The White House has reportedly ordered the Pentagon to reposition drones for possible retaliatory strikes in Libya -- the latest evidence that drones are dislodging manned aircraft from the central role they have played in U.S. warfighting since World War II.
After a decade of wars that have cost billions of dollars and claimed thousands of American lives, the American people overwhelmingly support this transition to an unmanned air force. After all, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) deliver a lethal punch at low economic cost, with zero risk to American personnel. That explains why 83 percent of the country approves of President Barack Obama’s use of drones.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Washington has latched onto UCAVs as an important tool in the national security toolbox. Combat air patrols by UCAVs, deployed by the military and the CIA, have increased by 1,200 percent since 2005, striking targets in Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. The Brookings Institution reports that as many as 2,769 militants have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan alone, where annual drone strikes increased from just one in 2004 to 117 in 2010, when they peaked. The drone war is following a similar upward trajectory in Yemen, and UCAVs also played a critical role in Libya: The missiles that hit Moammar Gadhafi’s escaping convoy were fired by a U.S. drone.