Armed Reaper, via US Air Force.
Almost all signs are pointing to US intervention in war-torn Syria. Whether you like it or not, this is happening. Which has me asking: Why no drones? They're being used virtually everywhere that the US is raining Hellfire from above, which is basically anywhere it pleases. So why aren't we hearing much of anything about the US deploying armed drones over al-Assad's forces?
Drones are simply not suited for Syria. At least not yet they aren't. The complexities of a now two-year civil war bring into focus the shortcomings of the lethal and remote technologies of 21st Century warfare. Here's why.
Drones suck at air-to-air combat. The thing you've got to remember about unmanned aerial vehicles is that despite all their remote potential, at the most basic levels drones are very dumb, and very slow. So long as UAVs lack robust sense-and-avoid capabilities, they're not cut out for the heat of aerial battles. Straight up.
"If we don't control the air space then they [hunter-killer drones] are slow, they are noisy, they are very easy to shoot right out of the sky", Audrey Kurth Cronin, a public policy professor at George Mason University, told Reuters. "They are really not all that useful when it comes to states like Syria".
Drones might be no match for Syria's defense system. We don't have too many specifics about Damascus' surface-to-air missile defense, a system built out with considerable help from Russia. But we do know the system is "robust", an anonymous US defense official tells Reuters. "Drones, like any other (aerial) platform, are vulnerable to integrated air defenses". Which is precisely why the Obama administration isn't taking its chances with Predator or Reapers just yet.
Drones lack killing power. That's compared with, say, Tomahawk cruise missiles, untold numbers of which are ready to roll on the four guided-missile destroyers the US has parked in the Meditteranean Sea. The 20-pound warheads affixed to Hellfire missiles, the drones's weapon of choice, are no match for the 1,000-pound Tomahawk warhead.
Drones drag things out. As we've seen with the shadow wars throughout the Middle East and Horn of Africa, two theatres of a seemingly boundless and endless war, drones really come into the fray once we known we've backed ourselves into the shit for awhile. Drones have become the centerpiece of protracted conflicts, the likes of which Obama has alluded to doing away with.
We'll see about that. Indeed, the US has a fleet of hunter-killer drones waiting in the wings at a base in neighboring Turkey. Knock out Syria's defense system and suddenly the country could be ripe for droning. Whether you like it or not, that may happen.