Drone Strike! UAVs and Unmanned Aerial Warfare in the 21st Century

Published: February 2nd, 2017     
Product Image
Front cover
Author: Bill Yenne
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Specialty Press
ISBN #: 9781580072526
Other Publication Information: Hard Bound, 10” x 10”, 192 pages
Price: $39.95
Product / Stock #: SP238S

Bill Yenne has authored over 75 historical books and ten novels to date. He grew up inside Montana’s Glacier National Park where his father was the supervisor of backcountry trails. Bill is also a nationally recognized artist and ilustrator with his work being showcased in many national magazines and some of his paintings on display in the official collection of the US Air Force. Bill graduated from the University of Montana in 1971 and founded the American Graphic Systems company. He later graduated from the Stanford University Professional Publishing course in 1989. The AGS BookWorks division has produced some 200 large-format, illustrated books. He has contributed to encyclopedias of World War I and II (for you youngins, this was Wikipedia before the internet came along). He has appeared on The History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Smithsonian Channel, C-SPAN, and ARD German Television. Well known for his airpower focused books, Bill Yenne has been the recipient of the Air Force Association’s Gill Robb Wilson Award for “…shaping how many people understand and appreciate airpower”. You can find Bill Yenne on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Bill-Yenne-Author-453590554784100/, on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/bill-yenne-b8a9b88, and at www.billyenne.com. Bill now lives in San Francisco with his wife Carol where they raised two daughters, Azia and Annalisa.

This book is a follow-up to his 2010 tome, Birds of Prey: Predators, Reapers and America's Newest UAVs in Combat published by Specialty Press. Bill Yenne basically starts from that point and addresses the massive technology, tactical, and strategic changes in military unarmed aerial vehicles. In 1999, the value of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV) was not significant for the future of the military, especially for those not in the military. Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 changed all that. Now with the global war on terrorism, UCAVs are playing a significant role. The Obama administration, eager to disengage from open warfare was all to happy to go to the current ‘quiet’ war and UCAVs were perfect to fit that scenario. Bill Yenne includes data dumps from as late as 2016, including from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This is addressed in Chapter Five, where a 2010 memo from Osama bin Laden cautioned “the ‘brothers’ not to venture outside ‘except of a cloudy overcast day”. Now that the ‘cat is out of the bag’, it seems many countries are adopting the pioneering effort in the US and developing their own UCAVs. Bill Yenne pivots from the US and dives into British and other International efforts. This also includes glimpses into Iran’s efforts, as the UCAV is a perfect vehicle to project Iran’s terrorism paired up with ICBMs, especially with the recent release of billions in cash to Iran to fund new development. This tome provides a great synopsis of the current state of technology as well as a glimpse into the future for unmanned aerial warfare systems.

This hardback book’s cover (and dust jacket) features the General Atomics RQ-1 Predator while the rear cover features a USAF MQ-9 Reaper and a RAF Reaper in flight over Afghanistan. The first thing you will notice upon opening the book are the vivid color photographs gracing nearly every glossy page. In fact there are only five black and white pictures, with one being of a Charles Kettering Aerial Torpedo and it’s in the Introduction chapter. I counted five black and white photographs, 265 color pictures, two black and white illustrations, and 24 color illustrations.

I found the chapter on “The Beast of Kandahar, Mystery and Pedigree” fascinating. This was the Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Projects (Skunkworks) RQ-170 Sentinel. If you believe military designations are sacrosanct, this UCAV was a reconnaissance platform and not a delivery vehicle. The RQ-170 was involved in the support of Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011 when SEAL Team 6 captured Osama bin Laden. Many of you will remember that Iran was able to down (depending on the story you believe) a top secret drone in December of 2011 with little to no damage, the RQ-170. President Obama waited over a week to make a formal request to Iran to return the drone. Iran declined. They instead reverse-engineered the RQ-170 and proudly displayed two scaled down versions at an aerospace exhibition in May 2012. Why wasn’t an airstrike called in to destroy the drone on the ground before the Iranian’s could analyze it? Speculate away, but the Beast of Kandahar continues to fly.

The Chapters include:

  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • Introduction
  • What Are They Called?
  • Chapter 1: In the Home of Persistent Situational Awareness
  • Chapter 2: Evolving Systems Technology [Page 29]
  • Chapter 3: Communications as the Keystone of UAV Operation
  • Chapter 4: Data Transmission and the Kill Chain
  • Chapter 5: Except on a Cloudy Overcast Day [Page 49]
  • Chapter 6: A Limited War Against a Worldwide Caliphate
  • Chapter 7: Sons of UCAV and Other American Drones [Page 71]
  • Chapter 8: The United States and International Collaborative Programs
  • Chapter 9: Inside the European Collaborative Programs [Page 88]
  • Chapter 10: European Non-Collaborative Programs 94
  • Chapter 11: Unmanned Aerial Combat, the Middle East Standoff [Page 103]
  • Chapter 12: Unmanned Aerial Combat, the South Asia Standoff
  • Chapter 13: National Programs [Page 127]
  • Chapter 14: Unmanned Aerial Combat Technology in China
  • Chapter 15: The Beast of Kandahar, Mystery and Pedigree [Page 143]
  • Chapter 16: The X‑47B, the Tip of the Unmanned Spear
  • Chapter 17: The Travails and Tribulations of UCLASS [Page 158]
  • Chapter 18: The Future of Unmanned Aerial Combat [Page 178]
  • Appendix A: Specifications for Selected Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
  • Appendix B: American Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
  • Index

I really appreciated Bill Yenne’s book and his ability to weave in technology, military tactics and strategy, into the historical timeline. Bill has used information and photographs that were just recently declassified to provide the current perspective. One thing that is for sure, there will be a sequel. The last chapter ends with the words “To be continued...” Impressive.

I would also note that there is a special offer available: the first 100 books ordered will be autographed by Bill Yenne.

My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

  • Back cover
    Back cover
  • Page 29
    Page 29
  • Page 49
    Page 49
  • Page 71
    Page 71
  • Page 88
    Page 88
  • Page 103
    Page 103
  • Page 127
    Page 127
  • Page 143
    Page 143
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    Page 158
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    Page 178