US Drone Pilots Tell Reddit: We're Not Baby Killers
A remotely operated Predator drone. Drone operators for the U.S. military recently answered questions from the public on Reddit.
CREDIT: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt
It takes just one month of intense training for military drone pilots to get their U.S. Federal Aviation Administration student licenses, the work can be boring at times, and the pilots are very aware that the missiles they drop kill people, even if they are far from the combat zone.
Four American unmanned aerial vehicle operators in Afghanistan provided these details and others about their daily work in a recent conversation on Reddit, a massive online messaging board. The pilots participated in an "Ask Me Anything" session Jan. 30, answering netizens' questions under the handle throwaway_predator. The pilots sometimes tagged their answers with a single initial, such as S or J. At other times, they posted answers seemingly as a group, without any tags.
"We feel there is a big disconnect when it comes to UAVs and the general public," the group wrote in one untagged post.
As with all Ask Me Anything events, Reddit moderators worked to verify the answerers' identities. Reddit has hosted many verified, high-profile Ask Me Anything sessions, including one with President Barack Obama during his re-election campaign. It's unclear to what extent moderators were able to check on those behind throwaway_predator, however. "It's hard to figure out a way to verify, even to the mods, when all of our equipment is secret," the group wrote. "We are working on it." [SEE ALSO: How to Host Your Own 'Ask Me Anything' on Reddit]
Highlights from the discussion included the pilots' feelings about their work and a description of the training they need to get their jobs (peppered with questions from military folks wondering how to move over to drone operations).
"S" wrote that they undergo regular military intelligence classes and one month of intense training for a student license. An additional three months of training prepares "smarter and luckier" students to fly Predator drones, the main robotic aircraft used to target terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, "J" wrote.
The pilots aren't bothered by their job, but they do take it seriously. "We understand that the lives we see in the screens are as real as our own," read one post, tagged as W. Other Americans on the ground are more important to the pilots than "the bad guy," however.
"I will protect my 'brothers', friendlies in every way possible," J wrote.
The pilots emphasized that "double tap" strikes — during which a second bomb falls after a first one, killing those who have come to help the victims of the first weapon — are illegal. They did not directly address one Reddit user's question about creating fear in civilians who aren't targets, but may become collateral damage.
"Why be scared or if you've done nothing wrong?" they wrote. Several studies have found innocent people do die in drone strikes, although they vary widely in their reporting of the proportion of deaths.
"It is a very sad thing to hear about tragedies such as these. We will take all civilian life into consideration when we carry on a mission," S wrote in response to one Reddit user who linked to a news story about double-tap kills along with the question, "Baby killers, how many babies have you killed today?"
"War as existed for many years and collateral damage is definitely not something to be proud of. We are just happy knowing that you are safe back home and you still have the freedom to voice your opinion," S wrote.