The Wall Street Journal has an interesting review of the new book, Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel. It is a history of the world’s first machine gun. Interestingly, although the gun was patented during the Civil War and Mr. Gatling urged the Union Army to adopt it — arguing that it would "save lives, wounds and sickness, by lessening the numbers subjected to the perils of war" — nobody listened. It wasn’t until the Spanish-American War in 1898 — almost 40 years after its invention — that it was first deployed.
This little lesson in history is directly applicable to a new, modern weapon — unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates complained that the Air Force was not adopting the use of UAVs — also known as drones — fast enough. He further argued that the Air Force generals who weren’t adopting the technology were unnecessarily putting airman’s lives at risk.
Gates is right. UAV’s can now fly for hours over enemy territory and, if necessary, fire and drop an assortment of weapons. Perhaps it is time that a great many Air Force generals who "learned" the importance of using fighters and bombers to engage and suppress the enemy now "unlearn" that behavior. The sooner they do, the fewer American lives the military will unnecessarily put at risk.