Enabling persistent presence? Performing the embodied geopolitics of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle assemblage

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  2. Dr Alison Williams
Author(s)Williams AJ
Publication type Article
JournalPolitical Geography
ISSN (print)0962-6298
ISSN (electronic)1873-5096
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Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are being increasingly used to provide surveillance and attack capabilities within war zones. At the heart of much of the rhetoric about these aircraft is their supposed ability to enable persistent presence across the battlespace. They are also unique in that they actively distance the aircrew from the aircraft. This paper seeks to question whether this claim to persistent presence can be justified and considers the implications of the distancing of pilot from machine in this. In order to achieve this, the paper focuses upon conceptualising UAVs as assemblages, composed of both human and machine elements. It uses firsthand accounts from a Royal Air Force Reaper UAV aircrew as a basis to analyse the ways in which the deployment of these aircraft in Afghanistan is changing the ways that war is experienced by aerial combatants. It does this through the utilisation of a feminist, embodied geopolitics, refiguring it from a concern with victims of war to argue for its use to understand the micro-scale of how the humans within these UAV assemblages experience combat. This paper thus focuses upon the extent to which the Reaper UAV achieves a persistent presence through analysis of its supposed more-than-human loitering and vision abilities, and the limitations associated with the requirement for a human-in-the loop. The paper contends that although UAVs like the Reaper change the geopolitics of combat, the continuing requirement for the human element of the assemblage restricts their ability to provide persistent presence.
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