Reap[er] what you have sewn

The United States has a robot army.  More specifically, a robot air force, and furthermore, it is only one part of the arsenal of the air force.  Drones are used by other departments of the US like the CIA and the navy but the air force uses drones the more than the other branches.  From continued mass media coverage of the two wars in the Middle East the term “predator drone” has seeped into the American vernacular to mean all drones that drop bombs but this is no longer the case.  A few classes ago I mentioned Reaper Drones and specifically that they were “autonomous capable.”  Reaper Drones, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is the face of the modern American Air Force.  Do these robots/drones work to make the lives of the operators better being that they are at essentially zero risk for combat related injury and death?

So while defense spending is definitely a divisive issue in modern American politics, we should shed some perspective on it related to the use of drones.  The newest generation of all-purpose fighter (not a drone, regular jet fighter) is the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II.  Each one of these instruments of war costs a whopping $181 million (Air Force version F35-A), $252.3 million (Marine version F35-B), and 299.5 million (Navy version F35-C).  These planes are not cheap by any measure.  To compare, to produce one Reaper drone costs $16.9 million.  So you could buy 10 Reapers for the cost of one F35-A or 17 Reapers for the cost of one F35-C.  Factor in the fact that men who are deployed piloting the Reaper are out of harm’s way (or maybe not?) and is easy to realize the benefit of having a robot army.

Reapers are also autonomous capable meaning, if so desired, they could do their jobs by themselves, and commanders would only need to approve the targets that the Reapers designate (if even that).  If Americans continue to move towards efficiency and saving the nation’s budget, the use of these drones should be supported.  The major question to consider is: does fighting a war thousands of miles away using mechanized emissaries of destruction – killer robots – make the experience of war less human and what are the consequences?

War is bad, war kills human lives, war destroys families, war soils the earth, and war should always be avoided by any means necessary.  War does however solve grave problems that humans have faced in the past.  Furthermore, I admit to agreeing with the idea that the only real power anyone has is the power to kill, if you don’t have that power, you don’t have the power to impose any other rights.  So the ability to kill should maybe be respected, but the volatility of going to war should be discouraged.  But removing our soldiers from the air space doesn’t remove their minds from the battlefield.

A report by the Department of Defense shed light on the fact that soldiers who pilot drones suffer PTSD and related disorders just as much as soldiers on the front lines.  So even though they know their safety is not compromised, they still experience extreme stress from remote combat.  It can be argued that the experience of war is just as human.  The body of evidence shows that the drone pilot’s human experience of war is although one of extreme safety and simply looking at screens, does nothing to alleviate the taxing mental stress of knowing you kill other people.  I for one think it is only a matter of time until Reapers would operate autonomously, but since humans are still involved in the decision making behind killing other humans I doubt there would be a decrease of mental disorders that result from combat.


>Note: I did not draw that image at the top, but I think it was some thought-provoking art showing the Reaper be the angel of death.

Reaper amongst people for scale



  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. My brother is a pilot in the Navy and at his base in Maryland I actually saw some of the drones flying around that are mentioned in your post. I had no idea that pilots who manned the drones from the ground still experience PTSD. Thanks for the informational post and your thoughts.

  2. Very interesting, I never would have guessed that they are so much cheaper being that they are just as if not more capable than a regular fighter jet. Also did not know these pilots can also experience PTSD.

  3. Drones might be in our future appliance as well. Who knows we need to transport goods with it, according to Amazon. Also, did you know that China is producing drones which cost only 1 million each? As a matter of fact, i hope i don’t offend anyone, the POTUS has actually sent the most drones into assassinations missions as well, creating more life lost. Do you think it is still ethical to start blaming murder on drones?

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