Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day - Recognizing the Importance of Men and Women, Automatically

This Memorial Day is particularly interesting from an aviation perspective.  We recognize men and women who have sacrificed so much for the benefit of us, their fellow citizens, and the ideals of liberty, justice, equality, freedom, and democracy,   At the same time, lawmakers, including the President, embark on a national security policy design that will continue to feature unmanned aerial vehicles ("UAV"), sometimes called drones.

President Obama recently spoke on the federal government's view of drone use (see transcript here), but it is important to know what is occurring as a matter of practice, not just policy.

Consider that, in 2009, the United States Air Force graduated its first pilot training class that did not receive flight training.  Overseas, the Israel Space Agency predicted that the numbers of unmanned aircraft in the Israel Air Force will outnumber manned aircraft in 20 years.

We are at crossroad in the sky, as it were.  Several states, including Florida, have outlawed the use of UAVs or drones in law enforcement activity, absent a national security threat.  (And how exactly do we distinguish domestic from national security threats today, from Boston to Benghazi?)  The ACLU in its "Blog of Rights" criticizes drone use and policy watchers are noting the non-military implications of drone use.

Military and negative connotations are quickly attaching to the word "drone," unfortunately.  Not to be overlooked in the "war on language" is the important function of UAVs in agriculture, search and rescue, and other putatively non-military "dull, dirty, and dangerous" missions.  

On at least this Memorial Day, this author objects to an over-simplified and generalized rejection of this emerging aviation technology and posits: Why use drones?  Because technological innovation unrivaled in the world is distinctly American and the bad guys are trying to kill our men and women in uniform and destroy the principles of freedom it takes revolutions to achieve in the first place.

How the discussion between morality and technology proceeds will be interesting to watch.