RISE OF THE DRONES – 7.50pm, Monday 17 February on PBS America (Virgin Media 243 & Sky 534)
Some are as large as jumbo jets, while others are the size of a bird. Twenty years ago, they were confined to the world of science fiction, but now they are reality. This documentary explores the technology behind the unmanned aircraft.
Much of what it takes to get these robotic airplanes to fly, sense and kill has remained secret. Now, with unprecedented access to drone engineers and those who fly them for the US military, this programme reveals the amazing technologies behind the drone. A visit to a command centre, which is actually no more than a storage container in the New Mexico desert, goes behind the scenes as a remotely piloted aircraft executes a strike. From reconnaissance vehicles small enough to fit into a soldier’s backpack to giant airframes that can stay aloft for days on end, drones are revolutionising modern warfare. Their deployment has attracted much controversy, with detractors describing strikes against alleged terrorist leaders as government-sponsored assassination, and the programme does not shirk the ethical issues posed by remote-controlled warfare. Hitherto, the drone has been used purely for military purposes, but what does the future hold for the new technology? The day when we board pilotless jets to take us to faraway places may be nearer than we think.