Death-dealing drones buzzing above may be a constant worry for militants in far-flung lands, but now more of America’s aerial assassins and their spying compatriots could be coming to your backyard — just for testing and training, according to the Department of Defense.
The military has identified 110 potential bases for drone operations at military installations in 39 states, from Georgia to California, according to a new Defense Department report dated April 2012 and published online late last week by the Federation of American Scientists. The U.S. bases could support all kinds of drones, from the deadly, missile-capable Predators to the next-generation surveillance Global Hawks.
Drone testing and operator training are already done in the U.S., but the report noted that the “strong demand” from the military’s various branches for expanded access to domestic airspace, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, has “quickly exceeded the current airspace available for these activities.” The report says that under current policy, the military has to obtain temporary permission to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) outside its own restricted airspace.
Earlier this month the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said in a defense budget bill that the government needs to speed up the process in which drones are integrated into the national airspace.
“Without the ability to operate freely and routinely in the NAS [National Airspace System], UAS development and training — and ultimately operational capabilities — will be severely impacted,” the committee said in its report.
The Defense Department report’s public unveiling follows the publication of a list of dozens of “current” drone bases early last week by the anti-secrecy website public intelligence.
The U.S. military currently has 6,316 drones of various types, according to the report, and plans to add another 2,076 by 2017.