Toronto: The drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used by the US to take out militants in Pakistan`s tribal regions, are the new face of modern warfare, according to a US drone expert.
Lt Col Matt Martin, who as a virtual pilot has logged 1600 hours of flying drones - also called Predators - from his control room outside Las Vegas, says UAVs have turned modern warfare into a high-tech video game.
Sitting in his control room thousands of kilometres away from the battle scene, the US air force officer fires missiles the moment the sensors of his drone lock on to the target thousands of metres below on the ground.
Calling it a surreal feeling, Martin tells Canada`s Postmedia News that his experience highlights the changing face of warfare where drones symbolize the robotic future of battle.
"I feel like I`m on board the airplane, I feel like I`m right there,`` says Martin who has authored `Predator`, a new book in which he narrates his experiences as a drone pilot on the Afghan and Iraq wars.
"I`m seeing that action. And after doing that for five or six hours and to step outside and realize you`re not there, that is kind of surreal,`` says the former pilot who now trains drone pilots.
Whereas in previous wars, pilots rarely caught glimpses of their target, as a Predator pilot Martin says he found himself using the aircraft`s camera to track individuals several thousand metres below on the ground.
Though he couldn`t make out an individual`s face, he says the images always were clear enough to see people and vehicles. "Over time, you get to recognize the difference between men and women, the difference between coalition troops who are wearing a lot of body armour or local civilians who aren`t,`` the news agency quoted him as saying.
To critics who say that the use of drones is changing rules of warfare and turning combat and killing the enemy into a high-tech video game, he says the UAVs are not mindless killing machines but are operated by crews who have certain rules to follow.
"War is not sport. The purpose of war is not or it shouldn`t be to achieve the emotional satisfaction of its participants. It ought to be to achieve a certain objective,`` he quoted as saying.
Martin says though the drones fly like an airplane, they are limited in manoeuvres and difficult to land.
"You don`t have any of the advantages you would if you were on board the aircraft. You don`t have any peripheral vision, you don`t feel the ground rush,`` he is quoted as saying.
But he doesn`t see the drones replacing manned aircraft in the near future.
"There`s a lot of things we can`t do with unmanned aircraft. We just happen to be in what we call a permissive environment; there`s no real significant air threats. We have air supremacy, so we have the luxury of keeping these airplanes which are not very manoeuverable, and leaving them over targets for a long period of time,`` he told the news agency.