Hunter Killer: Inside America’s Unmanned Air War
By LCOL T. Mark McCurley with Kevin Maurer
Hardcover in dustjacket, 368 pages, photographs
Published by Dutton, October 2015
Dimensions: 6.25 x 1.13 x 9.25 inches
This book pulls back the curtain on America’s MQ-1 Predator “drone” program and the people who operate it. LCOL McCurley was a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot who volunteered for transfer to the Predator program after the 9/11 attacks. The transfer was not a normal request, the program was not a popular assignment within the USAF – “real” pilots flew fighters, and the Predator had become a dumping ground for officers who didn’t qualify for other assignments.
The term “drone”, though widely used in the press, is inaccurate. A drone is an automatous vehicle, programmed to perform its mission without human intervention. The U.S. Navy’s XM-47B is an example. The MQ-1 Predator and its larger cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are more accurately described as Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), flown by a pilot and a sensor operator on the ground. The crew is linked to the aircraft via satellite and can be physically located anywhere in the world. RPVs operating over Afghanistan are routinely piloted by crews within the U.S.
One revelation for me was that it takes two separate crews to fly a mission – one where the aircraft is physically based to launch and recover the aircraft and one to fly the mission. Many missions are flown in shifts due to the duration. The crews operate under similar rules of engagement as any other U.S. unit. Strike missions which eliminate high-value terrorist targets grab the headlines, but these are usually supported by weeks of routine 24/7 surveillance missions to establish the target’s patterns and minimize collateral damage.
The book is written from the first-person perspective and follows LCOL McCurley’s career in the RPV community. It is an interesting insight into one of the USAF’s most-used platforms, and corrects many popular misconceptions. It is an enjoyable read and an engaging story which I can recommend.