The U.S. government wants to deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the border with Mexico as part of the Donald Trump administration’s ongoing and completely unnecessary militarization of the region, TYT Network reported on Wednesday.
Yes, those Reaper drones, the remotely piloted aircraft best known for their role in the U.S.’ ongoing, devastating bombing and “targeted killing” campaigns in the never-ending War on Terror.
Trump signed orders mobilizing National Guard forces to the border in April, citing an imaginary emergency cooked up to please his nativist supporters. (Unlawful crossings are estimated to be their lowest since 1971, even with thousands more border agents deployed to the Southwest, and border violence mostly impacts the Mexican side.) According to TYT Network, previously unreported congressional testimony shows that Guard officials involved in that effort are asking for drone support. Top-ranking officers told the House Homeland Security Committee in late July that they’re seeking the Reaper drones:
In his testimony, National Guard Major General John F. Nichols said he expects that Reapers would be deployed to the border. “I think there will be a time in the future for the Reapers to be flying,” General Nichols said. “I know that California has mentioned that; I think Arizona, as well. So we see that as a possible [sic] in the future.”
… Major General Michael T. McGuire, the National Guard’s adjutant general of Arizona, confirmed to the committee that the Guard is seeking Reapers. Asked by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) whether they’re engaged in talks to acquire the Reapers, McGuire replied, “We have been looking for that.”
McGuire also commented that in addition to the Reaper drones, he would really like some Apache attack choppers as well:
McGuire also alluded to the benefits that not just the Reaper would confer on patrolling the border, but also Apache attack helicopters.
“While we are using RC-26 and Lakota, there are other rotary wing and remotely piloted systems like MQ-9 and Apache that could be used in night, low-visibility to help support our Customs and Border Patrol agents out of the normal daytime cycle,” said General McGuire.
The drones would be primarily used in intelligence and surveillance operations, National Guard and Border Patrol officials told the committee, though they did not mention whether the aircraft would be armed. Reapers are capable of carrying far larger surveillance payloads than their predecessor, the MQ-1 Predator drone, according to the Register.
Legally, guard personnel deployed to the border region are only allowed to provide support for domestic law enforcement agencies, which includes aerial surveillance. TYT Network wrote that the generals did note that any use of the Reaper would need to be cleared by the departments of Defence and Homeland Security.
A U.S. Air Force spokesperson told TYT Network they were not aware of any plans to deploy the aircraft, so it’s possible this idea was nipped in the bud by someone wary of the Reaper’s “hunter-killer” reputation or failed to gain approval. It’s also unclear whether the Guard came up with this idea themselves or the Trump administration is pushing for it, though in either scenario the president would doubtless be pleased to hear about more military hardware on border.