MQ-9 Reaper airborne

Above: A USAF MQ-9 airborne. Credit: U.S. Air Force Photo/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt.

MQ-9 Reaper at night

Above: A USAF MQ-9 Reaper on the ground at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. Credit: USAF/Creech Air Force Base.

Western Front

Above: Unidentified aerial photograph of the Western Front, WWI. Credit: Unattributed/IWM.


Above: A Prox Dynamics D-100 Black Hornet 2 nano UAV (3-camera drone). Credit: U.S. Army/Prox Dynamics.

Drone swarm

Above: U.S. Navy graphic depicting a drone swarm released from a C-130 Hercules. Credit: U.S. Navy.

Aerial photography camera, 1917

Above: Pair of aerial cameras on the Mackenzie stereo-fitting mounted on a scarff ring, 1917. Credit: Unattributed/Royal Air Force/IWM.

Afghan fighters, 1984

Above: Unidentified Afghan fighters in Logar Province take up a high ground position, 1984. Credit: Steve McCurry.


The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone--such as the USAF MQ-9 Reaper, for example--is an "airborne motor" and is fitted with cameras that enable the military to "mobilize the field of perception non-stop (OS: 96)." These machines are "unpiloted planes that scope out enemy territory. They are launched with sensors--radar, video-cameras, thermography (VW: 100)." These reconnaissance drones extend the basic narrative of military logic of strategic advantage: observation and fore-knowledge of the enemy's capability. A narrative that was begun centuries ago with belligerents seeking to gain the highest ground overlooking a battlefield; then to the building of lookout towers; and on to aerial photography, at first using hot-air balloons. The network of military intelligence satellites and drones represents the narrative evolution of the simple military advantage of higher ground: whoever sees further gains an advantage; gains time to react to an approaching enemy and diminishes the chances of a surprise attack.

The drone arrives--whirring, thrumming across roof-tops--replacing the human eye with a flying photo-video eye that offers a video-streaming-feed of a virtual pilot's-eye-view. The remote operator--the drone pilot--watches his computer screen and flies the device. The pilot is involved in a real-virtual paradox: the activity of his flying and controlling the drone is remarkably similar to playing a video-game but of course, and chillingly, his video game is absolutely real (SD: 11). Eventually "drones will be nanotechnological which is to say they will be no bigger than a wasp." Such military miniaturization will create "insect-sized microcameras that will be sent to swarm over the enemy (VW: 102)."

For Virilio, one of the most mordant news video-clips or video-loops from the 1991 Gulf War ("Operation Desert Storm") was footage of a group of around forty Iraqi soldiers caught in open desert surrendering themselves to a circling video-equiped drone (VW: 100). The hapless soldiers surrendered themselves to a robotic device with not a human in sight, "this is the very image of the end of the warrior. Surrendering to a flying camera is a terrifying image (VW: 100)." The arrival of such technology heralds "the beginning of robot wars, and the fact of sending out robots against men is clearly an event signalling the electronic warfare of tomorrow (VW: 99-100)."