Monday, July 4, 2016

American Taxpayers and Their Investment in Drone Warfare

Updated May 2017

With drones having been the obvious weapon of choice in the Obama Administration's battle against global terrorism and the recent release of civilian drone casualties, I wanted to take a brief look at a paper from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.  In this paper, the author, Dan Gettinger, looks at the spending on America's drone program in the Department of Defense fiscal 2017 budget.  In this posting, I will also look at the biggest military-industrial complex beneficiary of this spending and how they spend their corporate dollars in Washington.

The federal government's fiscal 2017 proposed budget for the Department of Defense requested a total of $587.2 billion in military spending which includes a base budget of $523.9 billion.  Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, states that the fiscal 2017 budget was crafted with the goal of seeking "game changing technologies" and making "discrete technological bets that exploit our advantages as well as adversary weaknesses".  Obviously, drones are becoming a key part of the American war machine, providing the current administration with a publicly sterile means to dispatch of terrorists (and any unfortunate bystanders) without risk to American life and limb.  Of the $523.9 billion budgeted for 2017, $4.61 billion is destined to be spent on drone-related spending as follows:

Air Force:

1.) Procurement - $1.136 billion
2.) Research and Development - $551.9 million
3.) Construction - $42 million

Total - $1.729 billion down from $2.279 billion in fiscal 2016 but on par with $1.648 billion in fiscal 2015.

Navy and Marine Corps:

1.) Procurement - $941.96 billion
2.) Research and Development - $831 million
3.) Construction - $112.5 million

Total - $1.74 billion down from $2.14 billion in fiscal 2016 but up from $1.2 billion in fiscal 2015.


1.) Procurement - $232.5 million
2.) Research and Development - $236.5 million
3.) Construction - $52 million

Total - $521 million down from $706.2 million in fiscal 2016.

Additionally, Special Operations Command will spend a total of $193.4 million, the Missile Defense Agency will spend $105.1 million, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will spend $301.5 million for research into drones, autonomy and robotics.

Let's look at what billions of dollars will buy for American taxpayers:

By a relatively wide margin, the biggest spending will be on the MQ-9 Reaper drone of the Predator drone family with Reaper being a rather profound name given that one of its purposes is to reap human souls.  It is also interesting to note that the MQ-1C Gray Eagle is another product made by the same drone manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc; this means that one single company will get nearly 30 percent of America's defense spending on drones.

Let's look at some facts about the MQ-9 Reaper from the U.S. Air Force website:

"The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons -- it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets. 

Reapers can also perform the following missions and tasks: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy/raid overwatch, target development, and terminal air guidance. The MQ-9's capabilities make it uniquely qualified to conduct irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives."

The 36 foot long MQ-9 Reaper can carry a maximum payload of 3750 pounds (generally a Hellfire missile), has a range of 1150 miles and a ceiling of up to 50000 feet.  Its primary function is to "find, fix and finish targets" and was brought into the Air Force weapons inventory in October 2007.  As of September 2015, the Army had 93 MQ-9 Reapers in inventory with each costing $64.2 million.

Here is a video providing you with some background on the MQ-9 Reaper:

Controlling a drone really resembles a video game, doesn't it?   

Now, let's look at the manufacturer of the MQ-9 Reaper, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI).  GA-ASI is an affiliate of General Atomics, a privately-held manufacturer located in Poway, California.  General Atomics is owned by two brothers that you've likely never heard of, Linden Stanley Blue (the company's CEO) and James Neal Blue, two rather reclusive billionaires who bought General Atomics from Chevron in 1986, yes, THAT Chevron.  In the mid-1980s a company named Leading Systems Inc (LSI) began development of the Amber UAV for the Department of Defence Joint Programme Office.  Although Amber showed promise, it was fairly small and LSI soon realised that there was an optimum minimum size for a UAV which would enable it to carry both sufficient fuel and sensors, as well as having the necessary stability to provide high quality video imagery.  Consequently, in 1988 LSI began development of a larger version of the Amber, intended primarily for export, however, LSI began to have financial difficulties.  GA-ASI bought Leading Systems in 1990, acquiring the technology that formed the basis for its current drone program.

Now, let's switch gears for a moment and look at how much money General Atomics, the parent company of GA-ASI has spent on lobbying Washington since 1998:

Here is a partial list of bills that General Atomics lobbied for in 2016:

Here is a graphic showing how much General Atomics (through its employees for the most part) have donated for each election cycle since 1990:

Obviously, at the very least, lobbying has really paid off for General Atomics and its affiliate, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.  Thanks to America's taxpayers, according to Defense News' annual ranking of the top 100 defence contractors, the privately-owned General Atomics ranks 49th among all of the world's arms manufacturers.  

Lucky them.


  1. Thanks for a great article on the new face of warfare. Blame it on an imagination gone wild or a distrust of those with too much power, but the way society is empowering machines is a subject I have written about before. Unfortunately more revelations about the American government spying on us, our friends, and the leaders of our allies across the world does little to calm my concerns. Many peace loving nations are also troubled by this.

    We must take note that technology is quickly blurring the line between drones and robots at the same time that the killing power of these machines is being ramped up. We should be afraid! To say these machines have the potential to become formidable and a danger in the wrong hands is an understatement. The article below is an update of one titled, "Drones, killer robots, and ugly possibilities" is a reminder that what they have planned is not limited to what we have seen.

  2. Rest easy Bruce robots currently have no power source that can last longer a few hours.

  3. Well, when you take a look at what they are capable of doing, and how advanced they have becomed, it is no wonder that such a serious amount of money is invested in military drones. Here is an interesting article that explains more on this subject: