US Military wants Drones over Latin America

LATINO VOICES | JUNE 14, 2012

The U.S. Military is looking to relocate some of their predator drones, sending some to South and Central America, according to a new article in Wired Magazine.

As US forces come home from Afghanistan, the US military seems to have a surplus of predator drones — remotely operated unmanned aircraft vehicles often used to carry out attacks and intelligence gathering missions. Drones previously used in Afghanistan will be given to “operational missions by previously undeserved” commands, including those in the Pacific and in Southern America, according to Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Norton Schwartz. While the exact number of drones, which will be sent to Latin America remains unknown, the implications of their presence remain hotly contested.

Some question whether their presence in the region is even necessary or whether they will be effective in thwarting drug traffickers. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations told Wired Magazine that while the drones could help with spy missions in South America, there is no good reason to use their attack capabilities.

“There is no strategic rationale for the United States to be responding to the flow of drugs from Latin America with the tactical use of kinetic force against drug planes or boats you happen to be able to find, ” he said. Furthermore, Zenko noted that the drones might be better used for United Nations peacekeeping operations in regions like Southern Sudan.  “3,800 troops deployed right now for an [area] of 2,100 kilometers, with poor roads that wash out in the rainy season,” Zenko told Wired Magazine. “The deployment of these [spy] capabilities, and associated logistics and training infrastructure, would make a huge difference.”

Just days after the announcement that drone presence will be increased in Latin America, the Pew Research Center released a study suggesting that the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world. On Wednesday, Pew reported that in 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, “more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia,” according to The Associated Press. But a majority of Americans, 62 percent, approve the increased drone strikes.

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U.S. Drones to Confront China in the Pacific

Russia Today
May 17, 2011

The US military is working to develop drones capable of taking off from US Navy aircraft carriers based in the Pacific. Analysts say the primary goal will be to confront China.

They will play an integral role in our future operations in this region [Asia],” Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the US 7th Fleet in the Pacific and Indian oceans, told AP. “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.”

Land based drones are used frequently by the US military, especially in tactical operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Sea based drones are still in development, with the first tests having been conducted earlier this year.

While a counter-balance to China has not been mentioned by the Pentagon directly, most analysts and experts see the development of sea based drones as a weapon of choice against rising Chinese military power.

Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles — aerial and subsurface — are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security told AP.

While China’s military is still smaller and less sophisticated than America’s, its growth potential has caused the US to pay greater attention. The development of drones for aircraft carriers is evidence the US Navy is seeking new weapons and strategies for future defense tactics with China and others in mind.

Currently carrier based fighter jets must take off from about 500 nautical miles from their target, leaving the carrier ships within range of land based missiles. Drones however would be able to operate as far out as 1,500 nautical miles from the carrier, putting the ships out of range.

Introducing a new aircraft that promises to let the strike group do its work from beyond the maximum effective firing range of the anti-ship ballistic missile — or beyond its range entirely — represents a considerable boost in defensive potential for the carrier strike group,” explained James Holmes of the US Naval War College.

Drones, if they work, are just the next tech leap. As long as there is a need for tactical aviation launched from the sea, carriers will be useful weapons of war,” commented Ret. Read Adm. Michael McDevitt.

The currently timeline has operational drones on ships by 2018. Some in the US Navy however want them much faster.

Seriously, we’ve got to have a sense of urgency about getting this stuff out there,” Adm. Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations said. “It could fundamentally change how we think of naval aviation.”

Roughhead feels the 2018 timeline is “too damn slow.”

Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Lockheed Martin are all working to develop sea based drones.

Northrop Grumman was the first to launch a successful test flight of their X-47B prototype from the ground. Sea based testing is set for sometime in 2013.