Drone Makers gather to Defend Their Product

Image: Drone Makers gather to Defend Their Product Weapons systems for UAVs from Lockheed Martin are on display at the Unmanned Systems 2013 exhibition and symposium at the Washington Convention Center on Aug. 13.

Thursday, 15 Aug 2013 09:24 AM

By John Gizzi

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On the same day that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for international regulation of the use of drones, manufacturers of the unmanned aerial vehicles began a four-day convention in Washington, D.C., with a robust defense of their product.

Among the highlights of the so-called "drone convention" at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center were examples of greater domestic use by civilians of the device that has become so controversial from its strikes against terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Sponsored by the Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the convention included exhibits of many robotic vehicles now used in military as well as civilian capacities.

John Palatiello, executive director of the Management Association for Private Photogrammatic Surveyors, explained that "the nonmilitary application of drones could be beneficial in so many ways.

"A family member who is kidnapped would have a better chance of finding a loved one through the use of vehicles such as this — not weaponized, of course. There is a wide gulf between armed, military drones and unarmed or pilotless aerial systems," Palatiello told Newsmax.

"If the Boston Police Department had the use of [drones] this year, how much quicker would the Boston Marathon bomber have been apprehended?" he asked.

Palatiello said that the mapmakers and surveyors in his own organization would benefit tremendously in their work from the photographic ability of many drones.

"I understand Rand Paul's concerns about the application of drones," he told Newsmax. "But the use of unmanned and unweaponized aircraft by civilians would lead to greater productivity and lower cost on many fronts."

Others at the convention noted that Congress already has authorized the integration of civil unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace with the enactment last year of the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act.

The industry is now awaiting implementation of the plan and regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Outside the convention center, demonstrators from the anti-war group Code Pink picketed and denounced the drones and their makers for civilian casualties in the war on terror.

There has been no accurate count of civilian casualties from the 400 drone strikes made during the Obama administration, but UN Secretary General Ban, speaking at a university in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, said every effort should be made to avoid mistakes and civilian casualties.

"The use of armed drones, like any other weapon, should be subject to long-standing international law, including international humanitarian law," Ban said.

But Yemeni President Rabbu Mansour Hadi has publicly praised drones, which have been used by the U.S. in his country for more than a decade, saying, "They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you're aiming at."

While acknowledging that the use of drones in counterterrorism strikes have resulted in deaths of innocent civilians, several participants at the convention in Washington insisted to Newsmax that the technology is being studied and applied to reduce these possibilities.

"The loss of innocent life is a reality of war and I understand this, unfortunately," Matthew Henderson, manager of marketing and business and development at Southport Airport in Manitoba, Canada, told Newsmax. "But anything can be used in a menacing way, such as, say, any manned aircraft. But that has more to do with the user than the technology."

Henderson pointed out that drones increasingly have a procedure under which, in a brief period, they can be recalled "in a period of 30 seconds and come home" if a target is found to have innocent civilians in the area of danger.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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