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AUVSI convention shows trends toward civilian, international UAVs

Aug. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — This year’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) show reflected the movement of the unmanned industry toward the civilian and commercial realm.

The world’s largest conference on UAVs, held in Washington on Aug. 12-15, drew more than 8,000 registered attendees along with 380 reporters and 593 exhibitors. AUVSI spokeswoman Melanie Hinton said those numbers are larger than last year’s show in Las Vegas and the 2011 event, also held in Washington.

“That growth goes to show that unmanned systems and the industry game-changers are being recognized by both civil and commercial industry,” Hinton said. “The show continues to grow as we move from military applications into the civilian and commercial airspace.”

Despite the move away from a military focus, security was tighter than usual for a trade show, with guards inspecting every bag before allowing individuals onto the show floor. One security guard said they were looking for anything to “damage or vandalize” a show booth, perhaps a reaction to an Aug. 13 protest from anti-war group Code Pink, whose members appeared outside the convention center with homemade UAVs and fake blood.

The show also had an international presence, reflecting the growth of unmanned systems across the globe. Representatives from several countries were seen walking the floor, while the United Kingdom featured a large booth to display its national wares; companies from Turkey, Switzerland and India, among others, also showcased their technologies.

Notable was the presence of Chinese UAV manufacturer Hubai Ewatt Technologies, whose SVU-200, a rotorcraft unit, reflected the growing interest in China for unmanned platforms.

Ewatt’s systems are used primarily on the state power grid of China, according to Dennis Fetters, VTOL director for the company. But they have applications for law enforcement and emergency response as well, something he believes would be of interest to global consumers.

“We’re looking at a world market,” Fetters said. “So it was a logical place to come to, not only show our product here in the United States, but for the first time show it to the rest of the world.” He added that he expects to be at future shows.

Military Presence

Defense conferences have suffered in the last year, as budget constraints forced the Pentagon to deny travel for top officials and program managers alike. This year’s show, held just miles from the Pentagon, eliminated that problem.

Top brass from the Navy, Marines and Air Force gathered for an Aug. 13 panel on the future of unmanned systems in the military.

“In about a decade, DoD has substantially transformed the way it does ISR collection,” Dyke Weatherington, the Pentagon’s director for unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said at the event. “The challenge we have is, as we move out of the current fight and look to other, more dynamic environments we need to operate in, where do we go with the current inventory and current capability we have?”

Col. Bill “Sweet” Tart, the head of the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft Capabilities Division, said his service hopes to address that question with a major review of UAV strategy, coming next month.

“We’ve got through all the three-stars now, and it will be hitting the chief’s desk in the next week or two,” Tart said. “No later than the end of September would be my bet.”

Neither the Navy nor Marines have plans for similar reports, according to service representatives.

“It’s probably something we need to take a look at, but we’re not in the midst of drafting one right now,” Capt. Chris Corgnati, a Navy representative appearing at the same panel as Tart, said when asked about a potential Navy plan.

Similarly, Marine Lt. Col. James Hamill said his service is still operating from a 2011 plan.

“We probably need to update that, and that is on my plate of things to do,” he said.

But all three men stressed that the services are working together to share lessons learned on unmanned systems, with regular meetings held every month on UAV issues.

Unmanned systems “are an enterprise that, if mishandled by any service, government agency or civilian, will impact everyone,” Tart said. As an example, he pointed to potential fallout from a crash between an airliner and an unmanned system — it wouldn’t matter if it was an Air Force, Navy or civilian unmanned system that caused the crash.

“So we have a great working relationship with the Navy, Army and Marines on aviation safety, and the need for everyone to understand these are all interrelated.”

The timing of the report is fortuitous, as Tart told the audience the service will hit 2 million combat hours on the Predator and Reaper sometime in late October.

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