Despite a mounting civilian death toll and increased opposition from civil liberties activists, the US Air Force has announced that it plans to double its number of drone squadrons.
In October, the Intercept released a report outlining the more secretive aspects of the US drone program. Compiled by a source within the intelligence community, the report offers an in-depth look at who, precisely, the US is targeting – and how accurate those missions really are.
“During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets,” the report reads.
This, of course, wasn’t the first indication of the drone program’s death toll. Analysis conducted by human rights group Reprieve in 2014 found that in targeting only 41 men, 1,147 people were killed by US airstrikes.
But not only is the American drone war not winding down, it’s actually about to double in scope.
According to Gen. Herbert Carlisle, head of US Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, the US Air Force is about to double its number of drone squadrons, adding roughly 3,000 personnel to pilot and maintain new UAVs which would be stationed across the globe.
The plan calls for an expansion over the next five years, and while it still has to be approved by Congressional lawmakers, the proposal would cost taxpayers $3 billion.
Carlisle says the plan is necessary because the Air Force is currently too busy running attack missions and is unable to meet the rising demand for surveillance missions.
“Right now, 100% of the time, when a MQ-1 or MQ-9 crew goes in, all they do is combat,” he said, according to the LA Times. “So we really have to build the capacity.”
The proposal includes adding 75 Reapers to the Air Force’s fleet of 175 Reapers and 150 Predators, and could even entail the construction of a new drone operations center in Suffolk, England, pending approval from the British government.
“These operations are now the norm, but many still don’t want to face up to that reality and the change that entails,” Peter W. Singer, a fellow with the New America Foundation, told the LA Times.
But as Jason Ditz points out for Anti War, such normalization is precisely the problem.
“While drones used to be treated as a relatively specialized sort of unit, good primarily for spying, heavy investment in the field has unmanned aircraft increasingly looking to be on a path to compete directly with traditional warplanes in some aspects,” he writes.
But unlike warplanes, UAVs allow the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes in a number of foreign countries without the same level of accountability.
Carlisle has said the proposal is necessary to give personnel “a little more stability and pass work back and forth,” it’s hard to imagine that an expanded drone program won’t lead to an even greater number of civilian deaths.