Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away
July 30, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away (SLNYT)
posted by destrius (79 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Before long, there will be articles like this about the guys who operate drones for local police departments. Hopefully they will not include the words "missile" or "kill."
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:28 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The guys the US government are trying to kill with drones are going to build drones of their own. And they will use them. This is only a matter of time.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:38 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Luckily the US is ahead of the drone defense game as well.
posted by Ardiril at 8:40 PM on July 30, 2012


I used to be an F-16 fighter pilot too, until I took an arrow to the knee
posted by Damienmce at 8:41 PM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


The guys the US government are trying to kill with drones are going to build drones of their own. And they will use them. This is only a matter of time.
TSA as 21st Century American Maginot Line.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems like the biggest benefit to being on base, besides being with their families, is immediate access to the best mental health care right after they're done for the day. Just like you see those Olympic divers get right into the hot tub after they do a dive. That's what I'd be doing. Nothing is that simple in the military though I guess.

If the Air Force could conceivably retire their planes at some point (about 30 years it said), I also wonder if eventually there will be drone pilots who never flew a plane? Much sooner than that 30 years I wonder?
posted by bleep at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2012


The guys who wait for a kill shot, don't sleep in their own beds in Tampa.
posted by timsteil at 8:56 PM on July 30, 2012


..are going to build drones of their own..
posted by stbalbach at 9:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sitting at a cubicle, hand on a joystick, anonymously murdering humans thousands of miles away. Life is tough for Americans at end of empire. Do you realize how much they miss flying the bombing runs themselves? "It's nice to be up in the air"

Luckily there's a Gray Lady here to tell their touching stories - no punches will be held!
posted by crayz at 9:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [8 favorites]



Sitting at a cubicle, hand on a joystick, anonymously murdering humans thousands of miles away. Life is tough for Americans at end of empire.


So starting from the point where we actually need to be in a war somewhere do you have a better idea of how to do it?

Or are you simply sniping at the method because you disagree with the war?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:24 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disagree with the method and the war. Fuck Tron.
posted by furtive at 9:27 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sitting at a cubicle, hand on a joystick, anonymously murdering humans thousands of miles away...

Oh, is this a post where people argue the point that killing people using drones is somehow worse than doing it in person?

Every time this argument gets made I think of American Revelation era British Officers sitting around and tut-tutting the US Army for not making war like civilized gentlemen.
posted by sideshow at 9:27 PM on July 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


"You might gain a level of familiarity that makes it a little difficult to pull the trigger.”

Although I don't wish psychological stress on anyone that leads to permanent damage, I am glad that the pilots maintain an understanding that they have to kill real people and that they are bothered by it. I expect that it makes them work as carefully as possible.
posted by Hicksu at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Luckily there's a Gray Lady here to tell their touching stories - no punches will be held!

You requested a mop and bucket? You seem to have spilled sar-car-sm all over the floor.
Should I start mopping now, guvnor?

Oh, is this a post where people argue the point that killing people using drones is somehow worse than doing it in person?

Because it is? It is completely different between being on the scene (as it were) and being in a simulator where you're miles away.

I am so disappointed this isn't about drone music. For a change. whatever that is.
posted by Mezentian at 9:38 PM on July 30, 2012


Amateurs, I run about 30 semi-autonomous drones, they circle at 70,000 feet and can maintain position indefinitely using solar power. Whenever there is a call for air support or one of the satellites gets a facial recognition hit, then I have to OK it before they go to weapons clear.

After it drops its ordnance, I send it back to the nearest tender and another one comes online to replace it.

If I do a good job here and get a promotion, I can get promoted to quad-copters or the spider-bot corps. Then I can at least get some stick time.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:45 PM on July 30, 2012


This story is a pretty great illustration of the way in which drones drastically reduce civilian casualties, just as jets with smart bombs and high-tech optics can reduce casualties over what ground troops would inflict. The two key factors are the safety of the operator, and the ability to loiter and observe before taking action. Jets (in Kosovo for instance) could observe targets on the ground for a relatively long period of time compared to what would have been possible with ground troops, and just fly away if necessary. Drones provide far more loiter time than jets, meaning you don't have to shoot now or risk losing the target, and they totally eliminate any concern about needing to fire to defend pilot safety.

