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.