Dueling Views: Drones
On April 1, protesters were arrested outside of Creech Air Force Base in southern Nevada while blockading two of the base entrances. Eight veterans were arrested in the protests, which were held in response to the unmanned aircraft defense program located on the base. In light of this news, the Eagle’s Eye revisits the issue. Are drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia effective, and do they reflect principles of morality and justice?
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Jackson Heath – News Editor
On April 1, eight protesters (six of them veterans) gathered out front of Creech Air force Base in Nevada. It is home to one of the many military-run lethal drone programs that have been used in parts of the Middle East such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and other countries.
Military drones have been around as early as 1849, when Austria used an unmanned, bomb-filled balloon to attack Venice. But more recently, both the usage of military drones and private personal drones has skyrocketed to a point where serious discussion must be had. Where do we draw the line with both personal and military drone usage?
Starting with the military use of drones, the discussion begins with the lack of insight regarding drone strikes against innocent civilians. The major concern with drones is while the program may be working towards becoming more accurate, the amount of civilians left dead in the crossfire is concerning. In 2015, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that 81 civilians were left dead in the total 1441 killed in drone strikes. The same publication, alongside the New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, found that 522 strikes have killed 3,852 people, 476 of them civilians. These numbers however are considered rough estimates, as the government’s own willingness to release data sets on civilian casualties remains nearly non-existent. This lack of openness regarding civilians deaths is concerning. On April 1, Obama spoke about the drone program.
“What I can say with great confidence is that our operating procedures are as rigorous as they have ever been and that there is a constant evaluation of precisely what we do,” he said.
This leads us to personal usage. The rise of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has been rife with its own concerns. With very little regulation on these fairly new aircraft, UAS’s have started to crowd airspace with those whose own ability and knowledge of how to pilot such an aircraft is limited at best. The Federal Aviation Administration has come out with some loose rules recently to help control the booming popularity of drones, which are listed below:
- Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
- Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
- Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
- Don’t fly near people or stadiums
- Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
- Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft
The reason for many of these rules, like the 400 ft rule, are due to the fact that many drones can far exceed this limit which puts other aircraft in danger of a drone being sucked up into an engine intake or propeller. This is extremely dangerous and leaves the UAS operator with serious litigation to follow. Another issue is the rare, but very exploitable ability to spy on private property. While this can be used as a tool to uncover potential crimes and illegal activities in the right hands, it can be easily abused to spy on others in the privacy of their own home and backyard. This means more private footage could be potentially made available to the public.
Further regulations will need to be made, and a broader understanding of the impact of drone users should be a top priority for the military, commercial enterprise and the common hobbyist as UAS aircraft increase in popularity.
Meghan Herbst – Managing Editor
“The room is not necessarily a room, it’s like a trailer, like an 8 by 20 trailer,” said Brandon Bryant, a U.S. Air Force veteran and pilot who served as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011, in an interview with the news program Democracy Now.
Bryant piloted drone operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan during near daily 12 hour shifts, in which he said he and his fellow pilots were given a small break in between 4 hour stints of flying. He has spoken at length to the press about his involvement in the Predator program— an action that garnered heat from the Air Force administration.
“My goal in all of this is to talk about how these people aren’t killer robots. There aren’t unfeeling people behind this entire thing,” he said.
Over one thousand drone pilots operate remote aircraft from bases such as Creech Air Force Base in southern Nevada, Nellis and Beale Air Force bases, among others. Over half of these pilots and their support staff experience “high operational stress,” according to a study conducted by the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and drop-outs are occurring at record numbers during training.
“Think how you would feel if you were part of something that violated the constitution,” said Bryant. “I tried to get out multiple times and get a different job. I was consistently told that the needs of the Air Force come first, and so I did it. I buckled down and I did it. I did it as best as I could because I was afraid someone would come in and not do it as well, and I paid a spiritual and mental price for that, that people really discount because I didn’t have any physical injury.”
On April 1, over a dozen protestors, many of them veterans, were arrested outside of Creech Air Force Base while blockading the entrance in protest. A week-long mobilization known as “SHUT DOWN CREECH” follows these arrests, with over 100 participants from 20 states. Traffic was blocked to the main gate on April 1, followed by the second gate, resulting in diverted traffic and a back up at the third base entrance.
Pilots entered the heavily guarded confines of the base, and former pilots were escorted away in handcuffs. These veterans, however, free to object, ponder and violate orders, may not be the only ones in handcuffs, and this juxtaposition highlights the difficulty a U.S. airman (or soldier, or Marine, or sailor) faces when attempting to extricate him or herself from our vast network, our military-industrial surveillance-sphere.
We are all here, stuck in a sandy, 8 by 20 trailer.