Niagara Gazette

Columns

January 5, 2014

GLYNN: Drones still on agenda at air base

Niagara Gazette — Could a drone be coming soon to your neighborhood? It’s possible, we’ve been told several times. 

In fact, “It’s definitely on,” says Merrell Lane, immediate past president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, alluding to the ambitious project on the drawing boards for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Lane has been a prime mover in the citizen activist group that worked tirelessly to convince authorities to keep the base open. The future of the facility, across from the Niagara Falls International Airport, had been clouded more than once by the U.S. Department of Defense strategy called the Base and Realignment Closure. BRAC, as it’s better known, is the process the federal government adopted, ostensibly, to increase efficiency. Since 1989, during the first of five BRAC rounds, more than 350 installations have been closed. Although the move is touted as cost-saving, members of Congress raise vociferous objections to any scheme that eliminates pork barrel in their district. 

The harsh reality is that the air reserve station here means hundreds of jobs and an estimated $88 million annual payroll for the Western New York economy. 

Lev Grossman, a writer for Time. best describes the drone: “It’s a quadcopter with four rotors; basically it looks like a giant four-leaf clover designed by Darth Vader.” 

They’re unmanned, of course, but that shouldn’t stir any surprise. In fact, more than a third of the U.S. Air Force fleet is unmanned. In 2004, the Air Force had some 50 drones; that fleet today is about 7,500. And the drone project here could virtually assure a new lease on life for the base.

Spying on the nation’s enemies is one of the major missions for this innovative system.

There are negative factors too, a subject of bitter debate. While they target terrorists, those attacks also have killed innocent civilians. President Obama insists the flights have not resulted in “a huge number of civilian casualties.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in England, estimated that in the past 10 years, the CIA-directed drone attacks have killed nearly 3,000 persons in Pakistan alone. Of that total, 475 to 890 were civilians. 

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