Minn. protesters question new drone facility
St. Cloud Times, Minn.
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — Some weigh as little as 4 pounds, so compact they can be launched by hand.
But unmanned aerial systems, better known as drones, have become a growing presence and a hefty source of concern for some at this Minnesota National Guard and civilian training facility north of Little Falls.
Construction of a new, $3.9 million unmanned aerial systems training facility at Camp Ripley sparked protest from antiwar groups outside the camp's front gate Friday.
Use of drones, especially armed drones, by the U.S. military and other federal agencies has been a source of controversy since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after which they were used in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other countries.
The U.S. military says the drones perform tasks that once fell to manned aircraft, saving soldiers? lives and significant expense in the process. But critics say drones are leading the U.S. into uncharted legal and ethical territory, especially if they're used to kill suspected terrorists without due process.
One of the organizers of Friday's protest, Robin Hensel of Little Falls, said drone use detaches combatants from the horror of war, and not necessarily to a positive end.
"It makes it less personal — makes it easier to kill," Hensel said.
Coleen Rowley, a former FBI legal counsel from Apple Valley, helped organize the protest. Rowley said she fears that as more countries acquire armed drones, it could trigger an arms race similar to what occurred with nuclear weapons. Rowley drew national attention as a ?whistle-blower? of the FBI's mishandling of terrorism-related cases.
Drones have mostly been used in military applications, but that's changing. U.S. law enforcement agencies began acquiring drone technology for surveillance, search-and-rescue operations and other activities. That includes agencies in California, Colorado and Texas, according to a Des Moines Register report.
The Camp Ripley drone facility will include landing strips and an office and hangar building to store and maintain the drones. Construction should be completed Nov. 1, according to Maj. Keith Ferdon, operations officer at Camp Ripley.
Drone training has been happening for years at Camp Ripley, according to 1st Lt. Blake St. Sauver, public affairs officer. But he said increasing use spurred the need for a new facility.
Camp Ripley officials say the types of drones that will be used at the new facility aren't the types with weapons systems.
St. Sauver says National Guard units from Minnesota and other states are expected to use the facility to train with so-called "Raven" and "Shadow" drones, both unarmed drones used for surveillance purposes.