America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time
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Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered . Here, then, for the record is a AlterNet accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.
The Near Abroad
News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign. Sitting in darkened, air conditioned rooms, 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board. Their faces lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone, by squeezing a trigger on a joystick one of these Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.
While Creech gets the lion’s share of attention -- it even has its own drones on site -- numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars. The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS) . According to a factsheet provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.
Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York . Recently, it was announced that Reapers, flown by Hancock’s pilots, would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum , also in New York State. While at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times earlier this year, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell phone intercepts, high altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan -- what they call “Death TV” -- while instant-messaging and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.
CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters. It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.” According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.
Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story. At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia). Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.