never go away, of course. And the technology can be very beneficial. What we need to be doing is to protect our rights by influencing policy so this technology can’t be used against us by our Federal, State and local governments. Right now in the Florida legislature there is a strong bi-partisan effort to restrict the use of drones by the police departments and private industry. We don’t want the damn things surveilling private citizens. Everyone from liberal Dems to the bloody Tea Party are united on this (I’ve NEVER seen anything like this before in FL). Miami-Dade already has 2 of them and the county sheriff just north of where where I live when stateside has clearance to use them, but no budget to actually buy them. I expect that soon many other states will move toward the same kind of anti-drone legislation. I hope so. This legislation won’t affect the Feds, though. We can’t turn back the technology, but we can influence policy and protect our rights and our democracy even if it means shooting the motherfuckers down. Oh shit, I think one just came through my forward vent. Now, Where is that fly swatter?

Ron_C's avatar

@woodcutter ,
“soldiers enter building and kill enemy soldiers, even ones without uniforms

ever really tried doing that?” Actually, I’ve been on the other end where soldiers entered the building and I had to hide from them. I and a shipmate hid in the loft of a warehouse in Vietnam when the VC attacked. We had no weapons but military issue .45’s with a single clip and had neither the training nor capacity to fight off an enemy platoon. Fortunately the Army showed up and kept the VC busy and not fully searching the warehouse.

We made it to the roof and stayed there all night in the rain before the VC were rooted out. I don’t remember being very scared because I was 19 and thought I was invincible.

Ron_C's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus The governments use of drones in the U.S. would make the use and purchase of Stinger missiles a reasonable reaction to the federal use of drones against Americans. Personally, I would not like to see a civilian arms race against our government or any other government. Look at what is happening in Syria. I have little doubt that if our government becomes authoritarian as the on in Syria, we would have our own revolution and a reason for the left and right to band together. It’s the old, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Unfortunately, they turn on each other when the war is over, just like the guys that we trained to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

I do not believe that having armed drones attacking “criminals” is ever constitutional or moral. I would rather let a criminal run free than give the power of judge and jury to a government official. Since it is the same government that declares a person a criminal, there are no checks and balances and no constitutional way to permit armed drones here or anywhere. PERIOD.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Ron_C: Yes, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was for the Feds using drones against us. (That’s the risk of writing until 4am) I just meant that the pending FL legislation won’t affect what Homeland Security does with drones.

You and I and ETpro are all old enough to remember when most cops used that old .38 Police Special 6-round hand-loaded revolver and maybe a double-barrel shotgun in the trunk of their “radio car.” Suddenly in the early 70’s some big PDs wanted armour, fully automatic assault rifles, APVs, and those gas and shell spewing Cadillac tanks. Then, of course, all the boys wanted the toys. Absolutely unheard of for an American police force that is here to serve and protect us mostly from purse-snatchers and garden variety muggers would need to arm themselves like a platoon of GIs in Viet Nam. I remember a lot of resistance against this, a lot of controversy while it was going on. Now nearly all of them have SWATS along with .40 cal semi-auto side arms with 15-round clips, semi-auto shotguns, body armour, and fully auto assault rifles in the front seat of their cruisers as standard equipment. If you notice, these are mostly used to kill potential suicides—disturbed guys who legally lock themselves in their own homes with legal, conventional weapons. The arms race is here and has been for quite awhile. It seems the cops just want parity with the Feds for more exciting beat downs. I mean fair is fair, buddy.

I imagine the local cops will get everything they want, eventually—RPGs, Stingers, drones, BigDogs, those little fuckin insects I linked to above—they always do.

BTW, it’s nice to see all 3 of us on the same page again. Ha Ha. Pun most heartily intended.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Ron_C: OK. I just re-read your post. No, I don’t think local police will ever go up against the Feds in the US. It’ll never happen. Most of the cops I know are former MPs. I imagine the mindset is uniform all over the country. Cop culture is all about authority, and the top authority in a cop’s mind is the Federal government—right or wrong—who are often their former employers. Most cops would kill to get on with the Feds. You see this when there is a bank robbery and when the Feds show up, the local cops become almost Byzantine in their subservience. The arrogant Feds don’t don’t even listen to the initial reports most of the time and the cops just eat it. I know a guy who relied upon this on-scene subservience to make his getaways. It worked 48 times for him. T

I believe cops will turn against the citizenry first, their own neighbors. My experience has been that cops don’t consider themselves average citizens, and beyond their families and maybe a few non-cop friends, if they have any, everybody else are merely potential arrests. Average people are considered persons who have probably committed crimes for which they have yet to be arrested. Scumbags who have been lucky so far. It’s a normal reactionary mindset developed a result of constant exposure to the underbelly of society. I saw the same thing among long term cabbies.

woodcutter's avatar

@Ron_C “soldiers enter building and kill enemy soldiers, even ones without uniforms”
It’s going to be hard for all involved. When an entry stack of soldiers pours into a building they get shot sometimes. It has to be one of the bravest things a person can do. The first couple men inside the door are gonna get it if there is a shooter inside there waiting guns- up for them to get in a kill box.. That seems to me to be an awful waste of brave men as long as a missile can root the shooters out. As long as there is no question about who is in a building it’s all good isn’t it? The same thing can be done with a guided bomb from a jet. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of daylight between the two. Why make war a lot harder than it is already?

ETpro's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus, @dabbler, @Ron_C & @woodcutter Indeed, it’s a Brave New WOrld for better or for worse. I’d ask “Who Let the Dogs Out” but I already know it was us.

woodcutter's avatar

I wonder if they would have used a drone missile to kill Randy Weaver and family if they had one back in the day. It would maybe have hit Geraldo’s helicopter instead?

ETpro's avatar

@woodcutter See, there are potential positive uses of drones. :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

They aren’t. Bombs in WWII were – killing millions of civilians.

mattbrowne's avatar

They aren’t. Bombs in WWII were killing millions of civilians.

Ron_C's avatar

@woodcutter war must be hard. I hate the idea of our soldiers entering a building looking for bad guy. Even worse is the idea that a guy sitting half way around the world with the ability to kill anyone the president wants. The reason these wars have gone on for so long is that the vast majority of the country has no one that was killed or injured. We have a remote control war without citizens being vested in it.

I think that war should be fought with swords and axes. Once you’re in war like that you think twice about starting another. By the way, one of the criteria qualifying a person for the presidency should be active military service. We have seen enough of what chicken hawks can do!

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