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Death by Joystick
October 23, 2009 2:19 AM   Subscribe

Douglas Rushkoff's latest piece for the Daily Beast got pulled; everything goes to 404. However here's a transcript.
The set-up doesn't feel much different than the playroom of a die-hard videogame enthusiast—except no one is smiling, high-fiving, or celebrating his hits. They speak in the cool monotone of commercial airplane pilots—
Copy that we got eyes on em… 3-0-5 rifle time of flight 15 seconds…. that's 10 seconds… 5-4-3-2-1 - and splash…
And with that, presumably, some people on the other side of the monitor were blown up.

Jane Mayor writes in the New Yorker that according to the New America Foundation’s study, that in the forty-one drone strikes conducted by the Obama Administration in Pakistan; 98 percent of those killed were civilians. Americans have been insulated from the human toll.
Problems With Killer Drones (related UAVs over Sadr City and Death From Above).
posted by adamvasco (76 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
reminds me of Ender's Game
posted by evil_esto at 2:25 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


yeah, war is hell.
posted by billybobtoo at 2:30 AM on October 23, 2009


Perhaps you need to read your own links. According to the New America Foundation study, "the real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 250 to 320, or between 31 and 33 percent." The 98% you mentioned was from an opinion piece in the NYT, relying on Pakistani sources, linked inside that study. Another figure mentioned in there was 10%, from LongWarJournal.org. It's possible that all we can draw from this is that a) it's hard to get good data about these things, b) it's easy to see author bias.
posted by napkin at 2:48 AM on October 23, 2009 [16 favorites]


...also, Obama Administration...?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:09 AM on October 23, 2009


Pilots, who fly them from trailers halfway around the world using joysticks and computer screens, say some of the controls are clunky. For example, the missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engines.(source)

Well, at least the technology and techniques are being honed over sparsely populated terrain . . . future growth in drone usage will, I'm sure, be a much more refined and effective means of surveillance and deterrent due to the experience gained in central Asia. Isn't that a comforting thought?
posted by protorp at 3:27 AM on October 23, 2009


The same subject on Frontline.
posted by aheckler at 3:43 AM on October 23, 2009


The ethical dilemnas raised by armed Predators are similar to tasers and other weapon technology. In war and police work its very simple try to kill those who are trying to kill you. When you actually have a choice, say from a safe Predator distance, or using a "non-lethal" taser much more restraint is necessary. There are so many more cultural, political, compassionate grounds to consider. Blowing away a wedding party in a culture that fires celebratory rounds into the air is tragic stupidity---but it wasnt the Predator drone that made the mistake....

(I was surprised a mere Colonel gets to pull the trigger. Wouldnt a General or Obama himself be better suited considering the stakes?)
posted by dongolier at 4:06 AM on October 23, 2009


The actual article by Ms. Mayer is only available to subscribers on The New Yorker website. Cryptome has the full text available, though. The Predator War.
posted by mlis at 4:50 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jane Mayer and P.W. Singer (author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and 21st Century Conflict.) were on Fresh Air on Wednesday discussing this.
posted by marsha56 at 5:07 AM on October 23, 2009


"For example, the missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engines"

This shouldn't be a problem. If there is anything Hollywood has taught us it is that the military knows how to use a molly guard.
posted by Mitheral at 5:08 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.
Prescience, thy name is Simpsons.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:19 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


yeah, war is hell.

That's an odd description for sitting in an air conditioned room a few miles from home and piloting a robot by satellite.
posted by delmoi at 5:25 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


P.o.B.: "...also, Obama Administration...?"

The buck doesn't stop there any more?

There have been 39 drone strikes in Pakistan since Obama took office not quite nine months ago ... That compares with 33 strikes in the 12 months before Obama was sworn in...
posted by Joe Beese at 5:27 AM on October 23, 2009


Perhaps you need to read your own links. According to the New America Foundation study, "the real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 250 to 320, or between 31 and 33 percent." The 98% you mentioned was from an opinion piece in the NYT, relying on Pakistani sources, linked inside that study. Another figure mentioned in there was 10%, from LongWarJournal.org. It's possible that all we can draw from this is that a) it's hard to get good data about these things, b) it's easy to see author bias.

