Thursday, October 15, 2009

Esquire Magazine: We've Seen the Future, and It's Unmanned

Esquire magazine takes note of the changing face of air power in an article: "We've Seen the Future, and It's Unmanned."

"We've been thinking about this for a long time," Gersten says, and he reads me a quote from V-J Day, 1945, spoken by General Henry Arnold, who was taught to fly by the Wright brothers and commanded the Army Air Forces during World War II: "We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all." Maybe Arnold didn't figure on so many wars in between, but technology is catching up with his vision.

The article, by Brian Mockenhaupt, is a great description of how Airmen in Arizona are directly engaged in battlefield operations half a world away.

Every so often in history, something profound happens that changes warfare forever. Next year, for the first time ever, the Pentagon will buy more unmanned aircraft than manned, line-item proof that we are in a new age of fighting machines, in which war will be ever more abstract, ever more distant, and ruthlessly efficient.

We buy more drone aircraft than jet fighters now, and train more pilots to fight them. Eight thousand miles away from the front lines, an unmanned aircraft pilot sits at a monitor, seeing everything...

It isn't until late in the article that the writer notes the inconvenient fact that -- at least for now -- unmanned aircraft are only useful in already-controlled airspace, a job that in today's Air Force still falls to manned fighter aircraft.

The planes could easily be shot down flying over hostile countries with robust air-defense systems. The Serbs downed a Predator in 1995 with a ground-to-air missile, and more were lost over Kosovo and Iraq. New UAVs will fly much higher and be equipped with countermeasures to thwart missile attack. For now the Predators and Reapers have dominion over Iraq and Afghanistan, where their biggest threat is a sharp crosswind on the runway.

Read the whole thing here.

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