A Day in the Life of a Drone Operator
Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings' 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker that most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day." In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaigns' defense policy task force.
His first book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry pioneered the study of the new industry of private companies providing military services for hire, an issue that soon became important with the use and abuse of these companies in Iraq. His next book, Children at War explored the rise of another new force in modern warfare, child soldier groups. Dr. Singer's "fascinating" (New York Post) and "landmark" (Newsweek) work was the first book to comprehensively explore the compelling and tragic rise of child soldier groups and was recognized by the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book of the Year Award.
His third book, Wired for War looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: "An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and "awesome" by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It has already been featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot, as well as in presentations to audiences as diverse as the Air Force Institute of Technology to the National Student Leadership Conference.
Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Big Think: What’s it like to command a drone in Iraq from the US?
P.W. Singer: These commanders of these drone squadrons described that it’s actually more difficult than commanding a traditional man squadron because of the distancing, but also there’s the challenge of being at war but also being physically at home. You know, one of them described to me that you would go in, you drive your Toyota Corolla into work, you get into the trailer, and you basically start carrying out a mission, and for 12 hours you’re taking out targets, you’re hitting enemy combatants. And then, at the end of the day, you leave the trailer and you enter back into America and you get back in your Toyota Corolla and you drive home. And 20 minutes later, you’re talking to your kid about their homework at the dinner table.
And the result is that the psychological disconnects have proven very challenging and you actually have higher PTSD rates among the drone pilots than you do among many units that are serving in places like Iraq. And so, the officers in charge are trying to figure out all sorts of different ways, you know, how did they drive that home, how did they watch out for their men and women who are fighting from afar. They’re doing things like, for example, they have to wear flight suits, even though they’re not in the plane, they wear the suit as if they are. All sorts of outside communication is banned while you’re on mission. You may be sitting 20 miles away from your wife, but no cellphone calls, for example. And so they’re constantly saying, you know what, you may be physically in Nevada, but we’re in Iraq, keep that in mind and lives are at stake here.
The author explains the psychology of a drone operator in Nevada who spends his nights at home with his family and his days eliminating enemy targets in Iraq.
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