Turn Away in Disgust? Dr. Frankenstein Did, But Our Leaders Can Not

I think we do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones…We’ve seen that overseas already with growing frequency. I think the expectation is that it’s coming here imminently. I think they are relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate, and quite difficult to disrupt and monitor. ~ FBI Director Christopher Wray

One need not delve into the finer philosophical points about any moral equivalence when considering that what FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress yesterday is obvious. Namely, that terrorists, adversaries – call them what you will – are likely to employ weaponized drones against U.S. targets at home and abroad. Getting huffy or outraged about it won’t change anything. We use weaponized drones because we can. And so will others.

In several ways, the unparalleled technological and logistical primacy that the US has enjoyed from the 1940s through the 1990s is over. Our domestic industrial base, economic power, university system, and managerial techniques remain barriers to entry for many sophisticated intelligence, weapons, and cargo-moving systems. But some nations are still interested in the traditional military equipment and are, in a number of militarily-relevant realms, either our peers or are near-peers. Many nations buy or even build advanced surface ships, submarines, aircraft, and intelligence gathering systems and some of this equipment and the professionalism with which they are employed, is impressive.

When insurgent forces are able to gain access to modern military equipment, they can inflict damage on more sophisticated powers. But in this they attempt to compete against us where we are strong. For example, we no longer see the ostentatious parading of captured, U.S.-provided equipment in daylight by the Islamic State because this type of obviousness is tactically unsound and we can readily target and destroy these embarrassing “own goals.”

However, it is in the nexus and culmination of several advancing technologies that the barriers to entry for effective, lethal capability have vanished. The world is filled with tens of millions of savvy technologists and home-brew hobbyists and today they can readily access and combine imagery, identification, timing, guidance and control, and delivery vehicle technologies into cheap, lethal packages. These are potentially much more accurate, ranging, and destructive than the types of aging rockets, mortars, and direct-fire weapons such as rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) available throughout the world.

Someday, perhaps “imminently” as the FBI Director suggests, our public officials will only be seen in weaponized drone-proof “Popemobiles.” Or, perhaps like al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. leaders, ours will go to ground and will only be “seen” via video shot from the safety of obscure and protected locations.

Questions of moral equivalence are beside the point by now. The threat to us is here and we have set the bar, established the…

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