Coming Soon to a Base Near You! Drone Hangars!

The House Armed Services Committee Mark-Up for next year’s Defense Authorization is out. And it includes funds to build drone hangars at four bases in the Continental US. The bases are–with images showing how far a Predator drone might be able to fly with its 2,300 mile range–are below:

Fort Riley, KS ($60 million)

Fort Campbell, KY ($67 million)

Fort Bragg, NC ($54 million)

Fort Hood, TX ($47 million)

Congratulations California! You seem to be slightly out of range of these new drone hangars.

Mind you, these aren’t the domestic drones you’re looking for. The domestic drones–piloted by the Air National Guard at Fort Drum, NY to monitor black bears in the Adirondacks–just cover the East coast. These drones probably won’t have a domestic purpose.

Still, with members of Congress itching to approve drone overflight in the name of job-creation, how long will it be before we see drones overhead?

  1. emptywheel says:

    So apparently these are Special Forces drones, so not allowed ot be used against Americans in “the homeland” yet. Just against Americans like Anwar al-Awlaki, apparently.

  2. JohnLopresti says:

    Maybe former state senator Joe Dunn helped CA be off the list; he was an enduring champion of privacy rights and free expression. I could imagine Duke Cunningham lobbying to add CA to the list; anything that flies; but I think Duke was decommissioned for a while; not sure what he might be doing now.

  3. Peregwyn says:

    Is it just me or does it seem the locations are surrounding the Southeastern quadrant of the US?

  4. rugger9 says:

    I for one can’t wait to see what SCOTUS cases arise from the drone use vs. the 4th Amendment. I’m sure all sorts of useful electronic goodies can be rigged onto these platforms. It would be a variation on the stuff the cops already do outside of houses and tapping and the like.

    While I’m sure there are burrowed Bushies crazy enough to arm these, it would be a huge outcry if we had the usual level of damage in the USA as we see overseas from the Hellfires. Unless of course the victims are, ahem, brown. Otherwise, one wonders (as does Manning) when the trial is/was held.

  5. mzchief says:

    Maybe this is how the drone hangers came into being and got sited (hat tip Corrente.Com and lambert, May 8, 2011)?

    Polls have shown a boost in Obama’s support in the days since the raid, and his re-election campaign was eager to draw attention to the interview.

    Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, emailed Obama supporters encouraging them to watch the program. The note included a link to a listing of all of the network’s local affiliates around the country – and another one requesting donations to the president’s re-election effort.

    (excerpt from “Obama ’60 Minutes’ Interview: Osama Had Support In Pakistan,” by Associated Press, May 8, 2011)

  6. MadDog says:

    …The bases are–with images showing how far a Predator drone might be able to fly with its 2,300 mile range

    As you indicate, this assumes the UAVs are Predator drones. However, if one assumes that the UAVs are Reaper drones, then the range increases to 3,682 miles.

    And there is already a Homeland Security version of the Reaper. 6 have already been deployed as of a year ago:

    …U.S. Customs and Border Protection has six operational MQ-9s.[29] One based in North Dakota, at the UAS Operations Center in Grand Forks, four in Arizona, at the UAS Operations Center in Sierra Vista and one based at Fort Drum, N.Y.[30]…

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      As suspected, these are additional sites. Putting them in the public budget would then seem part of normalizing their domestic use. After all, if Congress objected to such use, it wouldn’t specifically authorize the establishment of bases strategically placed so as to blanket the entire country.

      I wonder where we will locate the server farms to store, process and analyze all that new data.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It $60-70 million is the marginal cost of building hangars at existing bases, then we’re planning on spending ten to a hundred times that on acquiring the drones, operating and maintaining them and their hangars, maintenance sheds, planning and ops, fueling, arming – and surveillance equipment and software. And that’s ignoring black budget drones and drone locations and operations that aren’t in the public budget.

    A few random observations. With these four “initial” bases, the West Coast seems less interesting than eastern population centers. I would expect additional sites are or will be established in eastern Washington and southern California, to cover borders, population centers, ports, mineral extraction sites, military and “important” corporate installations.

    Domestic law enforcement is being federalized and all the toys of war and control will be experimented with here. When police feel free to taser a suspect already hand-cuffed and in the back of the police cruiser, meaning he’s no practical threat even to himself – and which leads to the detainee’s death – there isn’t a lot of restraint left in the system.

    • MadDog says:

      …I would expect additional sites are or will be established in eastern Washington and southern California, to cover borders, population centers, ports, mineral extraction sites, military and “important” corporate installations.

      Like the US Special Operations Command Camp Roberts site midway up the California coast?

    • PJEvans says:

      also Oregon and northern California – these drones seem to have limits on what they can fly over/around/through. Also, southern Oregon and northern Californa would need a couple of hangars so they can check the crops for the DEA’s enforcement program.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Indeed. While drones may have the speed, altitude and endurance to fly over myriad mountains in the Rockies, Cascades, Sierras, etc., unless you’re looking for something in them, doing so wastes fuel and keeps surveillance gear idle, not something you want to do when the initial, unsupported, unfueled, unpiloted cost is $100 million for the big guys and a good percentage of that for the “smaller” ones.