Objections to drones are, as far as I can tell, voiced by people who object to the wars being fought, and would do so no matter how those wars were being fought. I haven't heard a single argument against drone warfare that doesn't presuppose that the war itself isn't justified. This article does a pretty good job of showing that if you're going to fight, drones are a better way to fight both for the country employing drones and for the civilian population on the other end (though not for the terrorists, sadly).
posted by Dasein at 9:47 PM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


One day they'll be able to do an Ender's Game on these guys such that they won't know if they'e killing real people or not. Maybe it'll be like firing squads; where in many places by tradition one or more rifles is unloaded, or has a blank or dud cartridge, allowing the shooter some doubt as to whether he's actually going to kill anyone. You could staff your command centers with three times as many operators as you have real drones, and at any given time only one in three is operating a real drone; the other two are running a simulation.

Yeah, I'd say remote killing is different. Potentially utterly different.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:48 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


War has always been atrocity. However, drone warfare is a new horror. Imagine living a basically normal life, with a wife and kids and, you know, shopping and shit, and a job which is sitting in a dark room in front of a computer screen and assassinating people. That has really got to fuck up your head in a really unusual way – not necessarily worse than how soldiers have gotten fucked in the head for millennia uncounted, but perhaps a bit differently. We have created a new atrocity – we saw it coming, we wrote stories and articles and essays about the coming horror but we built it anyway, bit by bit, as if it were inevitable that this nightmarish state of affairs must come to pass. Why did we do that?

We are fucking ourselves. We are going mad. We are going mad and we are dragging the rest of the world along with us. We are committing unprecedented horrors every day, terrible acts that destroy lives and ablate the sanity of everyone involved – the families of the survivors, the soldiers performing the killings, and outward in unending ripples that subtly warp society until the trauma is so dispersed and so distributed that it just becomes like air and we can't see it anymore. But it's there, the fear and the pain and the confusion, it's there in the back of our minds, like some tiny unscratchable itch on the inside of our skulls, insistent, persistent, slowly driving us mad.

Why are we doing this? How did it come to this? We could have done wonderful things. We could have been beautiful. We have such great power, such cleverness, an ability to imagine and shape and make things that have never been seen before in our world. What is wrong with us, that we should have turned our powers against each other? What is the intractable flaw that makes us kill each other, when it's so clear to see that if we could stop, if we could just all simultaneously and earnestly say "Enough. This ends here. From now on, we do not kill," our world would immediately be transformed into a place immeasurably better for absolutely everyone? Where did it start, lo these many thousands of generations ago, and can it somehow be ended? Perhaps it cannot be, perhaps we are trapped in the grip of terrible forces which are both of our own making and also completely out of our control despite our fervent protestations to the contrary.

This insanity cannot last, is not stable at these kinds of power levels. I have long said that I believe that the beauty of humanity is its ability to rise above its nature, to recognize its flaws and the pitfalls inherent in its psychological heritage and to avoid them, improve on them, reshape them into something wonderful. As time goes by, I am less and less sure that this is the case. There may be occasional glimmers of transcendance, here and there. Occasional sparks. In the end, though, we are animals – aggressive, greedy, violent animals at that – and for all our artifice we are doomed to play out the tragic part that is written in the code that builds our minds. We can rail against it, fight against it – in fact, everyone who is sane enough to see even a piece of the madness has a sacred duty to fight it – but the war may already be lost. (You see? Even my own metaphors are poisoned.)

Welcome to the future you've built, humanity. Good luck – you're going to need it. To the rest of the world, the non-human world: sorry – we should have done better.

Madness.
posted by Scientist at 9:49 PM on July 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


Objections to drones are, as far as I can tell, voiced by people who object to the wars being fought, and would do so no matter how those wars were being fought. I haven't heard a single argument against drone warfare that doesn't presuppose that the war itself isn't justified.

How about this: if you risk no lives of your own in waging war, you have done away with the most powerful social disincentive to wage war.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:53 PM on July 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


The same argument was made about fighter jets in Kosovo. And, again, that's an argument about whether the war should be fought or not.
posted by Dasein at 9:59 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, to take a step into the howling void of madness that is war and try to explain why someone might object to drone warfare separate from the war itself, I think it has something to do with the fact that by distancing ourselves, by reducing the cost in terms of our own lives and investment of our citizenry, we lower the barrier to war. Drone warfare allows us to kill people who previously it would not have been politically expedient to kill. By insulating ourselves from the cost of war, we can commit atrocities against people elsewhere in the world in a much more casual, day-to-day way than in past times when we had to be able to drum up enough political will and public sentiment to actually send our own people into harm's way.

It also dehumanizes our "enemies" by reducing them to images on a screen, turning them into targets rather than people.

