Carol Baum

The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been brought home to Central New Yorkers in many ways – through money being diverted to pay for wars, not human needs at home; through loved ones in the military being sent overseas to fight; and through an ever expanding mission involving reaper drones at Hancock Air National Guard Base just outside Syracuse.

What is a drone?
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles, used by the military primarily for surveillance, targeted assassinations and bombings. The “pilots” operate the planes remotely, so “pilot” and plane can be thousands of miles apart. The MQ-9 Reaper, which is controlled from Hancock, is small (36 feet long, with a wingspan of 66 feet), can fly 3700 miles on one fueling (further than from NYC to LA), and loiter ten miles above targets for up to 20 hours. Its cameras produce high resolution video, even through clouds and darkness and from miles away. It carries up to four Hellfire missiles and two large bombs.

The Defense Department sees drones as central to a transformation of the military. When the US invaded Afghanistan, there were only a handful. The Air Force now trains more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. Robotic warfare is here, right now. Research and development of drone technology is accelerating, dramatically changing the vision of how wars are fought.

Why oppose drones?
Drones have been used in assassinations in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Who decides who is targeted for assassination and how that decision is made is shrouded in secrecy and at times the “targets” have been the victims of faulty intelligence. The bombings have a high rate of “collateral damage” – mothers, fathers and children who are in the wrong place at the wrong time (some studies have shown that for every suspected militant killed in drone attacks, at least 10 civilians also die). This is a violation of human rights.

•    Drone attacks do not win friends in the civilian population – they can make people more likely to become militant in anger and self-defense.
•    With drones, there doesn’t have to be a front line or declared war, the battlefield can be anywhere. The entire world can become a war zone.
•   Drones make it easier to go to war or escalate wars the US is already in. “Our” pilots are safe at home – only those “others” die.
•     Drone technology is not a secret known only to the US. The drone arms race is just beginning, making the world a less safe place than before.
•   Drones are further militarizing US society. Drones already patrol US borders, police departments want them for surveillance, and there is pressure on the FAA to admit them into civilian airspace. They are a threat to our civil liberties.

First regional anti-drones rally at Hancock, November 15, 2009. Photo: Kimberley McCoy
Drones and Hancock Air Base
The war has been brought into our backyard, at Hancock Air Base.

Until recently F-16s had been flown out of the base. The base survived a round of closings in 2005, and a 2008 federal spending bill included $10.4 million to prepare the base to house at least fourteen Reaper drones. The plan was to have 60 pilots remotely fly fourteen Reapers out of Hancock, operate Reaper maintenance training, and fly training missions remotely from Hancock, first with planes based at Ft. Drum and later flying them directly out of Hancock.

Much movement has been made on the plan.

In December 2009, the base started flying its first round-the-clock Reaper mission over Afghanistan. Currently, most flights focus on surveillance, although some have been involved with airstrikes. The base is one of only six sites in the US from which Reapers are flown remotely over Afghanistan. The current goal is to remotely fly up to twelve Reapers overseas.

Hancock is now the Air Force’s primary Reaper maintenance training center, graduating its first class in fall, 2009.

Ground the Drones–

End the Wars

April 21: Potluck dinner and talk by Kathy Kelly, who has just returned from Afghanistan. Greet peace walkers from Ithaca and Rochester. 6 pm potluck, 7 pm talk, St. Lucy’s Church gym (432 Gifford St., Syracuse).
April 22: Rally at main entrance of Hancock Air National Guard Base, E. Molloy Rd., Mattydale at 3 pm. Park on Moore or Falso Streets (or join a peace walk to the base from downtown Syracuse).
More events & details: or check peacecouncil.net

The base is preparing to become a flight school for Reaper pilots and sensor operators, and hopes to start actual remote flying training in June, 2011. Reapers will be flown from Ft. Drum over the Adirondacks by pilot trainees based at Hancock. Training maneuvers will include following vehicles and circling over buildings. There will also be live missile training, most likely over Ft. Drum and possibly over Lake Ontario.

The eventual plan is to have Reapers flown directly out of Hancock. The “problem” is that the Federal Aviation Administration currently bans the flying of unmanned drones in civilian airspace because of safety concerns. The proposed FAA reauthorization bill supports the concept of drones flying in civilian airspace, and Sen. Schumer is pushing for drones to be able to land and fly out of Hancock.

Ground the drones–April 21-22
Grounding the drones starts at home. The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars (which includes SPC) is dedicated to ending wars through nonviolent action. It includes peace activists from Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester and Syracuse. Please join us April 21 and 22 for education and action to ground the drones. See the box for more information.

These events are in solidarity with the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, which will be at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada on April 22 (Creech is the US global operations center for drone aircraft).



Carol is a staff organizer at the Syracuse Peace Council and is active on SPC’s anti-wars committee. Contact her for more information or to offer hospitality to out-of-town activists.