The effectiveness of the Predator is an artifact of the peculiar political conditions of the War on Terror, where states (like Pakistan) want US airstrikes against insurgents, but also want to deny that they want such strikes. The weaknesses of the Predator, ironically, serve to embarrass some American allies. The Pakistani military cannot plausibly claim that Predators flying over Pakistani airspace do so without its permission.
But these facts have barely dented the popular perception of the Predator. In addition to its role as a reconnaissance and strike aircraft, the Predator serves as a sponge for vitriol that would be better directed at the policies of the U.S., Yemeni, and Pakistani governments.
The Predator is the Etrich Taube of the drone set; the first mass production drone with a sufficiently flexible architecture to undertake a wide variety of missions. It’s an important aircraft, but hardly one that deserve the attention it has received.
To reiterate, using the concept “overrated” requires evaluating the difference between reality and hype. The family can include useless weapons that have a veneer of utility, or good weapons that have acquired legendary status. Most of the weapons described above are useful, within careful limits. Some aren’t. In all cases, however, our national security conversation would be better served by appreciating the limits, as well as the promise.
Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.
This article is being republished due to reader interest.