A soldier using drone for scouting military operation.

How Drone Strike Works?

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Drone strikes are an effective counterterrorism strategy. Initially, the US military was the sole user of this technology in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Pakistan.

Today, Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and military groups like the Houthis have increasingly deployed the technology. 

How do drone strikes work?

Drone strikes work by firing a missile, dropping bombs, or crashing into a target area using commercial UCAVS. The users weaponize commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by loading them with dangerous explosives and crashing into a vulnerable target or exploding above it.

Please keep reading to learn more about the use of drones in the war zone. Let’s get started.

How Do Drone Strikes Work?

Drone strikes work in three ways, including the following:

  • Dropping bombs
  • Firing missile
  • Crashing the target 

Let’s look at each of the plans to counter-terrorism. Keep reading.

Dropping Bombs:

The military equips their drones with guided and cluster bombs, which they also use to bomb the target area. They may also drop hand grenades, mortar shells, and other explosives directly above the area. 

Furthermore, the pilots can have one drone for the attack or a swarm of them at the same time.

Firing Missile:

The drone users can also fit their target(s) with air-to-surface missiles and fire them on terrorism-prone areas.

The payload could comprise shrapnel, biological, radiological, or chemical hazards.

A drone firing a missile
Drone firing missile

Crashing at The Target:

Another best way of dealing with attackers is weaponizing the drone, and they crash into the intended area or above it. In this case, you can use any types of explosives. 

Drone strike
Drone crashing at the target

What Are the Types of Drone Strikes?

Below are the 2 types of drone strikes:

  • Personality strike: It involves targeting an identified person. The US military targets a person with a known identity, like the al-Qaeda militant leader Bin Laden. Also, when conducting the strike, the US officials making the decision must be sure that the target person is present. 
  • Signature strike: The pilot conducts a strike without having the exact identity of the targeted person. Instead, the target matches the behavior (signature) that the military links to a particular militant club or activity. Sadly, such strikes can lead to massive deaths, including of civilians.

What Are the Benefits of Using Drones Strikes in War Zones?

The benefits of using drones in war zones are remarkable. It’s a reliable counterterrorism strategy favorable to both the military and civilians.

The approach has high transparency and accountability and is strategically, legally, and morally fit. Below are the pros of drone strikes:

  • Efficient in eliminating “high-value targets”
  • Exercising pressure on terrorist organizations
  • Fewer military lives at risk
  • Cheaper to produce and maintain
  • Flexibility for quick inspection
  • Terrorism organizations degradation
  • Technological progress
  • Fewer civilian casualties

Let’s look at each of the above advantages below.

1. Efficient In Eliminating “High-Value Targets”-

Whenever drone strikes are correctly used, they enable the users to eliminate terrorist leaders and other high-profile targets from the war zone.

The key thing is that they do so with full precision and less risk to U.S. troops. Successful drone strikes require any military to exercise much care and engage several civilian-sector counterterrorist abilities. 

2. Exercising Pressure On Terrorist Organizations-

A leader’s defeat can cause the rest of the group to hide. The act instills fear in them because if their ‘head’ can be eliminated, it’s much easier for them to be removed from the zone.

On the other hand, strikes can stir the terrorists to organize a hit back. That creates chances for the military to collect intelligence and conduct more strikes.

3. Fewer Military Lives At Risk-

Besides degrading terrorist plans, drone strikes reduce the risk of injury and death to military personnel. How? The military can use drones where ground forces might have been required.

Hence, military planners can use fewer people and achieve their goals without exposing many soldiers to harm. 

4. Cheaper To Produce And Maintain-

The other benefit is that drone strikes are fairly cheaper than employing military troops in war zones.

For instance, there may be a need for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to protect the troops from devised explosive devices (IEDs). That attracts an extra cost.

5. Flexibility For Quick Inspection-

Drone strikes enable quick reactions to newly found intelligence or terrorism attacks.

Drones with weapons can operate from a distance and have automated functions. Hence, they can reduce the chances of human mistakes during their operations. 

6. Terrorism Organizations Degradation-

When the terrorist leader has been removed from the battlefield, their alliance is degraded. Although they’ll replace the leaders without delay, the new may not be as effective or alluring as the former.

7. Technological Progress-

Using drone strikes by military troops is ideal for testing new technologies. Many of these advances can now be used for commercial and civil purposes.

8. Fewer Civilian Casualties-

Finally, the gadget has high-end accuracy in aiming at the target. Hence, it can reduce the risk of erratic loss of civilian life compared to other kinetic tools options. 

What Are the Drawbacks of Using Drone Strikes in War Zones?

Although drone strikes are an effective counterterrorism strategy, they come with various risks. Below are the disadvantages of this technology:

  • Challenge of defining targets
  • Destabilizing security
  • The legitimacy of local government
  • Serious collateral damages
  • Difficult to evaluate the effectiveness
  • Breaching of global law
  • Undermining the rule of law
  • Myth of Decapitation

Read on as we expound on each of these drawbacks.

1. Challenges Of Defining Targets-

It’s often controversial to decide who the enemy is and who becomes the right drone strike target.

Hence, when targeting terrorists, it’s hard to tell who is a militant and an ally. In a war context, not all people are a terrorist: Some are just their aid. Even worse, 80-90% of the victims are civilians.

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2. Destabilizing Security-

Drone strikes infringe on the freedom of other countries and are highly disliked in the countries where they occur.

Thus, undermining such countries’ military operations and security is dangerous. How? The strikes often occur without consent and are against the target countries’ objections.

3. Legitimacy Of Local Government-

The secretive nature and lack of clarity of some drone strikes undermine the power of local governments of the target countries.

