How Long Can A Military Drone Stay In The Sky – Large, military-grade drones could soon be flying over your backyard General Atomics is conducting a test flight of its SkyGuardian drone over San Diego sometime this year.
As US military and defense contractors eye a possible drone war with Iran, as tensions with the country remain high, the defense industry is also preparing to test domestic versions of its drones. combat in major US cities in an effort to fully integrate the armed forces. grade drones in civil airspace alongside commercial air traffic for years to come.
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How Long Can A Military Drone Stay In The Sky
That’s right, those robotic killing machines used for counter-terrorism attacks in the Middle East are coming home, and could eventually be used to police large protests and communities of color across America.
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Poway-based defense contractor General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. will conduct a flight test of its SkyGuardian drone, equipped with a 79-foot wingspan and advanced surveillance capabilities over 2,000 feet, over San Diego, California sometime this year. .
The SkyGuardian, also known as the MQ-9B or Predator B, is an advanced version of the Predator military drone used abroad in the war on terror, but designed to comply with US airspace regulations. The Federal Administration The FAA granted experimental drone certification in October 2018, according to a spokesperson for the agency’s drone integration office.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, General Atomics did not disclose the date or flight paths of the drone, but said it will be used to “map critical infrastructure” in the region and showcase the drone’s civilian capabilities. The version that the company intends to test will not be weaponized, although the company advertises a weaponized version on its website.
The test flight “could open the skies to a multitude of missions that could be carried out using large (drones), including broader support for first responders dealing with natural disasters such as floods and wildfires,” a spokesperson for the drone said. General Atomics to Union- Tribune. The company did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment.
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The General Atomics initiative is being planned without any real input from the city or the FAA. According to the Union-Tribune, no city official is overseeing the test flight, and the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (UASIO) told Truthout last year that while “the UASIO is involved in internal FAA discussions to approve the proposed concept of operations for the SkyGuardian over portions of San Diego… this demonstration is not part of any UASIO project.”
The head of the branch within the San Diego Economic Development Corporation supporting the upcoming General Atomics test flight has assured the public that the effort is not intended to create an atmosphere of mistrust, and that it is not the intention of the defense contractor selling military-grade drones to law enforcement.
But a Defense One article notes that General Atomics officials want SkyGuardian to fly freely in American skies by 2025, and one of the drone’s biggest selling points is its FAA seal of approval along with its collection capabilities. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance: including signals intelligence. Larger drones may appeal to police departments over smaller, more common quadcopters, as they can stay airborne for days, in the case of SkyGuardian, up to 40 hours.
In fact, SkyGuardian’s stamina represents a huge advantage to police departments as a replacement for human-piloted helicopters, which are limited by how long the pilot can stay airborne. Using SkyGuardian, police could silently monitor suspects or protests for up to 40 hours and stream high-resolution video to police from more than 2,000 feet.
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“What the big drones really make possible is true persistent aerial surveillance, because they probably bring the cost down… It’s much more expensive to do it with a manned aircraft where you actually have to pay a trained pilot, and you have to change from time to time,” says Jeramie Scott, director of the Home Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
Scott points to persistent aerial surveillance carried out by a private company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray protests, in which military-grade surveillance equipment originally developed to track roadside bombs in Iraq was attached to small Cessna aircraft. .
Now, the integration of military-grade drones into civilian airspace is proceeding apace without substantive public debate about the privacy and civil liberties implications of the normalization of military surveillance technologies in American cities.
The Pentagon and the defense industry have long sought unrestricted access for their drones into civilian airspace, and began working with the FAA to integrate large, military-grade drones into US skies.
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Since then, the goal has been to develop proper “sense and avoid” technology to avoid mid-air collisions, making military drones safe to fly alongside commercial air traffic in the National Airspace System (NAS). Defense contractors have joined the fray, with General Atomics leading the way in designing a large drone that could pass the FAA’s civilian certification standards.
While much of the focus has been on the FAA’s integration of smaller drones for civilian and commercial use into the NAS, the Pentagon’s plans to fly hundreds of larger drones, including General Atomics’ Global Hawks as well as MQ -1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, has largely escaped public scrutiny. In fact, the 2012 Modernization Law never specifically mentions military drones. Still, the conference report on the bill stated that the FAA was directed to work with the Department of Defense “to certify and develop flight standards for military unmanned aerial systems and to integrate these systems into the NAS.”
According to a spokesperson for the FAA’s office of drone integration, the agency does not require civilian certification of aircraft used for public operations in the US, but instead looks to the operator of public aircraft, such as the Air Force, for ensure that the aircraft used is airworthy. Still, the FAA does not allow the military to fly large drones on the NAS without a special permit called a Certificate of Exemption or Authorization (COA). However, the FAA approved General Atomics’ SkyGuardian drone under experimental civilian certification for a private company.
There have been some exceptions. Unarmed Predator drones have long had special permission to patrol the country’s borders. Similarly, the California Air National Guard already uses Predator-class drones on wildfire missions, where their advanced capabilities can help firefighters track where wildfires could spread and target their hottest spots.
The 2012 law also directed the FAA to select six test sites to conduct integration investigations, and in late 2013, the FAA announced statewide programs in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. The agency later added a seventh program in New Mexico in 2016.
While all seven of the test programs are affiliated with state universities to research and test commercial and civilian drone applications, all of the programs have, at one point or another, been led by retired military officers and some have operated at military sites, according to Barry. summers. a North Carolina-based researcher studying the integration of military drones. Those sites include evidence of “non-FAA” drone operations at Area 51 in Nevada.
Since the 2012 Act, advances in ground and air detect-and-avoid technologies, as well as an integrated traffic management system, have seen significant advances, prompting House legislators to specifically include risk assessment provisions. risks and crash tests for military. -grade drones operating in civilian airspace when drafting the FAA Act of 2018. However, those safety provisions were later removed from the version passed by the Senate, and President Trump signed the bill into law in October 2018. That same month, the FAA’s Phoenix Office of Manufacturing Inspection awarded General Atomics’ SkyGuardian experimental certification.
In 2019, the FAA approved 639 public COAs for drone flights in the NAS operated by government entities and 10 civilian COAs, according to the integration office. The agency did not differentiate how many of those exemptions were for large, military-grade drones. Also, it doesn’t track the amount of COA you issue for test flights, like the upcoming SkyGuardian flight over San Diego.
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Most recently, the FAA announced the introduction of a new rule last month that would allow the agency, as well as state and local law enforcement and federal security, to remotely identify drones. The new rule comes as residents of five counties in northeast Colorado continue to spot large drones that fly in grid-like formations at night. However, its operator remains a mystery.
Retired Air Force colonels and other former military officers have largely led the group of experts responsible for advising the FAA’s drone integration efforts: the Alliance for UAS System Security Through Excellence in research (ASSURE) at the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Congress established the Center of Excellence in 2014 to coordinate the investigative efforts of the agency’s seven drone test sites.
From September 2014 to June 2016, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. James Poss, formerly US Air Force Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, led the FAA’s ASSURE as executive director . During his time in the Air Force, Poss oversaw the development and deployment of the latest drone surveillance technology in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Poss now runs his own drone and intelligence consulting firm. He argues that the US and its Western allies should equip themselves with the SkyGuardian in
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