Drone Event Draws Fans, Protesters By Dion Nissenbaum and Khalid Khattak


DeM Banter: What could possibly go wrong? The US has set a very interesting precedent…interesting times.

Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
August 13, 2013

Washington Wire

Drone makers from across the globe converged on Washington Tuesday to seek out new frontiers for the controversial technology.

With more than 28 states considering restrictions on use of the unmanned aircraft in their skies, manufacturers are looking to redefine the image of drones – now best known for lethal strikes in Pakistan and Yemen — and expand the market. Drone makers, who prefer the term “unmanned aerial vehicles,” envision using them for a broad array of services, from combating forest fires to delivering pizzas.

The three-day event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a Virginia-based advocacy group.

“Often there is fear of the unknown, so job No. 1 is educating people about what is possible,” said Ellen Lord, president of Textron Systems, a Rhode Island-based defense contractor that makes surveillance drones for the U.S. and other countries. “I think there will be a lot of emotion and debate. However, I think that the utility that these systems provide is significant.”

Drone sales are expected to grow exponentially as more countries embrace their use. International spending could double from $5.2 billion a year to $11.6 billion over the next decade and top $89 billion by 2023, according to a recent survey by the Teal Group, a Virginia-based defense research firm.

Peter Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution, said the potential benefits of the industry suffer from its “inadvertent branding” by U.S. drone strikes overseas that have killed scores of civilians and targeted a radical American Muslim cleric living in Yemen.

“The one part that was supposed to be covert is the part that is shaping the public perception the most – and that’s a major challenge for the industry,” he said.

Still, more nations want to add drones to their arsenals. Last week, Israel reportedly used a drone to target suspected militants in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. Israel is a major exporter of drones and, by year’s end, the Middle East nation is expected to surpass the U.S. in international drone sales, according to HIS Jane’s Aerospace and Defense.

The industry’s challenge to expand beyond defense was evident Tuesday as more than a dozen demonstrators gathered outside convention center and one activist unfurled a “Stop Killer Drones” banner during a press conference by a U.S. Army general.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Codepink protest movement, said the positive uses of drones can’t mask their more dominant military role.

“As much as they talk about tracking endangered species, search and rescue missions or exploring caves, this industry is driven by war,” said Ms. Benjamin, who wore a pink Predator drone costume.

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