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D-M drone base pushed by mayor, Giffords' office

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Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

D-M drone base pushed by mayor, Giffords' office

  • Rothschild at Wednesday's press conference.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comRothschild at Wednesday's press conference.
  • An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.
    U.S. Air ForceAn MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.

Citing the economic impact of 280 new jobs, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild expressed support for a new drone pilot center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on Wednesday.

Beyond the "positive economic impact on our community" from military personnel, a new headquarters and support facilities would have to be built if the Air Force decides to base a new squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones here, Rothschild said at a morning press conference.

Rothschild was joined by Ron Barber, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' district director, and members of the DM-50 booster group as Barber announced a stack of letters from community leaders supporting basing the squadron here had been delivered to the Air Force.

Barber said that Giffords has been "fully briefed" about the activities of her office, and that the congresswoman said "full speed ahead" to effort to land the base at D-M.

Giffords said we need to "make sure we do everything we can to pull the community together to support this important new mission," he said.

Two other bases are in the running to host the drone squadron: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

Because the aircraft would mostly be based elsewhere, but flown remotely by pilots at the Tucson air base, the Reaper squadron would support "the mission of Davis-Monthan with no adverse effect on surrounding neighborhoods," Rothschild said.

Defense Department officials have at times looked at curtailing operations at D-M, because planes based there must fly over nearby homes. But lobbying by city officials has led to expanded operations which, along with the base's "boneyard" of thousands of decommissioned aircraft, have kept D-M off the closure list.

The base has a $1.3 billion overall impact on Tucson's economy, DM-50 members said Wednesday. Neither the mayor nor others supporting the drone center could estimate the impact that it might have.

The squadron base would fit "our mission and vision for this community... clean industry and high-paying jobs," Rothschild said.

"Tucson has relied for a long time on the university, Davis-Monthan and  Raytheon," he said.

In a time of likely military cutbacks, "we have to be very vigilant, when new programs come along as the military retools, that we're at the cutting edge of that," the mayor said.

The Air Force is expected to make a basing decision sometime in the spring

MQ-9 Reaper drones

The Reaper, originally the Predator B, is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the Air Force, Navy, CIA, and Customs and Border Protection.

They can be used in surveillance or as attack aircraft armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles or Sidewinder missiles.

Reapers have been used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in anti-piracy patrols over the Indian Ocean. Others have been used to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

Pilots don't like word 'drone'

It is not at all, participants say, like waging war by Wii.

Almost everyone involved with unmanned aerial systems winces when they hear their vehicles called “drones.” It’s a misrepresentation, they say, to conflate their highly-sensitive aircraft — navigated by a team that includes a certified pilot — with truly pilotless machines.

Drones are “what we shoot down!” said Lt. Col Brent, a combat pilot now training others for unmanned missions at New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base, the premier training site in the US for pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Read morea: Meet the pilots who fly America's drones

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