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Remotely Piloted Aircraft and War in the Public Relations Domain

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Journal article

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The well-intentioned author of the article The Killing Machines, which appeared in the Atlantic last year, offers a lengthy description of a Hellfire missile strike by a remotely piloted aircraft RPA. The story s protagonist, a 19-year-old American soldier who entered Air Force basic military training straight out of high school, became an MQ-1 Predator crew member upon graduation. Reportedly, on his very first mission at the controls, the young pilot observed a troops-in-contact situation on the ground. The colonel, watching over his shoulder, said, They re pinned down pretty good. They re gonna be screwed if you don t do something. 1 The narrative goes on to describe the Hellfire missile strike and the psychological effect it had on the Airman. To a sophisticated military audience, the factual inconsistencies in this account are apparent. Air Force RPAs are crewed by Airmen, not Soldiers. The 19-year-old Airman an enlisted rank cannot be an Air Force pilot an officer rating. The article claims that during his first time at the controls, this Airman finds himself on a combat mission intheater. In reality, he would have become familiar with the controls at initial qualification training, prior to arriving at his first combat squadron. Furthermore, when colonels speak to Airmen about life-and-death combat decisions, they tend to do so in terms of direct orders rather than leading suggestions. How can Mark Bowden, notable historian and author of such well-received books as Black Hawk Down, commit such factual errors The answer is simple. Information about Air Force RPA operations is rarely available and when it is, it usually proves unreliable. This article contends that because an information vacuum exists with respect to US RPA operations, well-meaning people cannot gain adequate knowledge to develop and share an informed opinion on the most important RPA questions. It calls this dearth of information the epistemic problem.

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  • Pilotless Aircraft

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