Published On: Thu, Oct 20th, 2011

Three bases being considered for ground control station for the remote-controlled Reaper and Predator drones

South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base is one of three possible sites where the Air Force would put a ground control squadron for the remote-controlled Reaper and Predator drones that have become key elements in the war against al-Qaida.

The Air Force said in a release late Thursday that the move would put at least 280 men and women at the base outside Sumter, but not the MQ-1/9 aircraft.

Drones are vital to intelligence gathering and war operations, and were mentioned in writings by Osama bin Laden as the single most damaging weapon used against his organization.

Armed Predator drone firing Hellfire missile 2010 photo Brigadier Lance Mans, Deputy Director, NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre

Armed Predator drone firing Hellfire missile 2010 photo Brigadier Lance Mans, Deputy Director, NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre

Acting as potential hunter-killers, they can hover for hours over targets. They do not place pilots in harm’s way because they are unmanned.

Other bases under consideration are Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

The Air Force said it will announce a preferred location in December.

The move was hailed by retired Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, who commanded the Ninth Air Force based at Shaw and now supports civil-military relations for Sumter and the surrounding county.

“It would mean another mission set for Shaw, and that’s always good,” said Holland, who spent 34 years in the Air Force and also served as the second in command for Air Forces Central, which is also based at Shaw and is in charge of Air Force operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The Third Army completed its move to Shaw over the summer, putting the Army command for the region next to the Air Force.

“It would fit right in with the Air Force Central and Army Central staff there,” said Holland. “These are the commands that understand how drones are used to support the fighting forces on the ground.”

Key to operations for those commands are the intelligence and information gathering that drones do, so it makes even more sense for a drone squadron to be placed at Shaw, Holland said.

“This would be a great thing for Shaw,” he added.

In recent months, drones have been used to hunt al-Qaida targets from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen to Somalia.

Drones have been called the weapon of choice of the Obama administration, which quadrupled drone strikes against al-Qaida targets in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, up from less than 50 under the Bush administration to more than 220 in the past three years.

The aircraft can be controlled from bases that are far from their field of operations, even on another continent. The high-tech unmanned planes have a long body, a wing span of up to 50 feet, and can carry a payload of Hellfire missiles.

They often fly undetected at heights of up to 50,000 feet.

The first drones were built in the early 1990s, mostly for surveillance missions, employed in the war zones of Bosnia and Kosovo.


Drone MQ-9 Reaper de l'US Air Force a l'atterrissage Photo/Air Force

Drone MQ-9 Reaper de l’US Air Force a l’atterrissage Photo/Air Force

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