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Drone Airlift?


Juan Cole:

Well, I hate those US drones when used for purposes of warfare. But here is a Gandhian use for them. Let us defy the Syrian regime’s misuse of its sovereignty to murder its own citizens by using drones for supply airdrops.The US military was thinking already in 2009 of using drones to resupply troops in Afghanistan, and surely they have made progress since then. They could be launched from Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey, and I think Turkey might agree to this limited form of intervention. If the Syrian military shot down any humanitarian drones, no one would interpret that as an act of war requiring retaliation. So the tactic does not carry with it any danger of escalation into hostilities.

Readers in the military would know better how plausible this plan might be.

Opinions about using UAVs for aerial resupply differ, but the prospects of a drone driven Berlin Airlift in Syria are pretty grim.  Andrew Betson has an article forthcoming in Army Sustainment magazine (no direct link) that lays out some of the problems. The biggest is capacity; conventional extant drones have a carrying capacity that maxes out in the scores of pounds, which makes them essentially useless for any large scale resupply effort.  The KMAX remotely piloted helicopter can do a bit better (~2 tons), but they’re in very short supply. That the Syrians would presumably have no compunctions about shooting down a supply UAV exacerbates the problem.  Given time, you could presumably rig a regular transport helicopter for remote piloting, but no one has any interest in flying a big, slow, expensive helicopter into a situation where it’s extremely likely to get shot down.

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