UAVs and Manuscripts

Iran’s capture of an extremely sophisticated (and classified) drone is a huge disaster. Now the enemies of democracy will be able to duplicate our technology without having to spend a penny on research. As too often happens (usually through espionage), our fascist enemies have stolen advances that make them much greater threats. (I use the plural here, because there’s no doubt Iran will share/sell much of what they learn with mainland China, North Korea and various other dangerous regimes.)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are particularly cutting edge. Some voices in the Department of Defense already advocate creating an entirely unmanned Air Force. What used to be science fiction sometimes becomes science fact.

Nearly a decade ago, on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I found myself serving as a chaplain in one of the “-stans” on the other side of the globe. It was during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, and there was an intense commitment to the mission. A price was being paid in Coalition lives, but virtually everyone there believed the steep cost would be worth it, as the world became a safer place.

One of the major activities at our air base involved supporting the Predator mission. It was novel. It was exciting. One can only imagine how advanced these platforms have become during the intervening decade. Well, you don’t need to merely “imagine;” many of the innovations are public knowledge. And yet, wisdom suggests that the most amazing advancements are not publicly acknowledged. Most civilians can’t understand just how serious a setback it is for this surveillance and/or weapon system to be captured by extremists.

Turning from the world of current affairs to a subject far less threatening . . . how might this relate to writing? We’re told to “write about what you know,” so our past experiences provide a rich resource for both our factual and fictional efforts. Unless we are simply allowing our thoughts to flow as they may, we find that research remains an essential part of writing even about that which we know.

Case in point. I have served with Predator drones. Watched them being launched and then gracefully land. I’ve touched them. Even though I’m retired from active duty, I belong to several military professional organizations and I subscribe to a variety of military publications. I’ve read a lot about UAVs over the years—but before I would ever attempt to compose a story featuring one, I’d plan to do a significant amount of research.

And that may be one of the few things I have in common with truly good writers. They pay attention to the details, and they get them right. It’s dangerous to assume that we are ever familiar enough with a subject to write off the proverbial “cuff.” Nothing destroys a story’s (or author’s) credibility than surely than getting facts wrong. And that’s certainly one fact worth being reminded of.

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