A recent report on the State of the Lethal Drone, based on an interview with US Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Greg Zacharias, reveals that drones will be equipped with lasers in the near future, superseding the currently favored implements of remote-control killing, Hellfire missiles. Only two missiles are currently harnessed to each Predator drone for use as “opportunities” arise to “light up” targets. Missiles, unlike lasers, are destroyed through deployment.
Lethality is the be-all and end-all of military technology, so lasers are being lauded for their (surprise) superior lethality. Lasers will make it possible to incinerate human beings without destroying nearby buildings. They will be more precise as well, able to home in on the desired target, which fits right in with the US government’s often touted “smart war” capabilities. The report naturally makes the latest lethal development seem as though it’s an improvement. If you can incinerate a target by zapping him with a laser rather than blowing up him and everyone and everything around him, then should you not do that?
The public relations pitch for deadly lasers makes them sound not unlike the bug zappers used to kill nagging flies and mosquitoes on porches by essentially frying them to death. Lasers will be a “better” way to kill “enemies”, under the assumption that summary execution without trial of suspects fingered by hearsay and circumstantial evidence is obviously a good thing.
The US and Israeli governments have been killing people with drones for years, and now lots of other countries are preparing to do so as well. Britain, Pakistan and Nigeria have joined the United States in executing citizens without trial using missile-equipped drones, and the technology is being made available to other leaders all over the world, from Cameroon to Japan to Italy to Spain to India, and just about everywhere in between.
Lasers are said to be more precise, but this impugns the repeated insistence by CIA Director John Brennan and others in the US administration that Hellfire missiles already are and always have been exceptionally precise, resulting in zero, or nearly no civilian casualties. So how are lasers supposed to be even more precise, if Hellfire missiles already kill only evil terrorists? Perhaps because lasers will make it impossible to determine who the people fried to death actually were. There will be no more body parts to be gathered up by grieving family members. In the minds of their killers and those who paid for the deaths, the suspects’ guilt will be permanently etched in the annals of history as their bodies are rendered piles of charcoal gray ashes.
An added benefit of lasers, explains Zacharias, is that a single drone will now be able to zap on the order of 5,000 people, rather than only a handful—while using only a gallon of fuel! A couple of expendable Hellfire missiles can only do so much terrorist annihilation. Slick and sleek laser technology will make killing easier, swifter, more efficient and, apparently, more frequent. It is worth underscoring that, in the very same report, lasers are said to be designed to eliminate “high-value” targets, but also to perpetrate mass homicide (5,000 deadly zaps on a gallon of fuel?). Exactly how many “high-value” targets can there be out there?
These “improvements” are, again, in keeping with the reigning paradigm of homicide as the preferred–or sole–means of resolving conflict. The fact that lethal means have failed over and over again, throughout the Middle East, and most obviously since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, is simply ignored by the laser enthusiasts. Or, more likely, taken as evidence that the US military is still not quite lethal enough. Back to the DARPA drawing board and its infinitely deep trough of taxpayer funds.
What is the end of this story supposed to be? As far as I can see, we are moving toward The Final Solution: Annihilate all of the brown-skinned people who wear funny garb, and then there will be no further conflict in the Middle East. The remote-control killing of persons suspected of associating with other persons suspected of associating with other persons suspected of associating with other persons suspected of associating with extremist groups is no more and no less than a recipe for genocide.
For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 3: The Logic of Targeted Killing; Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 5: Strike First, Suppress Questions Later; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do