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Monday, July 16, 2007


Brave new world

Well, not really new, just "improved," and bravery doesn't actually enter into it either:
The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
And, as we all knew:
The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.

It's another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.
I said it wasn't new, just "improved," but the improvement is more than quantitative:
At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size - 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan - is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.

While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons _ or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.

"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability."
"Kinetic" - Pentagon argot for destructive power - is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death.

"The name Reaper captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said in announcing the name last September.
And about those "standards" the U.S. military talks about, where they are oh-so-careful not to drop bombs on civilians? Yeah, sure:
The Reaper is expected to be flown as the Predator is - by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees."
So, as we have seen time and time again, someone will be determining from thousands of feet away (well, actually thousands of miles away, but the camera will be thousands of feet away) if the object in someone's hand is a gun or a shovel. If it's a shovel, they'll have to ascertain whether the person is going to bury an IED or just the family dog who just died; if it's a gun, they'll have to figure out whether it's an "insurgent" or just an Iraqi policeman on his way to work. But don't worry, anyone killed who can't be labeled an insurgent (which rules out most of the victims already) will be labeled an unavoidable "accident," or the death will be blamed on those pesky resistance fighters who have the nerve to live there.

Ah, but don't worry. The Marines (and surely the Air Force will soon follow) have announced they are stepping up the "values" training they give to recruits from 24 hours to 38 (by comparison, "the Army provides about 24 hours of instruction on core values and ethics, the Air Force 7 1/2 hours and the Navy about five hours."). Some of that, however, includes such all important subjects as "don't drink and drive, never sleep on guard duty, don't fraternize with officers." As for the more "serious" part of the training, this should give you some indication: "No one is prematurely judging guilt or innocence," according to Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway. But alas, he wasn't talking about the standards that the Marines need to apply before killing Iraqis and Afghans, he was talking about the guilt or innocence of the Marines who committed a massacre in Haditha.

Don't worry, Gen. Conway. In the brave new world of the "Reaper," only a tiny handful of your forces will need to concern themselves with ethics. And chances even those jobs will be privatized anyway.

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