It also is quite possibly totally ineffective or even counterproductive. Unlike actual infantry who can at least possibly show up and do some good in the immediate area (because our military does do good things, albeit with a calculated and gamesmanlike strategic and political purpose) and make the people in those places think "Hey, these Americans aren't such bad people after all, maybe we should think about stepping back from this conflict and making peace" all drones can do is kill. They kill people out of nowhere, out of the blue, causing fear and pain and despair, offering no hope of recourse or closure, engendering nothing but fear and hatred in the hearts of those who survive the attacks.

Now this is not to say that it is worse than firebombing a city to the ground, or conscripting a bunch of guys and making them stand in a muddy field and hack at each other with swords, or any of that. It's bad, though. It's bad and it's bad in a slightly new and different way from how war has been bad in the past.
posted by Scientist at 10:00 PM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


So starting from the point where we actually need to be in a war somewhere ...

But you've assumed away most of the problems people have. Most of time the U.S. goes to war / has a military operation we didn't need to do so. (Start here and scroll down to see all of them.) They were wars/actions of choice.

I agree, if war is necessary, especially if the national existence is threatened, then there are very few limits. But that's not the case, and the existence of these weapons makes it more likely that we will go to war. That's what bothers me.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:05 PM on July 30, 2012


How about this: if you risk no lives of your own in waging war, you have done away with the most powerful social disincentive to wage war.

That's not a moral justification, just a tactical one. Basically, the left can't get the USA to stop killing brown people unless there is a line of men in coffins with the USA flags on airplanes. That has little to do with the morality of killing brown people. Drone warfare is popular, and until the progressive left can stop the American people from wanting to kill brown people in the middle east, it's here to stay.

It also dehumanizes our "enemies" by reducing them to images on a screen, turning them into targets rather than people.

Bullshit. Bombs have done this, ICBMS have done this. Drones bring the horrors of war into first person. You get a really good look at the target as the bomb goes in, at least from the videos I have seen.. It's why there are psychologists on the ready. Pilots see the whites of their eyes so to speak.
posted by zabuni at 10:05 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know of drones particularly being used in "war." If there were an actual war with an actual nation of equal power yeah, we would be using ICBMs anyway. But drones are assassination tools, mostly flown by the CIA.

Since I'm sure the CIA will never admit who was controlling what drone, the "pilot" can never be tried for the war crimes that assassinating alleged "terrorists" and anyone else who's standing nearby undoubtedly are.

And what will we able to say when actual terrorists fly an unmanned craft of some kind into the Capitol or the White House?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:12 PM on July 30, 2012


> How about this: if you risk no lives of your own in waging war, you have done away
> with the most powerful social disincentive to wage war.

The same argument was made about fighter jets in Kosovo.

You mean that war that was a few years before the U.S. was persuaded to begin a surgical and fast military operation in Iraq that ended up lasting nearly a decade?

At the very least this is an argument "that doesn't presuppose that the war itself isn't justified", right? You had allegedly never heard one before, now you can say you have.
posted by XMLicious at 10:21 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way I see it, drones are just a new advance in weapons technology, that give the adopters a big edge over others. As time passes and this tech becomes much more commonplace, many defensive techs will also be developed which will put both parties on much more equal footing.

If you think about it, the same arguments being made above could be made when humans first invented ranged weapons: those evil archers, killing people from afar, they don't experience first-hand the horrors of melee combat! And similarly with the first warplanes, being used against enemies with no air defence at all.

As long as there is war, people are going to be developing and harnessing technologies to gain an edge over others. Drones are just one of a long long list of frightening human inventions designed for killing.
posted by destrius at 10:30 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


My current perspective may or may not be affected by several consecutive nights of playing Civ5
posted by destrius at 10:36 PM on July 30, 2012


It is the same mistake over and over again - the seductiveness of air power - clean, precise, direct. No need for civilian engagement, 'boots on the ground,' or the mud and blood of the Infantry.