Visualize a pile of exploded human beings piled up somewhere in a mountain of gore. Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total?
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


It makes a difference for comparisons to conventional air strike rates. A drone should have a lower civilian casualty rate because safety of the pilot isn't a concern which means you can take more time to verify the target.
posted by Mitheral at 5:34 AM on October 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


@srboisvert, accuracy happens to matter to me in political debate and rhetoric. I also deplore violence and war. But I also deplore statistics used to lie and distort what's actually going on. All things considered, though I deplore violence and war more than lying. I would prefer, though, that those of us debating the policies that allow the people to be killed, would be honorable about how we discuss the realities, including the statistics.
posted by kalessin at 5:41 AM on October 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


napkin: "According to the New America Foundation study, "the real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 250 to 320... It's possible that all we can draw from this is that a) it's hard to get good data about these things, b) it's easy to see author bias."

I also propose: c) There are now an additional 250 to 320 families with a good reason to want to kill Americans.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:41 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Even more interesting—and worrying—it may begin to feel more like a videogame, too.
Heh, also
There's so much too....
posted by Mblue at 5:42 AM on October 23, 2009


Another statistical quirk is that the "98 percent" figure, or whatever figure you choose to believe, will be skewed because we're talking about bombs that don't care what they blow up, and can blow up large numbers of people in one fell swoop. Saying "98 percent" makes it seem as if only two out of every 100 missions were militarily successful, and that's not true at all.

In other words, you can have a multitude of perfect, clinical "gotchas" and one "aww fuck" instance where the missile hits a wedding party, and arrive at "98 percent."

Does that make drone war better or worse? That's a cold, cost-benefit analysis I'm not willing to ponder here. Some people need killing, and they're not out there wearing spiffy uniforms and Kick Me signs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Atlantic Monthly magazine just published a piece on drones: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200609/taliban-vegas

No paywall, no quashing. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:57 AM on October 23, 2009


UAV shortcomings are because of poor intelligence operations combined with the apparent reluctance of people who know themselves to be targets to isolate themselves. They are far less onerous than past methods. That and whether or not it is a time to kill, if ever such a time exists, are separate issues.
posted by vapidave at 5:58 AM on October 23, 2009


Joe Beese: The buck doesn't stop there any more?

Surprise, surprise. Mr. Beese comes in grinding away at the "Obama is up to no good" rhetoric. No, you're totally right though. Obama probably sits around for the phone call that says they're within range and tells them to hold on so he can run over to the double wide, which is sitting right outside his doorstep, and take over the controls just so he can directly kill some civvies.

So there is an increase in drone usage? Color me absolutely frikken flabbergasted on that one. Ten years ago when I was bolting F-22s together at Boeing and I saw the drones they were working on, I didn't assume I was brilliant to think that these were going to be mass produced and used during wartime. If there's a problem with drones killing civilians how does that relate to Obama? Maybe I'm really dense here, so please, draw a direct line to Obama, and show how this is not a technological problem that no other president would be dealing with now or in the future would have.
I have a feeling even if the increased usage of robots was part of Obama's plan to decrease troops in Iraq, that would not make a dent in your rationalization that he is bad no matter what.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:00 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I also propose: c) There are now an additional 250 to 320 families with a good reason to want to kill Americans.

Yeah... That's the sort of logic which put us there in the first place. Both sides should be better than that. Of course, the only way this keeps going is a detachment from reality. Religious fervor, complete lack of understanding the other culture, both sides quite guilty. Now we've got cold, heartless machines there to help with the dirty work.

Dehumanize the enemy and it's easy to keep support for a war. It's even easier when you dehumanize yourself.
posted by Saydur at 6:07 AM on October 23, 2009


The buck doesn't stop there any more?

True. American's did their part back in November. Now they can sit on their asses, complain, and then vote again a few Novembers from now. DEMOCRACY!
posted by chunking express at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2009


Here is the Predator UAV ground station so you can see what the operators are using from the article.

I fly (unarmed) VTOL UAVs on a regular basis and can report that it absolutely feels like a video game after a while. We even use PS3 controllers with similar mappings to most video games: left stick moves the camera, right stick moves the aircraft. Push forwards, the helicopter moves forwards. Pull back and it backs up. Push left, slide left, etc. Let go of the right stick and the helicopter just hovers in place. I've even written a simplified ground station that runs on a PSP.

