A remotely piloted aircraft, also referred to as a UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle, usually with a human as the only occupant. UAVs have become part of a military strategy, being used for a wide variety of military and non-military applications. In the past, UAVs have been autonomous, with the ability to fly and locate themselves on their own, but this ability has been somewhat limited by the difficulty in operating UAVs without physical human interaction. Currently, UAVs can be remotely piloted using software or can be equipped with onboard controls that allow the pilot to remotely control the aircraft. Either way, UAVs can perform a very wide range of surveillance and reconnaissance missions using high-tech surveillance equipment and sensors designed to pinpoint enemy activity or provide a support for other operations, such as military operations, disaster relief operations, or civil defense initiatives.
The military uses UAVs for everything from troop movements, to monitoring activities inside the US, and to providing advanced communication and surveillance systems to military bases. civilian use of UAVs is also becoming more commonplace. As news of the Predator and Reaper UAVs spreads, more civilians are asking the question of what these technologically advanced machines can be used for. Will they be used to target terrorists before they strike? Will they be used to survey the country for natural resources or to monitor construction projects? Or, could they be used to protect US citizens from attack or to help rescue missionaries who are being attacked by terrorists?
The answer to all of these questions depends on how the United States defines “targeted killing” as compared to “no-argeted killing.” As the coordinator of the International drone warfare project, Dr. John Ellis, says, “While the United States has asserted for years that it does not use drones in targeted killing or any other offensive ways, the Department of Justice has stated that it may not consider any civilian harm as a part of its legal argument in defense of a drone strike. Thus, the balance between offensive and defensive operations remains murky at this point.” Although the Department of Defense would not comment on any potential future use of UAVs for offensive purposes, both the CIA and the US Army maintain that UAVs play an important role in both disciplines.