What's A Missile?

What's A Missile?
Elbit Systems via Youtube

We do not have language commensurate with quadcopters

Maritime-minded readers of The Stopgap will recall our recent explainer on the Baltimore allision and related topics, a story horribly misreported by the New York Times and many other outlets as a "collision." A collision happens when two moving things strike one another.

Today another word caught my notice. This wasn't in a newspaper but a tweet. It referred to an Israeli drone firing missiles at children.

The tweet isn't wrong or anything—to its author, I'm sorry—but I think the word "missile" is misleading here in a way that crops up now and then.

A missile is something that is thrown. "Missile" implies, I think, a bomb slung a very long way and therefore imprecise in the place it lands or at least vague. It comes from Latin missilis ("that may be thrown"), plural form missile ("javelin"), which are from Latin missus ("a throwing"), from Latin mittere ("to throw," "to send"). See: "Mission." In English, "self-propelled rocket or bomb" arrives in 1738 and meaning "modern rocket-propelled, remote-guidance projectiles" by 1945.

However, "modern rocket-propelled, remote-guidance projectiles" does not describe, I think, the kind of drones that are in use today. The Times is careful to say "missiles and drones" when referring to attacks that combine their use.

In general use, however, I think people use "missile" all the time, at least as much as "collision." Drones now shoot people and bomb locations from much, much closer to their target than they did in, say, the US's drone strike program during the war in Iraq.

We do not have language commensurate with quadcopters. Quadcopters are the drone form Israel most heavily uses in Gaza—a tool developed for reconnaissance and now adapted with weapons. The word "drone" is misleading itself for a machine like this. "Drone" connotes "missile," which connotes a very different form of warfare than the assassination of a gun in a child's face from six inches away.

At Common Dreams, Jake Johnson posted a video made by "Elbit Systems, the Israel-based military contractor that makes LANIUS, [that] describes the unmanned aircraft as "a highly maneuverable and versatile drone-based loitering munition designed for short-range operation in the urban environment." A promotional video from Elbit says the drones are "equipped with AI technologies" that allow them to navigate buildings and detect targets.

The drones, according to the video, can also respond to identified targets with 'lethality' and have a mode to 'perform ad hoc lethal ambush.'"

I just think neither "drone" nor "missile" apply to the above machine with a gun or guns strapped to it. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor describes the specific quadcopters in use now as follows:

Based on investigations conducted by Euro-Med Monitor, the Israeli army is using small killer drones fitted with machine guns and missiles from the Matrice 600 and LANIUS categories, which are highly mobile and versatile, i.e. ideal for short-term operations. Their systems can automatically search buildings and create maps to identify possible targets; carry lethal or non-lethal payloads; and carry out a variety of missions for military personnel and special forces.
These drones have killed dozens of civilians, confirmed Euro-Med Monitor, by firing automatic machine guns mounted beneath the aircraft at random gatherings or by shooting directly at people.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, health workers have noticed that the bodies of most victims of the aforementioned executions and field killings show evidence of unusual gunshots, which differ from ordinary gunshots in that they leave a different shape on the victim’s body when they penetrate it. This is because they are not bullets fired from rifle-type weapons, but from quadcopter drones. Because of their frequent presence in the airspace, Euro-Med Monitor noted that these particular aircraft are also being used to terrorise, intimidate, and harm the psychological well-being of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army converted this drone—which was originally designed to be used for photography—into an air weapon for intelligence gathering, and has subsequently repurposed it for the deliberate and direct execution of unlawful targets. Developed by Israeli military industries, the quadcopter drones are one meter in diameter, with various capabilities and tactical features. They are easy to programme and operate electronically remotely, with a design akin to that of helicopters. These drones have very precise eavesdropping instruments and high-quality cameras, and can carry out additional military duties like shooting and carrying bombs, as well as be modified to become suicide drones.
Euro-Med Monitor emphasised that while drones are not illegal weapons, as in weapons that are prohibited internationally, their use must adhere to international humanitarian law regulations that apply to armed conflicts, just like any other weapon that is allowed to be used. Importantly, these regulations ensure respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality, and require taking all necessary precautions before carrying out a military attack.
Given their advanced technology and advantages over most other weapons, such as their ability to monitor areas with cameras, conduct real-time surveillance, and accurately track, fire at, and move quickly with a target, Euro-Med Monitor emphasised that the main goal of using these drones as weapons in other armed conflicts has been to prevent or reduce civilian casualties in military attacks. Now, however, Israel is intentionally using them to target Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, the rights group contended; this is evident as the majority of Israel’s targeting takes place in public spaces where it is easy to distinguish fighters from civilians, and because the Israeli military flies planes over the areas it targets for periods of time that are long enough to allow for the precise monitoring and evaluation of field conditions, plus most of the killings occur within a close targeting range.
Gaza: Israel systematically uses quadcopters to kill Palestinians from a close distance
Israel’s army has increased its use of electronic-controlled quadcopters—which were previously restricted to use for intelligence purposes—for killing and injuring Palestinians.

There's no throwing in the physics of that.