Sometimes while flying along with a convoy the lead ground vehicle will get ahead of the aircraft and appear in the video feed. All of a sudden there is a mental switch that makes me think that I am driving the car ala GTA, and no longer controlling the aircraft. For a brief instant I become frustrated that I can't steer the car with my joystick.
posted by autopilot at 6:11 AM on October 23, 2009 [36 favorites]


Is there any evidence at this point that Rushkoff's latest Daily Beast column "got pulled" for reasons other than....well, for not nefarious reasons, whatever those might be?
posted by mediareport at 6:18 AM on October 23, 2009


Remember kids: terrorism is cowardly, but blowing people up by unmanned drone is ... well, I don't know what it is, but I'm just pleased that it can't possibly have any unforeseen adverse consequences down the road.
posted by WPW at 6:23 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


we are at war with pakistan? who voted for that?
posted by kitchenrat at 6:26 AM on October 23, 2009


Visualize a pile of exploded human beings piled up somewhere in a mountain of gore. Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total?

Absolutely. Nothing like a little sensationalist imagery to muddy the waters.
posted by Edgewise at 6:30 AM on October 23, 2009


If there is anything Hollywood has taught us it is that the military knows how to use a molly guard.

Weren't the Predators retrofitted to carry missiles? Maybe they just remapped one of the existing buttons and wrote a new label on a piece of tape.
posted by smackfu at 6:30 AM on October 23, 2009


P.o.B.: "Maybe I'm really dense here, so please, draw a direct line to Obama, and show how this is not a technological problem that no other president would be dealing with now or in the future would have."

Are you seriously claiming that a Commander-in-Chief does not bear legal and moral responsibility for the actions of his military? Especially when they are conducting what he has publicly proclaimed as a "war of necessity"?

I would also question your view of the murder - as depraved indifference homicide is sometimes termed- of civilians as a "technological problem", but frankly it's just too depressing.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:41 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Absolutely. Nothing like a little sensationalist imagery to muddy the waters. ,br>
So Edgewise what do you think Joe Taliban and his wife (wives), children, parents, grandparents, neighbours look like after a predator missile spreads them over their mud hut walls.
posted by adamvasco at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2009


srboisvert: "Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total?"

Yes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:45 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Visualize a pile of exploded human beings piled up somewhere in a mountain of gore. Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total?

Yes, yes it does. Next question.
posted by caddis at 6:49 AM on October 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


terrorism is cowardly, but blowing people up by unmanned drone is ... well, I don't know what it is, but I'm just pleased that it can't possibly have any unforeseen adverse consequences down the road.

I obviously can't see into the future, but other than paranoid SkyNet robot uprising theories I don't think there are a lot of downsides to using drones or other technologies that don't require human soldiers. I guess you could make the argument that it's easier to kill someone from miles away, but the people who make the big decisions in the military are always generals in a room miles away, and any given soldier would probably be more likely to shoot first and ask questions later if their life was on the line. If wars in the future are fought by robots instead of 18-year-old kids I would count that as a good thing.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:52 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Kadin2048: " [[ Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total? ]]"

Yes.
"

Then I trust that if bin Laden is ever captured and put on trial, you'll listen respectfully to his calculations of how many of the World Trade Center victims were legitimate military targets. [7 WTC had a CIA office in it, after all.]
posted by Joe Beese at 6:54 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm halfway through the article. It's deeply unsettling. There's no way to avoid the conclusion that there's something terribly wrong with this. Of course there's something terribly wrong with bombing people in general. I'm not sure there's much of a distinction between a drone strike and a laser guided bomb sent from a manned plane... or a submarine... or boat 10 miles offshore. I guess this is just the next step in a long line of horrible progress in killing technology.
posted by diogenes at 6:59 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This bit from the New Yorker caught my attention:

The government plans to commmision ... tiny nano drones, which can fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window.

posted by diogenes at 7:03 AM on October 23, 2009


Burnmp3s I obviously can't see into the future, but other than paranoid SkyNet robot uprising theories I don't think there are a lot of downsides to using drones or other technologies that don't require human soldiers. I guess you could make the argument that it's easier to kill someone from miles away, but the people who make the big decisions in the military are always generals in a room miles away, and any given soldier would probably be more likely to shoot first and ask questions later if their life was on the line. If wars in the future are fought by robots instead of 18-year-old kids I would count that as a good thing.

