Indiana companies benefit from UAV trend

Published 15 April 2010

Last year, for the first time, the U.S. Air Force trained more pilots to operate unmanned vehicles than it did pilots for traditional fighter planes; UAV carry out more and more intelligence and operational missions; Indiana companies benefit

The no-frills YouTube video looks like it could be the chronicling of an ambitious science fair project. Inside a spare Indiana warehouse, a young man launches a thin two and a half foot black cylinder into the air, where its propeller blades keep it hovering vertically. Then it moves slowly across the warehouse, past the Purdue University and ROTC signs, before easing its way back into the waiting hands of the same young man who launched it.

Fran Quigley writes in Nuvo that this is no schoolboy experiment, and the small flying cylinder is no model airplane. It is the Voyeur UAV. According to the Web site of its manufacturer, West Lafayette-based Lite Machines, Inc., the Voyeur is designed to allow military and law enforcement to conduct surveillance and “human or non-human target acquisition.” The Voyeur can travel as far as 50 miles in the air and can hover over and/or touch its target.

Lite Machines is based in the Purdue Research Park, which promotes the fact that the company has received a $10.5 million contract from the U.S. Navy. The multi-million dollar military investment for a small company in Tippecanoe County represents part of a $4 billion annual Department of Defense budget for UAV technology, a secretive world of warcraft being eagerly embraced by U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

Last year, for the first time, the U.S. Air Force trained more pilots to operate unmanned vehicles than it did pilots for traditional fighter planes (“U.S. Air Force Contemplates an All-UAV Future,” 20 July 2009 HSNW). The Voyeur is one of several Indiana connections to robotic technology that is revolutionizing warfare. Other Hoosier sites of drone support include:

  • Terre Haute-based Indiana Air National Guard’s 181st Intelligence Wing, which analyzes data collected from drones hovering over Afghanistan and Pakistan and sends back the results to troops in the field
  • The Indianapolis plant of Rolls Royce, one of the largest U.S.military contractors, which manufactures the engine for the drone Global Hawk
  • Southwest Indiana’s Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, which has received millions of dollars in military contracts to expand the combat capability of drones

The rise of robot killers

Quigley writes that pilotless drones equipped with cameras have been used by the U.S. for military surveillance since the Vietnam War. Drones with names like the Global Hawk and the Predator conducted reconnaissance over Bosnia, Serbia, and Yemen, and now regularly fly over Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.