AMERICA’S DECADE OF misbegotten war in the early 21st century will be remembered for many things, but when it comes to technology, the rise of the drone will stand out. When America invaded Iraq in 2003, it had a couple of hundred; by the time it left, it had almost 10,000.
Pilotless aircraft had been around for decades. What was new was that, thanks to the Global Positioning System (GPS), they knew where they were, and thanks to better satellite and other communications links they could send back copious data. That allowed them to feed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to all levels of America’s increasingly information-hungry armed forces. A platoon of soldiers wanting to look beyond the building in front of them; an intelligence agency tracking a target; a general staff trying to understand what was going on across a broad area: today there is a drone for them all.