Well, this is a further lurch down the slope of mechanised mass-killing, but we were far down that slope already so perhaps that part's not a big deal. My main point is that these devices are going to inspire a generation of terrorists, far more than they will ever kill. An invisible robot foe hitting as many civilians as combatants? OK, we'll hit their civilians. They want to kill without looking? We'll make them look.
posted by WPW at 7:13 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there any evidence at this point that Rushkoff's latest Daily Beast column "got pulled" for reasons other than....well, for not nefarious reasons, whatever those might be?

Seconding this. Does anyone know why the article was pulled? Seems strange that earching for "joystick" turns up borked link to the article.
posted by zarq at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2009


Especially since it was apparently intended to be a Page One article....
posted by zarq at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2009


Joe Beese, P.o.B., drop it, now.
posted by mathowie at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


18 Senators Brought Down By Predators
posted by brain_drain at 7:17 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


burnmp3s
It seems that it is not only the US military using these death devices but also subcontractors such as mefi's favorite Xe and the Pakistan military. Further it is reported that the hit list was recently expanded to include some fifty AFghan drug lords who are suspected of giving money to help finance the Taliban. These new targets are a step removed from Al Qaeda itself.
The question now raised is "where is the control". Fast forward a bit. Known crazed meth head and dealer in upper armpit [choose your state] is sitting at home in his trailer with his family and dogs and the neighbours kids when SPLAT...problem solved?
posted by adamvasco at 7:21 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


srboisvert: "Does it make a difference to you if the number of innocents are 10%, 31-33% or 98% of the total?"

Yes, it most certainly does.

Tactically, the drones are used instead of a ground assault for several reasons. However, they are primarily "marketed" to Congress and the public as a means to keep both military and civilian casualties on both sides down. If they don't, then we need to know, and we need to know specifics.
posted by zarq at 7:26 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


zarq: "they are primarily "marketed" to Congress and the public as a means to keep both military and civilian casualties on both sides down. "

No need for the quotation marks.

The company continues to push the envelope with innovative high-tech UAS solutions that have produced an ever-growing line of versatile, reliable, cost-effective, and combat-proven aircraft.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:35 AM on October 23, 2009


The New Yorker that contains the article about the drones also has a profile of James Cameron, director of Terminator, and the man responsible for millions of SkyNet references. Coincidence or brilliant editorial decision?
posted by diogenes at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2009


other than paranoid SkyNet robot uprising theories I don't think there are a lot of downsides to using drones or other technologies that don't require human soldiers.

other than making war seem easy through depersonalization of the cos, that is.
posted by lodurr at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2009


cos > cost
posted by lodurr at 7:51 AM on October 23, 2009


depersonalization of the cos

No need to drag Bill Cosby into this!
posted by diogenes at 7:59 AM on October 23, 2009


My main point is that these devices are going to inspire a generation of terrorists, far more than they will ever kill. An invisible robot foe hitting as many civilians as combatants?

Yeah, I agree with that, I don't think any of the wars in the Middle East in the past few decades should have been fought. But I don't think it makes much of a difference to the people on the ground if the missiles are being launched by a drone or a plane with a pilot in it.

It seems that it is not only the US military using these death devices but also subcontractors such as mefi's favorite Xe and the Pakistan military. Further it is reported that the hit list was recently expanded to include some fifty AFghan drug lords who are suspected of giving money to help finance the Taliban. These new targets are a step removed from Al Qaeda itself.

I don't really see how the fact that they are drones rather than some other kind of killing device has anything to do with that though. The US has been providing weapons to questionable allies and directly engaging in shady military operations for a lot longer than the Predator has been around.

The question now raised is "where is the control". Fast forward a bit. Known crazed meth head and dealer in upper armpit [choose your state] is sitting at home in his trailer with his family and dogs and the neighbours kids when SPLAT...problem solved?

Again, what does this have to do with drones? Do you really think the only thing keeping the police from dropping bombs on people is that they don't have robots to do it for them? The police have had the ability to kill random people fairly easily for a long time, and the control is that there is a legal system in place that prevents them from doing so.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:02 AM on October 23, 2009


Joe Beese, P.o.B., drop it, now.
posted by mathowie at 7:16 AM on October 23 [+] [!]