  8. john in sacramento says:

    Congratulations California! You seem to be slightly out of range of these new drone hangars.

    But the pilots are here

    May 09 UAV PILOT II General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Palmdale, CA

    Serves as Pilot-in-Command (PIC) of assigned Unmanned Air Vehicle(s) (UAV) … DESIRABLE QUALIFICATIONS: Currently qualified UAV Pilot on the Predator/MQ-… more

    May 09 UAV PILOT I General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Palmdale, CA

    Serves as Pilot-in-Command (PIC) of assigned Unmanned Air Vehicle(s) (UAV) … demonstrate a basic understanding of UAV and FAA principles, theories and… more


    May 09 UAV PILOT III General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Palmdale, CA

    Serves as Pilot-in-Command (PIC) of assigned Unmanned Air Vehicle(s) (UAV) … DESIRABLE QUALIFICATIONS: Currently qualified UAV Pilot on the Predator/MQ-… more

    That sounds 100% correct. I used to live in Palmdale, not that far from the Skunk Works. Although the Skunk Works is Lockheed Martin, most of the MIC has offices and test sites there

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Interesting that such a volatile quote survives in Wiki:

    Then U.S. Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, “We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

    It comes just after a reference to the New York State National Guard’s conversion from “piloting” F-16’s to MQ-9’s. Just what we need to guard the shores of Lakes Ontario and Champlain from the Canucks (and Vermonters), and to protect the citizens upstate should the Erie Canal crest above flood stage.

    And what’s not to like about unmanned drones hovering over parts of the five boroughs that Steven Seagal would be afraid to police, even if they were under siege? If they could listen in on banksters’ boardrooms, they would be more likely to stop vast crimes and conspiracies than if they were busy photographing street drug deals or vegans on the march to Midtown.

  10. croyal says:

    Infrastructure! Jobs! Investing in America! Keeping America safe!

    I’m telling you guys, we might as well remove the 50 stars from the flag and replace it with an icon of a Predator drone.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    And then there is Northrop’s new, improved, Firebird, “pilot-optional” aircraft.

    One of the last aircraft designs overseen by Burt Rutan who retired in April 2011, Firebird is a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance aircraft designed to fly upto 40 hours at a top speed of 230 mph at an altitude of 30,000 feet….It can simultaneously view infrared imagery, gather real time high definition video, use radar and eavesdrop on communications. The aircraft has hardpoints to carry weapons though it is currently unarmed. [Emphasis added.]

    Preliminary specifications; engine and, therefore, performance specs are subject to change:

    Wingspan: 65′
    Length: 34′
    Height: 9.7′
    Engine: Lycoming TEP-540, pusher-type (300-350 hp)
    Max Takeoff Weight: 5,000 lbs.
    Cruise altitude: 30,000′
    Endurance: 40 hrs.
    Max. speed: 230 mph

    In an Aviation Week article, Rick Crooks, the Firebird project’s chief engineer, describes the three different surveillance technologies the Firebird can carry:

    high-definition full-motion video (FMV), electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR), and synthetic aperture radar.

    A picture of the Firebird is here. Remember the acronym, MALE – medium altitude enhanced endurance (flight time) – aircraft. It’s the shape of drones to come. Crooks describes the Firebird’s mission capabilities this way:

    “Firebird is an adaptable system that makes it highly affordable because of the number of different missions it can accomplish during a single flight,” he said. “It’s a real game changer.”

    Crooks also sees the Firebird appealing to law-enforcement organizations for surveillance and government agencies that need spy planes to assess damage after natural disasters [among less salubrious uses].

    But the ideal customer is the military. Northrop would like the Firebird to join the military’s growing fleet of robotic spy planes.

    Northrop also makes a higher, faster flying, jet-powered drone, the Global Hawk. Needless to say, its production costs have soared over initial “estimates”. They now cost about $100 million each. But we can’t afford unemployed compensation or to maintain Social Security or Medicare payments.

    I found this item – buried in the middle of the LA Times article – most interesting of all:

    Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he wants to increase the number of 24-hour drone patrols to 65 a day by 2013 from 39 currently.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I liked Crooks’ example, presumably focus group-tested, of using MALE aircraft (where is Freud or punaise when you need them) for post-natural disaster surveillance. That must have been the least objectionable use his marketing team could think of. I imagine his team gave him other examples for use with his military and intel customers.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The Viagra analogies must have been getting to me. MALE stands for medium altitude “long” (not “enhanced”) endurance aircraft.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Drones will cut the need for a few of those warrants, too.

      Courts have previously barred police from the warrantless use of infrared cameras to record residential heat signatures for the purpose of trolling for excess heat sources presumed to be lights for growing pot.