It didn't work in WWII, Korea, The Malayan Emergency, The Battle of Algiers, Indochina War - Vietnam, Angolan War of Independence, Mozambican War of Independence, Soviet/Afghan War, Gulf I, Somalia, Kosovo ... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:39 PM on July 30, 2012


After the invention of the machine gun & repeating rifle in the 19th c, western powers expanded into countries around the world, colonialism, and rarely lost a battle against poorly armed natives. They ascribed their success to national traits and manly spirit. So on the eve of WWI, it was believed it would be a short war based on the successes of the previous generation or two. But it was a totally new war when countries of equal armament clashed and everyone hunkered down into trenches. Both sides had the same machine guns and artillery. A similar lesson for today, America has been fighting wars with high technology against relatively primitive enemies, woe be the day it goes up against a technological equal, it will be a totally new experience that is hard to predict. Perhaps it will become a war in space since whoever controls space controls the drones.
posted by stbalbach at 10:50 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's possible to discuss fighting a just war in one argument, and a war justly fought in a different argument: you have a just reason for going to war, and you fight by certain rules of warfare. Or not. But those are different arguments. War crimes trials distinguish between soldiers who commit, well, war crimes and those who follow the lawful orders of their commanders.

Except perhaps for gathering intelligence, I think the drone missions are counter-productive. For one reason, there's no grounds to think that picking off key members of (whomever these guys believe they are killing) will stop the group from doing whatever it is they believe the group is doing. I don't believe the Ender's Game analogy is appropriate. The issue is whether the drones advance our objectives--if our objective is to try to unify the Afghani people to the extent that they can run a national government, then this doesn't seem to be doing the job. If it's to weaken Al Qaeda operations, then I see it as counterproductive. I can give reasons for this two-pronged argument, but you get the idea.

A secondary objective is that relying heavily on technology in an asymetrical war never works. How many times does that need to be displayed before it sinks in? If the notion is to simply reduce American casualties by using drones, it accomplishes that only if it leads to the end of the use of troops on the ground, if not, it still doesn't advance our overall strategy. If it's to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy, I submit that it only makes their resistance more intractable.

Tertiary objections have to do with the loss of face for the American fighting man. This type of warfare responds to valor among enemies. The folks under attack from the drone won't think of the drone drivers as particularly valiant warriors. No big deal I guess, but how do you defeat an enemy that feels as though it has the moral high ground?--especially when you are in his own yard? Winning the cooperation of people who think we are cowards is a hard row to hoe.

I am aware of the heavy burden these pilots carry. I don't think of them as cowards. If you take care to read this testamony, you can see that these are not kids playing video games. This is more in line with what a sniper does--observe, then kill. I'm from the school that likes to send artillery before infantry, and recon by fire when you are in doubt. But that old school thinking recognizes that nothing substantive can happen until the man with the rifle arrives. After that, the political objectives are supposed to take hold. It all has to fit a sensible strategy, or else everybody in the field is just cannon fodder for fools trying to use bullets to enforce vague political objectives.
posted by mule98J at 11:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


stbalbach: "Perhaps it will become a war in space since whoever controls space controls the drones."

Or possibly on top of very tall mountains.
posted by barnacles at 11:28 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I dunno...I suppose using a knife to kill a man who is standing right in front of you, who is attacking you, is probably a very upsetting experience, even if totally justified. Whereas using a gun to kill a man who is 50 feet away, who is running towards you, is probably still pretty upsetting, but not quite as bad as the whole knife-in-guts, hands-covered-in-blood thing. I bet shooting someone from much further away with a sniper rifle is a lot less stressful, although still pretty damn stressful, because you are focused on the tactical and technical concerns more than the person, who isn't staring you right in the face (as they would be if you were stabbing them, or if they were running at you.) I suppose flying a drone and shooting someone is still pretty upsetting, but at least you're watching it on television, and you're probably a lot more desensitized to that. And hey, launching a missile? You don't even have to see the people you kill. Hell, you don't even know if you killed anyone! That must be relatively easy, killing with a missile. Oh, or a land mine that you planted hours ago, and you've moved on and put it out of your mind by now.

So, I suppose killing someone by drone is a lot easier than killing someone face to face, yeah. And is it easier to do? I dunno...what's the paycheck like?
posted by davejay at 12:02 AM on July 31, 2012


Or possibly on top of very tall mountains.

We must not allow.. a tall mountain gap!
posted by Hicksu at 12:13 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as an American who works in places like Somalia and Pakistan where the drones fly overhead, I'd like some of these people who rail on Americans about the horrors of drones and war and whatnot to learn Somali or Urdu and then tell radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill me (and who have already killed friends of mine) the same thing first.

Short of that, we're looking at an article and having a conversation about how to eliminate terrorist threats without causing injury to their families. America is actively investing in how to defend itself from its enemies in the most humane way possible. I'm sorry, but Al Qaeda and Al Shabab just don't have these conversations.

If you want to scream at someone about war, you are screaming at the wrong someone.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:36 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't believe the Ender's Game analogy is appropriate.

