The Morality of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Strikes

  • September 15, 2015
  • Colonel Constantin E. Nicolet

This paper explores the moral implications of the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) to conduct lethal strikes as a tactic in the United States counterterrorism campaign. In doing so, and at the unclassified level, this paper presents a factual overview of RPAs by outlining their capabilities and characteristics. It then provides a synopsis of just war theory, which serves as the basis for the discussion of the moral aspects of RPA use. Following this background material, the paper addresses some of the ethical considerations and challenges of RPAs and their use in principle and in the context of the war against al-Qa’ida. The paper concludes that the U.S. meets the jus ad bellum requirements for fighting al-Qa’ida and that the use of RPAs to conduct lethal strikes, provided it adheres to the published standards, is morally acceptable as a component of the U.S. counterterrorism campaign, meeting jus in bello criteria.