Unmanned Aircraft Systems save lives, money

By Col. Scott St. Sauver, Guest Columnist

The topic of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, has been in the local media recently. I would like to comment on the topic and offer some points for consideration.

At Camp Ripley, our military units strictly focus on a military application of the UAS technology. The UAS we fly are equipped only with cameras and not weapons systems. Our military UAS teams provide critical battlefield intelligence in a deployed environment.

Units at Camp Ripley train on the UAS in order to learn how to observe an enemy or potential threat in real time. This application of UAS ultimately saves tax- payer money and saves service members’ lives.

How does it save money and lives?

Flying a remotely piloted UAS, which weighs about four pounds into an area to discover enemy movement or concentrations, is significantly less expensive than flying a UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter or an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet. Moreover, because the UAS is remotely piloted, we don’t put lives at risk in trying to obtain this information.

Some in our community are concerned about UAS conducting warrantless surveillance. This is a concern, but a concern for civilian authorities at the national level. Under Section 1385 of Title 18, Unites States Code military units are strictly prohibited from acting as agents of law enforcement. This is commonly referred to as the Posse Comitatus Act.

This prohibition has been further clarified in Department of Defense Directive 5525.5, “which precludes members of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps from direct participation in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is authorized by law.”

There are those who have argued that any use of UAS — whether for military or civilian application — in our community is a danger. This is one viewpoint, but consider the following:

Unmanned aircraft may be used to increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety and even save lives. For example, a large portion of the Midwest is currently under drought conditions. UAS may be used by civilian agencies to watch for forest fires, thereby increasing response time and reducing the potential loss of valuable forest land.

Another example of potential UAS use is the annual spring flooding that takes place along the Red River. Civilian use of the UAS could aid in the observation of flood conditions, aid in search and rescue missions or to monitor the integrity of an earthen levee system.

There are those in our community who are concerned about the use of UAS as an offensive weapon. It is a fact that Predator UAS have been used extensively in the war in Afghanistan. However, it is also a fact that Camp Ripley units do not have the Predator UAS, nor does the Minnesota National Guard have the Predator UAS in its inventory.

As a soldier, I have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. As a protector of the Constitution I defend the First Amendment which guarantees the right of free speech and freedom of assembly.

As a citizen, I also know to take my concerns to the people who have the ability to do something about them. Raising concerns about warrantless surveillance or the lawful use of Predator UAS are worthy causes best addressed by our national lawmakers.

Col. Scott A. St. Sauver, a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard, is the post commander for Camp Ripley, Little Falls.

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