The point of mentioning Ender's Game is that Ender was led to believe that he was controlling a training simulation as part of an aptitude test, when he was actually directly controlling military forces, so that he'd choose more effective strategies than the real commanders would such as genocidal attacks and suicide missions, not anticipating that they would cost real lives.

George is saying that if in the future we could develop simulations realistic enough to fool the drone operators and they believed that they were usually participating in a simulation then we could be more certain they would make decisions without considering whether or not they were really killing people. And less likely to suffer negative psychological effects from believing they'd killed, if it was most likely on any given occasion that it hadn't been real.
posted by XMLicious at 12:38 AM on July 31, 2012


Unmanned by molleindustria is a short game in which you play a drone pilot. It is mostly about that disconnection with the war.

This article was really interesting, it seemed like a big part of why drone warfare is harder on the minds of the operators is due to the fact that it really isn't a simulation, they have extremely high resolution cameras, and they spend a long time doing surveillance of their targets.

It does seem a bit white washy though. this article from the brookings institute suggests that 10 civillians are killed for each militant killed. This was from 2009, so the technology and rules of attacking may have changed since then.
posted by jonbro at 1:12 AM on July 31, 2012


By 2015, the Pentagon projects that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots for combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day worldwide...Until this year, drone pilots went through traditional flight training before learning how to operate Predators, Reapers and unarmed Global Hawks.

That could have come straight from a cheesy 80s RPG. 'I'm a Reaper Pilot OCC! I get +15% to Read Sensory Instruments! These bad boys do 4D6 MD!'

About time I started to feel like I'm living in the future.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:39 AM on July 31, 2012


He sees you when you're sleeping;
He knows when you're awake;
He knows when you've been bad or good;
So be good for goodness sake!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:54 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to be an F-16 fighter pilot too, until I took an arrow to the knee

One of these or these?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:59 AM on July 31, 2012


Short of that, we're looking at an article and having a conversation about how to eliminate terrorist threats without causing injury to their families. America is actively investing in how to defend itself from its enemies in the most humane way possible. I'm sorry, but Al Qaeda and Al Shabab just don't have these conversations.

If you want to scream at someone about war, you are screaming at the wrong someone.


Try to imagine if someone told you the foreign power occupying your country was actively investing in ways to kill you and your neighbors (the people they judged should die) more accurately. Yay!

This is the point where I usually get the "there are bad people out there, your bleeding heart just doesn't understand how it is" lecture, but the way I see it, we're the baddest people around.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:09 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems like the biggest benefit to being on base, besides being with their families, is immediate access to the best mental health care right after they're done for the day.

True. Thought part of me is scared when killing becomes a desk job. If they were deployed its a totally different environment compartmentalised from home. Basically 'What did you do at work today Daddy?' 'Killed some guys with my flying death bot. Pass the gravy'
posted by Damienmce at 5:19 AM on July 31, 2012


What Scientist said, a thousand times. Consider this variation of what George_Spiggot suggested:

One team pilots the crafts, others execute the targeting, others execute the firing. Having the ability to technically separate these responsibilities lends the process a strange kind of mundane horror.
posted by odinsdream at 6:17 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


One team pilots the crafts, others execute the targeting, others execute the firing.

...but Drummer Hoff fired it off.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:41 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article also, incidentally, points out why the F-35 program is such a boon-doggle. The next generation of fighter craft programs are so expensive because many are needed to be an effective ground-attack force. If drones can do the ground attack role, displacing current fourth-generation F16s (and F18s for countries that use those), then why do the airforces of NATO need as many fifth-generation fighters?

Piloted fighters will still be necessary for other roles, air superiority for example. A major combat role however, can be done more safely for a percent of two of the cost of a fifth-generation fighter plane (~$300M for the F-35 vs $4M for a Predator). It's not surprising, given their advantages that many countries are looking closely at why they need to purchase so many increasingly expensive fighter planes.
posted by bonehead at 6:43 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's just shortcut the whole argument and go back to razing cities and enslaving entire populations.

Seriously. Have you seen Samarkand lately? It's really gone downhill, and we need to get a metric assload of cloisonne guys up there fancying up the joint. Who wants to raid Lahore?
posted by aramaic at 7:18 AM on July 31, 2012


Piloted fighters will still be necessary for other roles, air superiority for example.

The F-35 is multi-role, and a pretty darn good air superiority fighter. It's no F-22, but it's roughly equivalent to the F-16 was to the F15: better than anything else.

