The Strange Economics of Drone Warfare
The economics of modern warfare make it very easy to feel sorry for North Korean Communist tyrant Kim Jong Un. A little number crunching shows how modern technology dooms Kim and the system behind him.
To attack or deter the United States Kim is building Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear warheads. The available numbers indicate that is not a very cost-effective activity.
The US Air Force’s Minuteman III; a one warhead ICBM similar to Kim’s play toys, costs around $50 million to build and deploy, The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated. That price does not include the nuclear warhead which costs another $20 million to build according to the Union.
That means Kim is spending a minimum $70 million to build and deploy a missile. The actual cost is probably a lot higher because North Korea has had to build a massive industrial infrastructure to manufacture the weapons.
Why America can Afford War but North Korea Cannot
The dilemma facing Kim is how little it would cost the United States to destroy his expensive arsenal.
The most logical weapon for that task would be the General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle Drone. Such a drone costs the Pentagon around $21.5 million and it is a reusable weapons system; meaning that unlike Kim’s missiles it can be used over and over again.
The Gray Eagle (a more advanced version of the Predator) can carry two weapons – the Hellfire missile and the Paveway bomb that can destroy or damage an ICBM. The Hellfire missile costs around $70,000 apiece and the Paveway costs around $20,000 each, according to Quora.
Have Drones Made Nuclear Weapons Obsolete?
This means it might cost the United States as little as $20,000; plus the cost of the Gray Eagle’s fuel, to destroy Kim’s $70 million ICBM without putting a single American life at risk. That proves nuclear weapons might be obsolete from an economic standpoint. High technology has rendered North Korea’s deterrent completely impotent.
There might be little North Korea can do to stop the Gray Eagle because it can fly for 30 hours and stay aloft for 24 hours. Meaning it would be possible to have dozens of the drones; which fly at altitudes low enough to avoid radar, buzzing around ready to hit North Korean missile bases.
Unlike missiles such drones don’t require an elaborate launch site they can land and take off on any dirt runway or from an aircraft carrier, a submarine or even a freighter at sea. The Gray Eagle can also be controlled from anywhere including the cockpit of an attack helicopter the Drive reported.
If the claims about the Gray Eagle are true it might now be possible to knock out North Korea’s entire nuclear weapons program with a sustained drone offensive. All the money, resources and manpower expended on the program would be wasted.
That raises serious questions about the rationale for the continued existence of nuclear weapons. Why are countries like the US wasting so much money on nuclear weapons when cheaper drones might do the job better? Drones seem to be far more cost effective than nuclear weapons.
Are Drones the Weapon of the Future?
Perhaps President Trump should stop worrying about the cost of Air Force One and ask about the $85 billion the Pentagon wants to spend to build a new generation of ICBMs. Would those costly weapons be just as vulnerable to enemy drones as North Korea’s? If they were, that program would be a waste of money.
It also shows why governments like that in North Korea are doomed, the brute force based weapons they rely on for defense and deterrence might be useless in modern warfare. Even rag tag terrorists; like those of ISIS, can build drones capable of dropping bombs. Which is one reason why Kim might never build drones, it would be too easy for a North Korean dissident to redeploy the drone against him.
Both nuclear weapons and totalitarianism might be economically unsustainable in today’s world. That development is obviously a welcome one but it might make the world less peaceful, by making war both affordable and sustainable.