Cost-Benefit Analysis of Drones: Are Drone Strikes the Future of War?

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Drones: Are Drone Strikes the Future of War?

Drones are being used more and their use will increase in the coming years.  The poster-boy for the drone attacks has been Pakistan.  US – and even Pakistan – have used it to great effect.  Sometimes, there have been great misgivings, and the career-activists have been crying hoarse on the impact of these attacks on “innocents”.  But let us look at things in a bit more detail!

Reduces effectiveness of the Jehadis

This study by Johnston and Sarbahi – The Impact of U.S. Drone Strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan – which went into the impact of US Drone strikes suggests that use of drones “decreases in the incidence and lethality of terrorist attacks, as well as decreases in selective targeting of tribal elders.”

The US forces which use drones use the technical intelligence to detect the presence of the targets on the ground, it is forcing the Jehadis to change the way they communicate.  The al Qaeda and Taliban Jehadis do not use the electronic devices.  Also they avoid gathering in large numbers.  In fact, a tip sheet found in Mali gave that advise to the jehadis.

It must be remembered that US does use its U.S. Special Operations forces for major operations, but it needs a permissive atmosphere.  In semi-permissive areas like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq (post 2014), use of US special forces is difficult and fraught with danger.  Also, in such areas, the target is not a whole group of people but few targeted individuals.  They are zeroed down by use of Operational data via technical means.  Idea is not to fight the battle of attrition that the enemy – terrorists in this case – are gearing up for.  But to eliminate them and/or inflict heavy economic damage!

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Using Drones

Per American Security Project, cost of a single drone – MQ-9 Reaper drone – used in Pakistan comes to US$6.48 million and the operational cost comes to US$3 million.  However it must be remembered that one reaper drone in a group of four needs at least these – two active pilots, a ground station, and a secured data link.  Taking all the costs into account, the total cost comes to US$3250 per hour of flight time!

Compare this to the cost of each soldier – a US solider deployed in Afghanistan in 2012, for example, was costing the US a whopping US$2.1 million!!  Even though the fatalaties have decreased in war over time due to the advances in medicine – there were 7 injuries to each fatality during Iraq and Afghanistan!  Despite the care and advances, since 2001 – there have been 287,911 cases of traumatic brain injury, 1558 major limb amputations and 118,829 instances of post-traumatic stress disorder!

The annual health cost for a soldier with multiple traumas is USD $136,000.  This means that the future costs for Iraq and Afghan veterans would come to USD 836.1 mn!

Now, this brings to the already stated aim of the terror organizations the world over.  Bleed America to bankruptcy!  That was what Osama Bin Laden had stated.

Al-Qaida is “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy”, Osama bin Laden claims, in a section of his latest videotape which has just come to light.
Delivering a financial report on the “war on terror”, he says that every dollar spent by al-Qaida in attacking the US has cost Washington $1m (£545,000) in economic fallout and military spending.
The remarks appear in a full transcript of the 18-minute tape posted on the website of al-Jazeera. They were omitted last Friday when the TV station broadcast extracts.
Referring to Afghanistan, Bin Laden says: “We, alongside the mujahideen, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat … So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

One needs to fight the enemy in a way that neutralizes his own aims and objectives.  And, bleeding US to bankruptcy was the goal of the Jehadis.  That’s what they did to the USSR and that is what they have been trying with the US.

Do Drones Kill Terrorists or Civilians?

A lot of Pakistanis talk against drones and how they are a blot on their nation’s sovereignty.  Many say drones – and they are right – are one of the major cause of hatred in Pakistan towards US.  Well, drones may not be the cause, but an alibi to hang their hatred on.

And, as this graph – shared by friend Ali Chisti from Pakistan on his facebook profile – says, the drones have been eliminating more terrorists than innocent civilians.

Drone Attacks: Very efficient

So, some will surely ask – What is the basis to know who is a “Militant” versus an “Innocent civilian”?

Ali’s answer is: “TTP statements/ identification and endorsements from both CIA, ISI and even TTP/AQ.”

It is not just the technology used in drones but also the way it is used that is contributing to more success!  As for the claim of the targeting and deaths of the non-combatants, one needs to look at the objective data on this.

The three most well respected and independent sources on this issue are the Long War Journal, the New America Foundation and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). Among these, the U.K.-based TBIJ has consistently produced the highest estimates of civilian casualties for drone strikes. According to TBIJ, between January 2012 and July 2013, there were approximately 65 drone strikes in Pakistan, which they estimate to have killed a minimum of 308 people. Yet of these casualties, even TBIJ estimates that only 4 were civilians. This would amount to a civilian casualty rate of less than 1.5 percent, meaning that only 1 in 65 casualties caused by drones over that 19-month period was a civilian. This speaks to drones effective discrimination between civilian and military targets that no other weapons system can possibly match.

These studies help us look at the “humanitarian impact of drones” in a much better light.  It seems that with the right intelligence and targeting, the “collateral damage” to the non-Jehadi population can actually be far less than claimed!

This post was first Published on: Oct 23, 2012

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