I think it would be unwise to bet the farm on drones at this point. We haven't seen what happens when someone with real resources decides to counter them. So one more state-of-the-art manned ground attack/multi-role aircraft is a good investment for national security.

But yes, in general, we could all take a lesson from Corporal Hicks: "We're clear! Ripley! You've blown the transaxle, you're just grinding metal. Ease down, Ripley. Ease down."
posted by BeeDo at 8:33 AM on July 31, 2012


So, I suppose killing someone by drone is a lot easier than killing someone face to face, yeah. And is it easier to do? I dunno...what's the paycheck like?

David Grossman's On Killing (Synopsis) includes a lengthy section discussing how the psychological resistance to killing another person decreases with distance, with anecdotes and studies where available at combat ranges from hand-to-hand to dropping bombs on Vietcong positions. I suspect he's going to need to come out with another edition including drone operators in a few years.

I'm not sure how well some of his positions in the book are supported, but it's a hell of a read.
posted by figurant at 9:24 AM on July 31, 2012


Do we still get to call them Our Heroes?
posted by c13 at 10:02 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


then why do the airforces of NATO need as many fifth-generation fighters?

If you were disinclined to be charitable, one could suggest that it might have something to do with the large number of defense contractors located in key states, who make an awful lot of money on manned fighter programs, compared to the relatively few companies who stand to make money off of drones. But that would be cynical.

The US military has always been very resistant to transformative change. So far, unmanned aircraft haven't had a Billy Mitchell willing to put his or her reputation and career on the line in order to show that the old way is finished -- presumably because the technology just isn't quite there yet. But I suspect that in my lifetime, we'll see a drone-versus-manned version of Mitchell's Project B.

Or we won't, and we'll get the lesson more expensively in the form of dead pilots, when they get thrown against the forces of an adversary who decided to skip fifth-generation manned fighters completely in favor of leapfrogging them with fast unmanned aircraft that are more maneuverable or can withstand more punishment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:32 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or we won't, and we'll get the lesson more expensively in the form of dead pilots, when they get thrown against the forces of an adversary who decided to skip fifth-generation manned fighters completely in favor of leapfrogging them with fast unmanned aircraft that are more maneuverable or can withstand more punishment.

This is how my conversations with my jet-jockey friends end up, when they talk about air-to-air combat.

'What happens when you run up against a drone with no pesky canopy, a slim profile, and that pulls 15g turns?'

The answer, so far, seems to be 'kill it from a long way off with sophisticated missiles from a low-observation or stealth platform,' like the F-22, but that only works as long as you have the best radar and radar-reduction around.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:46 AM on July 31, 2012



posted by XMLicious: "George is saying that if in the future we could develop simulations realistic enough to fool the drone operators and they believed that they were usually participating in a simulation then we could be more certain they would make decisions without considering whether or not they were really killing people. And less likely to suffer negative psychological effects from believing they'd killed, if it was most likely on any given occasion that it hadn't been real."

Would this be analogus to the firing squad, where only one of the rifles has a live round and the rest fire blanks? The theory is that you don't know if you were the one who killed the prisoner, so you don't feel bad about participating. I dunno. Ender didn't start having problems until he found out what really was going on...I may be misremembering this story. It had a solid effect on me when I read it, many years ago. I thought it was about using duplicity, getting the naive child to do what adult sensibilities weren't able to deal with effectively. Sub-textually, if they aren't really humans (really live beings), then you aren't really killing them.

Maybe you mean that it's more like memory-training the muscle--in this case, the mind--to react. A person can train to do a certain thing--on dummies, or targets--so when it comes time to perform, he will act accordingly. This is true even of such stuff as bayonet training.

Anyhow, horror surrounding the act of killing, in my experience, doesn't seem to be the bothersome issue. Grossman, cited abovethread, has some mildly idiotic views on this. I'm not sure if he's evolved, but some of the stuff he wrote a few years ago indicated that he thought a few good hugging sessions after a firefight would make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, and the wouldn't have any bothersome after-effects.

People seem to confuse the grisly aspects of warfare with the pathetic aspects. It's never what it was, but it's always what it means. If you've seen one mangled body, you've seen them all, but every crying child is a new event. Well, everybody has his own closet full of images, but maybe you can see what I mean.
posted by mule98J at 1:04 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, perhaps this will make it harder to drum up support for warfare using misdirection and false equivalence: a "Support Our Drones" bumper sticker or a "why do you hate our drones?" accusation doesn't quite deliver the same manipulative bullshit payload.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:17 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Killer-Drone Showdown Set as Lockheed Unveils Jet-Powered ‘Bot
posted by homunculus at 1:33 PM on July 31, 2012


a surgical and fast yt military operation in Iraq that ended up lasting nearly a decade?

