The Human Cost of Drones: Commentary from Pilots and Artists

Posted By on September 8, 2015

The pilots, the people

Drones have been big news over the past few years.

Motherboard, part of the VICE media empire, recently posted a great documentary featuring an ex-Drone Pilot. Brandon Bryant, a former drone pilot and sensor operator for the of the US Air Force, quit his job after 5 years of being in the Drone program. In this documentary, Brandon about his feelings of responsibility for the remote killings of people with predator drones, its connection to Germany’s drone program, and why ultimately drone warfare makes us lose our humanity.

Documentary Now also interviewed Brandon about the 1626 kills that he and his squadron were credited with (‘credited’ seems so very wrong in this context).

The clinical definition of PTSD is an anxiety disorder associated with witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, think how you would feel if you were part of something that you felt violated the Constitution.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism shares it’s complete data sets on drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. (to check the data source for yourself please visit their site).

The casualties

Pakistan 2004–2015: CIA Drone Strikes

Total strikes: 421

  • Obama strikes: 370
  • Total killed: 2,476-3,989
  • Civilians killed: 423-965
  • Children killed: 172-207
  • Injured: 1,158-1,738

Yemen 2002–2015: US Covert Action

  • Confirmed drone strikes: 105-125
  • Total killed: 485-714
  • Civilians killed: 65-97
  • Children killed: 8-9
  • Injured: 92-221
  • Possible extra drone strikes:79-95
  • Total killed: 332-484
  • Civilians killed: 26-61
  • Children killed: 6-9
  • Injured: 78-105
  • Other covert operations: 15-72
  • Total killed: 156-365
  • Civilians killed: 68-99
  • Children killed: 26-28
  • Injured: 15-102

Somalia 2007–2015: US Covert Action

  • Drone strikes: 15-19
  • Total killed: 25-108
  • Civilians killed: 0-5
  • Children killed: 0
  • Injured: 2-7
  • Other covert operations: 8-11
  • Total killed: 40-141
  • Civilians killed: 7-47
  • Children killed: 0-2
  • Injured: 11-21


  • Confirmed strikes: 68
  • Total killed: 480-678
  • Civilians killed: 14-42
  • Children killed: 0-18
  • Injured: 27-32
  • Possible extra strikes: 32
  • Total killed: 168-217
  • Civilians killed: 0-3
  • Children killed: 0-2
  • Injured: 9

The Extended Dialog

James Bridle

UK artist James Bridle brought some awareness around drones with his life-size depiction of a Reaper drone that was placed on Brighton’s seafront in 2013. The Reaper drone is used for surveillance and bombing missions, in the declared war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in undeclared conflicts in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Such wars are made possible by the invisibility of drones to most people.

The aim was to show the stark marking out in a public space so that the Reaper drone’s silhouette brings the reality of these technologies into our daily lives. The work critiques the way that contemporary networked technologies, while enabling the digitally saturated culture of the 21st century, can also obscure and distance us from political and moral responsibility.

We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire. But the attitude they represent – of technology used for obscuration and violence; of the obfuscation of morality and culpability; of the illusion of omniscience and omnipotence; of the lesser value of other people’s lives; of, frankly, endless war – should concern us all.

James Bridle

Anti-drone clothing

New York designer Adam Harvey has created an anti-drone clothing collection – “Stealth Wear” – aimed at raising awareness in an ever-growing surveillance state. He calls his marlet ‘fashionably paranoid’.

Good Kill

Hollywood is joining the discussion as well. Ethan Hawke stars in ‘Good Kill’, a (slightly over dramatized but compelling) film about a drone pilot. The film sees Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) fight from an air-conditioned bunker in the Nevada desert.


Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.

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