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U.S. Drone Investing

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted July 18, 2013

Over 4,700 people have been killed from overseas predator drone strikes around the world, according to U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham (R) of South Carolina. The wide targeting of a few so-called militants and extremists has resulted in the deaths of innocent men, women and children, further enflaming the Middle East and breeding more terrorism.

But here is where it really hits home for Americans.

Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that four Americans were killed by overseas drones since 2009.

When rogue L.A. cop Christopher Dorner went on a killing spree, members of the media began espousing a narrative of predator drones being necessary to track criminals on the loose.

We live in a world where irrational fear has triumphed over logic and essential liberties. It is now easy for the military industrial complex to condition the public into accepting domestic drones in the name of “security.”

But politicians aren’t willing to tell you that drones are a business model.

Regardless of how you may feel about drone activity, the industry is here to stay. Drone industry lobbyists are chomping at the bit to introduce unmanned aircrafts to a sky near you.

But at the end of the day, a drone is just a piece of technology, and like any piece of technology, it can be used for good or bad purposes. A distinction can be made between predator drones that use lethal force and surveillance drones that can be helpful during times of emergency.

Researchers are developing unmanned aircrafts that can drop up to 1,800 lbs. of food and medical supplies in places where survivors may be trapped, or if first responders are not able to penetrate a particular area. Australia plans to use solar-powered drones to alert first responders to wildfires. With wildfires so prevalent in the United States during the summer seasons, such an idea could be adopted to stop the spread of fires much earlier.

However, until the Federal Aviation Administration administers distinct regulations, drones are not expected to make a debut in the commercial sector until 2015 or later.

Law Enforcement

Commercial and civilian use of drones is currently off limits, but some police departments in the U.S. are eager to have drones patrolling the skies to conduct surveillance on highways and to catch criminals. In certain states, drones can be seen patrolling the skies. But with so many cities struggling with budget shortfalls, drone investing and activity among police departments is currently very limited, unless these departments get some funding help at the federal level.

But Germany is a different story. Police there have been using drones since 2008 to patrol high-traffic areas and to help with kidnappings and standoffs. However, it has come to light that these drones have also been used to monitor anti-nuclear protests, and the drones have been used as a crowd-control method at public gatherings and soccer matches.


This is one area where environmentalists and energy companies can agree on. Pipeline monitoring software and sensor technology can be integrated with unmanned aircrafts. Since energy companies and governments do not have the manpower and resources to patrol extensive ground in search of pipeline breaches, drones will be able to cover more land in a shorter amount of time.

And it could be useful in tumultuous areas of Latin America and the Middle East, where pipelines are susceptible to terrorist strikes.

Drone technology could very well spot leaks early, allowing companies and state officials to mitigate damage. Drone surveillance does have the capacity to prevent major spills and could be a vital component in preserving wildlife and sensitive environments.

BP (NYSE: BP) began research operations in Alaska for monitoring pipelines, and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS.A) is looking to track the movements of marine life in Alaskan waters before engaging in offshore drilling.


Besides marine animals, some environmental groups believe drones can be used to spot and deter poachers. It was confirmed in 2013 that the black rhino is officially extinct because of poaching.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) awarded the World Wildlife Fund a $5 million grant for drone technology, animal tags and general manpower in Gabon. These drone planes are being used to survey mass landscapes and alert patrols of any poaching activity.

India has introduced unmanned aerials vehicle to patrol a reserve protecting one-horned rhinos from poachers. These UAVs are so light they can be launched in the air by hand where they can record footage and capture still photos.


If you’re itching to invest in predator drones, then look no further than the military and its defense contractors. Drone technology is becoming sophisticated to the extent where prototype mosquito drones are being developed to conduct covert surveillance, even assassinating targets with nano-poison, or buzzing inside a person’s ear where the drone will detonate. Mosquito drones raise all sorts of constitutional, moral and ethical questions, but it shows where predator drone technology is headed.

Investing in Drone Makers

While the military has some of the most advanced drones on the market, it is the private sector that mostly supplies them to the U.S. government and foreign states abroad.

The drones most notable in terrorist strikes are the MQ-9 Reaper and the MQ-1 Predator by General Atomics. The new-wave Northrop Gruman X-47B, a project collaboration between Northrop Gruman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), can now launch from aircraft carriers. Surveillance-oriented drones like AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven by AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV) is used to scout areas for combat troops.

American drone makers are looking to usurp the Israeli hold on the drone market in South America, where there is growing demand for unmanned aircrafts to patrol borders, combat drug cartels and rescue hostages.

General Atomics was granted approval from the U.S. government to sell unarmed predator drones abroad, and Latin America is one place the company is targeting.

The European drone market looks less promising when considering the dire economic straights ravaging the continent, but the European Union still wants drones for counter-terrorism and surveillance purposes. Russia is also looking to improve its drone technology.

And despite America’s economic troubles, defense spending will only be slashed from $587 billion in 2013 to $505 billion by 2016.

Drone surveillance is a phenomena that can literally touch just about every corner of the globe in some fashion, and investors will have plenty of paths to choose from in the next few years.