Monday, April 26, 2010

In Drone War, CIA Opts for Smaller, Less Deadly Weapons

Via (Danger Room) -

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has long been wise to a problem: Weapons designed for Cold War combat are often too powerful — and too lethal — for low-intensity conflict and counterinsurgency. Now it seems the CIA is catching on to the concept as well.

In today’s Washington Post, Joby Warrick and Peter Finn report that the CIA may be using “new, smaller missiles” to take out suspected insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas, in combination with better surveillance and other technological upgrades.

Last month, they write, a CIA missile “probably no bigger than a violin case and weighing about 35 pounds” targeted a house in Miram Shah, in Pakistan’s South Waziristan province. The strike killed a top al-Qaeda organizer, along with several others. Such precise, low-collateral-damage attacks, they add, “have provoked relatively little public outrage.”

Leaving aside the question of whether the CIA’s campaign of targeted killing is any less controversial — our pal Peter Singer argues that is isn’t — the agency’s acquisition of less-lethal weapons is intriguing. While the agency refused to comment on the specifics, it’s pretty easy to guess what’s going on here.

Take the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, once the primary weapon in the drone arsenal. The hundred-pound missile packs a warhead that was originally designed to destroy a main battle tank. Use it against a more lightly armored target — say, a civilian car — and it’s overkill. At the military’s behest, contractors have long been developing a number of alternatives for arming drones.

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