DOUG ROSS: Droning on about unmanned aircraft

2013-05-17T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Droning on about unmanned aircraftBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Remember the George Gershwin tune, "Someone to Watch Over Me"? Start working on a techno version.

The unmanned aerial vehicles that have proven useful in fighting terrorism overseas are impressive. These unmanned aircraft can be guided by pilots sitting thousands of miles away in a secure, comfortable military base.

But do you really want drones flying over your home?

Indiana's congressional delegation is pushing to bring drone operations to Indiana, which from a military standpoint probably makes sense. Indiana has not only the old Grissom Air Force Base, where planes equipped for nuclear weapons flew overhead when I was a kid, but also the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.

Most important to Indiana's congressional delegation, though, is jobs. Putting a drone base in Indiana means jobs not just for the pilots, but for many support operations as well.

The congressional delegation recently invited Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of State John Kerry to observe a large exercise at Muscatatuck that brings together 8,000 people from 22 states to test and evaluate the nation's ability to respond to a nuclear detonation in an urban environment.

Their letter discusses the exercise and the military facilities there. It also notes, "Recent airspace additions permit unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to operate above the facility."

It's clearly a sales pitch.

How will Hoosiers react to this? They want jobs, sure, but isn't it creepy to know that while you're outside in your nightgown, hanging up laundry, there could be a drone spying on you? Or that you could be splashing in your backyard pool and have an unmanned airplane crash into your house if something went wrong?

The drones have been used overseas to target terrorists while minimizing risk to U.S. troops. If an unmanned plane is shot down or malfunctions, the only cost to the United States is the hardware loss.

But the drones are not looked upon kindly in nations where they are operated, which fuels anti-American sentiment. If those drones start operating out of Indiana, wouldn't that increase the potential for terrorist operations here? 

And what if that military hardware is used for police operations in the United States, targeting Americans, in the future?

Questions like those are worth asking.

The congressional delegation is watching over Indiana's job market, which is good, but are they thinking ahead to potential problems with drones?

I don't think they're the "Someone to Watch Over Me" Gershwin intended.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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