Tag: drones

Clear Strategic Thinking About Drones

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Note: Last week (on October 7, 2014) I had the privilege of speaking at the West Point Philosophy Forum on the subject of “Killer Machines” (aka drones).  A representative version of my remarks follows:

…we should start with the proposition that drones are simply another, arguably more effective and more efficient, variant of airpower. Drones are a tactical weapon that should be “neither glorified nor demonized.”  So how should we think strategically about this new airpower tool?

Unfortunately, in invoking strategy, many look to simple “cost benefit analysis” (Stimson Report, p. 11). Journalist Tom Ricks prefers a different term, the “Law of Conservation of Enemies.”  Or, more famously, right here at West Point this past May 28, the Commander in Chief stated that in using drones, “our actions should meet a simple test: we must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.”

The problem with this analysis is that it considers each strike on it’s particular tactical merits. For example, did “we” finish that engagement +1 or -1?  We end up seeking a series of tactical victories in the hopes that the overall picture will end up favorable to “our” side.  This is the rough equivalent of a football team measuring the net thrust of an offensive versus a defensive line (i.e. who pushed who in what direction, and how far).  You can see how it might be a useful indicator, but must acknowledge that this only tells one part of the game’s story.  

Beyond this narrow tactical focus on “sum of battle,” there is more to thinking strategically about a particular tool like drones.  We should look to other measures; how we can use this weapon in a sustainable and comprehensive way; will this produce a durable strategic effect consistent with our vital national interests?


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Essay Campaign #17: Paradigm Shift – Unmanned Systems and General Beaufre

Summer Essay Campaign #17: “Paradigm Shift – Unmanned Systems, General Beaufre, and the Seventh Phase of Land Operations”

To Answer Question 2: “How do unmanned systems impact modern battlefields?”

By Officer-Cadet Artur Varanda, Portuguese Army

1.    Beaufre’s Dilemma

In his important work An Introduction to Strategy (1965), French General André Beaufre describes the purpose of strategy as achieving decisionAccording to Beaufre, “the decision is a psychological event that one wants to produce in the mind of their adversary”, in order to “convince him that starting or continuing the struggle is useless”. Beaufre’s work achieved fame because he admitted that the strategic decision could be achieved not just by military means, but also by economic, political, or diplomatic strategies. As for the military decision, it is the one that “in its purest state results from a victorious battle”.

The capability of achieving military decision has varied throughout history, following what Beaufre calls the operational possibilities of the period, byproduct of the methods and means of warfare of each epoch. He then states that one “rarely attributes a just value to that variability”. In his work the six different phases of land operations are then explored, in order to illustrate the importance of that variability.

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Drone Warfare: The Sky’s the Limit

By First Lieutenant Jimmy Byrn

The sailors of the U.S.S. George Washington never saw it coming. In a matter of minutes the bridge was in flames, the flight deck severely damaged, and hundreds of personnel wounded or killed. They hardly had time to launch their own aircraft before they were swarmed by scores of fast-moving, heavily-armed robots with no fear of death and the ability to outthink even the smartest human being. And worst of all, this was only the first wave.

This scenario is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies. The possibility of planning for an event such as this may be mere decades away and the world is going to have to contend not only with new conventional drone doctrine, but also the question of where to draw the line with respect to the use of drones in conventional warfare.

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