The Case of the Blid Predator
November 6, 2001
The usual bosh is getting into the press about the technological
prowess of U.S. weaponry as deployed against Afghanistan. He's been getting
some great scoops in his New Yorker dispatches, but in this instance,
Seymour Hersh ran some amazing rubbish in the New Yorker a couple of weeks
ago about the capabilities of the Predator unmanned reconnaissance vehicle.
So did Thomas Ricks in the Washington Post in a story titled "U.S. Arms
Unmanned Aircraft/Revolution In Sky Above Afghanistan." The Predator is made
by General Atomics, a San Diego-based company, and each plane costs $20.5
million, which is a bargain in this day and age, though you don't get much
for your money.
Hersh described a Predator operation over Afghanistan wherein
the machine was supposedly "capable of beaming high-resolution images ...
identified a group of cars and trucks fleeing the capital (Kabul) as a
convoy carrying Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader ... The Predator tracked the
convoy to a building where Omar, accompanied by a hundred or so guards and
soldiers, took cover." At this point, the Predator's controllers could have
directed it to fire its two "powerful" Hellfire missiles to eliminate the
one-eyed Mullah Omar. But, alas, a finicky military (CENTCOM JAG) lawyer was
queried in "real time" and nixed the plan.
This is one hell of a remote-controlled machine, if you believe
Hersh's source. It was able to identify a "group of cars and trucks" as
conveying Mullah Omar; to distinguish "guards" from "soldiers," and to
target the building "where Omar (himself) ... took cover." Quite obviously,
the Predator was able to distinguish the specific signature of Mullah Omar's
convoy (from any other conglomeration of "cars and trucks"); could tell the
difference between "guards" from "soldiers," and, finally, recognized Mullah
Sniffing eagerly along the trail blazed by Hersh, the Washington
Post article picked up on this event as described by the New Yorker and
characterized Predator's capabilities as "a revolutionary step in the
conduct of warfare" and "a turning point in military history." The point was
confirmed in the Post's article by "an expert in military strategy at John
Hopkins," Eliot Cohen, who issued the solemn judgment that " this war is
going to give you the revolution in military affairs."
Whenever you hear the words "revolution in military affairs" be
aware that the Brooklyn Bridge is on the auction block. Discussing the Hersh
story, a knowledgeable Hill staffer drew our attention to the Pentagon's
unclassified "Operational Test & Evaluation Report" on the Predator from
September 2001 (i.e. well before the articles). It highlighted numerous
shortcomings, such as "poor target location accuracy, ineffective
communications, and limits imposed by relatively benign weather, including
rain, negatively impact missions ... " To sum up: The best Predator sensor
needs daylight and clear skies, and at operational ranges (15,000 to 30,000
feet) it can make gross distinctions between what type of vehicle it is
Now recall the Predator of Hersh and the Post's Ricks,
distinguishing between not just tanks and trucks (and cars) but between just
anybody's car or truck and Mullah Omar's. They also had Mullah Omar himself
driving around and running into buildings.
There is an alternative explanation for the Predator
capabilities described in these articles: The Predator got close to these
targets to overcome its resolution deficiencies; very, very close. If that
were the case, the authors failed to mention it. If that had been the case,
Predator also would have almost certainly been extremely vulnerable with its
low, slow, predictable flight path.
As one seasoned Hill staffer remarked apropos the Predator
puffery: "During the course of this conflict, there will likely be more puff
pieces on the wondrous capabilities of new (and some not so new) systems.
Waiting for GAO or some other entity to show more than one side of the story
can take an awfully long time -- if indeed GAO or others get it right. We
may need a real revolution in military affairs; we also need one on
reporting military hardware capabilities."
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St Clair of the
newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read
features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate
Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Email this article to a friend
"From Tora Bora to Squaw Valley"
December 28, 2001
"Enron and the Green Seal"
December 19, 2001
"Like Enron? Like Social Security?"
December 12, 2001
"Sharon or Arafat: Which is the Sponsor of Terror"
December 5, 2001
"H-E-R-E'S the Silver Lining!"
November 29, 2001
"Where Were They When It Counted?"
November 21, 2001
"The Torture Boomlet"
November 14, 2001
"The Case of the Blid Predator"
November 6, 2001
"The Left and the 'Just War'"
October 31, 2001
"FBI Eyes Torture"
October 24, 2001
October 19, 2001
October 10, 2001
"And Now for a Note of Good Cheer"
October 3, 2001
September 27, 2001
"Panic and Indignity: The Currency of Revenge"
September 20, 2001
"Who saw it coming?"
September 12, 2001
"Hot Air is Bad for Us"
August 22, 2001
"Blueprints for Wider Columbian War"
August 15, 2001
"Eating Crow, Eating Dog"
April 11, 2001
"Stones and Glass Houses, Said and Sontag "
April 4, 2001
"The Noise on I-40 "
March 28, 2001
"Greenhouse Gas and Global Warming: The Great Delusion "
March 21, 2001
"After Hanssen: What are Spies For? "
March 14, 2001
"Bombing Big Sur "
March 7, 2001
"Clinton and the Hypocrites - Part 2: The Republicans"
March 1, 2001
"Clinton and the Hypocrites - Part 1 The Democrats"
February 28, 2001
"W: First blood "
February 22, 2001
"Pinochet: The final count"
February 21, 2001
"Bill heads for Harlem "
February 14, 2001
"McKangaroo court in PanAm 103 stunner "
February 7, 2001
"National notes from San Juan Hill to Chengue "
January 31, 2001
"Don't come back "
January 25, 2001
"Ashcroft an extremist? "
January 24, 2001
"Different players, same game"
January 17, 2001
"Nature's revenge "
January 10, 2001
January 3, 2001
Read Articles by Year:
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000