WASHINGTON May 22 Public backlash against
deadly overseas drone strikes may undermine promising uses of
such technology for anything from disaster response to mail
delivery, a top U.S. industry group said as it launched a
lobbying effort to "demystify" unmanned planes.
The Aerospace Industries Association wants to prevent
misperceptions and regulatory roadblocks from cutting into a
market it says could be worth $89 billion over the next decade,
according to a report the trade group will release on Thursday.
The report comes as President Barack Obama on Thursday is
expected to lay out the rationale for U.S. drone strikes in a
major speech on why the strikes are "necessary, legal and just."
"Until public discussion moves beyond misnomers and false
assumptions about unmanned system, it will be difficult to
advance substantive policy changes that enable growth of this
highly beneficial technology," the AIA report said.
U.S. government sources told Reuters on Monday that the
Pentagon would take over some drone operations run by the CIA, a
move that could increase congressional oversight of such
Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday said
four U.S. citizens were killed in drone strikes in Yemen and
elsewhere, news that could stoke further controversy.
Responding to mounting backlash, aerospace spokesman Dan
Stohr said lawmakers need to be more aware of how unmanned
systems could be used for everything from border patrol to
weather forecasting and boosting agricultural production, or
even locating stranded hikers, and be able to separate fact from
"The notion that we're going to have armed drones in the
U.S. national air space is just a total misnomer," Stohr said.
The AIA report, which kicks off a major industry lobbying
effort, had been in the works for a month and was not timed to
coincide with Obama's speech, Stohr added.
DRONE MAKERS EYE CIVILIAN MARKET
Northrop Grumman Corp, which builds the high-flying
Global Hawk spy plane and the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter,
Boeing Co, and other drone makers are counting on civil
and foreign sales for continued growth in the unmanned plane
segment as U.S. defense spending starts to decline.
Dennis Muilenburg, president of Boeing's defense division,
which builds the smaller Scan Eagle unmanned system but has also
developed a high-altitude drone, told analysts on Wednesday that
his company saw unmanned systems as a growth area.
Boeing, Northrop and Lockheed Martin Corp all plan
to compete for a U.S. Navy contract to build a new unmanned
combat plane that can land on an aircraft carrier - one of few
new military aircraft development programs being launched in the
current tough budget environment.
The U.S. government flies more than 1 million unmanned
flight hours each year and the Pentagon operates more than 7,000
unmanned aircraft, according to the AIA report, which estimated
that spending would nearly double to $11.4 billion a year over
the next decade.
Privately held General Atomics builds the Predator and armed
Reaper unmanned planes used for counterterrorism operations.
Northrop's unmanned X-47B demonstration aircraft last week
became the first unmanned plane to be launched off an aircraft
carrier. On Wednesday, the company's MQ-4C Triton, the U.S.
Navy's version of the Global Hawk, made its first flight in
Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said the pair of "firsts"
showed the depth and breadth of Northrop's unmanned portfolio.
He said military commanders continued to clamor for surveillance
and reconnaissance data, which unmanned planes were ideally
suited to provide.
The U.S. military's pivot to Asia, with its vast expanses of
land and oceans, would only strengthen that demand, even as the
U.S. military reduced its use of drones in Iraq and Afghanistan,
The AIA report said unmanned planes used for border patrol
and other civilian uses faced obstacles to growth, among them
inadequate allocation of bands on the electromagnetic spectrum
for radio communications and a lack of guidelines for
integrating drones into U.S. air space.
Outdated missile control rules also made it difficult to
export unmanned planes, the group said.
It also raised concerns about a growing number of states and
communities that have passed laws banning or restricting the use
of unmanned planes due to privacy concerns.