Drone Makers Cash In as Other Nations, US Police Enter Market

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Common Dreams

Drone Makers Cash In as Other Nations, US Police Enter Market

'The hungriest market is the nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies'

by
Common Dreams staff

US Drone maker AeroVironment's 'Qube' fits in the trunk of a police car and is controlled remotely by a tablet computer.

Before the September 11th attacks, the US military had only about 50 combat drones. Now that number has grown to over 7,500 as the remotely-controlled aircraft have been deployed across the globe in America's endless war on terrorism.

The military-industrial complex is rushing to cash in as the demand for expensive drones has syrocketed - both for the growing demand among other nations and US police surveillance agencies.

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The Associated Press reports Sunday:

Pressure Builds for Civilian Drone Flights at Home

"It's going to be the next big revolution in aviation. It's coming," says Dan Elwell, the Aerospace Industries Association's vice president for civil aviation. [...]

Congress has told the FAA that the agency must allow civilian and military drones to fly in civilian airspace by September 2015. This spring, the FAA is set to take a first step by proposing rules that would allow limited commercial use of small drones for the first time. [...]

The aerospace industry forecasts a worldwide deployment of almost 30,000 drones by 2018, with the United States accounting for half of them.

"The potential ... civil market for these systems could dwarf the military market in the coming years if we can get access to the airspace," said Ben Gielow, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry trade group.

The hungriest market is the nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies.

Customs and Border Patrol has nine Predator drones mostly in use on the U.S.-Mexico border, and plans to expand to 24 by 2016. Officials say the unmanned aircraft have helped in the seizure of more than 20 tons of illegal drugs and the arrest of 7,500 people since border patrols began six years ago.

Several police departments are experimenting with smaller drones to photograph crime scenes, aid searches and scan the ground ahead of SWAT teams. The Justice Department has four drones it loans to police agencies. [...]

The possibility of armed police drones someday patrolling the sky disturbs Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The Constitution is taking a back seat so that boys can play with their toys," Burke said. "It's kind of scary that they can use a laptop computer to zap people from the air."

A recent ACLU report said allowing drones greater access takes the country "a large step closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which focuses on civil liberties threats involving new technologies, sued the FAA recently, seeking disclosure of which agencies have been given permission to use drones.

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Agence France-Presse reports:

Global demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, is heating up as armed forces invest in new systems to boost their ability to carry out reconnaissance and strikes without putting soldiers' lives in danger.

Propelled by a rise in Asian defense budgets, annual global spending on UAVs is forecast to almost double from the current $5.9 billion to $11.3 billion over the next decade, according to US-based defense research firm Teal Group.

"You really don't want to tell your people that you are giving the lives of your soldiers for another country"The Asia Pacific is the second largest buyer after the United States.

"Almost every country in the region is trying to get their hands on drones or develop their own ... Thailand, India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Korea," said Jon Grevatt of IHS Jane's Defense Weekly.

"You really don't want to tell your people that you are giving the lives of your soldiers for another country"

"UAVs are necessary in this age when you want to win wars and at the same time you want to have less casualties," said Tommy Silberring, who heads the drone division at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI, which pioneered the development of UAV technology for the Israeli military in the 1970s, was one of several defense manufacturers showing off drones at last week's Singapore Airshow.

The use of drones rather than manned aircraft helps make countries' participation in multilateral war efforts more palatable to the public, said Silberring, a former Israeli air force colonel.

"You really don't want to tell your people that you are giving the lives of your soldiers for another country," he told AFP at the air show.

Drones have played a crucial role in recent conflicts, with the United States relying on them to strike targets in the rugged tribal areas of Pakistan that are strongholds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.

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