Rumsfeld’s Intel Chief: Iraq War ‘Greatest Decision of the Century’
posted by homunculus at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Taste of Armageddon.
posted by timsteil at 2:07 PM on July 31, 2012


There will always be war, and I want to be on the side with the best weapons. I see nothing wrong with drones. I can't stand you pacifists whining about how horrible war is - its a fact of life, get used to it.
posted by JasonM at 4:24 PM on July 31, 2012


Drones don't require g-suits and o2 supplements, which can malfunction.

'On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.' - Douglas MacArthur, Farewell to West Point, 1962.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:41 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
posted by XMLicious at 5:16 PM on July 31, 2012



jasonM: There will always be war, and I want to be on the side with the best weapons. I see nothing wrong with drones. I can't stand you pacifists whining about how horrible war is - its a fact of life, get used to it.

Get used to it? Okay, back to Enders Game.

The side with the best weapons does not always win. Too bad it's not that simple, eh?

I have come to understand that some people who've never been to war can have valid feelings about the horrors of it. This was not always the case with me. I used to think that, if you hadn't walked in my boots, you should just shut the fuck up about it. I changed my mind. It took a while. I say let them whine. It keeps me honest.

For my part, I argue that drones are counter-productive, not bad. The only weapons I consider bad are nukes and several of the gases. (I sort of liked CS & CN grenades. I always carried two of each. When dropped on a trail, they came in handy more than once for signalling the beginning of the 1000 meter broken bamboo steeple chase.) I don't believe I'm even close to being a pacifist. Weapons often are beautifully crafted, and have an ergonomic magnetism in their weight and balance. I like various rifles and pistols for this reason, not to mention several varieties of edged weapons. Anyhow, I no longer own any guns--not any ethical or moral statement, I just don't have any right now, and have no plans to get any.

My most important point, though, is that I don't think we should get used to war. I go for Orwell's cautionary novel (1984), and Eisenhauer's warning about greedy industrialists combining with the stunted mentality of those movers and shakers who don't mind slaughtering people for their own cynical purposes. These citations aren't my only notions about how war fits into the scheme of things, but they properly date me, and I guess they are more or less my conceptual wallpaper, along with Hendrix, Van Ronk, and ect. Ender's Game is a parallel cautionary tale, a coming of age story, geared for the younger reader. As I remember, it attempts to get the reader to give a thought or two to the dead, as well as those who, with the best of intentions, killed them.
posted by mule98J at 11:03 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Navy’s Unmanned, Autonomous ‘UFO’
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:18 PM on July 31, 2012


There will always be war, and I want to be on the side with the best weapons. I see nothing wrong with drones. I can't stand you pacifists whining about how horrible war is - its a fact of life, get used to it.

Thanks for your service! Where were you stationed?
posted by odinsdream at 5:52 AM on August 1, 2012


There will always be war, and I want to be on the side with the best weapons. I see nothing wrong with drones. I can't stand you pacifists whining about how horrible war is - its a fact of life, get used to it.

People who use "stop whining" and "get used to it" are generally bullies who can't back up a word they say. Don't talk like that.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:24 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


odinsdream: Where were you stationed?

If you are talking to me, I was in the US Army from 1963 to 1971. After training, I spent most of my time in either Vietnam, Okinawa, or Hokkaido. I did a stint at Fort Devens, Mass, and loved my time there.

(Well, even if you weren't talking to me....)
posted by mule98J at 11:12 PM on August 1, 2012


mule98J, thanks, but I was quoting and asking JasonM, who commented earlier.
posted by odinsdream at 5:47 AM on August 2, 2012


Russian Drones Lag U.S. Models by 20 Years

Giant Drone's Laser Cannon Nixed By Congress

Army Eyes Robot Rescue Copter for Wounded Troops

Navy Robot Copter Clears Probation, Chases African Pirates
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:40 PM on August 6, 2012


Army's all-seeing, super blimp makes debut flight
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:35 AM on August 13, 2012


Try to imagine if someone told you the foreign power occupying your country was actively investing in ways to kill you and your neighbors (the people they judged should die) more accurately. Yay!

