Book review: Sting of the Drone

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Sting of the Drone by Richard Clarke offers a nuanced perspective on the U.S use of drones to kill terrorists.  It depicts scenarios where drones are more effective with less collateral damage than alternatives.  It shows that there are many layers of experts and decision-makers involved in each drone strike.

It also presents legitimate causes for concern.  Should drones be used in allied, first-world countries where terrorist cells are operating?  You might say no, if the ally wants the U.S. to kill a terrorist in their midst who is plotting an attack, you may arrive at a different conclusion.

The book also makes the reader question whether the individuals involved in making drone strike decisions the best people to be making the decisions.  It would be beneficial to have more transparency about their deliberations, but the challenge would be keeping national security secrets secret.

As a thriller, this novel could have used some improvements.  The first half of the book is more of an ensemble cast than a story with one main character.  Eventually it settles on somebody.  I read the book two months ago, and I can’t remember any of the characters’ names.  There is a reasonably compelling villain, and he’s plotting an attack against America’s drone infrastructure, which is a great concept.  But the failure to ground the story in one main hero limited how engaging it was.

Another issue was an exaggerated treatment of drone operators.  There is a group of Air Force pilots in the book who take their drone piloting seriously, but quietly wish they were still flying “real” planes.  They become racked with guilt after some bad publicity about one or two strikes that Al Qaeda made to look like civilian massacres.  They start exhibiting PTSD.  That is all sort of interesting, but overblown.  Most UAV pilots are normal, well-adjusted people.

Overall this is a fair and balanced glimpse into U.S. drone policy and its ethics presented through a vivid story.  Just don’t expect to fall in love with the characters.

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New Israeli drone provides air rescue

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Unmanned aerial vehicles can play a role in medical evacuation of wounded troops and search-and-rescue missions.  This would be especially useful in areas that helicopters can’t reach.  From Daily Dot Tech with a tip of the hat to Barry Roskin Blake:

This ambulance drone can carry two people out of dangerous situations
By AJ Dellinger
Jan 22, 2016

When it comes to military conflicts, drones are best known for killing. But the AirMule is built for saving lives, and it recently completed its first successful flight.

The autonomous vehicle, built by the Israeli company Tactical Robotics, serves as an airborne ambulance. The unmanned craft, which can take off and land vertically, can travel to terrain unsafe for human rescue personnel—like a battlefield.

The AirMule is designed to carry two people at a time and can lift nearly 1,000 pounds and travel over 30 miles. A single engine powers the drone, and the rotors are entirely internal. Its design presents opportunities for emergency rescue craft and cargo-carrying vehicles.

The AirMule test run occurred at a facility in Megiddo, Israel, after the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority cleared the company for unmanned flight. Future tests, including demonstrations of its cargo-carrying capacity and beyond-line-of-sight flights, are planned for later in 2016.

Thanks to its internal rotors, the AirMule is capable of traversing areas unreachable by emergency vehicles and helicopters. Because of this design, the drone can get closer to structures and navigate tight confines…

Mini-drones to take off in 2016

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The Black Hornet is the latest and smallest unmanned aerial vehicle becoming available to Army units.  It’s equipped with a camera that transmits video back to the person operating the tiny drone.  Its Norwegian manufacturer calls it a pair of flying binoculars.

This UAV is intended for use by ground troops to see a target before they arrive.  This could give them a sneak peek of what they’re facing, such as the number of enemies, their weaponry, or the layout of their installation.  It would also mean that they wouldn’t have to rely on solely on second-hand accounts, but could see it for themselves.

One potential drawback to the system could be its base station.  Although the station looks small (about the size of a book), it is one more piece of gear to carry.  It could be difficult to keep up with on the go.  The drone itself only weighs as much as three sheets of paper.  But do not be fooled by its toy-like appearance: it costs tens of thousands of dollars apiece and is designed for combat use.

Under the Radar blog includes the Black Hornet on their list of “the coolest military tech coming in 2016.”  Under the Radar also says that PEO-Soldier will be fielding more of these mini-drones in 2016.