On the eve of WWI, the Royal Flying Corps commissioned English professor A.M. Low to develop a pilotless aircraft. Momentarily setting aside his work on radar, he succeeded in conceiving a pilotless, remotely-controlled aircraft. But due to engineering challenges with the radio gear, the vehicle was never flown in combat.
Since then Low’s original conception has advanced far beyond what he could have imagined. Fast-forward nearly one hundred years, and Low’s concept has not only been used extensively in combat but is taking to the skies in innumerable civil applications.
Unmanned aerial systems, popularly known as drones, are here. They signal a profound change in the nature of warfare as well as growth potential in the commercial market. On one end of the spectrum, Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Peter Singer explains that drones fundamentally change the “who” of war. For the history of mankind, advancements in wartime technology have been about the “how.” At the other end, the usage of UAVs in journalism, agriculture, law enforcement and even by DIY hobbyists opens up the skies to the market.
A study by the Teal Group predicts that the worldwide market for UAVs will reach $89 billion over the next ten years with the United States making up a lion’s share of that market. Most of those dollars will be comprised of defense-related spending. In FY2011, the U.S. Department of Defense requested $6.1 billion for UAS and is expecting another $24 billion through 2015. In tandem with the funding increase, the U.S. has significantly grown its UAS arsenal over the last ten years. In 2000, the DoD had 50 UAV in its inventory; today there are over 7,000.
The UAVs in the U.S. inventory range from the four pound Raven capable of flying at 50 knots below 1,000 feet to the Global Hawk weighing in 25,600 pounds capable of flying at 400 knots for over 30 hours at 65,000 feet. Of course there are also the Predator and Reaper systems used widely in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Yemen and Somalia.
Even with the looming budget cuts and their potential impact on the DoD (an estimated $500 billion over the next 10 years), UAS are likely to continue to attract defense dollars. In an early 2012 address, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made clear that funding for UAS would not be cut and in some cases will increase. This allocation of funds only makes sense to DoD bookkeepers. For the MQ-1B Predator, the whole shebang—aircraft, ground station, satellite link—costs $20 million. The Reaper, only $53 million. Compare that with the cost of one F-22 at $143 million.
The civil side of the UAS market has not expanded as fast as the defense side but does include dozens of civil applications, nevertheless. According to a 2011 study by the Teal Group, world civil UAS production is forecast to comprise $296 million of the $3.4 billion in 2011 global production value. By 2020 that number is expected to grow to $498 million of global production value, which is anticipated to climb to $8.8 billion.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) there are some 100 U.S. companies, academic institutions and government organizations developing over 300 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) designs with applications in law enforcement, fire fighting, border surveillance, disaster response, photography, wildlife monitoring, meteorology, agriculture, news coverage, mapping and even personal use. Right now you can buy an AR Parrot Drone fully equipped with an HD camera controllable with an iPad for about $300. There is also a large DIY hobbyist community of amateur UAV enthusiasts chomping at the bit for access to airspace.
To date commercial use of UAV technology has been restricted to testing and demonstration because of the technology’s outpacing of regulatory frameworks. That is expected to change soon, however. In 2011 and early 2012, Congress passed a series of bills calling for four to six sites in the United States where UAS would be tested for integration into the National Airspace System. Some of the regulatory challenges the FAA must overcome include:
Droning on in the Midwest
In light of the FAA’s search for test sites and the proliferation of UAS technology, regions like the Midwest now have access to Federal monies that have traditionally been funneled to the coasts.
For instance, Indiana has teamed up with Ohio to hopefully win one of the FAA test sites and attract Federal dollars for UAS testing. Indiana offers 280 square miles of restricted airspace, 1,300 square miles of military operating airspace, over 100,000 acres of real estate under restricted airspace, a Joint National Training Center with complex urban training, a 4200’ runway under restricted airspace and a national test network for communications support. To boot, Camp Atterbury and Jefferson Proving Grounds in south central Indiana are some of the only restricted airspace locations in the eastern half of the United States.
