A GOP conservatarian in the role of America’s moral conscience doesn’t work.   Rand Paul hangs out on the same segment of the political spectrum as Sarah Palin.  She got a standing ovation during her 2008 VP acceptance speech with this line:
Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?

If Barack Obama adopted the conservative Republican stance on the usage of drones, Palin and Paul should be extolling his virtues.  But they have no principles and their word is no good.  They adopt positions for the points they think they can score, not because of a sincere belief in anything.

See that mean lookin’ machinery above ?  That’s the Predator C Avenger.  Would you like a product brochure ?

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), maker of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), provides the following specs:

•  Wing Span: 66 ft
•  Length: 44 ft
•  Payload Capacity: 6,500 lb total, including 3,500 lb internal weapons bay
•  Max Altitude: 50,000 ft
•  Max Endurance: 18 hr
•  Max Air Speed: 400 KTAS (about 440 mph or a little slower than a commercial jet)

The Avenger’s menacing capacity is clear in GA-ASI’s description of its objectives :

Perform high-speed, long-endurance, more covert multi-mission Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) and precision-strike missions over land or sea.  The high-speed, multi-mission Avenger is a long-endurance, medium-to-high-altitude Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that can perform wide-area surveillance, time-sensitive strike missions over land or sea, and a host of other challenging military missions.  The aircraft has much higher operational and transit speeds than current Predator-series aircraft, resulting in quick response and rapid repositioning for improved mission flexibility and survivability.  

The next-generation Avenger employs the same materials and avionics as Predator B and is likewise controlled from and fully interoperable with, GA-ASI Ground Control Stations (GCS) used for operating Predator-series aircraft.  Avenger’s low cost and advanced capabilities make it the optimum choice for employment in “swarm” tactics where affordable quantities count in a successful outcome.

Hellfire Missiles and a half dozen other weapons are fully compatible with the Avenger, using Windows based software that comes standard.  When Congress appropriated money for procurement of these drones, was there ever any doubt about the purpose of these machines?  

In 2002, as the War in Afghanistan proceeded, it became apparent that the military’s main battle tank, the Abrams, wasn’t designed for the terrain it had to negotiate. Even the latest generations of the Abrams had problems getting very far with long distances and steep rugged mountains.  Drones already existed and by using the most current technology they could be upgraded to perform from an altitude above the otherwise inaccessible mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

After 9/11 there was horizontal integration of various government agencies to share knowledge and skills.  The CIA Counterterrorism Center added another dimension to the military’s capabilities with analysts who use intelligence to identify targets for the drones.  Over the years the program grew under the National Clandestine Service even as the death toll of people killed by drone strikes often include bystanders who weren’t targeted. The country of Yemen was identified as a match for a terrorist haven:  weak or poor government, porous borders, extreme widespread poverty, thinly populated, internal strife.  The country’s President, was facing a civil war and the anti-government force was identified as Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP.)  In 2011, there was a wave of drone strikes in Yemen and on September 30, Anwar Al-Awlaki, a targeted American, was killed.

[To maintain the focus of this diary on the business of drones, I plan to post a separate piece devoted solely to the questions that arise from the targeting of Americans.]

What we have now is an unwise commitment to a program of questionable value.  The number of untargeted casualties and the secrecy of the program need a critical analysis and careful evaluation.  A Department of Defense Acquisition Report for General Atomics & Aeronautics Predator drones shows a commitment which has been scheduled into the budget through 2017.  At that time, the total procurement amount will be nearly $12 billion. The US taxpayers are also funding GA-ASI’s Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation (R D T & E) cost of $1 billion by 2017.  (Note:  The full GA-ASI brochure states that the Predator C Avenger was developed with the company’s own funds.)

This isn’t the entire extent of the US Government contract with GA-ASI.   Each time the Department of Defense awards a new contract, it notifies Congress.  GA-ASI has been contracted to provide drones for Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, and other countries.  Who pays for the drones that are shipped to foreign governments is probably the best kept secret of the entire program.  The US maintains a Foreign Military Sales program that isn’t very transparent.  Billions of dollars worth of military equipment of all descriptions is delivered to a list of qualified countries, free of charge to them, billed to the US taxpayers.  A partner program, Foreign Military Financing, helps countries pay for their military needs.  It all adds up to lucrative business for military contractors.  The “official party line” is as follows:
These sales also contribute to American prosperity by improving the U.S. balance of trade position, sustaining highly skilled jobs in the defense industrial base, and extending production lines and lowering unit costs for key weapon systems.

Dept. of Defense

The US Government also helps GA-ASI and other military contractors by approving their products for sale directly to foreign governments, rather than government to government.  GA-ASI recently announced one such sale:
Feb 22, 2013
Procurement of First Predator XP System Announced
UAE Air Force & Air Defense Signs Contract With IGG

IDEX, ABU DHABI – 22 February 2013 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), tactical reconnaissance radars, and electro-optic surveillance systems, today announced the procurement of its first Predator® XP RPA [Remotely Piloted Aircraft] system by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Predator XP is an updated version of the company’s flagship Predator RPA that has been licensed by the U.S. Government for sale to a broader customer base, including countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The United Arab Emirates is strategically located at the narrow Strait of Hormuz which separates it from Iran.  It's largest city is Dubai.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has over 5,000 employees at multiple facilities in the San Diego area and in the Mojave Desert, just east of Los Angeles.  It’s chairman and CEO is James Neal Blue.

The company is active in the US electoral process with the General Atomics PAC.  In the 2012 election cycle, it was a donor of $504,950 to various political candidates.  James Neal Blue was also a contributor to various campaigns.   The company PAC campaign donations broke down to 39% for Democratic candidates and 61% for Republican candidates.  Notable on the list:  Buck McKeon, the Republican representative from the Santa Clarita Valley district north of Los Angeles.  He sponsored the 2012 and 2013 NDAA measures in the House.   The entire political spectrum is included in the list of recipients, from Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner, to Sherrod Brown and Kirstin Gillibrand.

What did Rand Paul accomplish other than generating some publicity for himself?  [SNARK] He took a strong stand against federal government infringement on the rights of property owners in the restaurant and cafe business.  [/SNARK]  People who profess their Second Amendment right to use their weapons against government tyranny may be happy to know that the government won't use its drones unless they engage in combat.  [SNARK] Crisis averted. [/SNARK]  Maybe that crowd thinks the threat of drone use is the human rights issue of our time.  Meanwhile,  is there any concern about Rand Paul's support for a personhood law or amendment?  Is there any concern for the threat of a debt default which is still ahead?  Is there any worry about the long-term effect of drones on US foreign policy?  What about the capabilities that drones will give to other countries acquiring them?  Is remote control war a product that Americans want to export?  


The cost of a Predator Avenger drone is

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