LEESVILLE - Fort Polk has become the center of military drone training.
The base has a $37 million facility to train soldiers in navigating combat missions overseas through drone warfare. At the Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Facility, drones are called unmanned aircraft.
"All day every day all across the globe, unmanned aircraft have amassed over 2 million flight hours," Warrant Officer Michael Gray said in an exclusive interview with WBRZ News 2.
"Everything we do is based off intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and going out to have unmanned aircraft systems to support the soldier," Gray said. "One of the reasons why we are here, is to be able to provide that training to the units that come here."
More than 200 soldiers have been a part of the program. During practice missions, the unmanned aircraft fly with military helicopters while special forces train below.
Each unmanned aircraft costs about $1 million and use high definition pictures, night vision and lasers to target terrorists. Specialized software allows unmanned aircraft pilots to be able fly their machines from the cockpit of a helicopter; giving the crew a glimpse about what might be hiding just ahead.
"It's so sophisticated a manned aviator in an Apache can actually fly the [unmanned] aircraft," Gray said.
Soldiers involved with the program are quick to point out their only objective is to target enemies overseas; not the American public.
"One of the greatest misconceptions of the aircraft are that we use them in some domestic roll where we use them to see through windows and see through homes and this is completely untrue. For all Army or Department of Defense unmanned aircraft systems, we can't even aim the camera outside of a restricted airspace," Gray said.
The unmanned aircraft at Fort Polk can fly for nine hours before having to refuel. Some unmanned aircraft can fly for 30 hours.