“We know that Indiana’s premiere assets including Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC) and Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuvering Training Center (CAJMTC) coupled with access to restricted airspace complement what Ohio brings to the table,” said National Center for Complex Operations Executive Director Matt Konkler.
Muscatatuck’s collocation with Jefferson Proving Ground (JPG) allows UAVs to fly in safe and restricted airspace over a defense installation, using sensors to monitor training exercises involving not only uniformed personnel but civilians from local, state, federal and international organizations. JPG’s ranges are also of value for testing existing and future weapons capabilities associated with UAS. Already Indiana is home to the 181st Intelligence Wing (IW), which provides processing, analysis and dissemination of ISR data collected by UAVs around the globe.
For Indiana, it is anticipated that by winning the test-site designation, new jobs will be created by contractors who locate or expand their presence in the two states and from spin-off jobs created by the growth. From an economic development standpoint, pursuing the joint partnership is a win/win proposition for both states. Already Indiana recently attracted BAE System Unmanned Aircraft Programs Group, which is poised to set up shop in the Hoosier state soon.
Considerations for the Future
The proliferation of UAVs is not without controversy, however. The 30,000 UAVs expected to take to U.S. civil airspace have many citizens, understandably, worried. UAV opponents have voiced concerns about the ease of hacking these systems, the frequency of crashes, the further dehumanization of war, and most prominently the serious privacy violations that could accompany widespread UAV usage. Most famously, UAV critic Charles Krauthammer declared that the first American citizen to use a 2nd amendment weapon to bring down a drone would be considered a folk hero. The naysayers aren’t luddites, and their concerns represent how the rapid pace of technological advancement has put serious tension on society to catch up.
Moore’s law suggests that our technology doubles its power capacity just about every 18 months and will continue to do so. According to Peter Singer, if Moore’s law holds true, within twenty-five years our technologies will be a billion times more powerful than they are today. “The best illustration I can give of how fast technology has gone, how much it’s changing, and what’s possible in war or not,” says Peter Singer. “One of those little greeting cards that you open up and plays a song has more computing power than the entire US Army had when the Vietnam War started. That’s technology’s impact on the world.”
Here are a few examples of what that translates to in the near-term: Boeing won a contract with the Pentagon to develop a solar-powered UAV that is expected to stay aloft for five years. Five years. The UAV, called the SolarEagle, is scheduled to take flight in 2014. Moreover, there are UAVs being developed at the University of Pennsylvania that can swarm, fly in complex formations and even play tennis.
The ability of technology to enhance our daily lives and improve our national security presents us with wide ranging opportunities. At the same time, the rapid rate of change warrants caution, especially as technology outpaces regulatory frameworks. Domestically we will need proper regulations and licensing in place to protect privacy and satiate security concerns while allowing the market to flourish. Abroad, our engagement must be tempered by careful consideration of the moral and ethical limits on the capabilities of 21st century warfighter.
Engaging those unsettled by the technology will be crucial to tackling the tough questions about proper usage and ensuring citizen-serving innovation. How will these systems enhance our lives without infringing on privacy? How might this technology further enable terrorists and those states that would want to harm the United States? Whether or not we all agree on the mere existence of these systems, one thing is for certain: they are here, and we must use them wisely.
As with every other significant technological leap forward, philosophers, policymakers, priests and citizens will have to shape the trajectories of unmanned systems, applying laws and moral restrictions where necessary. Technology is plowing ever faster forward. And because of it our nation becomes ever more secure while the market continues to flourish. Yet citizens must discern how best to integrate UAVs into their lives and not drown out in the wave of progress.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Hauser is an assistant professor of aviation technology and serves as the Director of Unmanned Systems of Indiana State University’s Department of Aviation Technology.
Dr. Richard Baker is the Director for the Center for Homeland Security and Crisis Leadership at Indiana State University and is a member of ISU’s Department of Aviation Technology.
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