Rand Paul takes on the Pentagon

The Kentucky senator wants to curb unmanned flights, but the Air Force tells Salon about its plans to expand them

Topics: Drones, Rand Paul, Pentagon,

Rand Paul takes on the Pentagon Rand Paul seeks to ground drones at home

As the Pentagon leads the push to integrate military drones into domestic airspace by 2015, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ken., is promoting legislation to curb the use of drones in the United States.

At issue is the future of the U.S. military’s unmanned aviation training programs in the United States and the privacy rights of Americans. The Air Force plans to bring an estimated 500 large drones from overseas war zones to the United States by 2015, while the Army plans to buy up to 120 new drones in coming years, according to Steve Pennington, director of bases, ranges and airspace for the U.S. Air Force. In an interview at his Pentagon office, Pennington said the military needs to fly these massive unmanned aircraft at home  to prepare U.S. troops for future combat missions overseas.

“We in the Air Force and DOD [Department of Defense] believe the vast majority of the unmanned aircraft can be integrated” into U.S. airspace,” he said. “They can fly just like a Cessna or a 737.”

The expected influx of drones in U.S. airspace by 2015 prompted Paul to introduce legislation this week called the Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which would  ”prohibit the use of drones by the government” in the United States unless authorized by a warrant. The only exceptions identified in the legislation, first proposed by Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., are the use of drones for patrolling of national borders and “when law enforcement possesses reasonable suspicion that under particular circumstances, swift drone action is necessary to prevent “imminent danger to life.” The Paul-Scott legislation does not make any provision for military unmanned aerial vehicles flying in domestic airspace, as envisioned by Pentagon officials.

While declining to comment on any specific bill, Pennington said he did not think new legislation is needed to protect the privacy of American citizens.

“People are currently flying in Cessnas and helicopters and taking pictures of the ground and taking pictures of people. There’s a whole body of law about what you can do and publish. I believe that same body of law applies to unmanned [aviation],” he said, adding, ”The military has no authority to utilize military capabilities against civilians in the U.S.”



The domestic drone industry pushed Congress to open U.S. airspace to remotely piloted aircraft for public safety and commercial purposes earlier this year. But the Pentagon has been quietly pursuing the same goal for a different reason: to vastly expand training for Air Force drone operators and the Army, Marine and Special Operations troops who increasingly rely on them on the battlefield.

Earlier this month, the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed the Pentagon’s agenda. ”Without the ability to operate freely and routinely in the [National Air Space], UAV development and training — and ultimately operational capabilities– will be severely impacted,” the committee said in its report on the 2013 defense authorization bill.

U.S. combat forces fighting  in Afghanistan rely on the large drones (including the Predator, made by General Atomics, and the Global Hawk, made by Northrop Grumman) when mounting attacks on the Taliban. The large drones are also used in strikes on suspected militants in remote areas of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Those attacks, while devastating to al-Qaida’s leadership, have resulted in numerous civilian casualties and growing anti-American sentiment.

The Pentagon wants to expand drone training. According to Pennington, drone pilots and combat troops can now train together at only two locations in the United States before they are deployed to a war zone: Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Irwin in southern California. Allowing military UAVs to fly in domestic airspace just like manned aircraft would enable the Air Force, Army and Marines to engage in drone training in almost every state in the country, Pennington said.

“Those Army and Marine maneuver elements are going to be much better prepared,” he said.

Preparedness or privacy? That seems to be the issue as the country and the Congress contemplates the idea of drones over America

P.S. The fiery crash of a huge Navy-operated Global Hawk drone in Maryland on Monday was a reminder that the U.S. military is already conducting drone training in the U.S. airspace. Pilots at the Patuxent River Naval Air station were flying the drone  in airspace known as a Military Operations Area, where civilian aircraft are allowed, according to Lt. Aaron Kakiel, a Navy spokesman in San Diego.

The pilots of the Global Hawk drone, which has a 116-foot wingspan and weighs 25,000 pounds, lost communications contact with the aircraft around noon on Monday. A reconnaissance patrol found that the $175 million drone had been completely destroyed when it slammed into uninhabited Bloodsworth Island in the southern end of Chesapeake Bay spraying flaming debris over a marshy area the size of a football field. (View the Associate Press raw footage here.)

The causes of the crash are under investigation, Kakiel said. Drone training flights at the Patuxent River station will not resume until the probe is completed in “a couple of weeks,” he added.

Jefferson Morley

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>