The (grim) Reaper
May 19, 2009
The first symptoms of a cancer that might be starting in Central New York are now appearing. We refer to the plans to base drone aircraft at Hancock Field that are used for fighting the war in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. These drones, titled Reapers, are being pushed as the replacement craft for the 174th Air National Guard. The first plan is to base them here in Syracuse and fly them, through civilian airspace, to Camp Drum where they will be used for training purposes. Once they are in Camp Drum they will be armed and then flown by remote control from the base in Syracuse and put through their paces. They will then be flown back to Syracuse. This carries severe problems with safety since the drones will be flown by personnel outside the normal air traffic control procedures.
However another and more insidious problem is created by this program. The plan is to use the base in Syracuse to control drones that are based in the war zone and that would perform their deadly missions under the control of personnel here in Syracuse. Thus we bring the war directly into our homes. As former Congressman Walsh said: "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". This Vietnam era thinking must not be allowed to spread into Central New York. If this plan is allowed to go through then Hancock Field becomes a military installation and thus must be protected much more securely than at present. We must not allow the military to take over our country.
On May 15 we met with Mike Whyland at the Syracuse office of Representative Maffei to discuss this situation with him. He received us most cordially and referred us to Brian Shaffner who is in the Washington office and is more directly involved with the drone situation. In a follow up conference call, Mr. Shaffner too was most cordial and listened to our concerns. He pointed out that he had talked with the people at Sensis who are expected to be working on technological approaches to solving the myriad of problems that arise from the decision to fly the drones through civilian airspace. He reported that the people at Sensis felt they could come up with a solution. We of course question what they have in mind since any solution will require adding radiating equipment to the drones since by design they are supposed to be nearly invisible. Also, from our collective experience with working with DOD sponsored projects it is very rare that a vendor will turn down a project suggested by the military.We inquired of Mr. Shaffner if he knew what the basing situation is with regard to the drones that are currently flying along the border with Canada. He said that as far as he knew we have a unique situation in Syracuse. We expect he will keep us informed.It appears to us that this program to base drones and drone controllers in Syracuse has arisen with insufficient consideration of the long-term implications. It is obvious that the decision seems to be based upon the desire to fill the gap in the 174th when their F15s are decommissioned. But the economic problems encountered by this must be faced and not replaced with making Syracuse a base from which to conduct war. Another consideration mentioned by Mr. Shaffner was that the recruiting attraction presented by the 174th shouldn't be overlooked. But will 'The Drones from Syracuse' be an adequate replacement to 'The Boys from Syracuse'?
John D. BrulÈ John F. Jureller John V. Oldfield