Like much of today’s technology, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles attribute their creation to the military. The idea of using unmanned aircraft has long been a dream for the military -- scouting planes without any casualties to report should something go wrong, air strikes with only time and money to lose, and the ability to wage war without losing a single life. Well the third one may perhaps not be realistic – as Afghanistan has shown, lack of ground troops leaves certain entities unchecked.1 However, it may be argued that “they represent a significant step toward the eventual automation of the battlefield—one in which teleoperated or robotic systems replace many soldiers.”2 Either way, these machines do create a less expensive and more dispensable alternative to conventional air battles. This creates obvious moral issues, as the country with such technology is no longer as tentative to engage in armed combat.
UAVs can do many things that conventional aircraft cannot. As Steven Ashley puts it, “’Traditional’ aircraft—fast photo/ reconnaissance fighters, high-flying U-2s, and sensor-laden patrol planes—nor the classified orbital spy satellites can do the job of the simple, prop-driven unmanned aerial vehicles.”3 These advantages, coupled with their low expense, place them in great demand. As Ronald R. Fogelman (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) states, “We are now impressed by the convergence of technological advances in computers, flight controls, lightweight materials, advanced electric motors, and communications packages that will make modern UAVs extremely effective.”4
UAVs are not only to be used for such questionable moral circumstances as war; these vehicles can provide a plethora of services in the commercial market. However, “Routine civil access to these various UAV assets is in an embryonic state and is only just now emerging.”5 Once the technology is sufficiently safe, these aircraft will be used in domestic air space. Naturally, without the military’s deep pockets, research in this department is much slower.
It is becoming clear that UAVs will slowly replace piloted aircraft. “Decades from now, much—if not most—of the Air Force’s firepower will likely come from UAVs. They will conduct almost all missions now assigned to manned aircraft, from intelligence gathering and counter-air operations, to operational and even strategic attack.”6 See the section on Possible Uses.
What are UAVs?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are (the name is deceptive I know) airplanes that fly without a pilot aboard. UAVs can be directed by an external controller or be pre-programmed. Sizes vary greatly on these machines; they can be as small as a couple feet, to having a 200-foot wingspan, larger than the Boeing 747.7 UAVs come in many different designs; they can be anything from “model airplanes to missiles to ball-shaped vehicles with helicopter blades.”8 Currently, these vehicles carry only non-lethal payloads, however unmanned aerial combat...