Air Force: Drones Will Become More Discriminate Killers

By Matthew Harwood

Despite the widespread criticism of the use of drones to hunt down militants in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Air Force has invested in new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that will be smaller, will hunt in packs, and will kill more discriminately, reports after viewing a 78-page briefing from the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Perhaps the most significant concept in the briefing is a UAV called Suburb Warrior, which would carry a new kind of smaller, precision-guided missile. Another project, called Sniper, is a targeting system that can lock on to multiple targets, allowing a single drone pilot to coordinate the attacks of a squadron of robots — or a single UAV to hit a group of enemies. Picking through the dozens of systems in this briefing, many of which will be flight-tested within five years, there's a clear set of goals: build smaller, even microscopic drones with smaller weapons that can hunt in swarms and engage targets in the close quarters of urban battlefields. And hunt as soon as possible.'s Erik Sofge explains why the Air Force is doing so much research and development on new UAVs. Recent drone strikes from the likes of Predator and Reaper drones can kill more than their intented victims. The reason: the least powerful munition they fire is Hellfire missiles, which are intended to puncture the tough armor of tanks.

The Air Force therefore is interested in fielding mini-drones with mini-missiles for the critical mission of all counterinsurgency, hearts and minds.

Instead of dropping Hellfires or a 500-pound bomb on an insurgent hideout, one or more Suburb Warriors could fire a volley of mini-missiles at confirmed targets, without vaporizing the wedding reception next door.

And if you think that the scenario above seems like Star Wars meets Red Dawn, check out what Sofge says the Air Force is planning in the way of UAVs from 2015 to 2030. The video below is from the Air Force Research Laboratory detailing its R&D into micro air vehicles that can be used to, among other things, surveil; detect radiological, biological, and chemical threats; and explode suicide-bomber-style on targets, such as enemy snipers.

Photo of drones by
Photo of Hellfire missile by larryzou@/Flickr


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