Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book review: ‘Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution’ by Richard Whittle

By Craig Whitlock September 18, WashPost

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security for The Washington Post.

Twenty years ago this summer, a revolution in aviation began inauspiciously on a runway in El Mirage, Calif. An insect-shaped aircraft, which may or may not have been named after an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, performed miserably on its maiden flight — staying aloft for barely 14 seconds, just two seconds longer than Orville Wright managed at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The results, however, were good enough for the Pentagon. The military had signed a contract to buy 10 of the experimental reconnaissance aircraft and wanted to rush them to the Balkans. Known as the Predator, it stood out for one thing it didn’t have or need: a pilot on board.

The Predator drone was ugly, slow and unreliable. Despite those drawbacks, the aircraft quickly exceeded expectations; within a decade, it had transformed the very nature of warfare and spawned a lucrative new defense industry. Today, the Pentagon has 10,000 drones of varying types, from the size of a child’s toy to that of a Boeing 757. Compared with newer models, the Predator has become technologically outdated. The Air Force plans to phase it out by 2018. But it remains an iconic warplane, one that has enabled the U.S. government to hunt down al-Qaeda leaders and other enemies of the state by remote control. Critics see it more darkly, as a weapon that the United States has wielded to assassinate people without accountability.

(More here.)

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