Now that's target strike accuracy!
posted by davejay at 8:03 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The always-sensible Rachael Maddow interviewed Ms. Mayer last night. Interview begins at 3:10 here. I should have linked in my comment upthread. Apololgies.
posted by vapidave at 8:04 AM on October 23, 2009


Dresden:

"Today's historians estimate a death toll between 24,000 and 40,000."

"By early morning on 14 February, Ash Wednesday, the center of the city, including its Altstadt, was engulfed in a firestorm, with temperatures peaking at over 1500 °C (2700 °F)."
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:07 AM on October 23, 2009


dragonsi55: "Dresden"

It is still not entirely clear why Roosevelt, a man of peace and good-neighbourliness, who had long campaigned to get aerial bombing outlawed by international agreement, should have become so enthusiastically committed not just to air power but to its unlimited use against civilians. ... Roosevelt had a strong personal dislike of Germans, whom he regarded as arrogant bullies. And he deeply feared their scientific genius and lack of scruple. ... Without the support of Roosevelt and other senior American politicians for a policy of bombing it is unlikely that it would ever have materialised as one of the key elements in the western war effort.
- Richard Overy, How The Allies Won, pp. 109-10
posted by Joe Beese at 8:33 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The government plans to commmision ... tiny nano drones, which can fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window.

Seems strangely appropriate somehow, since the likelihood of death by terrorist attack is roughly the same as that of death by bee sting.
posted by fogovonslack at 8:43 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Here is the Predator UAV ground station so you can see what the operators are using from the article."

So no molly guards. Once again hollywood you've let me down.
posted by Mitheral at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2009


I'm in bmy blackberry UAV now or I would look for a link, but there have been accounts of Predator operators suffering from PTSD where normal fighter/bomber pilots would not. The drone operators have the misfortune of seeing the missile camera feed right up to the moment of impact, so they get a rough sense of who and what they are splattering. The conventional pilots are alreayd on their way to the next checkpoint by the time their ordnance hits. Having the luxury of the disconnect apparently is a safeguard against the usual nightmares and mental loops of PTSD.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


If wars in the future are fought by robots instead of 18-year-old kids I would count that as a good thing.

There are certainly some good direct consequences for the 18 year old kids. But that may lead to bad indirect consequences for everyone else. Even if you can convince the 18 year old kids to kill and be killed, you've also got to convince their replacements to keep it up and convince their parents not to put a stop to it all. There's a reason why today's anti-war propaganda typically talks about thousands of dead American soldiers first, the hundreds of billions of wasted dollars second, and the hundreds of thousands of dead foreign civilians third. Morality may suggest that the third problem is the most important one, but psychology suggests that the first problem is most likely to change your opposition's minds.

I'm not saying that, even on the whole, fighting wars with expendable robots rather than precious kids is a bad thing. And "let's not save those lives, because it might just give people an excuse to take worse risks" is an argument that usually sounds pretty stupid when I hear it from other people in other contexts. I'm just trying to point out that there may be downsides here that deserve more thought.
posted by roystgnr at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I always knew that Barry Levinson's Toys was a more profound film than most gave it credit for at the time. Sure, it was clunky and had difficulty maintaining its tone toward the end. But the main conceit of the film -- that toys should be created for whimsy and joy and not for fighting wars -- is a maxim I support 100%. And the room with all the 10 year olds playing "video games", actually training to pilot remote control drones which will go off and fight our wars by remote? Well, that's prescient beyond all measure now, isn't it?
posted by hippybear at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone was quibbling about my figures upthread. David Kilcullen in the Financial Times (May 2009): -said the US had killed 14 mid-level or lower level al-Qaeda leaders since 2006 but the strikes had killed 700 civilians.
"That's a hit rate of two per cent on 98 per cent collateral. It's not moral."
posted by adamvasco at 9:06 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


So no molly guards. Once again hollywood you've let me down.
That was an early Predator console from 2005. The newer MQ-9 Reaper models might have them. Your faith in Hollywood might be well placed, but I don't have any photographs of newer GCS.
posted by autopilot at 9:23 AM on October 23, 2009


Burhanistan -- there's also the issue of "drone fatigue," which leads to accidents of all kinds, mentioned awhile ago in the NYT. (Links to the studies mentioned are on Tvaryanas' page on ScientificCommons.)
posted by finnb at 10:21 AM on October 23, 2009


I understand that predator attacks are supposed to be part of warfare, but these look a lot like political assassinations to me, and that frightens me deeply.

