Local pilots protest use of blinding lasers in their airspace

Steve Watson
July 27, 2012

In conjunction with The Federal Aviation Administration, the Air National Guard plans to fly unmanned Predator aircraft over North Dakota and have them aim lasers at ground targets in the latest development in the ongoing mass expansion of the use of drones in US skies.

North Dakota news website INFORUM reports that the Air National Guard’s 119th Wing, based at Fargo’s Hector International Airport, will begin operating the drones by early October.

According to the report, the FAA has officially established eight blocks of restricted airspace over National Guard base Camp Grafton South near New Rockford. The airspace will be from 500 to 9,999 feet above sea level and commercial aircraft will be prohibited from using it.

The training will focus around target practice for laser-guided bombs and missiles. Targets will be located on small buildings or on the ground.

“People may hear airplanes flying above, but there will be no lights visible and no explosions,” Col. Rick Gibney commented.

“The laser itself is not used much during the flight,” he said, “less than a minute per simulated engagement.”

Gibney added that North Dakota was chosen owing to its sparsely-populated skies and that the area could become the nation’s centre for all military drone training activity.

However, local pilots with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have objected to the move, noting that the use of lasers in their flight paths could be hazardous.

The Department of Defense has been less than forthcoming with information on its use of drones over the US.

Indeed, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), part of the DoD, recently denied operating surveillance drones in two different states, issuing statements that have since been proven to be completely false.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, USSOCOM is the Unified Combatant Command charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Commands of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

As reported by the open information advocacy group Public Intelligence:

Following our publication of a map of current and proposed Department of Defense drone activities within the U.S., several journalists with local publications around the country wrote articles regarding drone activities that were listed in their area.  David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph wrote about the listing of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington as the site of a USSOCOM drone activity involving small unmanned aerial vehicles including the Raven and Wasp.  Corey Pein of the Willamette Week wrote about a planned USSOCOM drone activity in Portland that was listed as utilizing the same types of drones.

Public Intelligence notes that when the reporters contacted USSOCOM for clarification and further details, they were told that the information on the map was inaccurate and that USSOCOM does not operate drone bases in either area.

However, further investigation revealed that activities and exercises using surveillance drones in both areas were indeed carried out under the authority of USSOCOM in 2010 and 2009 respectively.

Furthermore, the use and storage of drones was confirmed by the offices of Senators in both states:

In New Hampshire, a local newspaper has now confirmed with the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte that in 2010, Navy Special Operations Forces utilized areas around Mt. Washington to conduct training operations using Wasp and Raven drones.  David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph was further able to confirm via Army Lt. Col. James Gregorythat similar exercises were also conducted in 2009 using the same types of drones.

In Oregon, the Willamette Week was able to confirm with the office of Sen. Ron Wydenthat drones are currently stored in Portland for several military units in the area.

“If the military wishes to counter controversy from the increasing integration of drones into domestic airspace, then it may help to not make statements to press that are inaccurate or disproved by publicly available congressional reports.” the group notes, adding that USSOCOM “denied or misrepresented” its involvement in domestic drone activities and actively sought to shut down any exchange of information on the matter.

A recently uncovered Air Force document also raised alarms over military use of spy drones in US skies. The document outlines how to circumvents privacy laws and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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