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The Pentagon Detours to Terminator Planet

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Posted on May 31, 2012
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By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

In Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the Philippines, the U.S. deployed pilotless planes as per Arnold’s other prediction.  From Afghanistan onward, all of the countries that have experienced American air power have also experienced lethal drone attacks—just how many is unknown because figures on drone strikes are kept secret “for security reasons,” the Air Force’s Spires recently told TomDispatch.  What we do know is that drone attacks have increased radically over the years.  “More” has been the name of the game.

Still, barely a decade after our drone wars began, dreams of Terminator-esque efficiency and technological perfection are all but dead, even if the drone itself is increasingly embedded in our world.  Fantasies of autonomous drones and submarines fighting robot wars off the coast of Africa are already fading for any near-term future.  But drone warfare is here to stay.  Count on drones to be an essential part of the American way of war for a long time to come.

Air Force contracting documents suggest that the estimated five Reaper sorties flown each day in 2012 will jump to 66 per day by 2016.  What that undoubtedly means is more countries with drones flying over them, more drone bases, more crashes, more mistakes.  What we’re unlikely to see is armed drones scoring decisive military victories, offering solutions to complex foreign-policy problems, or even providing an answer to the issue of terrorism, despite the hopes of policymakers and the military brass.

Keep in mind as well that those global skies are going to fill with the hunter-killer drones of other nations in what could soon enough become a drone-eat-drone world.  With that still largely in the future, however, the Pentagon continues to glow with enthusiasm over the advantages drones offer the U.S.  

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Regarding the importance of military robots, for instance, the Pentagon’s Dyke Weatherington explained, “Combatant commanders and warfighters place value in the inherent features of unmanned systems—especially their persistence, versatility, and reduced risk to human life.” 

On that last point, of course, Weatherington is only thinking about American military personnel and American lives.  Tomorrow’s drone warfare will likely mean “more” in one other area: more dead civilians.  We’ve left behind the fiction of Hollywood for a less high-tech but distinctly dystopian reality.  It isn’t quite the movies and it isn’t what the Pentagon mapped out, but it indisputably provides a clear path to a grim and grimy Terminator Planet.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the just published “Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050” (with Tom Engelhardt).  This piece is the latest article in his new series on the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten by the Lannan Foundation.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

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Copyright 2012 Nick Turse


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