Imagine a sniper taking out targets with a rocket launcher. Civilian casualties? You bet. And, when you see that the CIA - not the military - is performing these "military strikes," they look even more like political assassinations.

In case you were wondering whether it makes a difference if these are military strikes vs. political assassinations, consider the difference between a WWII B-17 strike on a Dresden munitions factory and one of Pinochet's death squads taking out political rivals.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, whatever minimizes civilian casualties, (and this does if contrasted with other types of bombing), is good. On the other hand, whatever makes the decision to use violence easier and dehumanizes an opponent and further removes the human element of decision making, is bad.
What I think though – broader use is going to change the engagement environment to favor the risk of killing more civilians.
I can’t say I like the idea of evaluating the worth of a target in that context so directly.
e.g. – terrorist A has 50 noncombatants around him, he’s not worth killing. Terrorist B, also 50 people, but he’s high value so you take that shot.
Tough position to defend.
Not all insertions (squad, sniper team, unit, whatever level) are going to be clean either though. And considering training costs, probably cheaper to send a drone.
But a crew isn’t going have to take out someone’s mom in another room. A sniper (et.al) has the precision advantage (at least, at the point of contact) and can just take out the target, not the whole building.
And the warfighting trend is (and is going to be) smaller and more and more war among the people.
Not that anyone can put the technology back.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2009


Then I trust that if bin Laden is ever captured and put on trial, you'll listen respectfully to his calculations of how many of the World Trade Center victims were legitimate military targets. [7 WTC had a CIA office in it, after all.]

Is your argument that we should consider all of Pakistan innocent civilians, or all of Pakistan enemy combatants, or that Bin Laden shouldn't be put on trial, or that all morality is relative and the rantings of a lunatic are as valid as world opinion, or that people who actually WANT -- and have the ability -- to kill you should be counted the same as people who have never heard of you? Perhaps we should update Godwin's Law to include Bin Laden...
posted by coolguymichael at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2009


there's also the issue of "drone fatigue," which leads to accidents of all kinds

That's surprising, because I thought that nowadays the drones were controlled like the guys in Warcraft: click on a map and it flies there and then asks what it's next order is. Much less fatigue than actually flying a plane. But maybe that's only the newer drones?
posted by smackfu at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2009


That's surprising, because I thought that nowadays the drones were controlled like the guys in Warcraft: click on a map and it flies there and then asks what it's next order is. Much less fatigue than actually flying a plane. But maybe that's only the newer drones?

I've never quite figured out why the Predator, a multi-million dollar aircraft has a throttle quadrant, rudder pedals, fuel mixture lever and yoke. The small tactical UAVs that I fly are 100% automated in that respect: click on a map, wiggle a joystick, write LOGO code, what ever. But don't give the operator a cyclic, collective, throttle and anti-torque pedals and expect them to fly a helicopter that they are not sitting in, especially not for long periods of time.

In fact, the manual controls were attributed to the Predator B crash in Arizona:
The condition lever on PPO-2 was in the fuel cutoff position when the switch from PPO-1 to PPO-2 occurred. As a result, the fuel was cut off to the UA engine when control was transferred to PPO-2.

The pilot stated that, after the switch to the PPO-2 console, he noticed that the UA was not maintaining altitude, but he did not know why. He decided to shut down the ground data terminal (GDT) so that the UA would begin its lost-link procedure. This procedure called for the UA to autonomously climb to 15,000 feet above mean sea level (msl) and fly a predetermined course until contact could be reestablished. With no engine power, the UA continued to descend below line-of-sight (LOS) communications, and further attempts to reestablish contact with the UA were not successful.
As described in the NTSB report, there is a full autopilot with waypoint capability, but the flights were still being performed with manual controls. An early version of the NTSB report that I read (but can not find online now) stated that the operators had stalled and spun the aircraft due to attempting to maintain altitude by pulling back on the yoke. Experienced pilots will point out that is wrong for two reasons, but I would add the third reason: why does the operator even have direct control of the elevator?

One of the best headlines from the incident was "UAV operator fired for not using checklist". I had it posted around the office and in our UAV transport van for a while to reinforce the importance of checklist discipline to everyone.
posted by autopilot at 12:48 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


coolguymichael: "Is your argument that we should consider all of Pakistan innocent civilians..."

Yes.

