In Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas a new airport is being built. But it won't cater to pilots or offer any amenities common to the typical airstrip –because this one is being built exclusively to house the U.S Army aerial drones.
If an aerial drone fleet housed in a state of the art bunker sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, you're not far off. The Texas Standard's David Brown speaks with John Horgan, writer for the Scientific American online and teacher at the Stevens Institute for Technology.
Horgan has followed the development of the military's drone program for some time – and he paints a vivid portrait of how these drones may be used in the future.
"Nobody had heard of drones before 9 -11," Horgan says. "We went from having maybe a couple of hundred drones in 2001, to over 12,000 a decade later." It's that increase that led the military to seek special accommodations for the growing fleet.
The $33 million dollar plan will encompass 150 acres and over a mile of runways and taxiways, but the question many may be asking is, why Texas? Horgan says the state may pose a certain level of strategic value. "I think probably the most obvious application would be doing border control," he says.
For many Texans, the very mention of the word "drone" can strike a certain chord in those who fear their proliferation may lead to trouble: air safety issues and personal privacy violations, for instance. Horgan says that while there are many developments in the realm of military and law enforcement drones, there are just as many civilian uses for drones, including tasks like farming and traffic control.
While Texas may be the first to receive a drone-exclusive facility, it probably won't be the last. "I think facilities like this will be cropping up all over the states," Horgan says. "I think what you're seeing in Texas is the beginning of a long term trend."