Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Killing more efficiently: America’s violin-sized missiles
The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles – some of them no longer than a violin-case – to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.
The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.
With the new missiles you are talking of precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare, U.S. officials say. Last month, a small CIA missile, weighing about 35 pounds, tore through the second floor of a house in Miram Shah, a town in South Waziristan.
The projectile exploded, killing a top al-Qaeda official and about nine other suspected terrorists, the newspaper said. The mud-brick house collapsed and the roof of a neighbouring house was damaged, but no one else in the town of 5,000 was hurt, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed after-action reports.
Besides the obvious gains from such “clean killings”, you are also getting more bang for your buck. The drones were earlier mounted with Hellfire missiles with a 100-pound warhead designed to destroy a main battle tank. To fire such a missile at a car or a compound in the Pakistani northwest is surely overkill, as the military-focused Danger Room blog notes.
A whole range of small missiles are being developed to be launched from the Predator, such as Lockheed Martin’s Scorpion weiging 35 pounds and with a diameter of a coffee cup. It causes far less destruction than a Hellfire, and it can be fitted with four different guidance systems that allow it to home in on targets as small as a single person, in complete darkness.
Very clinical, very precise. There is almost a seductive element to it and it goes back to the whole debate about trying to make war as cost-free as possible. A painless war ? But what about the people on the ground where this great advance in warfare is being played out.
Peter Warren Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, points that while Americans use words such as “efficient” and “costless” to describe the drone campaign, many view it as war without honor. Cruel and cowardly, he quotes a newspaper editor in Lebanon as saying, in a testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives last month.
“What does it mean when ‘drone’ has become a colloquial word in Urdu and rock songs that Pakistani youth vibe to talk about America not fighting with honor? How does the reality of our painstaking efforts to act with precision emerge on the other side through a cloud of anger and misperceptions? ” Singer, author of a widely-acclaimed book Wired For War said at the hearing on Unmanned Systems and Robotic Warfare. Or is America painting itself into a corner in just the way Israel has done with its policy of state-directed assassinations , he asks. Israel has struck against top Hamas leaders, but each hit might also be inducing a 12-year-old boy to join the group.
Make no mistake, the United States has quietly unleashed such firepower in the Pakistani northwest, considered at one point to be the place where the next Sept 11 attacks were most likely to be plotted, that you could almost argue that it is a fighting a third war there along with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Singer says as of March 12, 2010, American unmanned systems had carried out 118 known air strikes into Pakistan, well over double the amount the U.S. military did with manned bombers in the opening round of the Kosovo War just a decade ago. By the old definition it would amount to war. And Pakistan is supposed to be an ally.