How the Predator Drone Changed the Character of War

Mark Bowden investigates how the unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft altered the battlefield forever

Author Mark Bowden writes in our 101 Objects Special Issue:

Though unmanned, remote-controlled drones had been used in times of war since World War II, they were revolutionized in 1995. The Gnat, developed by the San Diego defense contractor General Atomics, carried something new: video cameras. Soldiers had long coveted the ability to see over the next hill. Manned aircraft delivered that, from gas-filled balloons in the Civil War and from airplanes in the 20th century, but only until the pilot or his fuel was exhausted. Satellites provide an amazing panorama but they are expensive, few in number and not always overhead when needed. The Gnat gave commanders a 60-mile panorama from a platform that could stay airborne more or less permanently, with vehicles flown in 12-hour shifts. Later renamed the Predator, it quickly became the U.S. military's preferred surveillance tool.

Read more of Bowden's essay.

(Cade Martin)
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Still, U.S. Air Force pilots training to fly drones outnumber those training to fly piloted aircraft.

“Right now, we think of drones as military tools,” says Mark Bowden, of the unmanned aircraft, “but we’re going to see them used in a broad variety of ways in the coming years.” Bowden is the author of ten books, including The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden, published last year, and Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War.

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