US Military Wants Drones in South America, But Why?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
By Paul Martin

By Spencer Ackerman
June 12, 2012

Flying, spying robots are addictive. Every military commander who has them wants more. Those who don’t have them covet their colleagues’ supply. And according to Air Force planning, they’re about to go to the military’s redheaded, drone-poor stepchild: the command overseeing South America.

That’s according to Gen. Norton Schwartz, the outgoing Air Force chief of staff. As Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones start to leave the Afghanistan war behind, Schwartz told a Washington audience on Monday, they’ll go to “operational missions by previously underserved” regional commands — Pacific Command and Southern Command, per National Defense magazine. While US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia have loaded up on drones, they’ve largely been left out of the unmanned escalation.

It’s understandable for the drones to go to Pacific Command. The military has made it clear that Asia and the Pacific Ocean are where the action is for the foreseeable future. Drones assisted the Navy’s 7th Fleet in tending to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. A carrier-based strike drone is on its way. So is a giant drone that can spy on lots of Pacific activity all at once.

But South America? The list of obvious uses for drones by the US military in South America starts with spying on drug-runners … and ends there. (In case you’re wondering, US Southern Command doesn’t have anything to do with Mexico and its cartel chaos; that’s the province of US Northern Command.) And Predators and Reapers aren’t just flying spies; they’re armed with missiles and ready to kill you. With very specific and rare exceptions, this is not something the military does in South America.

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