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Before getting into the second drone age,  a recap of the first one would not be out of place. The first drone age has been dominated by the US since its first attack using a remotely piloted craft in 2001. Few escapades since 2018 give us the nature of its spread and the direction it is taking. On 4th of August 2018, two drones detonated explosives near the President of Venezuela, while he was addressing the National Guard. In Dec 2018 the Gatwick Airport’s witnessed the sordid pre-Christmas closure saga* because of drone sightings. On 14 Sept 2019 *drones were used to attack oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. The *assassination of Qasem Soleimani* on January 3, 2020, can give you fair idea of its lethal precision. Jammu Air Force Base Station drone incident in June this year is fresh in the nation’s memory. The recent scary one, of August 2021, has been  the *infamous Kabul drone attack killing 10 civilians, including 7 children.

We are already in the midst of the Second Drone Age, a dystopian one. The world all of a sudden seems to go out of control on many  fronts. One is a burgeoning multisided drone marketplace, a world unto itself, with no one to bring a semblance of sanity into it. The international drone market ranges from tiny startups selling for $1000 to $2000, an off the shelf technology which can be easily weaponized. This can be any terror groups ideal weapon. At the other of the spectrum  are ’high tech unmanned vehicles that can carry munitions and Hellfire missiles. This is turning out to be an ’ungoverned, unregulated space with billions of dollars to be made and thousands of lives at stake.’

As on date 102 countries run their active military drone programs. Thousands of troops have been replaced with remote controlled drone attacks. In US, fewer troop deaths means less pressure at the ballot box and less congressional oversight. It allows leaders and proxies that support them to get away with murders and most often of their of own citizens, as seen in conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Where is regime which protects civilian population? Who is there to evaluate the ’operational and tactical ramifications of this remote control warfare.’ War is only one part of the story, drones has become the most critical tool in the unregulated intra-state political violence.

There are some overt feeble attempts at oversight. The Missile Technology Control Regime arguably covers drones, but where is the enforcement mechanism. Agnes Callamard calls drones a gateway technology. She opens up the drone dystopian world for us. Drones have ”opened the door to weaponized artificial intelligence, algorithmic and robotic warfare, and loosened human control over the deployment of lethal force.” She went on proclaim that today armed drones are tomorrow’s killer robots. There is a need for a specific ”Drone Technology Control Regime”, which could establish a multilateral process to ”develop standards for the design, export, and use of drones.” There is also a need for stricter control on transfer of military technologies. Is there a way out?


Sanjay Sahay

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