There is enough concern already over the number of unmanned drones that will be in American airspace over the next decade. I’ve written about how the federal government is aiming to bring 30,000 into our skies by 2020. However, to have that many unmanned drones in the air will require a significant number of pilots to fly them. We are now getting the information on how this is being done and it directly affects every American citizen.
Holloman Air Force Base is now the big training facility for drone pilots. The New York Times reports,
Today many of the pilots at Holloman never get off the ground. The base has been converted into the U.S. Air Force’s primary training center for drone operators, where pilots spend their days in sand-colored trailers near a runway from which their planes take off without them. Inside each trailer, a pilot flies his plane from a padded chair, using a joystick and throttle, as his partner, the “sensor operator,” focuses on the grainy images moving across a video screen, directing missiles to their targets with a laser.
The reporter then went on to describe what he saw in terms of training:
When I visited the base earlier this year with a small group of reporters, we were taken into a command post where a large flat-screen television was broadcasting a video feed from a drone flying overhead. It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what we were looking at. A white S.U.V. traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs in the center of the screen and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road. When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.
“Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?” a reporter asked. One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.
Yeah that can seem like a real problem I’m guessing. In fact, prior to this report, it was things just like this, and I’m speaking of the slippery slope argument, that brought conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer to declare, concerning drones in the U.S., “Stop it here. Stop it now.” Krauthammer went on to say that “I am predicting that the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.”
These pilots are trained in less than two years, which makes the program more efficient than other pilots who were trained traditionally since drone pilots do not have to follow the same training. Also the drones are far less expensive than a traditional aircraft. Additionally the Air Force saves millions of dollars by not having to send pilots overseas. There are lots of reasons to like these vehicles and the program in a warfare operation. There are no reasons for them to be used by the U.S. military over U.S. airspace.
Not only are these training missions being conducted by following and tracking civilian vehicles, but these pilots also conduct their missions in such places as Afghanistan from the comfort of a chair in America. This is where the efficiency of the program really costs. Again the NYT reports,
Pilots have flown missions over Afghanistan in the morning, stopped for lunch, fought the Iraq war in the afternoon and then driven home in time for dinner. Lt. Col Matt Martin, formerly a trainer at Holloman, wrote about the disorienting experience of toggling among different war zones in a memoir, “Predator,” calling the experience “enough to make a Predator pilot schizophrenic.”
Some might consider it nothing more than playing a video game, but apparently the pilots realize that when they are using these drones to execute people it’s definitely real to them. One pilot said “We’re not just playing video games here.”
The U.S. has three different drone programs. The first is the one publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon that we currently see on display in Afghanistan and Iraq. The other two are classified and run by the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. These last two are the really frightening divisions as they maintain the lists of those people who have been targeted for killing.
In my opinion, training on civilians in the U.S. is just a step at desensitizing the use of these aircraft against the American public should it be decided by the powers above to do so. There are plenty of military alternatives.
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