In 13 short years, killer drones have gone from being exotic military technology featured primarily in the pages of specialized aviation magazines to a phenomenon of popular culture, splashed across daily newspapers and fictionalized in film and television, including the new season of “24.”
What has not changed all that much — at least superficially — is the basic aircraft that most people associate with drone warfare: the armed Predator.
The Predator, with its distinctive bubble near the nose and sensor ball underneath, is the iconic image of drone warfare, an aircraft that grew out of 1980s work supported by the Pentagon’s future-thinking Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Originally developed to perform surveillance, the CIA added Hellfire missiles and began using the Predator to hunt down members of the Taliban and al Qaeda after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Though the CIA and Air Force now fly an updated version of the Predator — named Reaper — the drone is still relatively easy to detect, and easy to shoot down, at least for a country with a modern military.