Predator missions and strike footage is today considered to be rather mundane in the world of news media; real time video of ‘bad guys’ being struck by hellfire missiles or smart bombs is no longer the stuff of science fiction. However, it was not that long ago that this level of technological sophistication left its viewers incredulous. Whittle’s book traces the history not only of the development of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), its transition from a purely reconnaissance to a weapons platform and ultimately its adoption and employment in operations throughout the world. He also discusses the challenges related to UAV operations, especially with the addition of weapons to its arsenal and specifically command and control and legal hurdles that had to be dealt with.
Whittle’s premise, that the UAV was a revolutionary surveillance and weapons platform that changed the very nature of warfare, is justified by the end of the book but is also tempered by the degree of difficulty that the UAV program faced by conventional thinking and bureaucratic inertia. Like many breakthrough technologies, it was envisioned and developed by civilian companies who found it very difficult to convince the government and military of its relevance on the modern battlefield.
The book highlights a number of interesting consequences of the UAV program and the advent of new technology onto the battlefield:
- The marked increase in the challenges of micro-management as senior officers used the ‘real time’ technology to provide oversight, advice and assistance well below their traditional span of control;
- The challenges of bureaucracy as an impediment to change and, concurrently, what can be accomplished in incredibly short periods given the right motivation and backing (referring here to the success of the Big Safari organization in implementing technological advances in the UAV and communications systems);
- The challenge of command and control when multiple agencies operate within the same (developmental or operational) battle space. In the case of the Predator, various agencies such as the USAF, CIA US Army and Navy all had proverbial fingers in the pie thereby frustrating clear lines of authority;
- The time delay relating to authority for launch when it is centralized at the most senior levels; and
- The legal confusion related to what kind of weapon was represented by the Predator UAV. For example, could it be controlled and launched on third party soil, did it violate international treaties and did it represent a violation of Federal law with regard to CIA oversight?
Like most revolutionary programs, the UAV (Predator) project was replete with examples of incredible brilliance and breath-taking myopia. Whittle has translated the convoluted development of the UAV into a very readable and engaging book. There are many lessons to be derived from this experience for any entrepreneur or capital procurement program officer. It is very true the adage presented in the book that change requires a ‘seminal’ event to break comfort zones. The UAV project benefitted from one such event in the form of the September 11 attacks and has not looked back.
Reviewed by Chris Buckham for War History Online.
By Richard Whittle
Henry Holt and Company
Chris Buckham is a Major in the RCAF. He maintains a blog of his reviews at www.themilitaryreviewer.blogspot.com