Thus, they amount to illegal killings and human rights violations as they lack sufficient legal oversight. Also, they prevent the citizens from holding their leaders accountable.

4. Serious Collateral Damages-

Deaths and injuries may happen to civilians since many drone strikes happen in residential areas.

The strikes may also leave the residents mentally tortured and may become highly sensitive to drone noise. In fact, some consider drone strikes as terrorism, as they can result in severe civilian losses.

5. Difficult To Evaluate The Effectiveness-

Drone strikes make it hard to calculate death tolls. The reason behind this is that sometimes, the target can be in remote or non-remote areas.

Moreover, some strikes are secretly run, and information is classified. Sadly, the strategy denies a chance to capture the terrorist and screen them to provide intelligence information.

6. Breaching Of Global Law-

Sometimes, strikers target countries not officially at war in secret. Most experts consider such attacks to be illegal.

Such operations raise political and ethical concerns about those hostile actions’ legality, sovereignty, and transparency.

7. Undermining The Rule Of Law-

Democratic rules require that all criminals be given a fair trial before judgment. Drone strikes and executions deny terrorists such an opportunity which is against universal human rights.

As a result, that can raise a credibility question for the US.

8. Myth Of Decapitation-

The belief that removing the high-value targets means the organization’s defeat isn’t always true. The terrorist group picks another leader immediately, and their operations go on. Such an attack may be used as propaganda, turning terrorist leaders into martyrs.

Why Do Civilians Die During Drone Strike Operations?

There are three major reasons for civilians’ death during drone strike operations. They include the following:

  • Civilians’ presence or subsequent move into the area, unobserved
  • Military necessity: The civilians are known to be in the area, but their lives are at risk.
  • Misidentification:  Civilian(s) identified as terrorists 

Occasionally, there’s pressure to rush to a drone strike which may be erratic in the three dimensions above.

Even so, the rush may not be avoidable in certain cases. Thus, there’s a huge margin of error. Even though mistakes happen in any human engagement, it’s good to learn from such blunders to prevent them from occurring in the future.

Furthermore, covert drone strikes cause many other harms to civilians and local communities.

As a result, they may fuel anger towards the country running the operation entirely. That has led to the US government’s estimate of no or low civilian harm: More focus on the identity of the area’s residents or those in the zone.

Let’s look at the impact of drone strikes on civilians below.

Deliberate Vs Dynamic Drone Strike Targeting:

Deliberate or pre-planned targeting of the military conducts drone strike operations at a planned time. Also, the military attacks the terrorists’ zone after an elaborate process of collateral damage estimation (CDE) and taking other precautions to minimize the risk of harming civilians. 

Furthermore, the attackers plan long in advance, do several checks, analyze the pattern of life, and result in relatively low civilian casualties.

The past occurrences show that collateral damage occurs when collateral damage mitigations aren’t put in place.

On the other hand, dynamic targeting happens when the strike planners make targeting decisions in a short time window.

The attacker takes such an action based on time-sensitive or recently received information.

What’s more, dynamic targeting occurs where the prevailing situation requires quick turnaround time from the intelligence ‘desk.’ Hence, the type of targeting occurs without the benefit of collateral damage estimation and mitigation processes. 

Also, the targeting can work for signature and personality strikes. In signature strikes, dynamic targeting happens if the attacker fires toward unknown individuals who appear to be taking a behavior pattern previously defined as a militancy signature.

Contrastingly, in personality strikes, dynamic targeting occurs if the military intercepts a phone conversation indicating that a previously identified target is traveling to a particular location.


Are Drone Strikes Morally fit?

Yes, drone strikes are morally fit. Generally, scholars link the public perception of drone strike legitimacy to three moral norms.

First is civilian protection, second is the security outcome of the strikes, and third is the military troop’s courage when conducting strikes.

How Accurate Is Drone Strike?

The accuracy of a drone strike is 1.5-2%. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that 98% of drone victims are collateral damage.

Thus, they comprise civilians, children, or suspected militants (minor, low-level affiliates or those with unproven involvement with militants).

Do Drone Strikes Use AI?

Yes, drone strikes use AI: The US drone swarms find targets through AI.

The AFADS target can lock into its AI to target attacks with no human interaction. That marks a change in how the US plans to use drone strikes in counterterrorism. 

Why Are Drone Strikes Effective?

Drone strikes are effective as they degrade terrorist organizations, protect innocent civilians, and make the operation less risky for military civilians.

The US is interested in using this counterterrorism strategy responsibly by keeping policy and legal standards. That way, they can protect military troops and civilians worldwide.

Can Drone Strikes Violate Human Rights?

Yes, drone strikes can violate human rights. The strikes can turn out to be a war crime when launched indiscriminately, resulting in injuries or deaths of civilians.

The Human Rights Committee condemns such attacks as a violation of Article 6 of the ICCPR. That section protects the right to life.

Bottom Line:

Drone strikes work in three significant ways: dropping bombs, firing missiles, and crashing the target. The drone strike planners use Unmanned combat aerial vehicles to conduct their attacks. They weaponize these devices and storm the target area where terrorist organizations are happening. 

The counterterrorism approach is effective as it degrades terrorist organizations, eliminates ‘high target value, exposes fewer military personnel to risk, and exercises pressure on the terrorist and this strategy has a high level of flexibility, boost technological progress, and effects fewer civilians.

And on the other hand drone strikes have the problem of defining targets, destabilizing security, removing local governments’ legitimacy, undermining the rule of law, and breaching international law.


Article Name
How Drone Strike Works?
In this in-depth article, we discuss different aspects, advantages and disadvantages of drone strikes.
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Remoteflyer Private Limited.
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