I take it your objection to this view is that within Pakistan's borders are some Scary Evil Men who want to destroy all that is good and true? So scary that we couldn't face them in a court of law to, you know, prove it? So evil that, to rid the world of their intolerable scourge, we are morally justified in killing some yet-to-be-determined number of Babu Six-Bhats who have the bad luck to be standing in their vicinity when the drones come?
posted by Joe Beese at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is anyone else interested in the censorship that is going on around this story? At this point, none of the links to the Rushkoff story work.

I managed to find the whole text of the article after some poking around (Google cache page 1 and page 2, also found text somewhere else). I wonder which part of it exactly caused our government censors to force it off all three of The Daily Beast, rushkoff.com and votersforpeace.us. All I can figure is that you could compute the distance of the drone to the target by the quote including the 305 rifle flight time. But that excerpt is in a couple of other places on the web, so who knows.

I'll refrain from posting it here to save the MeFi guys the hassle of a National Security Letter or whatever the government is using to take this down.

I thought I also read a much more extensive article on the U.S. military's Predator/Reaper program a few days ago, so I am pretty surprised that this shorter article has been taken down three times already. Here it is, from Esquire.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:23 AM on October 24, 2009


It's not censorship. A working draft with editor's comments and suggested additions was accidentally posted to my blog on the site. When I saw what happened, I yanked it.

All of the real material - about ten times what I could have fit into the blog post on Daily Beast - is sitting quite happily on the server at http://pbsdigitalnation.org As I don't have anything truly new to add beyond what we've got on the Frontline site, my post at Daily Beast would amount to little more than a pointer, which doesn't really merit the post.

I would love for the draft above to be removed, because there's many things in that draft that just aren't true. This makes the issue get more confused, not less. For example, the Afghan wedding they were hoping to get included in the piece was actually a Pakistani wedding. Some of the things soldiers are saying came from different locations, compressed for space but leading to an inaccurate impression.

It was not censored by the government, but by ME! Again, many many times more real data and live footage is at http://pbsdigitalnation.org Or read the excellent New Yorker piece.
posted by rushkoff at 6:39 AM on October 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hey rushkoff thanks for dropping by and explaining what was up. I was very confused when I first found a reference to a story that was wasn't there!. You shouldn't be shy, here is the Frontline video, as it will slip off the front page. Some of the comments are worth a read as well. There are also some interesting comments on the cached pages found by Hello Dad
posted by adamvasco at 8:18 AM on October 24, 2009


Nothing like a little sensationalist imagery to muddy the waters.

Ah my apologies. I though we talking about dropping bombs on people and not just debating accounting techniques.
posted by srboisvert at 8:51 AM on October 24, 2009


Thanks for the plug, Adam. We did find out some good stuff.

I am sorry about the Daily Beast false alarm, and take full responsibility. I've been trying to correspond with the site from the road through my cell phone keyboard, and it's just too risky. What would amount to a typo in an sms is a misdirected post to a real website. Good lesson in it for me, though. I'm trying to do too much in too little time.
posted by rushkoff at 10:18 AM on October 24, 2009



It is still not entirely clear why Roosevelt, a man of peace and good-neighbourliness, who had long campaigned to get aerial bombing outlawed by international agreement, should have become so enthusiastically committed not just to air power but to its unlimited use against civilians. ... Roosevelt had a strong personal dislike of Germans, whom he regarded as arrogant bullies. And he deeply feared their scientific genius and lack of scruple. ... Without the support of Roosevelt and other senior American politicians for a policy of bombing it is unlikely that it would ever have materialised as one of the key elements in the western war effort. - Richard Overy, How The Allies Won, pp. 109-10
posted by Joe Beese at 11:33 AM on October 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


A bit strange to blame the Americans for being the ones who were primarily responsible for introducing bombing into the Western war effort, especially since the British were doing it well before the Americans entered the war.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:23 PM on October 25, 2009


comrade, my understanding is that the mass bombing of civilian targets didn't start until after we were in and participating in strategic planning. Yes, the British did the heavy lifting on it for a while, but that's because we hadn't ramped up production or training. We also had better bomb sights, so the idea was that we'd precision-bomb strategic targets in the daylight, and the British would carpet-bomb civilian targets at night. It's all a greusome history, though, so prbably better we don't get into it.
posted by lodurr at 5:13 PM on October 25, 2009


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