Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Beast of Kandahar

Aviation fans have been talking about the Beast of Kandahar (officially known as the RQ-170 Sentinel) for a year or so now, and I suppose I should mention it as a new example of the flying wing. I'm not all that interested in the flying machines which are commonly refered to as 'drones', as they utterly lack the 'romance' of manned aircraft and 'The Beast' is no different in that regard. It was photogrpahed in Afghanistan a year back and there was a great deal of speculation as to what a stealth drone would be doing there as the Taliban have no radars nor effective air defences; they are said to usually run away when ever an Apache shows up (a wise decision if you ask me). The mission against Bin Laden's hide out in Abbotobad provides a probable answer as to the reason why the RQ-170 Sentinel was in Afghanistan.

As flying wings go, the RQ-170 is pretty dull to look at. With its fat body and chopped stealth wings, it doesn't offer much in the way of visual stimulation. Its probably lethal as anything ever built, but I can't find it exciting. Modern military hardware has lost the lustre of romantic adventure it once had, and if you go back a few centuries and look at the decorative glory of ships, cavalry, artillery and all the uniforms, you can see the steady progression towards lethal simplicity that has brought us to the most boring ships, uniforms and aircraft you can possibly imagine.

Once soldiers and warriors proudly decorated themselves and their cannon and ships, and in course this led to romantic notions of war as adventurous. In turn this led to stories of heroism, bravery, and of 'daring do'. Such notions have dried up in modern literature, as have notions of glory and honour. I don't know if this is a good thing or not but I doubt it will mean an end to the horrors of war and I suspect the reason why so many combat troops from western militaries suffer post traumatic stress disorders is because the psychological support offered by the old ways have been replaced with the drab industrialized approach to waging war.

The most frightening thing about the Beast of Kandahar is that its inhumanity removes any glory or honour or redeeming cause which one might otherwise find in war. It is simply an effective machine for killing people.


Grimsby Mariner said...

Quite agree - more bang for your buck.

moif said...

Do you think people's notions of honour and glory once helped them deal with the pain of war?

I mean people in the pre-industrial war era.

brando said...

There are still plenty of trimmings and trappings, and units can have a distinct identity. There is still a notion of adventure and honor and glory.

I'd think that this intangible thing has more to do with sangfroid or controlling yourself when you're super scared. If you can conduct yourself with poise when you're trying to put lead or steel through others, then that's honor, I suppose.

I'd guess that PTSD is the same in any war throughout history. Hurting, killing, and dying can be bad for you.

But on the other hand, you're probably right. There's not much glory to be had flying a drone. The pilot's likely sitting in an air conditioned room, in Florida, drinking a Mt. Dew.