The Central New York Drone-Industrial Complex

From the September 2012 PNL #817

Gavin Caster

Over fifty years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address included the warning to guard against the influence of the military industrial complex, a conjunction between the large arms industry and the immense military establishment existent in the United States. Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s warning went unheeded. The military industrial complex, originally written by Eisenhower as the military-industrial-congressional complex, still impacts both regional and national economic planning.

Drone warfare is no exception, and Central New York has its own Drone-Industrial-Complex. CNY congressional representatives from both political parties benefit from the reaper drone industry. Over the next ten years the Pentagon plans to spend $40 billion on the purchase and development of drones, and local politicians hope that federal spending on drones will create jobs in CNY. Democrats receive support for military spending from unionized labor, while Republicans appeal to American jingoism. For example, the Post-Standard’s Dan Tobin reported in 2011 that Hancock Air Base was slated for “large cuts” as the military decreased its reliance on F-16s, but the installment of reaper drones helped secure its continued use. Governor Cuomo stated in 2012 that military bases account for over 10,000 jobs and $1.9 billion dollars in New York; Dan Maffei earmarked $2.7 million dollars for the construction of a reaper hanger at Hancock Air base in 2010, and our current Congressional representative Ann Marie Buerkle sits on the House “pro drones” caucus.

Our congressional officials have helped design our local economy to be dependent on military spending and forced the allocation of resources towards war-making.

Any attempt to challenge the military budget is turned into a political attack on thousands of jobs in CNY. Abroad, drones represent one of the most despised weapons in the US arsenal. The Pew Research Center reported a widespread disapproval of US drone attacks in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with results from 17 out of the 20 countries researched showing negative responses – including Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Now, the goal is to take advantage of this same technology for surveillance of Americans.

The most prominent lobbying group on behalf of the drones is The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUSVI). Saab AB, a foreign “defense” company and owner of local Saab Sensis, and Syracuse Research Corp (SRC), a homegrown defense contractor, are members of AUSVI. The congressional bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration – in charge of securing and maintaining United States domestic airspace – is forcing the agency to incorporate drones into domestic airspace by 2015. AUSVI released a public statement applauding the passage of this bill and openly admitted to authoring the parts dealing with drone use. This comes despite clear issues over the safe use of drones in domestic airspace; Bloomberg News labels the drone as the “most accident prone vehicle in the air force.”

In response to both concerns and pressure, local companies like SRC have been developing “sense and avoid” technology, designed to help drones avoid other planes and each other. SRC introduced its drone enabling sensor in March 2012 and this July tested “sense and avoid” technology with MIT and John Hopkins. SRC’s biggest potential market for its product is monitoring national air space for drones, a “real prize” in the words of the Post-Standard.

Along with incorporating drones into domestic airspace by 2015, the FAA is required to select six test sites for domestic flights of drones. For a politician like Senator Schumer, these test sites are an opportunity to increase CNY’s economic dependency on military spending. Schumer stated that “making Hancock a test site for this technology would be a boon for CNY.” CNY’s economic planners have started a concerted effort for Hancock to be chosen as a drone test site. The CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity is “a twelve county business leadership and development organization based in Syracuse, NY, representing more than 2,000 members” and has formed its own lobbying group to make CNY a test site for flying drones domestically – the Northeast Unmanned Aerial System Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). Members of the group include Lockheed Martin and SRC, as well as a variety of schools and universities in the region.

Eisenhower stated that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Drones are no different, and resistance to drone warfare is resistance to the thievery of military spending. Please join us in this resistance. To learn more about local actions, see the update from SPC’s Ground the Drones and End the Wars Committee on page 3. To learn about Upstate regional organizing against drones, see or contact SPC. Together, we can challenge the plans of pro-war economic planners and have a different vision for the CNY economy.

Gavin interned at the Syracuse Peace Council this summer and worked closely with the Ground the Drones and End the Wars committee.