The CNAS website, which stands for the Center for New American Security, has its own podcast site, “Drones Podcast Series,” hosted on Soundcloud, It affords a fascinating independent porthole of information and discussion into the still little-known world of drones.
These days all most of us know about drones are twofold: Amazon and other companies are trying to perfect drones in similar private research efforts akin to the current race developing auto driving cars, and, the use of weaponized drones by the US in the War on Terror in the far Middle East, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq, although recently, apparently a Russian drone was fired by the Syrians or Russian advisors or somebody against ISIS.
The world of drones evolving into weapons of modern warfare is fascinating. Many boys, myself included, loved to buy those cheap balsa wood glider planes, and see who could launch theirs the furthest and achieve the longest flight times. Little did I know that even in the years of my childhood, now quite distant indeed, gliders of the World War II era hauling “commandoes” as they were called then to behind enemy lines, towed by larger transport planes, were beginning to evolve in fits and starts over the coming forty years or so into instruments of novel warfare by the late 1980’s, all in relative obscurity from the mass public awareness.
I have been somewhat of an anomaly sociologically. I should have been possibly a more “lefty” oriented person as I went to college in one of THE most radical student centers of the country. I found the student radicals fascinating, if not downright goofy,, quioxtic and scary. I had never encountered political types before. I was totally naive about politics in American, mostly because my parents were apolitical and the fact that I had spent more than half my years of youth overseas. I recall coming back to the States in the early 1960’s for one of our “back home” breaks from overseas stints, and not knowing who the heck these “Beatles” were. The Dodgers had moved to Los Angles. All kinds of American things would change every time we returned to one of our various homes in the Southeast or Southwest for “R&R” as my father called our stints in work here in the US or between overseas contracts. [As I have mentioned in past posts, my father was an international consulting mining engineer and my mother was an exploratory geologist in her own right, so we were off to many an unusual place. Most of what I knew politically was the “General Eisenhower” as my father called him, had been President].
So as a youth from all over but from an apolitical sort of military family, I was a geek through and through. My father early hoped I would follow his proclivities into things mechanical, engineering like etc. I learned woodworking from him and loved it, but in everything else manly, fix it oriented, building, plumbing, electrical, engines, and so on, the only thing I mastered was mowing lawns and painting interiors and exteriors. I loved those pursuits and found them, and still do, incredibly relaxing, mostly because they were so repetitive, solitary and I could lose myself in my thoughts and ruminations. At everything else, I was a total klutz and could never remember which you turned a screw to unscrew or to screw it in. I was that bad. So my father resigned himself to having an intellectual on his hands like his wife, my mother. She taught me to read at an obscenely early age and for the rest of my life, books and their influences were my life with some exceptions.
I did inherit my father’s interest in aviation and we visited every aviation museum big or small that we could find in this country. My father’s and my favorites were the Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton OH, the Smithsonian Museum’s aviation, and space flight museum, but most of all we loved the “Boneyard” in desert Arizona where all the discarded planes of all kinds, civilian or military were stockpiled out of the open dry desert air so they would not deteriorate from rust etc. Many movies have utilized that site as movie sets and that is likely the only glimpse most of us have had of that incredible place. There and at Wright Patterson and a few other private collections, if there were B-17’s or B-24’s, my father’s planes, we would swing up into the planes and my father would proudly and wistfully show me everything about them. I was amazed but also aghast at how flimsy and unprotected they were, no insulation and I could not imagine myself enjoying riding them in wartime as he did.
Even as the son of a WWII bomber pilot and officer and coming from a military family stretching back to the Civil War, with myself being the only male without military service, I was a hopeless geek doctor-intellectual and likely would have been an awful soldier. My extended family was indeed a military family. In addition to my family, both my parents had military figures in their histories. My mother’s family had an ancestor in the Mexican-American War.I had had a cousin who was a West Pointer and served four tours as a helicopter pilot and a hero in my young eyes back then. I had one aunt who has mysteriously served Wild Bill Donovan’s WWII OSS ferreting out German spies or sympathizers in her strategically part of the country with its concentration the oil industry.
Drones have long fascinated me because of those above influences. As they started to emerge in the last 15 years as valuable military hardware, I started to follow everything I could read about them. My wife never really has understood this atypical interest for of mine as she is an artist, painter, charity activist and child psychotherapist. No one in my adult years in my circles, shrinks, mental health types, geeky intellectuals, girlie daughters, colleagues, mentors, were ever interested in matters military or drones at all.
But now I have an adopted son and he is interested in such things avidly and came to this interest via computer games and Microsoft Simulator. I had for no apparent reason saved an old computer that played that seminally important game, along with the cockpit yoke simulator setup and that was all it took when he discovered in a closet one year. And now both he and I lament there really is not quite the quality air combat flight game nowadays as everything in the gaming world seems to be concerning with special forces commando one person shooter games, anti-terrorism games, fantasy games, racing and auto theft (GTA…), and nothing of decent military simulation with a few exceptions.
He does, however, represent through his not so unusual interests for this day and time and the last two or three generations of male gamers, the confluence of the worlds of computers, and drones as a natural marriage of means and methods. Modern drones require enormously complicated computer hardware and software systems behind them. They are the point of computerized spears of modern warfare. In fact, in many ways, they and their systems including the other main modern warfare developing, nowadays, cyberhacking, represent the future of the bulk of modern warfare. The old saying, “He has the most toys wins,” can be morphed into “He who has the best and deadliest drone systems and the best military hackers, wins.”
If one is interested in this arcane but important modern military development, I think it is best to start by learning its history. One of the very best, most informative and compelling read on the history of the development of drones in my view, is Predator; The Secret Origins of The Drone Revolution, by Richard Whittle.
I still get some minor creepy feelings when I acknowledge to myself that one day I may be in my yard or sitting on my porch reading or computing in the shade, and hear the little buzz or whatever the future drones will sound like. I imagine myself wondering, is that my expected package from Amazon or WalMart or SuperGeekStore or whatever. Or,….is it a terrorist unleashing his diffuse anger, or an irate loner goofball randomly targeting anybody with a hobby drone and some crackpot homemade weapon. Maybe by then, all our homes will have not only incredibly better software firewalls on our Internet access gizmos of routers, cables, satellite dishes or WiMax radio beamed signals to the neighborhood or some other yet to be imagined Net delivery system, but also our own air defense systems against drones. My goofy sense of humor tells me that perhaps in the future my homeowners’ association fees would cover also drone defenses, that our cars will have things. The NDA [National Drone Association] will advocate for every 2nd Amendment loving citizen to have our own armed drones in our homes and on our cars. Or we can have televising teeny but high definition drones that fly/hover above the heads of all kinds of athletes as they play and give us fantastic views of their plays. I would like most of all to have such a view of those Olympic ski jumpers’ trajectories. Police could have drones assigned to bordellos, drug merchandising locations etc. White collar crime, as usual, would still be relatively protected since I think even the smallest drone would have a hard time spying on the back room or board room illegal deals made in the echelons of those that are dishonest captains of industry. Perhaps noise pollution from hobby drones in parks would drive others away and parents would not feel safe having their toddlers and small types playing on the jungle gyms and swings with the air full of errant drones flown by geeks like me.