We may be pulling people out of war zones, but our dependence on robotic weapons systems is growing rapidly, with sales of drone related technology rising significantly over the last decade, and especially in the last year. According to the CEO of AeroVironment, a government contracted drone manufacturer, sales “actually increased as troops were drawn down from Iraq, supporting our notion that a drawdown is not necessarily unfavorable to our business.”
A Congressional report obtained by Wired Danger Room says that unmanned surveillance and strike technology in use by the military has been growing exponentially over just the last several years:
Remember when the military actually put human beings in the cockpits of its planes? They still do, but in far fewer numbers. According to a new congressional report acquired by Danger Room, drones now account for 31 percent of all military aircraft.
To be fair, lots of those drones are tiny flying spies, like the Army’s Raven, that could never accommodate even the most diminutive pilot. (Specifically, the Army has 5,346 Ravens, making it the most numerous military drone by far.) But in 2005, only five percent of military aircraft were robots, a report by the Congressional Research Service notes. Barely seven years later, the military has 7,494 drones. Total number of old school, manned aircraft: 10,767 planes.
A small sliver of those nearly 7,500 drones gets all of the attention. The military owns 161 Predators — the iconic flying strike drone used over Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere — and Reapers, the Predator’s bigger, better-armed brother.
But even as the military’s bought a ton of drones in the past few years, the Pentagon spends much, much more money on planes with people in them. Manned aircraft still get 92 percent of the Pentagon’s aircraft procurement money. Still, since 2001, the military has spent $26 billion on drones, the report — our Document of the Day — finds.
When President Obama announced that he was scaling down troop levels in the middle east citing success, cost, and the need to focus more on protecting the homeland, what much of the mainstream media failed to report is that the new military planning strategy under Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is the expansion of our capabilities and influence in Asia. This particular deployment of military assets, however, is unprecedented in its scope:
The U.S. military has become so concerned at China’s rapidly growing arsenal of anti-access and area-denial weapons that just over two years ago it authorized the navy and air force to collaborate on ways to off-set the Chinese challenge to America’s capacity to project power and sustain its alliances and military partnerships in Asia.
To move out of harm’s way, the United States aims to deploy sea-based drones on its aircraft carriers in the Pacific by 2018. “They will play an integral part in our future operations in this region,” according to Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Pacific and Indian oceans. “Carrier-based unmanned aircraft systems have tremendous potential, especially in increasing the range and persistence of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, as well as our ability to strike targets quickly.”
At present, jet fighters and bombers on U.S. carriers must take off within 800 km of their target, leaving the carriers within range of land-based missiles and combat aircraft. However, the new generation of sea-based drones being developed by the U.S. could operate as far as 2,500 km from the carrier, putting the ships out of range.
Source: Maritime Security
The popularity of a technology capable of seeing targets by their heat signature, zooming in on situations-of-interest from thousands of feet in the air, and the ability to kill or disable those targets when necessary is no longer restricted to just the U.S. Department of Defense.
It has also been tempting the domestic law enforcement sector, which by some accounts is now considered by the Department of Homeland Security and Congress as the new battlefield against terrorism. The FAA recently granted approval for widespread use of drones over U.S. airspace, and local sheriff’s offices and metropolitan areas are now regularly deploying re-purposed drones from the middle east theater of war to their localities in the interest of maintaining safety, security and a watchful eye over the American people. Since, according to DHS chief Janet Napolitano, the terrorist threat has “shifted” to lone wolf attackers living in the United States, domestic deployment of military drone technology has and will continue to increase.
With the success of robotic ‘soldiers’ on the battlefields of the middle east and north Africa, and the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act solidifying government’s seal of approval for domestic war-time and surveillance operations, Americans can expect that our own law enforcement fleets will soon see marked increases in the use of these weapons and technologies.
The only question now, it seems, is who is flying these unmanned vehicles over America?
Any drone flying over 400 feet needs a certification or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the DOT. But there is currently no information available to the public about who specifically has obtained these authorizations or for what purposes. EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April of 2011 for records of unmanned aircraft activities, but the DOT so far has failed to provide the information.
“Drones give the government and other unmanned aircraft operators a powerful new surveillance tool to gather extensive and intrusive data on Americans’ movements and activities,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. “As the government begins to make policy decisions about the use of these aircraft, the public needs to know more about how and why these drones are being used to surveil United States citizens.”
Due to the secret nature of these local law enforcement operations, for all we know these vehicles are being operated by military personnel, which would suggest that the US military has already been deployed over the streets of America.