Drones at U.S. bases worldwide went on strike at 0001 EST in a culmination of frustrations surrounding working conditions. The groundings include thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) across the military and intelligence agencies, including Predators, Reapers, and, allegedly, RQ-170 Sentinels.
Tensions between drones and the government recently arose due to capacity issues. Representatives assert that the current administration dramatically expanded UAVs’ workload since 2009. The Obama administration launched over 10 times as many drone-based attacks as the Bush administration, and broadened the drone program beyond Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia into Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Meanwhile, resources have not kept pace with the new duties. Instead, the military and intelligence communities redistributed resources at the expense of other capabilities.
Drones have repeatedly expressed doubts about the appropriateness of their evolving work. Part of the expanded use is due to a shift from targeting specific individuals to targeting groups based on suspicious behaviors. UAVs fear that the new practice increases the risk of unintended casualties, which can damage U.S. interests. Collateral damage can exacerbate underlying grievances, provide material for anti-U.S. propaganda, and generate popular backlash. Indeed, locals in Pakistan and Yemen greeted news of the strikes with relief.
If the work stoppage continues, the U.S. government will need to look elsewhere for strategic options. UAVs circumvent some legal issues and safety concerns that other strategies, including raids and arrests, cannot avoid. Non-kinetic strategies may impose additional costs on the U.S., such as improving defenses or intelligence, or require careful and time-consuming analyses regarding rehabilitation or negotiation. When asked whether they feared cheaper Israeli drone replacements as the strikes draw on, representatives noted that using scabs would degrade effectiveness and increase risks.
The administration hopes to resolve the dispute soon, asserting that drones are the cheapest and most discriminate method of achieving short-term objectives against unconventional and globalized foes. Inside sources, however, stated that the administration is fervently hoping that strikes will not undermine long-term goals.