Drone Week Begins as Armed UAVs’ Familiar ‘Buzz’ Becoming Less Frequent


Since last December, Congress has had Fiscal Cliff Week then Sequestration Week then CR Week and most recently Budget Week. The Senate even had Guns Week. And now comes Drone Week.

Two congressional panels on Tuesday are holding hearings on the role of armed unmanned aircraft in future military operations — and the very legality of using armed drones to kill al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Yet, data about the frequency of U.S. drone strikes reveals several interesting things.

The House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces subcommittee is looking into the latter at a field hearing in Ohio, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, civil rights and human rights subcommittee is examining the latter later in the day on Capitol Hill. The Stimson Center joins in on Wednesday morning with an event focused on the future of armed drones in the Air Force’s operations. Check DefenseNews.com for updates throughout the week.

As Washington revs up its examination of the controversial drone policy, it is instructive to note the number of U.S. armed UAV strikes continues to decline.

Few organizations have tracked drone strike data closer than the New America Foundation. The think tank’s data shows President Obama ordered a spike in drone strikes in Pakistan between 2009 and 2010, with the number jumping from 54 to 122. The 2009 figure jumped from 36 in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration.

After 2010, notably, the Obama administration’s use of drones has declined, falling to 73 in 2011 and 48 in 2012, according to New America. This year? The administration has ordered just six drone strikes in Pakistan.

In Yemen, New America attributes 13 drone strikes to the United States in 2011, then around 45 in 2012. So far this year, New America attributes six drone strikes to U.S. aircraft — but none since Jan. 23. On that pace, it appears a Yemen strike graph would show a decrease in 2013.

So as the political fervor picks up on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon-CIA turf battle for control of the program intensifies, according to the New American Foundation’s work, the hum of American Predator drones that al Qaeda operatives and locals in Pakistan and Yemen have written and talked about is becoming less frequent.

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John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett