Drones: Made Locally, Killing Globally
San Diego is home to defense contractors General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman, the world's largest and leading manufacturers of drones. General Atomics builds the Predator and Reaper drones. Northrop Grumman provides the software for a similar aircraft, the Global Hawk spy drone.
These remotely controlled vehicles come with a hefty price tag -- Predator and Reaper's range between $4-$12 million and the Global Hawk's cost about $35 million. With their high tech sophistication, drones have become the weapon of choice in fighting the U.S. occupations. More than 7000 drones are ready to prowl the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq. The demand for drone surveillance and strikes has increased through the request of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for $112.9 million in the next $708 billion defense bill. Last year, U.S. tax payers paid $489 million for 24 new Reaper drones and $554 million for the Global Hawk drones in the 2010 defense bill.
San Diego residents can catch a glimpse of the Predator and Global Hawk drones at the AeroSpace Museum, but those in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not likely to have such casual contact. Drones scout over the two countries launching Hellfire missiles onto intended targets. Since July 2009, there have been 89 drone strikes in Afghanistan. In the first two weeks of January, six drone strikes took place. The strikes have escalated under General Stanley McChrystal to prevent civilian casualties. Though with the latest U.S. and NATO assault in Marja, 16 innocent civilians have been killed; pointing out that U.S. military intervention in the region is not the way to bring real and sustainable change. In Pakistan, it may never be known how many civilians have died as a result of U.S. Predator and Reaper drone strikes, but there are estimates of hundreds of innocent bystanders who have perished in the attacks. Pakistani authorities released statistics indicating that in 2009, drone strikes had killed over 700 innocent civilians. January 2010 proved to be a deadly month with 123 innocent civilians killed. Latest reports, show that 18 missiles by eight drones killed 16 innocent people on February 2nd.
As many U.S. domestic programs suffer, drones and other unmanned aerial systems have taken a prominent role in the U.S. occupations and defense budgets with billions continuing to be directed toward research and development. Even though General Atomics and Northrop Grumman brought countless technical jobs into the community, San Diego along with many other cities has had their share of hardships. The civilian unemployment rate is at 10.1%; there are more than 160,000 San Diegans unemployed, and employers have lost roughly sixty thousand jobs. The school district is $87 million dollars in the red with threats of salary and program cuts. Over 7800 people live on the streets. According to Veterans Village of San Diego, 30-40% of San Diego County's homeless are veterans.
San Diego is the number one county recipient of Department of Defense spending in the nation. The economy is overrun and overspent by defense contractors such as General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman. Drones in warfare are made for surveillance and strikes, and contribute nothing to the U.S. economy. Money for non-military related jobs, education, housing and health care could easily come from the millions spent per day on the U.S. occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Carol Jahnkow, is the Executive Director of the Peace Resource Center of San Diego (http://www.prcsd.org/). Nancy Mancias is a CODEPINK activist and organizer who lives in San Francisco, CA. (www.codepinkalert.org)