Understanding the US Drone Program: Where are US Drones Controlled From?

The US military and the CIA have been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as “drones”, for a variety of operations, including lethal attacks against terrorism, surveillance, and other non-lethal operations. The most commonly used drones for these operations are the MQ-9 Reaper and the MQ-1 Predator, both manufactured by General Atomics, a private corporation based near San Diego, California. The MQ-1C Grey Eagle is a more powerful version of the Predator. These drones are sent to or near nations where they will attack, assembled and launched, and then remotely controlled by satellite links.

There are 20 drone control centers in the United States, located in various states, as well as US Drone Control Centers in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. Major satellite relay centers in Germany, Italy and Australia enable intelligence collection, targeting and control across large swaths of the Middle East, North and Central Africa and the Pacific. President Obama has stated that video surveillance and drone targeting technology ensures accuracy in the killing. However, video technology does not provide highly detailed images that often do not allow absolute identification of those attacked.

In addition, the explosion power of Hellfire missiles used in drone strikes often results in indiscriminate deaths and injuries. The use of drones has quickly become one of the US counter-terrorism policy's main methods for carrying out secret, lethal operations further away from the battlefield. This has raised many questions about their impact on US national security and human rights. Experts disagree on how much money is being spent on the drone program, which demonstrates the need for greater transparency.

Upon taking office, President Biden initiated an inter-agency review of US counter-terrorism operations, including drone attacks and special operations raids. He also issued classified interim guidance on the use of military force and related national security operations. Under temporary guidelines, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost its authority to carry out kill or capture missions without White House approval. Evidence suggests that living under drones fuels anti-American sentiment and aids in the recruitment of armed groups involved in terrorism. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS have taken advantage of collateral damage from US strikes as a propaganda tool to reinforce recruitment efforts.

This impact is known as “pullback” - the unintended long-term consequence of today's actions. Today, hundreds of companies are developing small- and large-scale drone technology, and state and non-state actors are looking to integrate drone technology into their military programs. It is essential to pause and evaluate the results of US drone strikes before this technology becomes even more widespread. In addition to moral questions posed by the use of drones, there are real questions about their impact on US national security and human rights. Has the drone program been effective in combating terrorism? What happens when the United States no longer masters this technology? What can be done to prevent non-state armed groups from acquiring drones? The United States must recognize these challenges and begin to outline restrictions and accountability for the use of drones. Restricting the use of drones around the world is essential for a fairer and more peaceful world. Quakers and Friends are working to change public policy on this issue.

Small drone training for the Army takes place at Fort Benning in Georgia, while Fort Rucker in Alabama coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts related to UAVs.

Colton Morford
Colton Morford

Avid student. Evil bacon fanatic. Total bacon fan. Passionate internet practitioner. Amateur internet advocate. Proud travel evangelist.

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