Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hello Darling, How Was Your Day At Work Today?

"Hello darling, how was your day at work today?"

May be the question being asked by the spouses of the Reaper drone pilots.

The Syracuse Air National Guard at Hancock Field, New York is now operating Reaper drones from afar.

John Berry / The Post-Standard

The Reaper control station in Syracuse, New York operated by National Guardsmen, features a terminal with joy sticks and monitors. Master Sgt. Daniel Olmstead shows the seats where a pilot and a sensor operator sit at Hancock Airfield.


The following excerpts are taken from an article By Dave Tobin, of the Syracuse Post-Standard,December 07, 2009:

National Guardsmen pursue the enemy in Afghanistan with a joystick in Syracuse, carefully confirming targets, but distancing fighters from their foes.

Flight crews of the 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse now commute daily to war. Leaving their homes and families, they pass through the security gate at Hancock Airfield, park outside the Reaper operation center, swap computer stations with the previous shift and sometimes take over control of an armed, remote-controlled Reaper already cruising the sky over Afghanistan, 7,000 miles away.

The future of warfare has come to Central New York, changing the way war is fought. From a safe seat at a computer terminal in Syracuse, the unmanned flights can appear virtual. They are not.

Last Wednesday the guard announced that it was flying its first Reaper wartime missions around the clock. Commanders have been reticent to speak about the mission and pilots and crews asked not to be identified publicly.

The unit’s transition from flying F-16 fighter jets in theater to operating unmanned aircraft from the suburbs has assured the future of the base at Hancock Field. In 2008, former U.S. Rep. James Walsh, who helped land tens of millions of dollars in federal tax money for the base, marveled at the prospect of the coming capability: “The pilots could be literally fighting a war in Iraq and at the end of their shift go home and be playing with their kids in Camillus.”

Last week, it came to pass. The Syracuse Air National Guard unit is the first in the nation to fly the remotely controlled Reaper. The craft carries up to four anti-armor missiles and two 500-pound bombs.

Ground-based crews of Reapers can launch missiles and bombs, too, a capability that critics say further detaches pilots from their victims.

The Reaper “makes it a lot easier to kill,” said Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent who grew up in Syracuse. The Reaper has already changed the 174th Fighter Wing, of the unit’s 31 F-16 fighter pilots eleven took Reaper positions within the wing, swapping a pilot’s seat for a computer chair.

This year’s Air Force budget allotted $11 million to support Reaper operations at Hancock.

Reapers are flown with a four-person team: a pilot, a sensor operator (who controls and monitors what the Reaper cameras see), a communications expert and an intelligence expert. Currently all Reaper pilots with the 174th have actual flight experience and a commercial pilot’s license. The Air Force, however, is experimenting with a group of new Reaper pilots who have never flown a real plane.

“The training is really geared toward a younger generation that has experience operating video games,” said Lindsay Voss, a defense industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan. Unmanned drones are “basically operated with the kind of joystick you hook up with a PlayStation.”

Peace groups have protested outside the 174th's base. They say the technology makes war easier to initiate and makes the Syracuse base a target.


Military recruiters are targeting high school students, most of whom have years of experience playing computer games. Has anyone given thought to what will happen to these young drone ‘pilots’ when it hits them that they personally have killed many, many people.

Also, has anyone given thought to how we would feel knowing that drones are aimed at us in our homes by persons in another part of the world? I am sure that it will not take long for this to happen.

Does anyone else but me think that this is morally wrong? Please let me know your thoughts on this.


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