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107th Airlift Wing Could Get Drone Mission | News

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107th Airlift Wing Could Get Drone Mission
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TOWN OF NIAGARA, N.Y. - There's been concern over jobs in Niagara Falls and specifically in the Town of Niagara. Ever since news broke that the 107th Airlift Wing would be losing it's refueling mission in 2008.

Since then, western New York's federal representatives have been working to find a new mission. After a briefing with Congressional delagations on Friday, the U.S. Air Force has proposed the idea of drones flying out of the base.

If drones were approved to fly out of the station, it could help preserve the future of one of Niagara County's largest employers.

Deep cuts have already been proposed by the federal government, including the current mission for the 107th Airlift Wing.

The Air National Guard unit needs a new mission, so that it can be efficient and effective in the future.

"This is exactly what we are looking for to have the conversation about what opportunities lie," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-26th District).

The proposal that seems to be taking shape could bring 500 jobs to the base. There are 845 jobs there now. A big question is whether any positions would be lost if a drone squadron was approved.

"I can't reduce the defense budget by $487 billion and not create some pain," said Defense Department Secretary Leon Panetta in August, during a visit to the base.

Also, during his speech, Panetta made a promise to keep the base open. However, he floated the possibility that reductions to staff could be made. According to Hochul, there's enough funding to keep the base open until the summer of 2013. After that, because of cutbacks, the 107th could be slashed, without a new mission. If this happened, the base would be put in jeopardy.

"We continue to call attention to the strengths of this facility here, why they would want to put other missions here, the fact that they're talking about it, means they're getting the message," said John Cooper the vice chairman of Niagara Military Affairs Council or NIMAC, which is a lobbying group that tries to maintain support for the base.

Drones are remote controlled aircraft that have been critical in America's fight against terrorism. The aircraft is quiet and stealthy, so the enemy doesn't know it's nearby. And drones can fire quickly and with precision.

And to see the future, all you have to do is look down the Thruway. Drones like these are already being flown by the Air National Guard unit in Syracuse.

"That is where the future of the military is going," said Hochul.

However, some protest the use of drones claiming, in part that they kill innocent people.

Still, much needs to happen for the drone unit to be approved. Hearings, negotiations, drafting a funding bill, passing a funding bill all hasn't happened.

Hochul says she plans to talk to Panetta next week to discuss the possibility of bringing a drone operation to western New York.

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