Military drone operator suffers as much as someone who kills at close range, says ex-soldier


What is a drone for? It is more or less like the metallic sponge of a thousand and one uses. It is used in agribusiness, to deliver pizza or medicine, to clean the outside windows of buildings and also to wage war.

The drone, an unmanned vehicle operated by remote control, is the latest addition to the inventions of the war industry, which 70 years ago gave jet fighters and which in Vietnam popularized the helicopter as a means of transporting infantry.

The common idea is that a military drone operator, by staying away from the enemy and not exposing himself to their firing range, is a cold professional who does not get emotionally involved with the one he attacks. Not quite. At least for Peter Lee, a former RAF (British Air Force) chaplain and now a professor of ethics at the University of Portsmouth, UK.

He published a book in 2018 on the subject and, much later, participated in a podcast at the institution where he teaches. His thesis is that the military drone operator suffers a barbarity for killing a fellow man and faces the same psychological problems and the same exhaustion as a combatant who launches missiles from an airplane or bombs, on the battlefield, from an armored vehicle. .

This traumatic analogy between face-to-face warfare and long-distance warfare is not part of the prevailing focus in recent history of the drone, which is wrongly regarded as a “clean weapon”—because cleanliness is an attribute of the operator, not the sufferer. its effects.

It turns out that the technology needed to increase the effectiveness of a drone is the same that allows its operators, through the high definition of the image on the computer screens, to have a perfect view of the damage they are causing.

In general, says Lee – and his experience is that of the Royal Air Force – operators work in pairs. There is the pilot who has his finger on the trigger and who handles the navigation instruments that take the small aircraft to its target and there is, next to him, the navigator, who, for example, “transports” a missile by remote control to the location, on land, where the enemy is in his vehicle or military installation.

Lee provided religious assistance to RAF teams who were stopping by a Cyprus hospital after working face-to-face in conflicts such as Syria or Iraq. He also met drone operators who fought Islamic State and Taliban extremists in Afghanistan.

It was the latter, with 25 of their wives or companions, that he exhaustively interviewed. He said that the symptoms of stress are similar to those of crew members aboard fighter jets or in armored vehicles that face the enemy head-on. For example, hair stands on end at the sight of a man with his body torn apart and tears come out of his eyes in moments of strong emotion.

Lee cites the example of a mission in Afghanistan where the two crew members were 4,500 kilometers apart, and the drone parked in the sky 4,500 meters from its target. The pilot was a boy and the navigator was a girl. Four times the target, a terrorist, could not be hit because he was surrounded by civilians.

On the fifth attempt, the navigator identified a small child on the back of the bicycle that the terrorist was using and did not let the pilot shoot. She failed to comply with a fire order also given by a supervisor. The terrorist arrived at the hideout and picked up the child he was carrying on his back. That day, he escaped unscathed. And the crew who commanded the drone breathed a sigh of relief that they had not killed the enemy’s little escort.

With both a drone and a manned flight, according to Lee, the dimension of human tragedy in war prevails. Euphoria from combat and the physical destruction of an enemy are pathological or fictional states. Whoever hits it also suffers, although it does so much less than the one who was physically wounded.

Another mistake often made is that of assigning the drone, in comparison to a fighter plane, the status of something automatic or autonomous. Is not. Each and every movement of the drone is remotely controlled, and its operator is responsible, for better or for worse, for any destruction that the small aircraft can produce.

In this type of war, nothing resembles the ludic activity of a video game. It is war with blood, with death and mourning of orphans and widows like any other war.

Finally, Peter Lee believes that deaths caused by drones are the subject of a media hype, which does not happen when you kill massively without high technology. The example he cites is the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. 850,000 people died, most of them killed with bladed weapons that should have been used only as agricultural tools.

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