Many in the corporate press love to luxuriate over drones, those seemingly silent and deadly killers against America’s “enemies”.
The reality is rather different, explains Nick Turse in TomDispatch:
According to statistics provided to TomDispatch by the Air Force, Predators have flown the lion’s share of hours in America’s drone wars. As of October 1st, MQ-1’s had spent more than 1 million hours in the air, 965,000 of those in “combat,” since being introduced into military service. The newer, more heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, by comparison, has flown 215,000 hours, 180,000 of them in combat. (The Air Force refuses to release information about the workload of the RQ-170 Sentinel.) And these numbers continue to rise. This year alone, Predators have logged 228,000 flight hours compared to 190,000 in 2010.
An analysis of official Air Force data conducted by TomDispatch indicates that its drones crashed in spectacular fashion no less than 13 times in 2011, including that May 5th crash in Kandahar.
The failure to achieve victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with a perceived success in the Libyan war — significantly fought with airpower including drones — has convinced many in the military not to abandon foreign wars, but to change their approach. Long-term occupations involving tens of thousands of troops and the use of counterinsurgency tactics are to be traded in for drone and special forces operations.
Remotely piloted aircraft have regularly been touted, in the press and the military, as wonder weapons, the way, not so long ago, counterinsurgency tactics were being promoted as an elixir for military failure. Like the airplane, the tank, and nuclear weapons before it, the drone has been touted as a game-changer, destined to alter the very essence of warfare.
Instead, like the others, it has increasingly proven to be a non-game-changer of a weapon with ordinary vulnerabilities. Its technology is fallible and its efforts have often been counterproductive in these last years. For example, the inability of pilots watching computer monitors on the other side of the planet to discriminate between armed combatants and innocent civilians has proven a continuing problem for the military’s drone operations, while the CIA’s judge-jury-executioner assassination program is widely considered to have run afoulof international law — and, in the case of Pakistan, to be alienating an entire population. The drone increasingly looks less like a winning weapon than a machine for generating opposition and enemies.