Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Send in the Drones

The situation is not hopeless;  the US has the means -- right now -- to smash ISIL all the way back to Syria, find and hunt down every last member of Boko Haram, destroy all the drug-gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and go after all the Jihadists in the world, regardless of how well they armor themselves in shields of  civilians or put on disguises of innocent civilians themselves.  All we lack is the will to use it, and that lack is the result of nearly 70 years of elaborate propaganda -- first by the USSR, and later by the better-educated Jihadists.

The means is a technological advance: so-called drones.  What we call drones are simply state-of-the-art, radio-controlled, model planes or model helicopters.  Most of the drones we've seen in the news have been sizable unmanned airplanes, capable of carrying a sizable load of (preferably smart) missiles.  The Jihaidists and their media-flacks have wailed about the "inhumanity" of using drones -- as if guided missiles, common aerial bombs or simple artillery were somehow more merciful -- precisely because drones are so effective, particularly against Jihadists, who have no effective means of counteracting them.

What nobody has mentioned in public -- outside of the Internet, anyway -- is the usefulness of small drones, very small drones.  Go up on the Internet and search the words "miniature aerial vehicles" -- or MAVs -- and you'll see some startling inventions.  The British military admits to having tiny solar-powered helicopters, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, which are quite capable of carrying miniature high-definition video-cameras, high-sensitivity microphones, radios capable of sending the audiovisual information back to one or more computers with audio and video pattern-recognition software, solar-charged batteries, tiny navigation computers with GPS locators, and radio-controlled motors.  There are other videos which show bird-shaped drones that fly exactly like birds, insect-sized drones that fly very much like insects, and even models of tiny drones that also look very much like insects.  Most of these are labeled openly as "spy drones".  I think we can safely claim that the US military already has these tiny robots in production, if not already in the field.

Now think about the applications.  A single small airplane could fly close to the front lines of ISIL, or over the jungles of Nigeria -- or Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador -- and drop a small fleet of MAVs, each one linked to a computer, each computer managed by a US "military adviser" watching the screen from miles away.  There are already super-thin solar-electric "panels" that have a conversion efficiency of 50%;  with the wings and skins of the MAVs clad in these, the tiny drones would have no trouble flitting about the countryside in daylight.  With some of the more efficient batteries available today, the MAVs could still hide, watch and listen and transmit, all through the night.  The tiny spies can watch and listen until the Bad Guys, within the MAVs' sight and hearing, by word or action reveal themselves.  Within a few weeks, or even days, or even hours, the MAVs could dutifully report to their handlers just who, and where, the Bad Guys are -- not to mention what they're planning and where they're going.  With that information safe in the computers, the "advisers" could send in the MAVs' bigger brothers -- armed with smart missiles set for precise targets.  This would make it quite possible to blow the head off, say, a Boko Haram goon without touching the teenaged girl held in front of him.  The advancing lines of ISIL would be even quicker and easier to identify and target.

Up until now, the major sin of war has been the ruining, wounding, and killing of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire -- or placed there deliberately.  Thanks to the drones, it's now possible to target the real enemy precisely, and spare the innocent.  This will make it hard for the Jihadists' apologists to complain effectively to World Opinion.  Spying on one's enemies, by personal means or through implements, is a time-honored and perfectly legitimate tool of war.  Killing one's enemies at a distance, by way of an implement, is as old as the thrown spear. There is no solid moral objection to the use of drones in combat.

The one objection to spy-drones that has any real weight is the possibility of a government tyrannically using them against its own people, probably on the usual excuse of "crime".  In fact, peace-demonstrators in more than one city have complained about the presence of odd insects buzzing over their marches, assuming that the strange bugs were in fact spy-or-worse drones.  Of course, as we've already seen (i.e. Ferguson, Missouri), police given any kind of combat-toys are eager to play Rambo on any civilians who give them an excuse.  How bad would they get given the use of drones?

There are two defenses against this, one political and one technological.  The political defense, which I hope the city governments of more militarized police forces adopt, is simply to cut off the money.  Army surplus machinery requires a lot of maintenance, and that costs money.  Let the city auditors do the calculations, and cut the town's police budget down to only what will cover salaries, fuel and basic maintenance for squad cars, paper and utilities for police stations, union dues, pension and insurance fees, and nothing more.  With no money to fuel and use the combat machinery, the police will be a lot less tempted to use them.  For state and federal police who get too rambunctious, there's the trick California used to rein in the NSA: passed a law requiring the state to cut off all utilities -- including electricity, sewage, garbage, and water -- to any government department caught performing unconstitutional activities.

The technological defense is to stand back and turn the hackers -- and Hams -- loose.  A drone is useless without its radio connection, and there are various ways to discover the frequency of that radio transmission -- and jam it.  Of course this can lead to ongoing duels between the drone designers setting new frequencies and the hackers determining what they are, but the very possibility of having any of their frequencies hacked -- and the hacks no doubt published on the Internet -- will give governments good reason not to use drones on their own annoyed and educated citizens.

Why won't this deter the use of drones on drug lords and Jihadists?  Ah, this is where the factor of cultural psychology comes in.  There's good reason why there are so very few Muslim Nobel prize winners, and that is the general attitude of Arab culture toward science itself.  That culture doesn't really believe that the basic laws of nature are immutable, therefore predictable;  it assumes that the laws of nature are only the will of Allah, and Allah can be bribed -- with enough prayers and human sacrifices -- to change his mind.  This is why Jihadists will often throw themselves into suicidal battles and doomed tactics, truly believing that they can win despite the facts, because Their Strength Is As The Strength Of Ten Because Their Hearts Are Pure.  They don't really understand, or believe in, science;  they're happy to use the toys of technology that others invent, and can learn by rote to operate them, but have no talent for inventing new ones.  The best they can do in that department is, like drug lords, use their money to hire people who do have that ability.  Since history has amply proved that nerds in the employ of drug lords and Jihadists have notoriously shortened lifespans, competent scientists -- including hackers -- rarely care to work for such.  When they do, they tend to spend more of their time and labor creating escape-hatches for themselves than doing very competent work. State-of-the-art drone handlers have the advantage here, and will for the foreseeable future.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(  

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