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Drone Porn: The Newest YouTube Hit

Ranging from wide shots of bombings taken by onboard cameras to startlingly graphic close-ups, the so-called "drone porn" has been a smash hit.
 
 
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Recently, a group of high-level Al Qaeda members convened in a secret location in the Hindu Kush mountains in central Afghanistan.

"It's okay to talk," one of them said. "There are no Americans within a hundred miles."

Then...

BLAMMO.

A Hellfire missile, fired from a Predator drone, struck.

Remotely operated by pilots on the ground, Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) boast a range of 454 miles and the ability to hover over a target for 40 hours. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the mid-1990s for reconnaissance, Predators were fitted with a pair of Hellfire missiles after an American general remarked, "I can see the tank. Now I'd like to see it blown up."

The newer, bigger Reaper UAVs boast a 3,682-mile range and a relative arsenal, including Hellfires, Sidewinder missiles and 500-pound laser guided bombs -- a potent enough package that the Air Force is now training more pilots to fly aircraft from ground operations centers than from cockpits.

In researching remotely piloted aircraft, I visited the stretch of Southern Nevada desert that has become to UAVs what Silicon Valley is to the device on which you're reading this column. In 2007, Creech Air Force Base was made the home of the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing, the first Air Force wing dedicated to unmanned aircraft systems. Its daily missions in Afghanistan and Iraq could provide the military version of a SportsCenter highlight reel.

With an aim of promoting UAVs domestically as well as "enlightening" our enemies, the Defense Department recently began placing the Predator and Reaper mission clips on YouTube. Ranging from relatively detached wide shots of bombings taken by onboard cameras to startlingly graphic close-ups, the so-called "drone porn" has been a smash hit, as it were, tallying over 10 million views.

Perhaps best explaining its popularity are the thousands of YouTube commenters. Some marvel at the new technology and discuss the resulting paradigm shift in warfare. Some raise questions, including whether it's principled, dignified or otherwise in America's best interest to post drone prone in the first place. Most comments are along the lines of, "Hell yeah HOOOAH BABY!"

Below are three of the Defense Department's most popular videos on YouTube (titles theirs) as well as comparatively tranquil footage of a missile blowing up a tank. The "operational details" links go to the original YouTube pages, featuring more information and comments.

operational details

operational details

operational details

operational details

Keith Thomson played semi-professional baseball in France. He drew editorial cartoons for Newsday and now reports on national security and other matters for several publications, including Garden & Gun . He also has written movies and books, including the novel Once A Spy , which will be published by Doubleday on March 9, 2010. For more information, see keiththomsonbooks.com