The USAF has announced, with justifiable pride from a service perspective, that its fleet of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA's) has just reached the milestone of 2,000,000 hours flown.
The U.S. Air Force's MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft accumulated 2 million flight hours Oct. 22, not only marking a significant milestone, but also demonstrating the evolution of the program.
The RPA program began in the mid-1990s. It took 16 years for the community to reach 1 million hours and a mere two and a half years to double those flight hours.
"There is just no way to describe what an amazing event that was," said Col. James Cluff, the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The community really had some very humble roots flying out of what used to be Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field here almost 20 years ago."
. . .
Although the aircrew members are the ones flying the planes, there are hundreds of people involved every day in RPA operations.
"There is really nothing 'unmanned' about RPAs, other than the fact that there isn't a pilot in the cockpit," said Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, the Air Force ISR Agency commander. "From the maintenance personnel, to the pilots and sensor operators, to the communications experts, to the ISR professionals who exploited every signal and every second of every video, this is a team business."
. . .
"I carried the first Predator to Tazar, Hungary, in 1996 at the direction of Secretary of Defense William Perry," said retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Israel. "Dr. Perry's guidance was 'if Predators save one soldier's life, they are worth deploying now.' No one could have envisioned the unprecedented success these systems have had during the last two decades."
There's more at the link.
This is indeed an operational milestone of which the USAF can be proud, and the service deserves our congratulations. Unfortunately, those same RPA's have been abused by this country's political leaders to strike without warning at targets of opportunity in several countries. In doing so they've undoubtedly killed many of our enemies . . . but they've also killed a very large number of innocent civilians, thereby creating many more enemies who, in their thirst for revenge, take up arms against us.
The morality of drone warfare has stirred up much debate, as a simple Internet search will reveal. Personally, I don't believe it's ethically or morally justifiable to kill the innocent in order to execute the guilty. Human life, to me, is intrinsically valuable. It's inexcusable to snuff out the lives of innocents, then shrug one's shoulders (individually or collectively) and plead the excuse that it was unavoidable 'collateral damage'.
Tragically, drone warfare has made such 'collateral damage' easier to inflict and its perpetrators far less accountable for their actions. That reality prevents me from celebrating this technological and operational milestone as fully as I'd have wished.