Nobody likes a foreign power occupying their country, but who is surprised by any army "actively investing in ways to kill"? Armies try to improve their weapons. Duh.
posted by msalt at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2012


Man of twists and turns: the seductiveness of air power - clean, precise, direct. No need for civilian engagement, 'boots on the ground,' or the mud and blood of the Infantry. It didn't work in WWII, Korea, The Malayan Emergency, The Battle of Algiers, Indochina War - Vietnam, Angolan War of Independence, Mozambican War of Independence, Soviet/Afghan War, Gulf I, Somalia, Kosovo ... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Air power didn't work in Kosovo? Did Serbia win? Libya recently was another noted success.

In fact, I think Saddam Hussein was perfectly well contained when we had a no-fly zone in Iraq. It all went to shit when we sent in ground troops. And if Bill Clinton had drones instead of missiles when he launched his attacks on Osama bin Laden in 1998, I think we all would have been much better off.
posted by msalt at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2012


Kosovo Land Threat May Have Won War

NATO bombing timeline, wiki. The Air Force, as expected, disagrees.

Libya recently was another noted success

Perhaps you've overlooked that air power was not the sole component of the forces opposed to Qaddafi?

FP: Do No-Fly Zones Work?
The effectiveness of Deny Flight, however, is debatable. NATO credits it with removing air power as a weapon for the Bosnian Serb forces and pushing the conflict toward an earlier conclusion. Critics contend that it did little to prevent the worst abuses of the conflict, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The mission was later expanded into an active NATO bombing campaign.

It is worth noting that my objection is not that air power has no role whatsoever in armed conflict. That is absurd. Rather, air power as unassailable force, the ultimate weapon of war, that displaces and renders obsolete all others, is obviously false.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:57 AM on August 13, 2012


Hidden History: America’s Secret Drone War in Africa
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:36 PM on August 13, 2012


Drone warfare allows us to kill people who previously it would not have been politically expedient to kill.

It also allows us to protect people we might not otherwise be able to protect.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:29 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Senate Panel Funds Ships, Drones Military Doesn't Want
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:59 PM on August 13, 2012


Forbes: Can The 'Drone' Industry Compete With The Privacy Lobby?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:04 AM on August 14, 2012


my objection is not that air power has no role whatsoever in armed conflict. That is absurd. Rather, air power as unassailable force, the ultimate weapon of war, that displaces and renders obsolete all others, is obviously false.

Well, sure. You need a ground attack as a parallel threat to make the air more effective, and vice versa when you're fighting an army like Serbia/Yugoslavia's.

However, in battling irregular militias and terrorist groups, drones seem like a symmetrical response. Obviously sending a large army to chase a small group of outlaws hiding in remote mountains forces the bigger force to commit far more resources (and create lots of targets) to stay equivalent, that's why these groups try to set up that fight.
posted by msalt at 9:05 AM on August 14, 2012


Wired (again!) Stealthy, Tiny, Deadly, Global: The Drone Revolution’s Next Phase
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:11 AM on August 16, 2012


Syrian Rebels Put Captured Iranian Drone on Youtube

System Failures
To support drone technology, the American government insists on the accuracy of unmanned systems and their role in protecting the country. Meanwhile, these accounts are widely contested both by international observers, as well as by people in the communities that are targeted. Yet, to focus on the accuracy of the strikes may overlook broader questions about the role of unmanned systems globally. What does it mean to rely on a system that negates the role of humans intimately involved in its operation to carry out killings on the other side of the planet? What forms of justice can be enacted through missile strikes from an unmanned vehicle? More than just killing innocent people, drones raise concerns about how politics is carried out and the role of humans in these processes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2012


These Drones Are Made For Watchin'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:26 PM on August 16, 2012


Invisible Threats (PDF)
But even a cursory glance at ongoing projects tells us that the mind-bending speed at which robotics and nanobotics are developing means that a whole range of weapons is growing smaller, cheaper, and easier to produce, operate, and deploy from great distances. If the mis-en-scene above seems unduly alarmist or too futuristic, consider the following: Drones the size of a cereal box are already widely available, can be controlled by an untrained user with an iPhone, cost roughly $300, and come equipped with cameras. Palm-sized drones are commercially available as toys (such as the Hexbug), although they are not quite insect-sized and their sensory input is limited to primitive perception of light and sound.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:39 AM on August 18, 2012


Blue Sky Project Will Use Drones to Deliver 3-D Portraits
posted by homunculus at 11:02 AM on August 18, 2012


« Older Formula 1 powerhouse McLaren not only designs go...  |  During his tenure as Mayor of ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments