Fighting the Taliban with a remote control

July 24th, 2009 - 1:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) Every morning Major Morgan Andrews of the US Army leaves his suburban Las Vegas home and finds himself deep in battle, killing insurgents on the other side of the world, within half an hour.
Major Andrews is one of the skilled “pilots” who are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan without leaving their base in the Nevada desert. He mans a drone — a precision unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — with the help of a mouse, a keyboard, a zoom lens with cross-hairs and a computer panel to blow up hostile targets.

“The wars of the future are changing — and in a way becoming safer for those fighting it. We are seeing a revolutionary change in the nature of weapons brought about by remote controlled devices which not only save the fighters’ lives but are also more precise,” CNN’s senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, whose has made a documentary on the life of an American drone pilot, told IANS on phone from London.

According to Robertson, who gained access to a high-security US air base to film Major Andrew and his crew at work, drones are becoming central to the war against insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq and in remote rebel bastions of Pakistan.

“The demand for drones is increasing in the US Army because of the weapons they can carry, the alacrity and speed with which they can respond to threat on the ground, precision strikes and their ability to project power without making those piloting them vulnerable. It is almost like a video game, but more lethal,” Robertson explained.

US military statistics show that out of every 600 attacks by drones, the percentage of error is only five.

There are 7,000 UAVs currently in use by the armed forces. Some are called Raven, Global Hawk, Shadow, Predator or Reaper. The US Air Force’s fleet has grown quickly in recent years to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers in 2009.

The ground crew of a Predator UAV consists of one pilot, a sensor and mission intelligence coordinator. Remote Predator pilots usually have to rely on on-board cameras to see what’s going on around the plane. The actual intelligence about the targets usually comes from the commandos on the ground.

The US is the only country operating in Pakistan known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones, carrying out airstrikes on suspected militant targets in tribal areas.

“The US government is spending billions of dollars to expand its fleet of drones and channeling more resources to make more sophisticated UAVs. For instance, till a year ago, the Reaper did not exist and today, the US army has more than two dozen Reaper drones,” Robertson said.

His documentary “World’s Untold Stories: Warfare By Remote” will be telecast on CNN at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday as well as 4 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday.

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