When most Americans think of drones, they think of the government’s targeted killing of Al Qaeda operatives overseas.
Lately, the debate in Washington has been over the killing of Americans, like U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was taken out by the CIA in September 2011. Pressed on the program by Congress, CIA director nominee John Brennan recently told lawmakers “this administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”
But despite that pledge, there is every intention to expand the use of so-called mini-drones inside the U.S. Used mostly by local police and first responders, the Federal Aviation Administration has already granted 327 licenses, and it projects as many as 10,000 licensed systems by 2017.
“It’s really just an extra tool in the tool kit for first responders to use, and it’s more affordable than a lot of the manned assets that are out there,” said Gretchen West, executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems.
West says most of these drones are small, about 20 pounds or less. They cannot be armed. They cost between $10,000 and $50,000, with typical flight times of about an hour or less.