Friday, April 20, 2012

Mc Drones?

These days, Mac Donald's Big Macs, and Mac Mansions aren't enough to satisfy the ever growing American appetite for new products, as well as bigger and better ones, and they may soon become among our leading exports. Iran is said to be copying a drone it captured last year.

But, it's not just cloning drones that poses a problem to global survival. As The Guardian reports, Sandia National Laboratory is leading the charge for a drone on steroids, one that is powered by nuclear energy, and has staying power of weeks not months.

While the U.S. government condemns Iran's uranium enrichment program, and actively works to divest North Korea of its ambitions, there is no end in sight for the proliferation of drones, and nuclear reactors in our own backyard.

Sandia, the number one U.S. research agency which specializes in all things nuclear, insists that while it has completed research and a blueprint for the nuclear-powered drone, plans for working with Northrop Grumman to activate that blueprint will not be used "in the near-term or mid-near term future." As The Guardian also reports, Sandia states that putting such a sensitive project, which has already drawn fire from anti-drone groups, such as they are, on hold due to "political constraints."

But, given that political climates change, it might be prudent to look at what these high octane suckers do. For openers, instead of conducting surveillance over a targeted area for a matter of days or weeks, nuclear drones have increased this capability to months. Indeed, one may think of a nuclear drone as a kind of Prius, or hybrid vehicle that relies on nuclear energy in much the same way hybrid vehicles rely on electricity instead of gas. Only, nuclear power is more like a steroid than electrical power is.

When compared with the MQ-9 Reapers that are in use in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Yemen, a nuclear drone not only enhances the amount of time a drone can remain airborne, but also dramatically decreases the need for boots on the ground in targeted areas taking the notion of remote control killing to a whole new level. This concept becomes particularly important now that, as The Washington Post reports, the CIA has asked for the authority to use more drones in Yemen in what it terms "signature strikes," or expanded random killing zones. seeks-new-authority-to-expand-yemen-drone-campaign/2012/04/18/gIQAsaumRT_story.html?wpisrc=al_national

Reportedly, the Sandia-Northrop Grumman team looked at many other options before settling on what they knew would be a highly controversial solution, one that is especially precarious given the frequency of drone crashes.

Considering the increasing domestic use of drones everywhere from borders to surveillance of political protests in urban areas, the prospect of a "friendly fire" accident involving U.S. manufactured and deployed drones on U.S. soil is not one that may easily be dismissed. The only thing more scary than knowing that the protocol for this technology is fait accomplis is the thought that the implementation of the plan has more to do with the political climate we currently find ourselves in than apprehensions on the part of the scientific team, and their defense contractor counterparts.

In the end, as we all sadly recognize, it isn't al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any foreign enemy we have to worry about, but the government subsidized glorified welfare checks that have gone to defense contractors for generations now, and that continue unabated by the Obama administration. While it's true that DoD appropriations for drones have consistently fallen over the past few years, the manufacturers merely countered this by raising the price, and research into not only new drones, but new avenues for deploying them has continued unabated which only shows that the war lobby is alive and well in Washington, D.C. Don't think for a minute because the portion of red meat being thrown to the lions has decreased marginally that the impact of that red meat has also diminished.

It's heartening to see that the nuclear-powered drone project has been given music on hold under the Obama administration, but leadership is needed that recognizes, and works toward realizing, John F. Kennedy's goal of "complete and total disarmament." JFK envisioned a world in which nonproliferation wasn't a treaty, but a practice. The manufacture of Mac Drones must be politics-proof.

In light of the expansion of drone activities both overseas and at home, that vision was laid to rest with President Kennedy. Until we have the kind of bold leadership that calls for ending research into super-drones, and an international effort to destroy nuclear weapons altogether, national security will perpetually be at risk, and we will be perpetually at war. Unless there is more than lip service to nuclear non-proliferation of all kinds, our national reputation will be globally synonymous with Big Mac's, and Mac Mansions.

The need for Congress to act on legislation that will ensure precautions are taken to avoid a nuclear catastrophe, regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, has never been greater. As citizens, and voters, we must press for this, and bring this issue front and center as federal budget deficits mean nothing in the face of nuclear annihilation, and remote control murder may work in video games, but can only be considered a war crime on the battlefield.