Book Review: 'Hunter Killer: Inside America's Unmanned Air War'

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lt. Col. T. Mark McCurley. Dutton, 347 pp. $28

If I could be frank, I looked at the cover and dust jacket of Lt. Col. T. Mark McCurley's memoir, "Hunter Killer: Inside America's Unmanned Air War" and I didn't think I would get far into it. Military books just don't interest me, largely because I'm not part of that world and I don't understand the intricacies of it, so it's hard for me to get engaged.

But "Hunter Killer" is not a history of remotely piloted aircraft (commonly known as "drones," although McCurley notes they are different), nor is it an account of the mission to take down terrorists across the world, including American-born Anwar Al-Awlaki. These are certainly included in the book, but "Hunter Killer" is, first and foremost, a memoir.

Back in 2003, when McCurley began training in the Predator program as part of the United States Air Force, the assumption was that officers stayed with their aircraft for their entire career. McCurley prefered to "deviate from the normal, expected path and bounce from aircraft to aircraft with each assignment." In addition, Predators were considered, at the time, to be "for chumps."

"Most Predator pilots had been forced out of other programs because they had damaged the Air Force's manned aircraft or failed to meet the technical or professional standards laid out for each aircraft," McCurley writes. "Few were there because I wanted to be. I was one of only four volunteers."

At the time, he did not know that Predators, and other RPAs, were on the edge of huge military usage and impact. All he knew was that he wanted to be in the fight, and due to some time he spent as an intelligence officer, he would not otherwise get to be a fighter pilot. This was his chance to be involved in the way he wanted to be.

"Hunter Killer" is written with technical respect to McCurley's position and to the military and equipment involved, but in a simple manner that translates easily to civilian readers. McCurley tells stories, of himself as a young pilot and of his crew's missions against terrorists. It hardly needs to be said that a book like this would appeal to someone with military knowledge and interests, but I think it's an accomplishment that "Hunter Killer" can appeal to anyone else, as well.

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