Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.

Drones are among the long list of what should be 2012 issues of great concern, but don’t meet the criteria for campaign or media marketing. Maybe if the Republicans could use the “weak on defense” argument against Obama, we’d hear something about the use of “remotely piloted aircraft,” but since Obama has been quite vigorous in his Commander in Chief role, including the use of RPAs, it’s probably not the strongest issue for Romney. And it’s likely Obama is content to let his record speak for itself, or even better, remain quietly in the background. It’s harder to be anti-war when a Dem is in the WH.

But I can’t look away from the drones multiplying in skies. See here and here for earlier posts.

To see lots of photos of different kinds of drones “” aka “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAV),”Remotely Piloted Vehicles” (RPV), and “Remotely Piloted Aircraft” (RPA) “” military and civilian use, check out Cryptome.

The Obama administration’s frequent use of drones has been controversial, but development and employment continue, with plans to “relocate” some drones from Afghanistan to Central and South America.

A different kind of look, with a focus on those who pilot the drones in Afghanistan, is provided in the July 29 issue of the NY Times, A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away. It features interviews with a dozen or so servicemembers who remotely pilot the drones which observe, and sometimes kill, military targets. That comes, of course, with what was once termed “collateral damage,” human and otherwise.

A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

Pilots of RPAs talk about what it’s like to “strike,” and then go home to their families.

Although pilots speak glowingly of the good days, when they can look at a video feed and warn a ground patrol in Afghanistan about an ambush ahead, the Air Force is also moving chaplains and medics just outside drone operation centers to help pilots deal with the bad days ““ images of a child killed in error or a close-up of a Marine shot in a raid gone wrong.

The story says that the Air Force has more than 1300 drone pilots “” they say they need another 300 “” who are stationed at “13 or more bases across the United States.”

Most RPAs are flown in Afghanistan. The numbers provided don’t include, the article notes, classified drone used in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, by the CIA. For the military “” not to mention DC “” the move is clearly toward the use of more drones, with the Air Force now training more drone pilots than those for fighters and bombers combined.

Though the 2012 campaign took over, in the spring there was a flurry of stories focused on the growing use of multi-sized drones. For example, via The Guardian,

The US military has issued soldiers in Afghanistan … a new class of lightweight unmanned drone known as the Switchblade, which can be carried in a backpack and used on the battlefield in place of an air strike. …

Defence analysts believe warfare in the future will see many more mini armed drones which are now called “˜loitering munitions’ and provide ground troops with a view described as coming from “˜the tip of the bullet’.

Another of those military euphemisms: “Loitering munitions.” Even when used domestically, the names given the drones have an ominous sound, and their numbers are growing. From another earlier report, in Wired, Revealed: 64 Drone Bases on American Soil:

The medium-size Shadow is used in 22 bases, the smaller Raven in 20 and the miniature Wasp in 11. California and Texas lead the pack, with 10 and six sites, respectively, and there are also 22 planned locations for future bases. …

Bruce Gagnon, the co-ordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, said … “˜People are beginning to see that these technologies are going to be dual use “” meaning over there and back here at home,’ he said.

People are indeed “beginning to see” this, and some are expressing concerns, which are being heard. Sort of. Via Yahoo News:

A trade group for drone aircraft manufacturers and operators has released the industry’s first code of conduct in response to growing privacy concerns.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Monday that the recommendations for “˜safe, non-intrusive operation’ are meant to guide operators and reassure a public leery of the possibility of spy drones flying undetected over their homes. …

The “code of conduct” is voluntary, pledging to “respect the privacy of individuals.” Somehow I’m not reassured.

Earlier this year, Congress, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Defense and drone manufacturers, ordered the FAA to give drones greater access to civilian airspace by 2015. The mandate, besides applying to military drones, applies to drones operated by private companies and government agencies, including federal, state and local law enforcement.

At the top, I mentioned that the U.S. Military Wants More Drones In Latin America.

Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution told Wired Magazine … “˜You want to build up familiarity with the systems and its uses … so that when you use it more operationally in the future you have a base to build on. … And … as you introduce a system into a new area and to new people, they will innovate and find new uses for it.’

Oh yes. People will certainly be innovative, and find new uses, including domestically: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a Loitering Image, or Non-Lethal Weapon, Deliverer!

(Techs Flying Drones, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point via Cryptome
Montgomery Cty, TX SWAT Team photo via Cryptome )