Russia develops a long-range kamikaze drone22 September 2023
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Kamikaze drones, these sophisticated yet controversial surveillance munitions, represent a new dimension in modern warfare. This article explores in depth what they are, their objectives, producers, advantages and disadvantages, their uses in the field, their geopolitical implications, and the ethical and technical questions they raise.
What is a kamikaze drone?
A kamikaze drone, also known as a surveillance munition, is an armed aerial drone that is programmed to strike an enemy target by destroying itself. Unlike reconnaissance drones, which are designed for surveillance, kamikaze drones are armed with explosives and are used for the specific purpose of destroying enemy targets.
Objectives of kamikaze drones
The main objective of kamikaze UAVs is to eliminate enemy targets with precision, while minimizing the risk to friendly troops. They are used for surgical strike missions where precise targeting and reduced collateral damage are essential. What’s more, their ability to loiter, or “loiter” in the air, enables them to survey an area for an extended period before striking at the right moment.
Who produces kamikaze drones?
Countries such as Israel, the USA, Russia and China are among the leading manufacturers of kamikaze drones. Companies such as Aeroscan in Russia, AeroVironment in the USA and IAI in Israel are key players in this field.
Kamikaze drones are mainly used in theaters of operation where discretion and precision are required. For example, in asymmetrical conflicts or guerrilla warfare, these drones can be used to eliminate rebel leaders or destroy enemy equipment without endangering ground troops.
Advantages and disadvantages
Surgical strikes with minimum collateral damage
Reduced risk to friendly troops
Ability to monitor an area for an extended period of time
High production and maintenance costs
Ethical and legal issues linked to the automation of lethal force
Risk of arms race and proliferation
Kamikaze drones add a new dimension to modern conflicts and international relations. They give countries with this technology a significant advantage, which can create power imbalances. What’s more, their use in conflict zones such as the Middle East and Ukraine raises questions about respect for international humanitarian law.
Significant advantages and power imbalances
The arrival of kamikaze drones on the battlefield offers undeniable tactical advantages to the countries that possess them. These weapons enable surgical strikes, the neutralization of high-value targets with minimal collateral damage, and better protection of friendly troops. These advantages translate into a significant gain in military power.
However, access to this technology is often limited to the wealthiest or most technologically advanced nations, creating an imbalance of power. Nations without access to this technology can find themselves at a major tactical disadvantage, exacerbating existing asymmetries. This can also trigger an arms race, where countries seek to develop or acquire similar technologies to redress the balance, with the risk of proliferation and conflict escalation.
Use in specific conflict zones
The deployment of kamikaze drones in areas such as the Middle East and Ukraine shows just how much impact these weapons can have on complex regional conflicts. In the case of the Middle East, kamikaze drones could be used by different factions in conflicts such as the war in Syria, the fight against the Islamic State or tensions between Iran and its neighbors. Their use can further confuse conflict dynamics, making it more difficult to track the origin of attacks and increasing the risk of retaliation or escalation.
Respect for international humanitarian law
The use of kamikaze drones also raises questions about compliance with international humanitarian law, which imposes restrictions on the means and methods of warfare to protect people not taking a direct part in hostilities. The principles of humanity, necessity, proportionality and distinction between combatants and non-combatants must be respected.
The problem is that the automation of kamikaze drones, especially with the advance of artificial intelligence, could make it difficult to guarantee respect for these principles. For example, how can we ensure that the drone does not target civilians or cause disproportionate damage?
Ethical and legal issues
The automation of lethal force raises a number of ethical questions. Who is responsible in the event of error? How can we ensure that targets are legitimate? The use of kamikaze drones in conflicts also raises questions of legality under international law.
Liability in the event of error
One of the most pressing ethical questions concerns responsibility in the event of error or blunder. In a traditional military system, the chain of command is clear: orders are given and carried out by human beings, which makes it easy to place responsibility. But in the case of an automated kamikaze drone, determining who is responsible in the event of an error – be it a missed shot, a misidentified target or collateral damage – becomes complex.
The drone itself is an inanimate object, incapable of moral judgment. The engineer who designed the drone, the soldier who deployed it, or the commander who gave the mission order may all be involved to varying degrees. This creates a legal and ethical vagueness, likely to make it difficult to prosecute those responsible and to lead to impunity.
Guaranteeing the legitimacy of targets
Another ethical challenge is to ensure that targets are legitimate under the rules of international humanitarian law. The latter prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and demands that attacks be strictly limited to military objectives. In the fog of war, distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants can be difficult enough for human beings. This difficulty could be exacerbated with automated drones which, despite advances in artificial intelligence, lack the capacity for moral or contextual judgment that human beings possess.
Questions of international legality
Beyond ethical issues, the use of kamikaze drones in armed conflict also raises questions of legality under international law. International humanitarian law (IHL) is the main source of legal regulation in wartime, but it was mainly conceived at a time when kamikaze drone technology did not exist.
For example, IHL requires attacks to be proportionate and discriminate, which can be difficult to guarantee with an automated drone. What’s more, depending on who deploys these drones and how, there could be violations of international law relating to state sovereignty. Deploying kamikaze drones in another state’s territory without its consent could be considered a violation of its sovereignty, which is prohibited under international law.
The future of kamikaze drones
With the rapid evolution of technology, kamikaze drones are likely to become increasingly sophisticated. They could incorporate artificial intelligence for more precise targeting, raising even more ethical questions. The international community must strive to regulate their use in such a way as to minimize the risks of collateral damage and human rights violations.
Kamikaze drones represent a major advance in the way modern warfare is conducted, offering advantages in terms of precision and risk reduction for troops. However, they also pose ethical and geopolitical challenges that require serious attention. As these weapons systems continue to evolve, it is imperative that clear rules and regulations are put in place to guide their use in an ethical and legal manner.
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