US Military Prepares Drastic Escalation of Global Drone Program

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US Military Prepares Drastic Escalation of Global Drone Program

New reporting reveals plans to expand drone program by 50 percent, including broader use of mercenaries

According to officials, the Pentagon hopes to expand the use of lethal drone strikes in the years ahead. (Photo: US Air Force)

According to officials, the Pentagon hopes to expand the use of lethal drone strikes in the years ahead. (Photo: US Air Force)

The U.S. Pentagon is poised to dramatically increase the deployment of surveillance drones over "global hot spots" such as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea, and North Africa, as well as expand its capacity for lethal drone strikes, the Wall Street Journal revealed on Monday.

Citing exclusive interviews with senior U.S. officials, the WSJ's Gordon Lubold reports that the number of daily flights by aircraft such as MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones will surge an estimated 50 percent. Further, the expanded drone program will "draw on the Army, as well as Special Operations Command and government contractors," in addition to the U.S. Air Force, which currently carries out most of the operations for the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.

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Lobuld reports: "The Pentagon envisions a combined effort that by 2019 would have the Air Force continue flying 60 drone flights a day, the Army contributing as many as 16 and the military’s Special Forces Command pitching in with as many as four. Government contractors would be hired to fly older Predator drones on as many as 10 flights a day, none of them strike missions."

A detailed investigation published late July by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the great extent to which the U.S. military has already relied on corporate entities for much of its surveillance and analysis. The probe raised the question as to whether a private contractor's "risk assessment"—i.e. the determination whether an individual should become a target— obeys an already "mushy" legal framework.

Monday's WSJ piece notes that other officials are reportedly pushing for even-broader surveillance capabilities, employing technologies known as "wide-area airborne surveillance pods," which increases "by as much as tenfold the quantity of surveillance feeds."

The news follows reporting also by Lobuld, as well as colleague Adam Entous, last week which revealed that the U.S. is currently holding talks with a number of North African countries over the possibility of erecting drone bases within their borders, expanding the military footprint in order allegedly unmask so-called "blind spots" in Islamic State strongholds such as Libya and Tunisia.

According to the latest tally from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, since 2002 there have been as many as 620 total U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan, killing up to 5,460 people including as many as 1,106 civilians.

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