In November 2010, a police lieutenant from Parma, Ohio, asked Vanguard Defense Industries if the Texas-based drone manufacturer could mount a “grenade launcher and/or 12-gauge shotgun” on its ShadowHawk drone for U.S. law enforcement agencies. The answer was yes.
Last month, police officers from 10 public safety departments around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area gathered at an airfield in southern Maryland to view a demonstration of a camera-equipped aerial drone — first developed for military use — that flies at speeds up to 20 knots or hovers for as long as an hour.
And in late March, South Korean police and military flew a Canadian-designed drone as part of “advance security preparations” for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul where protesters clashed with police.
In short, the business of marketing drones to law enforcement is booming. Now that Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up U.S. airspace to unmanned vehicles, the aerial surveillance technology first developed in the battle space of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is fueling a burgeoning market in North America. And even though they’re moving from war zones to American markets, the language of combat and conflict remains an important part of their sales pitch — a fact that ought to concern citizens worried about the privacy implications of domestic drones.