“Predator, The Remote-control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story” by Lt. Col. Matt J. Martin with Charles W. Sasser

A significant portion of “Predator” is as much about understanding the current war on terror with a brief history of the Middle East as it is about flying remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in real combat situations.  It is also the story of one officer’s highs and lows during the early years of his career in the United States Air Force.  There is a natural progression to the book, taking the reader from initial pilot training to stateside operations and on to foreign deployment, while at the same time giving a good feel for the airmen, officers and occasional civilian contractors that Lt. Col. Martin meets, works with and supervises along the way.  There is even a small glimpse into his personal life and relationship with his wife Trish, a.k.a. Ruby (with the bright red hair).  “Predator” does not go into great detail about the aircraft itself and its supporting systems—it’s more about mission than hardware.  If you are a technophile, you might come way just a tad disappointed.

The book is filled with anecdotes of real missions that do a very good job of putting the reader in the cockpit, so to speak, or in the GCS actually—the Ground Control Station.  One gets a strong sense of the difference between managing (my word) the flight of an RPA as opposed to piloting a fighter or attack jet.  A number of times throughout the narrative, Lt. Col. Martin comments on the surreal nature of flying an RPA in Iraq while sitting in the GCS in Nevada.  While most missions are purely reconnaissance, some can, and do involve the live fire of Hellfire missiles resulting in the taking of lives.  After your shift, you go home to mow the grass or take your wife out to dinner.  Perhaps this aspect of modern warfare is a topic for another book, but I felt that this particular issue was glossed over a bit.  Maybe this means that while it might be surreal, it’s not really an emotional problem for today’s remote warriors.

Along the lines of remote combat, another aspect of flying RPAs that the reader will learn is that in-country LREs, launch and recovery elements, handle the takeoff and landing of the RPAs.  Once airborne, control of the aircraft and the mission itself is handed over to pilots thousands of miles away in the United States.  While the need for the LREs is explained (the satellite link from the U.S. is too slow to safely handle takeoffs and landings), the need to hand over control from local pilots to those in the U.S. is not.  While one can speculate as to the advantage of this system, it would have been interesting and educational to read about the actual reasoning behind it.

There is a good chance that the reader will feel some of the same frustration openly admitted to by Lt. Col. Martin with our military and its apparent lack of logic in certain combat situations.  If nothing else, it provides an insight into the real world of modern combat.  Indeed, Lt. Col. Martin’s frustrations could have limited, if not ended, his Air Force career.

If I have any complaint at all with this book, it would simply be that at times I felt the prose was a bit self-serving.  I was reminded of the person in a job interview who, when asked to describe a weakness, replies “Well, I work too hard.”  All I would suggest is to go ahead and freely write of your accomplishments, but let others judge the character.

For anyone with an interest in RPAs, or UAVs as I prefer, or drones as the media seems to prefer, I can highly recommend this book.  It is well worth the read.