UAVs Demonstrate the Future at Pax River Event
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ST INIGOES, Md., Jul. 14, 2003 The "Jumbotron" video screen had "Welcome to UAV Town, USA" emblazoned across at site of the unmanned aerial vehicle flight demonstration today.
The demo occurred at the Webster Field annex to Naval Air Station, Patuxent River. While not as sexy as "Fightertown, USA" - the nickname given to Miramar Naval Air Station in California - it was appropriate as all shapes and sizes of unmanned aerial vehicles stood ready to show their stuff.
Unmanned aerial vehicles have been stars in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. One official said the reason no Predator UAVs were flying in the demonstration was "they're too valuable. They're all on operations."
But they are not just valuable to military operations. Protecting America is another mission these unmanned aircraft can perform. Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Gordon England said the vehicles will aid members of his department as they work to ensure America's port and border security.
"This issue of terrorism is not transitory," said England, who served as Navy secretary before taking this post. "Until the (Berlin) Wall came down in 1989, we fought communism for 40 years with the very best technology America had to offer. And we will in a similar situation in regard to terrorism."
In fact, England said he has asked DoD to deploy UAVs with agencies of the Department of Homeland Security. The aircraft will fly along the U.S. southern border. This will allow members of the new department to "gain some experience, some background, some hands on with the technology," England said. "This is a very first step for us as we move into this new area of UAV technology."
The Navy's Program Executive Office for Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International co-sponsored the event. It is part of the AUVSI convention that will continue in Baltimore through July 17.
The demonstrations highlight the strides made in the field and gives contractors and government personnel a chance to "network" with each other, said Rear Adm. Jack Chenevey, program executive officer.
Among participants were Northrop Grumman, flying both the Fire Scout and the Hunter; Boeing, with its ScanEagle; DRS, the Sentry HP; Schiebel, the Camcopter; and Yamaha, the RMAX.
Other companies showed off their latest, including Aurora Flight Sciences with the GolenEye-50; Innocon, the Mini Falcon; and MMIST, the SnowGoose.
"What you see here is how the field is changing and expanding," said a Naval Air Systems Command official. "When we held this the last time in July 2001, the emphasis was on data and pictures. Now the Predator is armed and flying missions. The Defense Department is sinking serious money in the unmanned combat air vehicles, and all sorts of other uses are being considered for these platforms."
"These are very economical," said Clark Butner, who works with the command's special communications division at nearby Naval Air Station Patuxent River. "They are getting easier to fly, and require fewer people and pieces of equipment to operate." For example, Butner called the walking away price of the SnowGoose - about $250,000 - "digit dust" when compared to the overall DoD budget.
Many vendors are branching out of the purely military applications for their products. "There is a market for these platforms with the Department of Homeland Security," said Ken Zugel, director of flight operations for Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Va. The vehicles can stay in the air for extended periods of time and the technology is such that now it doesn't take a huge piece of equipment as a ground base, he said. They also can operate from "austere" environments.
In fact, Zugel's company is working with NASA on one of the more far- out UAVs called the Mars Flyer. If all goes well, that UAV will give scientists a close- up view of Mars and send back test results of air samples taken in the Martian atmosphere. Zugel said the company has tested the Mars Flyer by dropping it from a balloon that brought the craft to 100,000 feet.