Hunter Killer | Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley with Kevin Maurer

Kernel Deb, never one to skip out on a challenge goes from reviewing a romance novel to reviewing a scientific book that analyzes “chance” to now reviewing a book on done warfare, and the odd thing is she was hired as our children’s book reviewer hahaha. When people talk about their favourite book genres, most people have one they prefer, Deb just laughs and says “what ya got?” – she would fit into the broad category of book love. Deb reviews HUNTER KILLER BY HUNTER KILLER: INSIDE THE LETHAL WORLD OF DRONE WARFARE by Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley and journalist Kevin Maurer – from reading the review I have one big question – if the navy is so against calling them “drones” due to the fear they elicit – why does the book have the word “drone” in the actual title? HUNTER KILLER is out now from the peeps at Allen & Unwin Book Publishers, you should find this one in most commercial bookstores or you can obtain it HERE. Enjoy Deb’s thoughts……..all the best……..JK.


In HUNTER KILLER retired intelligence officer and pilot, Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley, and journalist Kevin Maurer chart the transition of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) from voyeurs to strike mission tools. These remotely piloted aircraft are the long arm of the United States Military, capable of attacking high value targets from abroad. The book is largely a first person account as McCurley accrued more than 1000 combat hours in Remote Piloted Aircraft, the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. McCurley describes his early training as a pilot, hours in theatre as an RPA pilot, his later roles in training and operations, and eventually his rise to become first commander of newly activated 60th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron: the squadron that was instrumental in the killing of alleged al-Qaeda terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki.


hunter killer book cover image


HUNTER KILLER makes it clear that the Airforce does not like the term drones, because they feel it invokes fear and misunderstanding. The technology controlling the remotely piloted aircraft is not robotic or autonomous. Remotely controlled aircraft follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations when in the United States, and comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisations rules when operating overseas. They generally fly at heights below commercial aircraft to avoid disrupting commercial aviation services. McCurley stresses repeatedly that remotely piloted aircraft have human links at all times. These aircraft cannot shoot without a pilot pulling the trigger. Kills cannot occur without a pilot complying with strict rules of engagement before a strike clearance is issued.

According to McCurley the mundane domesticity of terrorist targets is nothing like hunting James Bond super-villains ensconced in massive fortified hideouts. The terrorists stay close to women and children, move with civilians when possible, and sometimes wear female clothing to reduce detection. In essence they use western rules of civility to protect themselves. The Predator pilots get to know their target’s appearance, where their children go to school, where their wives do the laundry, their associates, and after a strike, see the graphic details of the aftermath.

McCurley points out that whilst remotely piloted aircraft remove the physical risks to their human operators, they do not remove the potential for psychological trauma. The Predator pilots and sensors live with the high definition images of war. They vicariously experience the death of United State troops when improvised explosive devices explode; they observe the Taliban executions of spies when rules of engagement preclude defence or rescue; and when combat does occur, they are often killing targets they have become intimately familiar with, having followed them for months. Such images can be seared into their memories.


Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley
Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley – Photo Credit is Unknown


HUNTER KILLER also describes several other ways in which the remotely piloted aircraft are shaping warfare. For example, bombs have different pulse repetition frequency codes. These are mechanisms embedded in laser beams that bombs hone in on. Usually fighter aircraft use their own laser pulse repetition codes, but if there is no visual contact with the target, they cannot hone in. The RPA aircraft such as the Predators can laser for other fighter aircraft via a process called “Buddy lase”. The RPA can thus augment the strike capability of other units. In addition to buddy lase, the engine noise of the RPA is often used as a deterrent to enemy activity and their highly detailed imagery and intelligence is used by other combat forces to plan incursions.

Remotely piloted aircraft have certainly evolved from the first generation of Predators that flew in Kosovo and South West Asia in 1990. The Predators are susceptible to heat stress. Light rain and ice can short out their avionics, and their carbon fibre bodies are highly carcinogenic if fractured into individual fibres. However advances in materials and avionics have spawned remotely piloted aircraft of all sizes, from small Ravens to colossal Global Hawks. Some of these craft do reconnaissance, others fly high over their targets and collect strategic intelligence, whilst others actively assist strikes against enemy targets. Their relatively low expense (in comparison to other manned combat fighters), safety record, and ability to reduce human risk exposure, means that remotely piloted aircraft are beginning to dominate the Airforce flying hours. This means their deployment to active warzones including Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations is now commonplace.

HUNTER KILLER is intended for audiences interested in counter-terrorism and special operations forces. For a lay-reader with limited interest in this topic, reading this book is like long hours in the remote pilot aircraft theatre, each chapter launching, and landing, in-between there is a constant stream of military acronyms which require attention and effort to decipher. The intense detail is monotonous with only brief segments of action.

The Predator and the other remotely controlled aircraft are undoubtedly valuable tools in combating terrorism and the roles of these aircraft are expanding as time progresses. What is clear in HUNTER KILLER is how remotely piloted aircraft are revolutionising warfare by both augmenting existing Airforce capabilities and superseding previous limitations.


2 and a Half Pops


Deborah is a lifelong lover of books, food, TV and film with a penchant for schlock horror, superheroes, science fiction, black comedy and Asian martial arts stars. She would prefer to skydive than couch surf and is a fan of zombie walks. She can be found plugged into podcasts on long walks with her dog.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.