Washington, DC (TFC)— In late December 2017, the Department of Defense awarded a multi-million dollar contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. The contract puts the company at the center of the government’s drone program. General Atomics will perform management and logistical functions for the MQ‐1 Predator and MQ‐9 Reaper drone models. The little-mentioned contract brings its own implications involving outsourcing the US government’s numerous covert programs.
Worth $328,801,883, the contract was announced alongside a slew of others on December 22nd 2017. General Atomics specializes in providing drone and surveillance craft to the government. Over the last quarter century, the company has involved itself in everything from maintaining and building drones to operating them. Their products can be fitted for combat roles such as Hellfire Missile strikes, or surveillance operations. Besides the US government, General Atomics serves the United Kingdom and, most likely, other NATO countries.
“This contract provides for core management, logistics support, configuration management, technical manual and software maintenance, contractor field service representative support, inventory control point management, flight operations support, depot repair, and depot field maintenance.”– Description of drone contract on DoD website. (Fourth Paragraph)
America’s drone program has been spotlighted since citizens first realized the devices were scratching names off the kill list overseas. Throughout the Obama Administration, those critiques evolved from the very nature of the program to the quality of intelligence, to who’s actually pulling the trigger.
Over the last year, however, the military’s fleet of coveted robots has been plagued by crashes and mechanical failures. The incidents have accumulated both government investigations, and over $2 million in damages, Washington Post reports.
The extreme costs aren’t easier to deal with when their effectiveness is in question. According to Truth Out, the government conducted an analysis of drone activity attributed to US Customs & Border Protection. Its title says it all: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program Does Not Achieve Intended Results or Recognize All Costs of Operations”.
Conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the analysis questioned the effectiveness vs. financial cost of drone activity along the border. It couldn’t determine whether or not the program had met its pre-set goals because no metrics for success had been developed. Although Homeland Security could guess each flight costs over $12,000 an hour, more accurate estimates aren’t possible. Border Protections apparently doesn’t log every operational cost. “The $443 million CBP plans to spend on program expansion could be put to better use by investing in alternatives”, Homeland Security noted.
Regardless, drones are big business and dozens of companies want in. According to Washington Times, the drone industry is expected to have an $82 billion economic impact by 2025. College and high school students interested in entering the drone field are promised high paying jobs by industry heads. That’s not including those in ROTC, who’ll eventually operate drones in the military theater. However, recent studies warn armed military drone pilots demonstrate a very detrimental stress disorder similar to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The privatization of military drone use, for combat or surveillance, also flows with other happenings in the Trump Administration. Since taking office, President Donald Trump has been in the company of private military figureheads like Erik Price.
After escaping the fall of his former military contracting company Blackwater Worldwide during the Obama Administration, Prince went into hiding. When Trump first emerged, Prince appeared on right-wing radio and media backing Trump and private military. Now, he regularly haunts the White House alongside his sister, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Besides a run for Senate, Prince is allegedly pushing Trump to privatize operations normally conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. How far these talks for a private spy force went remains to be determined.
Military outsourcing is something most Americans are unaware of. If you’re in the military, however, it’s impossible to ignore the increasing privatization of every level of the armed forces. Is it really more effective to privatize the military, including sensitive operations such as drone strikes and surveillance?
Although it might save the government money, the quality of work done by military contractors is constantly in question. And with the government already containing drone problems, will further outsourcing the program have an impact? Will the murky corridors of the drone program go even darker the further it moves into the private sector? Is that, perhaps, the whole point?