Magazine article National Defense

If You Can't Afford a UAV, Rent One

Magazine article National Defense

If You Can't Afford a UAV, Rent One

Article excerpt

* The U.S. military hires contractors to operate certain unmanned aerial vehicles in combat zones. Federal agencies might one day do the same here in the United States.

Insiders call it "fee for service." It would allow public-safety officials to rent surveillance UAVs during emergencies and scientists to lease them for research missions.

"Many federal agencies don't have the infrastructure to acquire UAVs, but they still want to make use of the technology," Steven Reid, AAI Corp.'s vice president for unmanned aircraft systems, said in an interview. With the fee-for-service model, "You only pay for it if you need it."

AAI, a Maryland-based aerospace and defense company, manufactures the Shadow UAV system, a line of aircraft used for surveillance and reconnaissance. AAI has been supplying Shadow UAVs to the Army since 2002, and the company has more than 100 employees based in Iraq and Afghanistan to maintain them. Last year, the Army asked AAI to start operating some of them, Reid said.

Now, about 60 AAI workers fly eight Shadow UAVs under the direction of an Army commander. Reid said AAI pilots often support combat missions, but the Shadow UAVs are unarmed.

"The Army didn't have sufficient soldiers to man the equipment in theater, so we do the--manning," Reid said. "We're not over there let loose. We're following orders."

He considers the arrangement a watered-down version of the fee-for-service model because the Army owns the Shadow UAVs. He calls it a GOCO (government-owned, contractor operated) deal. Under a typical fee-for-service agreement, the contractor would both own and operate the aircraft.

The contractor support for the Shadow probably will be temporary, until the Army trains enough of its own UAV operators, Reid said. "I think it's part of the growing pains associated with embracing a new technology," he added. "Right now, the Army is having trouble just training the number of soldiers necessary to field all the various pieces of equipment."

Other companies, such as Boeing, have employees who operate reconnaissance UAVs for the Navy and Marines.

Reid believes the business model could catch on in the United States because most emergency-response and research agencies lack the resources to acquire, maintain and operate their own UAVs.

A company such as AAI, which has its own training facility where it teaches employees to operate UAVs, could provide these agencies with access to the technology when needed, Reid said.

The University of Colorado recently paid AAI to outfit its fleet of Aerosonde Mark 4 UAVs with instruments that capture data on wind currents. …

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