Drones

New Study Finds That Drones Kill 10 Times More Civilians Than Manned Aircraft

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Credit:U.S. Airforce/wikimedia

A new study has found that the use of drones in Afghanistan resulted in 10 times more civilian deaths than manned aircraft. The study was conducted by Larry Lewis, a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, and Sarah Holewinsk of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The report used classified military data to calculate the number of civilian deaths caused by drones as opposed to manned fighter aircraft.

Lewis and Holewinsk examined the manned and unmanned strikes that occured in Afghanistan between mid 2010 and mid 2011, the most ferocious period of the air war, when up to 10 bombing missions a day were conducted. This was double the previous rate seen during Gen. Stanley McChrystal's time as Commader of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces. Gen. McChrystal's strategy had been to limit air strikes to avoid civilian casualties and the subsequent outrage from the local population.

The report stands in stark contrast to President Obama's speech in May, where he claimed that "conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage." Lewis, who has conducted six previous studies into civilian casualties in Afghanistan noted that, "The fact that I had been looking at air operations in Afghanistan for a number of years led me to suspect that what I found was in fact the case." The findings may reinvigorate the debate between the effectiveness of pilots and the advantages of new technology.

From The Guardian:

"These findings show us that it's not about the technology, it's about how the technology is used," said Holewinski. "Drones aren't magically better at avoiding civilians than fighter jets. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates." Yet the demand for additional drone strikes by commanders in the war zone creates pressure to reduce training, Holewinski and Lewis note."Adding or improving training on civilian casualty prevention is a resource decision in direct tension with the increasing demand for more UAS [unmanned aerial systems] and more operations, since additional training on civilian protection means time must be taken from somewhere else including the mission itself," Lewis and Holewinski write in their Prism article.

The studies findings provide more reasons why proponents of drones such as Director of the CIA John Brennan should be skeptical about their use. 

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34 responses to “New Study Finds That Drones Kill 10 Times More Civilians Than Manned Aircraft

    1. This should have been posted first by Ender Wiggin

  1. Does the aircraft kill them or is it the pilots and their ammunition killing them?

    1. People were killed. Lives were lost. What difference, at this point, does it make?

      1. Ahem…

        Munitions were released, casualties were incurred, aircraft were landed.

    2. Technically its the munitions, right?

  2. Collateral damage! Or something…

  3. But … but … drones kill only terrorists. That’s what my liberal Facebook friends tell me.

  4. This could never create blowback. That’s just a crazy libertarian meme. I mean, no one ever intended for civilians to die, so no one intended their families to hate the United States, therefor blowback is an impossibility.

    1. The road to good intentions is paved with 10-year-olds.

      1. +1 polite golf clap.

      2. *paved with the well polished skulls of 10yr olds.

        **polished by re-purposed child-slave monocle polishers

  5. A drone was has reportedly flowned and a weapon was have been discharged allegedly.

    10 to 1. Acceptable to those with no morals.

    1. You should probably go to the doctor who gave you the lobotomy and ask for your money back. That is, if you can speak clearly enough for him to understand you.

      1. I’m trying to get into journalism school, you ill-bred carbuncle.

        1. I can’t understand you over the drooling, NutraSweet. Sputter more clearly.

  6. Didn’t their parents tell them: hang around bad people and bad things happen to you. Welcome to the nanny state mentality.

  7. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates.” Yet the demand for additional drone strikes by commanders in the war zone creates pressure to reduce training….” .

    It’s always an issue of training. Cops or Pilots or CIA assasins. They just weren’t instructed on how NOT to kill people.

  8. “These findings show us that it’s not about the technology, it’s about how the technology is used,” said Holewinski. “Drones aren’t magically better at avoiding civilians than fighter jets. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates.”

    Hiding the lede, there?

    Assuming that the study is legit, I suspect that it’s more an issue of the missions given than anything having to do with “training”; faulty training was a stalking horse for officers to get in on drone piloting under the belief that those dumb enlisteds didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Well, here we are again and “training” is once again someone’s whipping boy.

    I do wonder how civilian was defined; many of the tribal villages in Pakistan have what is effectively a primitive wartime economy, with forges dedicated to building small arms for regional warfighters placed in the middle of the town and manned by women and children. Certainly the use of drones has been far less destructive than the other attempts to pacify the region.

    1. Certainly the use of drones has been far less destructive than the other attempts to pacify the region.

      I thought the point of the article was that they haven’t.

      They’ve certainly been just as successful, though.

  9. The only thing I get out of killing a person is the recoil of my mouse button.

  10. Drone articles are 10x more likely not to have alt-text…

    …and it’s US Air Force, not US Airforce 🙂

  11. “You didn’t drone that.”

  12. Our sainted Barry wouldn’t have killed them if they weren’t enemy combatants. And if they weren’t enemy combatants then it’s obviously BUSH’S FAULT.

  13. Not having seen the study, I wonder if part of this may be a matter of what sort of missions drones are used for vs manned aircraft.

    When manned aircraft are used for close air support or interdiction operations, they are typically used in environments that are have considerably fewer civilians around than those found in drone operations. After all, when you are killing the odd terrorist leader or other lowlife (typical drone operation) it is difficult to imagine that they are NOT surrounded by civilians, or at least people that a body count will later identify as civilians.

    Note that I am not defending or attacking the use of drones (that is a different argument), merely pointing out that measuring accuracy by number of civilians killed is a poor methodology at best.

    1. Exactly.

    2. After all, when you are killing the odd terrorist leader or other lowlife (typical drone operation)…

      Really? How do you know that? Because the government said so?

      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/201…..dM5vfmThyJ

      The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”

      http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/

      1. Aside from the fact that I know more than a few drone operators (who do not corroborate the commentary at the second link), I rather doubt that even the government (which I probably dislike as much or more than you do) doesn’t typically go shooting people for the fun of it. Yes, they are often sloppy and do not do the kind of due diligence that would lead me to trust them with the toys that they use, but as I pointed out in my first comment, this isn’t about whether they SHOULD be using drones, only about how the study’s conclusions may have been methodologically flawed.

        As for my phrasing of ‘terrorist leader or other lowlife’, I concede that I should have been more clear. The missions are DESIGNED to kill terrorists (unless you believe that they send up drones just for fun), and thus the mission profiles are likely to create far more civilian casualties than would conventional CAS operations.

  14. I can’t help but wonder if the issue is tied to training in another way — the skills necessary for pilots are rare enough that they can’t especially be picky beyond weeding out the serious bad apples.

    The skills necessary to pilot a drone are low enough that the pool of potential joystick jockeys is substantially larger, and as a result they can weed out candidates with less… ethical flexibility about killing children.

    1. You obviously haven’t met many fighter pilots, or drone operators.

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