      When even better infrared cameras are flying high and are used by the military or intelligence services or their outsourced contractors, how will citizens or the courts know of such uses in order to ban them?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          “Act of war” anyone? The Mexicans won’t take kindly to that, even if their government reluctantly gives individual or blanket approvals for such missions. It is a wholesale relinquishment of sovereignty, allowing a foreign “police” function to operate freely and unchecked inside one’s borders.

          Then there are the inevitable problems with weather, intel, piloting, equipment. It would be harder to make unsupported claims that “collateral damage” was limited to unintended Taliban or insurgent targets, though governments will try. More likely, the US will seek or confer blanket immunity on their operators, an assertion of power – not the law – that ought not to go unchecked.

          • bmaz says:

            The implications are enormous and incredible. But I swear, I think we are headed in that direction. For one, we need to manufacture, sell and use this lovely military equipment. Secondly, there is the war on brown that has been growing in the US coupled with what truly is becoming a lawless state in several parts of Northern Mexico. I have seen calls already to send drones into Mexico to curb drug gang violence. The current Mexican government may be about ready to agree to it too. It is such a natural steo for the ever advancing military state if you think about it. Hope I am wrong in this thought.

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              There are the obvious implications in their domestic use, even if they remain “unarmed”. (Their armed domestic use doesn’t bear thinking about.)

              Drones’ multiple observational technologies will be several more nails in the lid of the coffin in which lies the Fourth Amendment. We won’t know we’re being “observed” or through what technologies. Nor will we be able to distinguish among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, the US military and civilian intel agencies, and their plethora of private contractors. As for Congressional or regulatory oversight, what’s that?

              Inquiries seeking such information are likely to run into a stonewall of state secrets claims. Congress will roll over and issue immunities, as it did in the telecoms cases, but overriding state as well as federal law and constitutional guarantees in the process. The courts, facing years of “normalization” efforts and two more decades of a Roberts Supreme Court, will be of limited and inconsistent aid.

              The world and the US have never been more in need of investigative reporting and publication. No wonder Team Obama is on the war path against WikiLeaks and whistleblowers alike. They might expose and put at risk the illicit power and money the surveillance state already generates – and the accompanying loss of civil liberties – even at this nascent stage in its development, about the equivalent of Henry Ford’s Model A.

              Given the power of blogs, it is also little wonder that Team Obama are working hard to require the issuance of a mandatory personal license with which to roam the Internets.

              And that’s just the state’s intrusion into what’s left of our personal lives. Civilian corporate intrusions continue along a separate track, such as who owns, accesses and commercializes the plethora of data your gps-equipped cell phone, computer and car generate. No worries; if you haven’t done or thought about anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.

              Future social and legal historians will have to delve into the archives and their imaginations to ponder – as if they were unearthed shards of long forgotten pottery – what was once meant by “privacy” and “anonymity”.

  12. tejanarusa says:

    Oh, goodie, Ft. Hood. At least it isn’t down the street at Ft. Sam Houston or a little way east at Randolph AFB, but it’s well within the 2300 miles.

    sigh. I guess there was no way Texas woudln’t have one of these bases. No doubt Ft. Hood will be good for border patrolling./s

  13. orionATL says:

    one pole, one end of the spectrum of opinion on such an issue as drone bases within the u. s.,

    is that, as i have learned from years of learning (sic) at emptywheel,

    is that the american military is forbidden to operate inside the nation.

    but then,

    but then,

    there have been exceptions, e. g., shooting down aircraft that pose a danger.

    the use of army or navy within the u.s. should be relatively easy to detect – well, ok, there are the trained killer units, delta force and seals.

    ditto the air force.

    but drones?

    drones with cameras?

    we have tolerated air force bases and air force training flights since the days of the army air force,

    but we knew they were training flights – no cannons used, no bombs dropped.

    but how do we citizens know when a camera-equipped u.s. military drone is just practicing flying,

    and when it is doing surveillance under the guise of practicing?

    or do we have any right to know?

    short answer – we don’t.


    back to that one end of the continuum of argument:

    the u.s. military are prohibited by law from operating within the united states.

    uh oh,

    i just got a whiff of the smell of telecom immunity.

  14. nwreader says:

    I saw a video where the Houston police have new drones and they were furious the news got wind of it and showed it on TV. I don’t remember exactly how I found it, but the drones were clearly shown on youtube. This was about late March 2011.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Mini-drones, kite-sized, which makes them quiet and hard to spot at even several hundred feet. Presumably, they will have long endurance and mini-me surveillance gear.

      What will they be looking for? That may be the wrong question. The demands for corporate profits, outsourcing and secret power being what they are, when drone flights are 24/7, the answer will be what will they not be looking for.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Then there’s this My FDL article about the Treasury aggressively using the Foreign Assets Control laws to put a hold on the personal funds of domestic supporters of Islam and possibly union activists.

  16. bobschacht says:

    Still, with members of Congress itching to approve drone overflight in the name of job-creation, how long will it be before we see drones overhead?

    It’s already happening, according to the Prez in his speech in El Paso today. He sez they’re watching the border from Texas to California.

    Bob in AZ