By Mike Bridges
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Its flight is either controlled autonomously by computers within the vehicle, or under the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle.
UAVs or drones were once just considered simple hobby toys. They have quickly evolved into strategic killing machines becoming ever more sophisticated. According to a Congressional report, one-third of U.S. warplanes are now pilotless and that statistic will continue to rise. There are many variants of drones ranging from small hand-launched reconnaissance and spy drones to stealth bomber drones. The Air Force has also successfully tested the X-37B space drone. During its second classified mission, the X-37B piloted itself in orbit for 469 days before returning to Earth.
On Feb. 1, Peace Fresno teamed up with the Fresno Light Brigade. About 35 people came together on the corner of Blackstone and Nees holding a lighted message saying “NO DRONES.” These “Holders of the Light” came out to denounce our drone policies that are killing innocent men, women and children, which is actually helping to create much more support for extremists. Our loose drone policy has become a top recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda. Many people who have wrongfully lost the ones they love see no other outlet to stand up against our actions.
Beverly Fitzpatrick, president of Peace Fresno, says that
drone warfare has become the weapon of choice for the Obama administration’s war on terror. The first thing we can do is demand of the President and the Congress that the United States stop drone attacks worldwide and stop drone spying.
Peace Fresno has been working to educate and inform the citizens of Fresno. We have made our voices heard, through a letter writing campaign and signed petitions sent to President Obama. We brought Medea Benjamin to Fresno to discuss her book Drone Warfare, protested with Code Pink at Beale Air Force and joined the Fresno Light Brigade in the “NO DRONES” demonstrations.
Peace Fresno has made a commitment to continue to protest, locally and nationally, the use of drones. Members are looking forward to participating in the Anti-Drone Days of Action in San Diego this April.
Military drones have been lauded by proponents as being cheaper and more efficient than traditional aircraft. However, they are growing in size and complexity, resembling full-sized combat vehicles, which will drive costs higher. Britain’s new stealth drone, Taranis, can not only fly itself but also choose its own targets. The futuristic robot wars of science fiction are quickly becoming a science fact that almost seems inevitable.
Supporters also highlight the fact that remote operation allows the military to project force while avoiding the threat to our soldiers’ personal safety. Although they may prevent physical injury, a new level of mental trauma has been added as drone pilots are much more focused on up-close and personal video of the attack areas. More so than ever before pilots are seeing the collateral damage left behind from our policies, and that is leading to high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Innocent civilians are also suffering from PTSD.
Weddings, funerals and even schools are not immune from drone strikes. Many emergency workers will not go into an area where there has been a strike due to what is called a “double tap.” That’s where there is an air strike and when someone comes into the area to help they too are fired upon.
The low cost and ease of flying unmanned combat vehicles is helping to gray the lines of what a war zone is or isn’t. Thanks to the war on terror and the National Defense Authorization Act, the whole planet is now considered a war zone, including American soil. Three American citizens have already been killed abroad by drones without charge or trial, and some fear that will start happening in the United States as well. There has been elevated attention lately due to a recently released Obama administration memo claiming legality in assassinating American citizens.
There is a drastically increased demand for drones within our borders. The FAA has plans to allow 30,000 drones in U.S. airspace by 2020. Some of those vehicles will be used commercially and by government agencies such as the forest service. Others will be used by police and national security agencies for continuous 24/7 aerial surveillance, and some agencies want them armed with less lethal enforcement weapons too.
The video technology has made it possible for one drone to be able to monitor a 15-square-mile area while identifying and tracking pedestrians and automobiles as they move about in a city. From three miles in the air, one of the Argus drone’s 368 cameras, which total 1.8 billion pixels, can zoom in on a candy-bar-sized object on the ground. The data is also streamed and archived for future use. It was reported that one Argus drone had the surveillance ability of 100 Predator drones.
The states of California, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma all have legislation working to limit how drones can be used. Whether any of that legislation will pass or if it will have any teeth is another story.
Charlottesville, Va., in February became the first city to outlaw drones. The mayor of Seattle, Wash., along with the chief of police, decided to abandon their drone program due to public outcry and are returning their two unmanned vehicles to the vendors they bought them from. That is great news and a victory for those communities, but there is a long list of colleges, businesses and municipalities that are requesting drone permits, including Fresno State.
Police in Alameda County and San Diego are close to having drones of their own. So far, the Fresno Police Department denies any plans to acquire unmanned aerial vehicles.
Contact your federal, state, and local politicians to let them know your concerns about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Mike Bridges got his start in activism with Occupy Fresno in November 2011. He helped to start the local Overpass Light Brigade and is a member at large with Peace Fresno. He is still active with the international Occupy movement through social media. Contact him at 559-412-7852
CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004–2013
Total U.S. strikes: 364
Obama strikes: 312
Total reported killed: 2,640–3,474
Civilians reported killed: 473–893
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,270–1,433
U.S. Covert Action in Yemen 2002–2013
Total confirmed U.S. operations (all): 54–64
Total confirmed U.S. drone strikes: 42–52
Possible extra U.S. operations: 135–157
Possible extra U.S. drone strikes: 77–93
Total reported killed (all): 374–1,112
Total civilians killed (all): 72–178
Children killed (all): 27–37
U.S. Covert Action in Somalia 2007–2013
Total U.S. strikes: 10–23
Total U.S. drone strikes: 3–9
Total reported killed: 58–170
Civilians reported killed: 11–57
Children reported killed: 1–3
Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism