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The Rise of the Drones, the Fall of Boundaries

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Drones and their Use in the War on Terror

How the MQ-9 Reaper has Forever Changed the World

The MQ-9 Reaper. Photo Courtesy Defense Industry DailyInside of most Americans there exists a paradox: we hate the wars that are being fought but deeply admire those that are fighting them. Our soldiers lay their lives on the line in order to protect our freedom. Nowadays our prized freedom is the target of terrorists in the Middle East. The wars there present difficult obstacles for the military to overcome. Our soldiers face a brand of warfare in which the unexpected is to be expected. Their missions are riddled by car bombs, suicide bombers, spontaneous attacks launched from hidden vantage points, etc.

The war has no battle lines, and seems to be more of a game of hide and seek in which both parties are both hiding and seeking, spying and attacking in an erratic fashion. Such a setup makes the war’s end seem distant, and the deaths of our soldiers futile. It was only a matter of time before the military invented a tool which would give us a clear advantage. After 9/11 and beginning with Mission Iraqi Freedom, the military found opportunity for creating the most daunting threat to our enemies abroad.

Its name is the MQ-9 Reaper and it has a 950-shaft-horsepower, a ceiling of 60,000 feet, and can remain airborne for twelve hours straight. It is the most recent model of the Air Force’s unmanned artillery vehicles. It is a drone and what makes it unique is that it is operated by a pilot from ground level and within the safety of U.S. confines. Two people are required in order to fly the drone. Both play an equally important role. The man operating the drone by remote control sits on the left, and the sensor operator who operates the missiles sits on the right, the two working in tandem to survey and make note of locations that insurgents tend to visit, and to attack when necessary.

This new mode of piloting provides numerous benefits to our soldiers. The Reaper can perform surveillance and gather intelligence with impeccable oversight: it can read a license plate from two miles away. With such impeccable technology, drone pilots can inform ground troops of both possible and imminent threats, lending an extra set of eyes to a precarious battlefield. Also, the drone can launch attacks with incredible speed, only a lag time of 1.2 seconds existing between the pilot pressing the trigger and the equipped hellfire missile shooting down its target overseas. All this, and the pilots are not at risk of being attacked as the thirty foot long drone is inconspicuous, especially since it flies twenty thousand feet overhead.

The MQ-9 Reaper and the abilities it lends our military is impressive indeed. It tilts military advantage in the U.S.’s favor indubitably. The development also signifies a cultural change in the way we conduct ourselves at war as it has broken the fourth wall, and made pilots into virtual entities. Thanks to these U.A.V.s the Air Force has less and less reason to require pilots to actually fly fighter jets. This means the loss of jobs for pilots who don’t want to train to become drone pilots. The Air Force has such a large demand for drone pilots, that it is now willing to train people with no air experience to become drone pilots.

While flying the drone by remote control may seem as if it lacks the real challenge of flying a real plane, it is not so simple. It used to be that bomber pilots would simply drop their bombs and fly away, not having to observe the wreckage inflicted. Drone pilots have no choice but to watch and see the before, during, and after moments of their attacks. Also, the lives of soldiers on the ground are so explicitly in their hands that any mistake they make could have immediate repercussions. That type of responsibility must be overwhelming, and yet they face it daily. Many pilots can suffer from being traumatized or fatigued by their job, making the transition from work to their homes only an hour away ironically difficult.

The shifts of the drone pilots often last up to eleven hours as the pilot waits for someone to come and take over for him. The brutal conditions on the ground in the Middle East provide a hectic schedule for the ground soldiers. As a result, drone pilots often have to switch from one battalion to a different one only a few miles away. This means that the pilots have to be extraordinarily focused, and able to readapt. The images captured by the drone are transmitted to the ground soldiers as well as an audio link to keep the two groups on the same page.

Our technology is growing more and more to define us. And apparently, not all for the better, as the drones have been responsible for many civilian deaths. Such cunning technology is dangerous as it expands the ability of our violence without demanding accountability for the attacks it launches. The drone now also watches over the border between Mexico and the United States, and it seems that the Air Force is launching a campaign which operates beyond the surveillance of normal human life, in secret. Why should we trust something which hides in the sky? And is armed with hellfire missiles?

They say all is fair in love and war. Perhaps it is “un-American” to question a development which improves our chances of winning an endless war. I just think that it feels too much like our wars are becoming video games. In war video games, one tries to kill all that it can without being killed. I worry that what we have done is unlocked a cheat code, which has given our Air Force some sense of invincibility, which will only further aggravate the tenuous relations between America and the Middle East. The chess match between Iran and the U.S. just became more complicated. Iran attacked and captured one of our drones and now claims to be developing a drone of its own, a claim we don’t know to be true. Even as a bluff, the image of an Iranian scientist claiming he has the technology to build his own drone is rather ominous. A new age has begun for the Air Force, and it appears there is no turning back.

Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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