Wikipedia defines power projection (or force projection) as “a term used in military and political science to refer to the capacity of a state to deploy and sustain forces outside its territory. This ability is a crucial element of a state's power in international relations.” Traditional measures of power projection typically focus on military means that pave the way for a country to effectively project its power on a global scale. That meaning has, however, changed.
1) A change in the definition of power: Modern theories — such as the ones concerning soft power, smart power and combinatory power — are a reminder that power projection does not necessarily refer to the active deployment of military forces in war. Besides hard power, these theories also take into account how mighty a country is when it comes to culture, media and economy.
2) A change in the use of military tools: power projection tools are usually dual-use equipment. An example is the deployment in 2004 of military forces from different countries to quake-hit regions in the Indian Ocean as part of relief efforts. A country’s power projection capabilities could act as effective diplomatic leverage and impact decision-making. Moreover, such military tools could also serve as a deterrent against threats, help ensure the safety of shipping lanes by fighting off pirates, and speed up the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones during war time.
3) Before getting back to drones, let’s look more closely at the theory of power projection: Any government that has the ability to take advantage of its military forces beyond its territory — even at a small scale or a short range — could be viewed as capable of projecting its power — of course at its own level. For instance, both the United States and India possess power projection capabilities but at very different levels; however, the term ‘power projection’ specifically refers most of the times to an army with a global reach. Even the countries in possession of a considerable amount of hard power assets can only exert limited regional influence. This is rooted in the inherent problem with modern armies: High costs and logistics. In general, there are solely a handful of countries that are today capable of overcoming the issues concerning logistics as a fundamental obstacle to the deployment and management of modern and mechanized military forces. In particular, the United States — as the world’s largest economy — is the country most capable of projecting its power, but even the Americans do not have the ability to conduct long-term operations, with their strategists constantly working to draw up new plans and strategies with the aim of reducing the length and cost of military operations.
Now we will go through the aforementioned points again, but this time taking the progress in the drone technology into account:
1) Nowadays, most US military operations involve drones as a major tool of projecting hard power. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) form the backbone of America’s overseas operations thanks to the achievements in the drone technology and their low prices. Furthermore, drones lessen risks to the lives of pilots and do not need extensive repair and maintenance infrastructure. What is the need for switching on the nuclear reactor of an aircraft carrier and dragging it to the operation zone now that several armed UAVs or a surveillance drone could be flown from the back of a truck or from the small runway of a civilian airport?
2) In today’s leading theories of power, drones have taken on a new role. Politically speaking, it is currently easier to use drones than launch fighter jets from aircraft carriers as the UAVs are smaller in size and have a better chance to evade radars, allowing for successful black operations. Shocking statistics reveal the extent to which the US has resorted to drones in recent years to assassinate the people he calls terror suspects in the Middle East and Africa. The figures indicate that those stationed in control centers of the CIA and the Pentagon are capable of projecting power anywhere in the world. The trend has resulted in an atmosphere of insecurity and fear of America across the world, helping the US portray itself as a dominant superpower which does not hesitate to spill blood.
3) The last point concerns the levels of power projection. The characteristics of drone operations, which were mentioned above, are meaningfully bringing the levels of power projection closer. Although the United States is still a frontrunner in the field of drone operations, with some 700 such raids annually, other countries are coming closer to that level. Turkey, for example, is now making efforts to develop high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drones, which can easily operate in remote territories. Iran, in turn, unveiled Fotros drones in 2013, although it has not yet conducted any operations with the UAVs. It seems it is high time to put Fotros drones in use for missions at a distance and build modern jet-engine and bigger versions of the UAVs.