'Messengers of Death': Are Drones Creating a New Global Arms Race?


So far, the White House has consistently managed to turn a blind eye to the risks of the drone boom, for example the possibility that these weapons could be captured by terrorists. Just a few weeks ago, a 26-year-old man was arrested in Boston for allegedly planning to load model airplanes with explosives and fly them into the Pentagon. The US Army is already at work on deadly drones that soldiers would be able to carry in their packs. Such a model would be ideal for any terrorists who might manage to get their hands on it. The Perils of Auto-Pilot War

Peter Singer, an expert on modern warfare at the Brookings Institution, isn't surprised that what were originally unarmed aircraft have so quickly developed into successful and deadly weapons. The same has happened many times throughout history, he says, for example with airplanes. But Singer expresses surprise at how unprepared we are for a world with many drone-equipped nations -- and for the new challenges particular to this technology.

Those challenges can't be overlooked. Singer describes weapons experts who, like their Israeli counterparts, have long been working on sensors that would allow UAVs to seek out their own targets, not even needing to rely on human remote control.

Automatic homing has already had successful trial runs at a US Air Force base in Georgia, yet hardly anyone has examined the potential consequences of waging autopilot war. "Legal and ethical experts have a hard time countering this, because they simply can't keep up with the pace of drone technology," Singer says.

And once again, those opponents might be too late. The US administration plans to release the latest, updated version of its pre-approved list of arms exports soon. Lobbyists for the drone manufacturers hope this will make it easier for their clients to move their wares.

In Fairfax, Virginia, analyst Zaloga sits in front of his model tanks and planes, already excited for this next development. The restrictions on exports up to now had often been "extreme," he says.

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