War ontologies and materiality of drone warfare

. History of the selected system, including developer/manufacturer, need it was built to fulfill, and unique characteristics

The history of unmanned aerial systems has been heavily emphasized for centuries. Many countries around the world used UAS as a means to provide a competitive advantage during war times. Others uses these systems as a means to create a climate of surveillance and research. These findings have been used to create further commercial applications that are still in use today. The usage of UAS, from a historical perspective, dates back to China. Around 200 AD Chinese developers and manufacturer used paper balloons equipped with oil lamps to illuminate the night during war periods. Foreign enemies, who were not aware of the technology believe the lamps during the night were spirits or a divine being. Likewise, during the civil war, both Union and Confederate forces launched balloons laden with explosives and attempted to land them in supply or ammunition depots and explode them (Andrejevic, 2016).

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The primary reason the developer and manufacturers developed these mechanisms was to limit death and human causality while also gaining a competitive advantage during war. Initially, UAS were used as a means to distract and divert attention from troops on the ground. The primary drawback was that these devices could not be controlled. As a result, the variability of success during the initial history of UAS was very high. As success depending on so many uncontrollable variables, UAS where not as robust during their initial design, manufacture and implementation (Daggett, 2015).

Later many of these obstacles were mitigated through the use of technology, science, and research. The Wright Brothers, and Dr. Samuel Pierpont Langley, taught the aviation world a lot about the secrets of controlled flight. This allowed militaries to construct better devices that were not subject to the same miscalculations as their earlier iterations. Through this development, manufactures were also able to better expand the use cases for UAS deployment. For example, in late 1916, Sperry Gyroscope Company developed an unmanned torpedo that could fly a guided distance of 1000 yards to detonate its warhead close enough to an enemy warship. With this success, new innovations where eventually developed with consisted of drones in the 1930s, advanced aerial vehicles in the 1950s, remotely piloted vehicles in the 1980s. Through the adoption and creation of the internet, these devices saw further innovations as they continued to develop (Gusterson, 2014).

The unique characteristics of each is that they do not require physical human presence within the aircraft thus reducing the cost of human life. In addition, with the introduction of artificial intelligence, these vehicles can now make better decisions than a human can under specific circumstances, thus provided a very compelling advantage during periods of extreme conflict (Kindervater, 2016).

2. How the research and development in creating the UAS helped to advance (or attenuate) the use of technology

Interesting the use of technology helped to further the research and development process of UAS. As noted in question 1, the largest drawback to UAS usage historically has been related to issues of reliability. With technology, the issues of reliability are now heavily mitigated. Humans for example have a much better understanding of weather patterns and can now predict weather conditions much more accurately. This ultimately allows UAS to be much more reliable as it relates to specific operations. The ability to communicate and direct the aircraft was once a large hurdle. Now, with the advent of 5G, fiber, and other internet connectivity, aircraft can be controlled seamlessly from various locations around the world. Advances related to stealth technology and construction materials also makes the use of UAS much more cost effective. Aircraft are much more durable, can fly at higher ranges, and have much more variety with their usages. Some aircraft for example can specialize in delivering packages, while others focus more so on destroying enemy establishments. The variety of use cases has also increased due to technology (Holmqvist, 2013).

3. Operational differences among the eras (e.g., needs, technological capabilities, and regulations)

As noted above there are very stark operational differences among the different eras. As mentioned within the opening remarks, China used UAS as a means to divert and distract. They were used to strike fear into enemies who did not have knowledge or information about the enemy UAS. The next era, characterized by rapid innovation with the industrial revolution saw the range of UAS increase dramatically. As mentioned above, developers during this period where able to deploy missiles from a remote distance and detonate them from a distance. The industrial revolution combined with two world wars saw heightened use of these systems. With more usage, the technological capabilities further increased. This ushered in the current era, where technology and artificial intelligence has now greatly expanded the use case of UAS. Here, drones and other unmanned vehicles are now becoming much more prominent. Here regulations related to usage, air rights, size, and capabilities have all been issued. However, from a military perspective, these advances have been very widespread and dramatic (Feigenbaum, 2015).

4. Overarching contribution towards the development and use of UAS today

The overarching contribution towards the development and use of UAS is that human error is taken out of the system. In addition, during periods of war, human lives can be spared through the use of UAS. The contributions can of UAS can also be seen outside of direct application within the military. Air travel, logistics, and trade can all be enhanced through the use of UAS (Asaro,, 2013).


1. Andrejevic, M. (2016). Theorizing drones and droning theory. In A. Zavrsnik (Ed.), Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems: Legal and Social Implications for Security and Surveillance (pp. 21-43). New York: Springer.

2. Asaro, P. M. (2013). The labor of surveillance and bureaucratized killing: New subjectivities of military drone operators. Social Semiotics,23(2), 196224. doi:10.1080/10350330.2013.777591

3. Daggett, C. (2015). Drone disorientations: How \\\unmanned\\\” weapons queer the experience of killing in war. International Feminist Journal of Politics

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