Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Obama Administration Orders Up More Drone Surveillance in Middle East

Northrup Grumman drone in flight
Despite all the controversy surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the Obama Administration, with not much attending publicity, is once again stepping up its use of these so-called drones in the Middle East. I've just learned that the Navy will increase by 50 percent the monthly surveillance flights of a Northrop Grumman drone under a contract awarded earlier this month. The contract will allow the Navy to keep closer tabs on activities in the ocean and coastal regions of the Middle East. 

The $10 million award will allow the company to fly its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstration (BAMS-D) aircraft 15 missions per month, up from nine missions per month in previous years. The BAMS-D aircraft regularly fly missions more than 24 hours long. Flying at high altitude, they can monitor and gather imagery from vast areas of ocean and coastal regions.

Drones are a hot commodity right now. New, lucrative government contracts are being signed left and right. Last month, the Navy awarded two contracts to build a mission-control complex for MQ-4C Triton drones at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Fla., and to build a maintenance and training facility for the Triton at Point Mugu Naval Air Station north of Los Angeles. 

The FAA estimates that there will be 30,000 drones in U.S. airspace within the next 20 years. But as I've written before, drones have become a lighting rod of controversy over the last year or so. Many Americans worry that drones will potentially compromise our freedoms and be abused by domestic law enforcement, among others. There is also grave concern about the number of civilian fatalities caused by drones we've sent across the globe to kill terrorists.

There's even growing tension over drones in San Diego, which is America's drone-making hub. Protests against the drones are increasing here. But so are profits for defense contractors that design and build these futuristic machines - Northrup and General Atomics - and all the subsidiary companies. Drone-related businesses in San Diego County generate a whopping $2 billion in annual revenue and have created as many as 14,000 jobs. Drones generate big money, and big concern.


  1. As an aviation/airplane geek who spent a full Navy enlistment wrenching, inspecting, and teaching others to do the same, mostly at NAS North Island, these things fascinate me.
    As a concerned American and World citizen, my growing feeling is that the best use of drones may turn out to be on the bagpipes, celebrating their interment.

  2. But as I've written before, drones have become a lighting rod of controversy over the last year or so