Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Us and them

Last month, an RQ-170 Sentinel UAV nicknamed the "Beast of Kandahar" fell into the hands of the Iranians after the United States Department of Defense lost control of it while it was flying through Iranian airspace.

Needless to say, the high-tech piece of Lockheed Martin gear was immediately put on display by the Iranians, who claimed to have brought the unmanned reconnaissance vehicle down to earth by sophisticated electronic counter-warfare measures.

Whether they did, or whether the landing was simply due to a malfunction of a system onboard the aircraft itself, the whole affair proved very embarrassing for the US Government, which formally requested that the aircraft be returned to its rightful owners.

The Iranians, however, didn't see things quite the same way. Instead they issued a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council stating that the incident was tantamount to an act of hostility against their country in contravention of international law.

The whole affair raises an important issue about the deployment of such unmanned aircraft -- notably, that there do not appear to be any hard and fast rules that govern when such UAVs can be flown over a country given the fact that the government of that country has not granted permission for such operations to take place.

To rectify this dilemma, perhaps it's now time that an international body drew up a set of guidelines for what is -- and is not -- deemed to be the acceptable use of such systems and for what purposes.

Such an idealistic notion, however, is unlikely to find much favor at the present time, especially with countries that feel that they have the right to fly such aircraft over whatever country's airspace they like in the interest of their own national security.

But such guidelines won't seem so idealistic in the future, I'm sure, when countries such as Iran reverse-engineer the downed unmanned aerial technology and then feel that they have equal rights to perform reciprocal measures on the countries that have been snooping on them for years. That's if they have the know-how to do it.

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