The Charge of the Drone Brigade

The Charge of the Drone Brigade

What many are calling the first drone war is currently in full swing in Ukraine. I’m not sure, as combatants in more minor conflicts have employed drones, albeit with less media coverage. Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, ISIS, and Jabhat al-Nursa et al. love the drone. There are also non-DJIhadi types like the PPK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and “other” narco non-state actors who are fans of drones.

The combatants in the more mainstream Ukrainian instance are fielding several systems, including a few of the DJI systems, primarily the Mavic 3 (used by both sides) and the Matrice 300. Besides those commonly known and available systems, we see the Iranian Shahed-136 and Turkish Bayraktar TB2.

The real question for us in the West is, how could officials in the US federal government, including the Federal Aviation Administration been so far off of the mark when it came to drones? Even more disturbing is the notion that other Western CAAs didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t think for themselves. I can only assume government workers were beguiled by the bogus $82 billion AUVSI forecast?

How many bureaucrats wrongly believed they would finally be growing the regulatory business?

I hate to keep banging the negativity drum or, in this case, the reality drum about drones, but it has become a habit after 17 or so years. Bringing up reality usually puts people in a dark place, and I get that. Most end-users wrapping themselves up in the mantle of technology visionary or drone expert have little to show without the #1 Happy Good Luck Quad Copter Company. Ban DJI, and the ecosystem could drop by a good 75%. There will be a lot of wiz kid visionaries in the unemployment line.

There are some reoccurring delusions here in the unmanned industry. Some low-hanging examples would be the many uses rediscovered almost annually, like FARM DRONES, SAR drones, burrito (whatever) delivery drones, etc., ad nauseam.

At this late stage of the game, you had better have a whole bag of qualifiers to go with your supposed drone first. Also, the notion that most of these applications can be done profitably and without coloring outside of the lines is laughable.

The FAA enforcing their policy and rules is lobbyist dependent. Up there on the industry absurdity scale is the notion that the Chinese might use other technology to spy on countries, but certainly not drones.

All of the examples given by the visionaries of why drones are unique are precisely why people hire out for drones as a servicio. How many experts and visionaries tell prospective clients that they can use cell phones and Google Earth to get the same information for free?

Where did it all start to come off of the tracks?

In the early 2000s, the USA had a good 20-year unmanned systems technological lead on the world. Someone must have put out an RFP for some weapons-grade bullshit because the DoD and their vendors’ thought they had this drone thing locked up tight! Possibly it was a byproduct of being the only superpower for so long.

It’s not all bad news; we have the AeroVironment Switchblade in the fight! Yeah, circa 2008/09 capabilities from a company called Procerus. Procerus came out of a grad student college program, and drones that can target moving ground and airborne targets are not new. Another example of a domestic company developing capabilities that were apparently a decade before its time, all dressed up and with nowhere to go.

In 2008/09, it was too fantastical even for the DoD. Not so for the Sacramento Police Department, which rolled out a drone program in 2008 with the Unicorn.

Unfortunately, they hired a consultant who was unaware of the FAA’s policy change (ban), and Sac PD had an expensive egg on the face. While working for the US Navy in 2010, I brought up the On Point Autopilot system and was called a nut, as nothing like that existed. I said I’d seen it, so you might be wrong.

Putting two and two together here, maybe that is how I wound up enjoying the dry heat in the Yumastan desert.

Procerus could not flourish; there were no commercial markets forthcoming for another eight or so years without Part 107. Anyway, even today, this company would have a limited domestic market as buyers would have a tough time making an ROI on the product in the Line Of Sight (LOS) regulatory framework.

Please save your BVLOS (EVLOS with VOs) waiver numbers for the Best Buy flyers and other wishful thinkers. ITAR would limit foreign markets not sanctioned by the US government.

The unintended consequences in this instance could be the demise of the domestic over 55-pound UAS market. We have hands down lost the sUAS market to the PRC, and we might be crazy for believing the over 55 lbs market is not already gone. Folks looking at what got left behind in Afghanistan for
inspiration are probably laughing and giggling as they wonder why that junk is so expensive.

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Patrick Egan

Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).