I’ve been enjoying the series “Futureweapons” lately. Recent episodes have highlighted the military’s investments in unmanned vehicles (UAVs, etc.) like the Skyhawk and Predator. I don’t think most people realize how much good comes out of military spending, and how often technologies pioneered with the DoD have formed the basis for modern civil advancements, many of which save lives.
In the case of unmanned vehicles, military spending stands to endow the civilian world with technologies that will drastically cut down on pollution, waste, and fossil fuels (thus also driving down energy costs). The Skyhawk system is a 12 lb. UAV that allows aerial scouting of terrain. It is battery operated, fits in a backpack, and can safely land almost anywhere. Imagine small fleets of these operated by city news organizations. Rather than belching out expensive fuel from manned traffic copters, Skyhawks can capture news stories and monitor traffic, and if one goes down, it’s far less likely to result in fatalities. Skyhawks could also be mounted with instruments for scientific research and the monitoring of forest fires and other disaster areas.
The Army is also preparing unmanned helicopters for service–choppers that can safely deliver supplies or perform med-evac or rescue operations. Since you’re no longer having to carry the added weight of 1-2 pilots and bulky, human-oriented navigation equipment, less weight must be moved, and therefore less fuel consumed. In the case of the Skyhawk, we’re eliminating fossil fuels completely, as the craft operates on a battery that could be charged with solar power.
In addition to the obvious advantages of cutting both the materials used in building vehicles and slashing fuel consumption, robotic vehicles remove human pilots from danger, and are so easy to operate they would slash the costs of now expensive aviation training (thereby allowing human resources to be allocated more efficiently).
Over 4,000 robotic vehicles are currently in use in Iraq, and are saving lives in myriad ways, including the removal of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and land mines. In a world in which land mines cover 80,000 sq. miles, and cause loss of limbs and lives (most of them in Africa–26 in Mozambique alone last year), U.S. military spending again offers life-saving help.
Speaking of life-saving, in a future post I’ll detail the non-lethal weapons being pioneered by the DoD.