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The leader of the Taliban in Pakistan has been killed by a missile fired from a U.S. drone. Probably the most significant success story of the Predator drone program since it began years ago, this significant capability is now likely to grow – in ways intended and also in ways not intended.  The Predator is not the only remote controlled aircraft the U.S. operates; however, it seems to get the most publicity.  Originally intended as a spy platform, the needs of war spurred its use as a weapons platform.  Able to be piloted from remote locations in the U.S., and able to carry a certain amount of missiles and who knows what else, the Predator has suddenly joined the ranks of America’s most lethal and most feared weapon systems.

You know what this means.  This is the beginning of a new type of warfare, warfare by remote-controlled robotic systems, some of which fly, but certainly others could be built for water use – floating or submerged – and others could be built for use on land.  It’s really just a matter of imagination and mission requirements.  In years to come, the Predator will look as old-fashioned and frail as the Wright brothers plane that flew at Kitty Hawk.  It’s easy to imagine upgrades for the Predator. How about a high speed jet version?  How about a stealth version?  How about a heavier version capable of carrying bombs – lot’s of them?  How about fleets of these aircraft operating in the dark skies over enemy lands – all controlled by operators trained more in video games that in piloting skills?  Why not go further and simply have them controlled by computer programs and GPS systems – wouldn’t they be more accurate than human pilots anyway?

Perhaps though, our friends at the Air Force and the CIA have misnamed their little plane. While “Predator” is a fearful name and does call to mind birds of prey like the hawk or the eagle, I wonder if a better name would have been “Pandora”?  How long will it take other countries to begin development of their own remotely controlled aircraft that have similar capabilities?  In fact, isn’t it more than likely, given the success of the Predators, that several countries are well on their way to developing such capabilities? Of course – we are not the only ones with creative minds.

Are we about to enter an age of pilotless, stealthy, attack vehicles?  Yes, we are, because it doesn’t take a great mind to envision the next step, and it is really the obvious thing to do.  Imagine aircraft capable of flying very fast, maybe supersonic,  and very low that have the latest stealth technology.  Imagine them capable of carrying very powerful weapons – maybe even nuclear weapons.  Isn’t that the next logical step?  Imagine having a fleet of such aircraft where you don’t have to worry about pilot safety and you can take whatever chances are needed because the pilots (assuming they are human – but even if they are not, come to think of it) are safely tucked away under a mountain somewhere in the American west.  Doesn’t it make you feel safer? Sure, unless you think our potential adversaries have them too. Then what we do? Ah! The game starts all over again then, doesn’t it? A defense contractor’s delight! Unending contracts, billions, maybe trillions spent on a whole new class of weapons!  A game changer!

Meanwhile, somewhere in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Osama bin Laden or his successor (in case Osama has already been taken out by a missile fired by a Predator) is sitting quietly in his cave and thinking, “I have to get me one of those”.

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