The British military has become the first to deploy tiny drones the size of sparrows on the front lines. According to a report from Sky News, the mini-eyes in the sky, dubbed "Black Hornets," are helicopters approximately 4 inches long that send full-motion video and still images to soldiers so that they can check out potential risks and enemy locations.
The Brits' new nanocopters were developed as part of a $31.5 million contract with a Norwegian supplier that will result in the production of 140 of the small wonders. That comes out to about $225,000 each. (If only I had known about projects like these when I was building model airplanes as a kid.)
Despite the small size of the members of the Black Hornet fleet, the project represents two of the biggest trends in defense right now -- drones and nanotech. But the bigger question is whether, at the same time, it also hints at a size problem that is bedeviling Western -- and particularly American -- policymakers at the moment: whether our ideas are shrinking at roughly the same speed as our technologies.
On the one hand, the vaunted move toward smaller-footprint strategies is at the heart of what has become known as the "Obama doctrine," which has some clear advantages over the alternatives we have seen recently. Using tools like drones, smaller special operations units, and even the smallest warriors of them all -- the electrons that are our front-line "troops" in cyberwarfare -- reduces the risks and costs associated with our overseas interventions, such as those involved in combating terrorists. (Or, in the case of the Black Hornets, fighting in hostile terrain against entrenched insurgents.) As we have also seen, by reducing those risks and costs, we reduce impediments to taking action via these means. This can make for a nimbler, more assertive foreign policy.
As we have also seen in places like Pakistan and Yemen, however, by reducing the impediments to action, we seem to be increasing the likelihood that we will violate the sovereignty of other countries even if it means taking action in which civilian loss of life and property takes place.