Drone bases throughout the United States
Sitting in darkened, air-conditioned rooms 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board the plane. Their faces are lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone. By squeezing a trigger on a joystick, one of those Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.
While Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas gets the lion’s share of media, numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars: Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field in Florida, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.
Meanwhile, at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell-phone intercepts, high-altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan. They call it “Death TV” and are constantly instant-messaging with and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.
At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia). Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.
Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona, which is home to “the world’s largest UAV training center,” according to a report by National Defense magazine.
Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs.
The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. At Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, as well as Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station.