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Predator drone program could come to Fort Drum

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A predator drone program that would be supported by 100 military jobs is being considered for Fort Drum, according to U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

During his debate Thursday night at Jefferson Community College with opponent Matthew A. Doheny, Mr. Owens said he was briefed about the program earlier that day by John M. McHugh, secretary of the U.S. Army. Mr. Owens said that Major Gen. Mark A. Milley, post commander at Fort Drum, also was told the program could be coming to the north country.

After the debate, Mr. Owens told the Times that the program would add 100 military jobs to the post and an undetermined number of civilian jobs.

According to the Defense Industry Daily, the “Gray Eagle Drone” is part of the Army’s reinvestment of money from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program and is now moving into full production.

Mr. McHugh, whom Mr. Owens replaced in Congress after the former was tapped to serve in the Obama administration, wrote in a letter to Mr. Owens that the Army will choose where to base the drone program in spring or early summer 2013.

“Thank you for your inquiry into this matter and your continued support of our soldiers and their families,” Mr. McHugh told Mr. Owens in the letter, dated Oct. 9.

Drones are unmanned aircraft that have become an increasingly important part of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in places like Yemen and Pakistan. Pilots can fly them remotely from a base thousands of miles away. Some human rights advocates oppose the drone program, saying that it violates international law and can lead to attacks on innocent civilians.

The subject came up in the debate as Mr. Owens was defending himself from broadsides from Mr. Doheny, who portrayed Mr. Owens as weak on Fort Drum matters. For example, Mr. Doheny supports Fort Drum as the location of a proposed missile defense site; Mr. Owens said he is waiting for the recommendation from military leaders before he endorses the idea.

Mr. Doheny has also criticized Mr. Owens for voting for budget cuts to the military. Mr. Owens defended his vote, noting that many Republicans agreed with him and that the cuts were never actually meant to take place. The so-called budget “sequester” was intended to bring all the parties to the negotiating table, because the cuts were so harsh. But Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a deficit-cutting proposal, so now Congress is scrambling to avoid the cuts before they take effect in January.

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