by RS Bailey
The military’s use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, in Afghanistan and Iraq is well known. Now, with those theatres of operation winding down those drones are coming home. They are undoubtedly the future of military operations. They are also the future of domestic government, civilian and commercial application.
Drones have been in use patrolling our northern and southern borders for two years and their use will be expanding. Some see this as a massive threat to civil liberties and the beginning of a lifestyle that will keep us under constant observation by the government. Others see it as a cost effective and efficient way to guarantee our security.
There can be no doubt that when it comes to patrolling our borders that drones do the job better. Of more concern is they type of drones to be used and guaranteeing their safety of operation. This is the main concern of the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) which, under order of Congress, must prepare the way for significantly expanded use by 2015. In truth, this should simply be a matter of engineering and not a significant obstacle.
The President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 includes $100 million for drones to patrol our borders, $91 million slated for
the southwest. The military will naturally be increasing its training, most of this in North Dakota. You can count on local police organizations using drones. They are already in use in Colorado and Texas. Sheriff’s in North Dakota recently took a family of cow thieves into custody without bloodshed, which had been threatened against investigating authorities, with the help of a military drone. It could also mean less aerial noise over major cities by eliminating the need for full size helicopters used by law enforcement and news agencies.
NewsCorp has already used drones to capture aerial news footage and operated them without FAA permission. Independent paparazzi are already using remote controlled helicopters without regulation or license. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of drones only in the Reaper, Predator, or Scan Eagle sizes used by the military. No doubt there will be plenty of those. Drones also come as small helicopters that can fit into the trunk of a car. The military already has a hummingbird size drone and is rumored to have a dragonfly sized done that it can park almost anywhere and put into action when needed. Lockheed Martin has a camera equipped super lightweight “whirly bird” that looks like a maple seed.
Of more concern is the coming expanded commercial use. There are literally thousands of these things on the way. It’s expected to be a major boom in the commercial sector. Energy companies want to use them to monitor the power grid, farmers to check the crops, ranchers to count cattle. Movie production uses them as camera vehicles. The fuel savings will be tremendous compared to the use of manned vehicles. With cameras that see more than the visible spectrum only the imagination holds back the applications. There will be no stopping them.
One of the problems nobody is mentioning is the expanded need for electromagnetic bandwidth for the wireless transmission of data. It’s going to be huge. Where’s it all going to come from? The bureaucracy for licensing will necessarily be huge as well. That means enforcement will be more difficult. As more drones are used, more used drones will be sold on subsidiary markets and be beyond the reach of the FAA. Virtually anybody anywhere will be able to operate one from their laptop or smart phone.
It has already begun and the FAA is mum about how many licenses are already out there and who has them. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued, under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking to learn which government agencies have already received permission to operate them. The ACLU has also expressed concern.
So not only are the drones coming, they’re already here. As with most technological advances they can be a boon and a benefit or they can be a threat. They can peak in you windows and take pictures of you or lurk inside your warehouse, parking garage, or office building.
Keep your eyes on the sky and don’t forget to look over your shoulder. And keep smiling, you could be on TV.