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New Report Details Extent of US Military Reliance on Drones

A recent Congressional Research Service report documents a staggering surge in the U.S. military's reliance on drones.

Photo: U.S. Air Force According to Wired's Danger Room blog, a full 31 percent of all military aircraft are drones. This figure shows a massive uptick from 2005 when just 5 percent of military aircraft were drones.

Analyzing the report Danger Room notes:  

There’s no mention [in the report] of the malware infection that reached into the drone cockpits at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, a story Danger Room broke. Nor does it go into the workload problems for military imagery analysts caused by the proliferation of the drones full-motion video “Death TV,” which is pushing the military toward developing selective or “thinking” cameras. The ethical issues attendant to remote-control war also go unexplored.

Still, the report does explore the downsides of the Pentagon’s drone obsession. There are way too many redundant drones, it finds, and the expensive sensors they increasingly carry drive the costs of a supposedly cheap machine up. They’re also bandwidth hogs: a single Global Hawk drone requires 500 megabytes per second worth of bandwidth, the report finds, which is “500 percent of the total bandwidth of the entire U.S. military used during the 1991 Gulf War.” And it also notes that a lot of future spy missions might go not to drones, but to the increasing number of giant blimps and aerostats, some of which can carry way more sensors and cameras.

And the current fleet of flying robots is just the start. The Navy’s developing a next-gen drone that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier. Future missions, the report finds, include “stand-off jamming” of enemy electronics; “psychological operations, such as dropping leaflets” over an adversary population; and even measuring the amount of radiation in the earth’s atmosphere. The military’s working on increasingly autonomous drones — including tiny, suicidal killers — and on increasing the number of drones a single ground station can operate.

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