8 April 2005

We're flying the wings off it

Over 700 remotely piloted aircraft, from low flying Ravens on patrol to Hellfire air-to-ground missle armed Predators occupy the skies of Iraq.
Never before has the American military used so many remotely piloted aircraft in such diverse missions, and many officers call them the wave of the future.

At a command hub spread among a half dozen dimly lit trailers at this air base just off the Las Vegas Strip, the future is now. Small teams of remote-control warriors nudge joysticks to fly armed Predator aircraft 7,500 miles away. Once the Predators take off in Iraq or Afghanistan for missions, the air crews here take over.

The Predator, which can carry Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, is the best-known of the remotely piloted fleet. It is an ungainly, propeller-driven craft that flies as slowly as 80 miles per hour, and can loiter continuously for 24 hours or more at 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the battlefield.

In each trailer, a pilot and co-pilot , who operate the Predator's zoom lens, radar and infrared sensors, sit side-by-side before an array of consoles and computer screens that let them see what the Predator sees while they talk to troops on the ground by radio or e-mail. Soldiers and ground spotters can receive live video images from the Predator on specially equipped laptop computers.

In one sense, any advance in technology that spares the lives of soldiers is a welcome progression of affairs, but I don't think I'd like to live an a land where automated drones with guided weapon capability fly overhead of my home. Killing machines, controlled like a video game console, bother me greatly. Logically, it makes solid sense, but morality is stripped from the equation, as blaming an malfunctioning machine is an surefire method of escaping responsiblity for the slaughter of human life.