Drones: Coming to the Skies Near You

John Glaser, November 29, 2011

Los Angeles Times:

Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan, may soon be coming to the skies near you.

Police agencies want drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.

“It’s going to happen,” said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Assn. “Now it’s about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace.”

That’s the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation’s skyways.

“By definition, small drones are easy to conceal and fly without getting a lot of attention,” said John Villasenor, a UCLA professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. “Bad guys know this.”

The aerospace industry insists these concerns can be addressed. It also believes that the good guys — the nation’s law enforcement agencies — are probably the biggest commercial market for domestic drones, at least initially.

Ah, yes. “Good guys” is a synonym for “brutes of the state,” right? The LA Times piece cites some mundane quotes from Peter Singer. But my piece from back in September on Singer’s piece in the journal Nature focused more on his points regarding the murky legal waters and dire potential to realize unaccountable war (as it has been doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and other American war zones).

The U.S. Defense Department operates more than 7,000 aerial drones and 12,000 unmanned ground systems and now hyper-militarized police departments in Miami, Utah, and elsewhere have sought licenses to operate surveillance drones. For the wards of the state, there really is no limit to what weapons and machinery of war can be utilized against the people.

Update: A commenter queries about the use of drones in Mexico, or perhaps more accurately, along our border with Mexico. I should have included initially this story about just that phenomenon. You see, the wards of the state regard American territory such a prized, state-owned possession that innocent people coming over the border are to be attacked, harassed, locked up by a militarized law enforcement presence no matter how much they might improve the economy. And for six years, Predator drones have been deployed along the border and are “credited with apprehending more than 7,500 people.” Since 2005, Predator drones “have logged more than 10,000 flight hours and aided in intercepting 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs.” This is a waste of…well a lot of things, but one certainly is money. One Predator system costs $18.5 million. All in order to deprive people of work, Americans of an improved economy, and to fight a lost drug war.

For those readers interested in the public choice/military-industrial-complex aspect of drones, see this important piece which details the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an industry lobby that brings together drone manufacturers.

Drone orders from the federal government are rolling in to AUVSI corporate members, including such top military contractors as General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman.

The Obama administration’s enthusiasm for drone attacks and surveillance in Afghanistan and elsewhere has helped consolidate the Pentagon’s commitment to drone warfare. Paralleling the increased use of drones in foreign wars is the rising commitment of the Department of Homeland Security to deploy drones for border security.

The drone business is projected to double over the next decade despite stagnant military budgets.  The annual global market is expected to rise from $5.9 billion to nearly $11.3 billion by 2020 – with the United States accounting for about three-quarters of the total research, development, and procurement markets.

U.S. government drone purchases — not counting contracts for an array of related UAV services and “payloads” — rose from $588 million to $1.3 billion over the past five years.




6 Responses to “Drones: Coming to the Skies Near You”

  1. I'm surprised they aren't shooting Lockheed's missiles at the Mexicans yet.

  2. Got to find somewhat to keep all those defense contractors busy.

  3. SEND THE DRONES

  4. What a stupid article. "Drones", which you should use the proper name of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, are saving lives. Wars will be fought no matter how much you don't want them to be. You aren't going to stop the government from starting wars, I don't care if you agree or not with them. But now, instead of a $100 million aircraft with a pilot that costs $10 million to train, you can have 10 UNMANNED aircraft with pilots that cost 1/10 of that to train. Here's the best part, get this…. When a UAV is shot down, or crashes, guess what happens? Nothing. The pilot gets up and grabs a cup of coffee. No lost son. No lost husband. No lost daddy. No being captured by the enemy. The UAVs SAVES LIVES. As for our domestic border war? Of course we need to patrol and stop people and drugs from entering. You worry about the cost of doing that? You don't seem too worried about the enormous cost of taking care of illegal immigrants, and the side effects of drug use! We here in the US welcome everyone who wishes to come…. LEGALLY. There is a process to enter our country and to blatantly say illegals should be let in is an insult of the highest degree to those people who fought long and hard to enter our country the proper way. You dishonor them by saying their legal entry and waiting was not worth the effort. I won't even get into the cost savings of having a single UAV patrol an area of border with one pilot and one observer versus the dozens of agents on the ground and the extremely expensive to fly helicopters instead. A Predator B can stay aloft for 40 hours patrolling. That's 5 shifts. That is a massive cost savings versus the personnel and equipment it would take to do the same job. Your argument is completely invalid. For the record, since I'm sure you'll question it anyways, I'm democrat, hate Obama, hated Bush more, hate war, and protested against it. But if someone produces a product that SAVES LIVES and reduces the cost then why should I be against it? Again, you aren't going to stop the government from going to war, ever. So why shouldn't they limit the number of lives exposed to harm?

  5. [...] Drones: Coming to the Skies Near You [...]

  6. A more cost-effective way of dealing with the drug war: end it; it's a losing proposition anyway. The only people who will miss it will be the cartels and the well-armed armies of noxious bureaucrats.

    A more cost-effective way of dealing with illegal immigration: stop extending government benefits to undocumented workers; if you don't thus subsidize undocumented labor, fewer employers will be willing to use it. Also, absent the destabilizing effects of the drug war in Latin American, some of the "push" factors behind illegal immigration would disappear.

    I find it funny that someone who claims to "hate war" is so enthusiastic about giving the government—which we're apparently powerless to stop, silly us, so apparently we should just get over it—the tools (which MUST be called by their proper designation, citizen!) to fight even MORE UNDECLARED wars, with LESS accountability.

    I don't care what you claim to be: more than anything, you sound like a Lockheed Martin or Pentagon employee—in short, just another lousy rent-seeker.