Drones over Afghanistan controlled from U.S.
Published Dec 23, 2009 12:53 PM
The United States had 167 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in 2002 and
more than 6,000 in 2008. This jump is due to their military advantages: skilled
pilots don't have to take risks; drones can stay airborne for tens of
hours; and they cost much less than a fighter plane, so it's less of a loss
if they crash or are destroyed. Drones are a major part of a U.S. military
initiative to replace and supplement soldiers with computers.
Especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where U.S. opponents don't
have any air defenses, drones are particularly effective, cruising around until
their target appears and then carrying out the strike.
Drones have another big plus -- they can be controlled from the U.S., even
if physically they are based in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The CIA uses U.S. Air
Force pilots based at Creech Airfield in Nevada in its drone-focused hunt for
al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan. (wired.com)
The Pentagon has picked up on the concept of U.S.-based controllers. In
Syracuse, N.Y., the 174th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit based at
Hancock Airfield, is controlling Reaper drones targeted against the Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Syracuse Post-Standard, Dec. 7)
This wing has already had at least one deployment to Iraq, but now its
pilots can have a normal home life even though their day job is killing people
or providing intelligence for other forces to kill them.
While the Taliban and al-Qaida don't have air-defense systems, they do
have SkyGrabber, a $25.95 piece of software that has let them capture video
feeds from the U.S. drones in the area. Getting this information caused the
U.S. a great deal of worry.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quickly announced
that these transmissions were going to be encrypted. (Christian Science
Monitor, Dec. 17) The market for drones amounts to $4.4 billion a year and U.S.
corporations control more than 70 percent of it. (Le Monde Diplomatique, Dec
The Pentagon has also had to worry about growing political protests in the
U.S. Code Pink has had protests at Creech and the Syracuse Peace Council has
had them at Hancock. As opposition to the war in Afghanistan grows, so will
protests at these bases and elsewhere.
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