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Future War

The MQ-9 Reaper uses a multi-spectral assembly during a mission. The assembly provides infrared sensor capability, color/monochrome daylight video and image-intensified video. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kristi Machado)

The MQ-9 Reaper uses a multi-spectral assembly during a mission. The assembly provides infrared sensor capability, color/monochrome daylight video and image-intensified video. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kristi Machado)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a mission. Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a mission. Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down a runway in Afghanistan. During operations July 15, a Reaper released several guided bomb unit-12's on possible improvised explosive devices located in a roadway near Qalat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down a runway in Afghanistan. During operations July 15, a Reaper released several guided bomb unit-12's on possible improvised explosive devices located in a roadway near Qalat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

A MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Reaper has the ability to carry both precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

A MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Reaper has the ability to carry both precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down a runway in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down a runway in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter Oct. 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a mission. Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter Oct. 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a mission. Larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper can carry up to 3,750 pounds of laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- I remember as a child, waking up early Saturday mornings and groggily walking out to the sun room of my parents' house. My father would be sitting in a Polynesian-style chair, drinking his morning cup of coffee.

We used to talk, my father and I, about everything under the sun. Mostly, he would do the talking while I fought to keep my ever-waning attention span in check.

I love my father, but at some point the brain shuts down during what I called "Dad's four-hour dissertations."

However, despite being a smart-mouthed kid, I did walk away from several of those talks with a little more wisdom than I'd previously had. There was one morning in particular when he talked about something that I would never forget.

"The wars of the future will be won by the military that commits its live forces last," my father told me.

At the time I didn't know what he meant by that. But now, having seen the direction the Air Force is going, I understand all too well.

We live in exciting times. The technology to wage war has evolved so much in such a short time, it's astounding. The Air Force has gone from using remotely piloted aircraft strictly as reconnaissance planes to creating a truly awe-inspiring weapon that can complete a variety of missions at virtually no risk to friendly forces.

I'll be the first to admit that I was slow to jump on the RPA bandwagon. I saw it as another way to desensitize war. But, as I thought about it I realized that RPA's don't remove the humanity and personal responsibility from warfare. On the contrary, they preserve it.

The RPA pilots operate with the skill and dedication of a warrior, while observing and respecting the Law of Armed Conflict which governs our conduct on the battlefield.

We have a sworn duty to defend our country from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. But, we also have a responsibility to protect the lives of our brothers and sisters in arms. With the RPA program, we can strive to do both at the same time.

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